10 Unavoidable Things When Flying With Children

by Julie Forbes
Originally Published: 
A little boy looking at a parked airplane while leaning against the airport glass windows
Tropical studio / Shutterstock

The holiday travel season is upon us. My Christmas wish for you is that all of your family flies out to see you (and gets a hotel). If you are traveling with littles, may you have five hours of uninterrupted screen time, four helpful flight attendants, three handfuls of plane snacks, a two-hour nap, and a partridge in a pear tree!

Of course, sometimes Santa can’t grant all of our wishes. In that case, here’s what you can expect. These are 10 unavoidable things when flying with children:

1. That Joke of a Changing Table

If you don’t know about the “changing table,” it’s usually in the bathroom in the front of the plane. You know, that bathroom that you can’t wait in line for. Instead, you have to sit at your seat, wait for the occupied sign to turn off, and then dart down the aisle before someone else gets there. Once you finally win the race to the bathroom, you can find the “changing table” over the toilet. It’s about the size of a skateboard. I’ve attempted to put both of my kids up there several times. Each time, they panic and scream. It’s as if they know, as well as you do, that this contraption was not designed to actually hold a child. Be certain that while you’re in there, your child will hit the emergency call button that brings a flight attendant running.

2. So Long, Soft Drinks

Say goodbye to the days when flights mean that you get to leisurely sip on mini cups of ginger ale or tomato juice. When the flight attendant pulls up with the drink cart, just tell them to keep on walking. Because if a drink is put within a foot of me or my children, it will be on the kids, me or the seats within minutes. Sometimes, if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll order water, with no ice, a lid and straw.

3. The Absurdity of a Lap Child

Don’t get me wrong, I love not having to pay for an airline ticket for the first two years of a child’s life. But once your baby turns 1, they take up so much room on your lap, there’s not room to do anything else. That tray table is staying stowed in the upright and locked position for the duration of the flight. Good luck trying to reach anything in that bag below the seat in front of you. And, don’t even get me started about flying with a lap child while pregnant; that makes for three bodies stacked up on one tiny little seat.

4. The Eternity of the Seatbelt Sign

It never fails, as soon as that sign comes on, my potty-training child says he has to go to the bathroom now.

I once made the mistake of taking him to the bathroom while the sign was on, during take-off. I got yelled at by the flight attendant, and we sat back down. Sure enough, my son wet his pants before we were free to move about the cabin.

5. All Nutrition Rules Go Out the Window

I’m very strict about what my children eat. I’ve even been known to torture them with things like kale porridge for breakfast. But, when we’re on the airplane, it’s a free-for-all. Shortbread cookies, Cheese Nips, pretzels, I don’t care. When the flight attendant comes by with a basket full of goodies, I’m not about to give a lesson on nutritional food choices and its health benefits. There are hundreds of ears confined into a tiny space that would be subjected to the toddler fit that would follow. If it will entertain my children for five minutes, have at it. In fact, letting my kids gorge on processed foods is about the only guaranteed way I know to keep them occupied.

6. The Frustration of Any Change of Plans

My best friend once got her son to sleep before the flight even took off. She was so thrilled that she was going to have a nice, easy flight back home. Then, they announced there was a problem with the plane, and they’d all have to get off the plane, go to another gate and re-board. She actually started crying.

One time, I was traveling alone with my 1- and 3-year-olds on a seven-hour flight on Christmas Eve when the fire alarm went off and we had to make an emergency landing in Las Vegas. The longest day of my life just got a whole lot longer. I actually started crying.

7. Unsolicited Advice

Some sweet lady with good intentions always walks up at some point in the flight and says, “You may want to try nursing the baby during take-off and landing. It’ll help with her ears.” I want to respond with, “No! Get out! When was this discovered, and why didn’t someone tell me that on our first 50 flights?” But, I usually just smile sweetly, and say, “Thanks, I’ll try that.” I usually don’t have a problem with well-meaning advice, unless I’m tired, the kids are tired, and I’m on my sixth hour of trying to keep them entertained in a 3-foot space. Here’s some advice you can really use.

8. Going Potty Is a Group Affair

Because of my husband’s work schedule, I’m usually traveling alone with both kids. So, when my 2-year-old son would have to go to the bathroom, I couldn’t very well leave my newborn sitting in the seat alone, so we all went to the bathroom together. People who join the mile-high club think they’re flexible? They’ve got nothing on us. Picture me holding my newborn daughter, while trying to squat down in front of my son to pull down his pants and put him on the toilet—all in that tiny little bathroom. It’s enough to convince myself to never potty train the other kids.

9. I’ve Got Baggage, Lots of Baggage

It is astounding how much gear such a tiny person requires. Take a look at everything I had with me on a recent flight. That’s a stroller, a pack ‘n play, two car seats, and four suitcases. Granted, we were moving across the country, but a weekend trip wouldn’t have required much less.

Julie Forbes

10. Short-Term Memory Loss

It doesn’t matter how many mid-flight vows I make to never fly with children again, I always end up booking another trip.

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