Flying with kids? Yes, you can survive it!

As I began packing for a week-long vacation with my family, which includes two flight connections and a two-hour time difference, I began to have frightening flashbacks of our last vacation. 

When my son was 6 months old, he was the perfect flier. He didn’t cry or fuss, just slept and ate and gazed and cooed into my eyes each time. This created a false sense of security, so it was a shock to the system when we flew again last summer when he was 19 months old – an altogether different experience. 

As soon as we boarded the flight, we started to get those horror-filled looks – the looks I may have shot when I was childless – the look that says, “Please don’t sit anywhere near me!” 

Because, let’s face it, nobody is happy when they see you boarding a plane with a small kid, or worse, two or three rug rats. They don’t want to sit anywhere in your vicinity and may even do a little prayer when you pass by them, or avert their eyes hoping they can will you away.  

No matter how much we doled out new little toys and books like war-time rations, or showed him recently downloaded educational games and videos to fiddle with on our iPad, he could not sit still – not even to have his favorite snacks. He much preferred wiggling out of our laps to run up and down the aisle over and over again.  

Most of our fellow fliers were gracious as he wasn’t crying, but we did get a few glances thrown our way – the “get a handle on your kid” variety, especially from the wary flight attendants. And many smiled at him as he would casually peer into their seat to see what they were watching on their screens.  

On three separate occasions, he bolted for the cockpit when he saw the door open, which posed a toddler security risk; he also found his way to the front of the plane to check out the drink and food cart a few times before the flight attendants patiently pointed him toward me who was behind him trying to catch up. 

We flew on WestJet and paid the extra money to get the bulkhead seats at the front of the plane, which have more legroom, and then proceeded to create a makeshift “play area” with our carry-on bags blocking out the aisle. Luckily, we had the entire row to ourselves.  

The playtime in that 2-foot by 4-foot space lasted all of 10 minutes and when it was time to eat or give him some downtime, we couldn’t get him cozy on our laps as the armrests would not flip up because they hold the trays. 

We were exhausted and frazzled when we landed, and upon arrival I swiftly lost my cellphone containing hundreds of photos of my son from birth. The vacation continued in the same vain for the remaining two weeks; it consisted mostly of him running around and us chasing him. 

After the vacation ended and we were back in Cayman, we came to the realization that we needed a vacation from the vacation. A fundamental truth dawned on us – vacationing with kids is not a vacation at all – and certainly not in the way vacations were before having a kid: no long lie-ins, eight-hour restful sleeps, mid-afternoon cocktails, or late night discoveries of a new band or restaurant.  

It has been a bitter pill to swallow. And now, call us crazy or brave, but we are going to do it all over again. 

This time we are staying with friends, and I am considering giving him some “medicine” for the flight. Yes, that is code word for “drugging” him. Some people swear by Benadryl, but others claim that antihistamines can make some kids hyper. I know people who have done this for long-haul flights to Asia or Europe, but I’m not too sure I’m comfortable with this idea as it may be tantamount to child abuse. That being said, I am strangely attracted to the idea. 

I’ve been trawling the Internet for other tips, which I’m going to implement for our upcoming trip. Here they are: 

Let your kid pack his or her own little mini-suitcase if he is old enough. The feeling of ownership may make them behave like a big boy or girl, but double-check what is in there. (No BB guns or water pistols, unless you never want to fly again!) 

Make sure you have one small carry-on case of essentials that you can store under your feet: a couple of diapers and wipes, and a favorite stuffed animal, small board books or toys – anything that will provide comfort when they become tired. Also pack a handful of empty plastic bags (the lunch ones with zip-locks are perfect) so you don’t need to search overhead if accidents occur – and they will occur. An extra change of lightweight clothes is also a good idea. 

If you have time beforehand, buy a few new toys or games that your child has never seen before, especially ones that can be drawn out for a long period of time. Reusable stickers are a good example; give your kid an empty plastic bottle to plaster them onto or a thin rubber placemat that can sit atop the folding table. A box of washable crayons or a coloring book that requires only water for easy cleanup would work, too. My son also loves his Etch A Sketch, which can erase and start over any masterpiece with one swipe. 

Try getting a seat under the wing, which is where the plane’s engine is stored. It’s louder which may provide sufficient white noise to lull your kids to sleep.  

Brief your toddler or preschooler on who’s the boss – that’s right, YOU. Give advance warning of rules and what’s expected, especially no kicking seats, lifting and closing trays endlessly, and making sure seatbelts or worn when required. If all else fails, fib and say there is an airplane police if they misbehave. 

Skip the early boarding because if the plane is delayed, you are now stuck in a contained space. It’s better to let your kids walk around in the departure lounge to burn off their energy beforehand.  

Lollipops or gum for ascending and descending will help ease their ear pain and help keep their ears from popping. 

All normal rules at home go out the window when it comes to electronics on a plane. Inflight entertainment is your best friend – hours of kids’ shows! Of course, don’t forget to load up your iPad with brand new kid-friendly games and shows before you fly. Invest in proper headphones to fit their little ears (not those cheap, nasty ear buds the airline usually offers for a price). 

Bring little snacks that can last awhile, such as a box of raisins or crackers, but stay away from high-sugar treats and anything sticky or messy.  

If all else fails, buy drinks for the nearest passengers to butter them up – or ear plugs – and just hope for the best. You may even find comfort knowing that you will never see these people again as you do the walk of shame off the plane. Then again, flying in and out of Cayman, the odds are slim to none you won’t know someone. 

Happy Easter everyone, and safe travels! 

The element of surprise (new toys, snacks and electronic games) are the key to keeping toddlers tame on a plane.


Traveling with toddlers can be a harrowing experience.
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