Your summer vacation is still weeks away but you’re already worried about how you’ll handle your plane flight with your young child.
Indeed, airplane travel with young children can be disconcerting, especially long flights. There’s no way of knowing ahead of time whether your child will have a complete meltdown or two. There are steps you can take, however, to prepare for the flight so that you can spend more time planning your vacation and less time stressing about potential temper tantrums. Here are our top seven tips for a peaceful plane trip:
1. Pack a backpack with small toys, books and hand-held electronic devices loaded with their favorite games and movies. Filling up the backpack with your toddler becomes an activity unto itself and your child will look forward to unpacking the contents on the plane. Continue the fun by having your toddler wear his backpack while in the airport.
2. Get to the airport super early. By super early, we mean at least 30 minutes earlier than you’d generally arrive if you were traveling on your own (a minimum of two hours ahead of time for domestic flights and three hours for international travel). This way you and your family have plenty of time to leisurely move through baggage check and security lines. To make things even easier, check your bags at curbside if this is available at your airport. You can also minimize security hassles by wearing slip-on shoes and traveling sans jewelry or belts – or at least removing these items prior to going through security.
3. Tucker your toddler out. With that extra time at the airport, you can play games, walk around and even duck into a play space. You can usually find out if your airline or airport offers a toddler play area ahead of time on the airline or airport website. JetBlue, for example, touts a map on its website for family-friendly options in Terminal 5 at JFK Airport.
4. Board the plane early. Most airlines offer early boarding for families with children under two or young children. Take advantage of this and stow your bags in an overhead compartment right above your seats, organize your area and get settled in. Another tip: Don’t take your toddler out of your stroller until you absolutely have to and roll it right up to the airplane door. A flight attendant will gate check your stroller and it will typically be waiting for you immediately after you walk off the plane.
5. Arm yourself with plenty of snacks and a bag full of surprises. Besides the items inside your toddler’s backpack, bring along another bag that contains different fun toys and books. You can bring some items from home and we also suggest picking up a few new toys that your child hasn’t played with before. On top of this, fill up your bag with your child’s favorite treats to eat. This way you can parcel out the surprise toys and yummy snacks throughout the flight, suggests Travel + Leisure.
6. Book the earliest flight available. Why? The earlier the plane leaves, the less likely that there will be delays. In fact, early morning flights often originate from your local airport so you won’t be dependent on the plane flying in from another airport before your flight can take off. By booking the first flight out, this will also mean you’ll arrive at your destination earlier and can get a jumpstart on your vacation.
7. If possible, fly non-stop. This means you will only have to deal with two airports instead of three or maybe even four. Not only that but changing planes can result in missed connections and delays, flight complications and disrupted naps. This is enough to make most adults cranky, let alone a toddler.
Even after following our tips, your toddler may be having a bad day and act out on the plane. If this happens, try to remain calm as your stress will make things worse. Keep in mind that airplane passengers are usually understanding when children are on board and many passengers wear headphones that muffle out sound. Also, it’s good to keep things in perspective: The flight will be over soon and you’ll be at your vacation destination where you can hopefully relax. Bon voyage!