Airplane Travel With Kids Is Hard AF. Here's How To Survive.

by Joelle Wisler
Originally Published: 
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My first flight alone with my then eight month old son went something like this:

1. I hand him a “brain-stimulating” toy that I had bought for the flight….he chucks the toy three aisles down with an accuracy that has yet to be seen again by this same child.

2. I snuggle him into me to sleep….and somehow forget how hard we worked on sleep training him so that he would only fall asleep…by himself…in his crib. He caterwauls and pinwheels like I am trying to suffocate him with his blanket.

3. I discover what that awful smell is. I head to the airplane bathroom and realize what it might feel like to be stuck inside a refrigerator with shit and a baby octopus.

After enduring airplane-travel for almost seven years with my two kids to visit our far-flung relatives, I have some tips for surviving an airplane with kids. Here goes…

1. DO try this: If you are traveling with a toddler, try to convince them through subliminal messaging that they will be very tired once they get on the plane.

I once did this with amazing results. I started whispering to her early that morning, “You will be very sleepy when you get on the plane, your eyes will feel heavy and you will be cozy and warm.” I think I might have accidentally hypnotized her or something. We got on the plane and she immediately fell asleep, which was the complete opposite experience of our previous trip where I wrestled her like she was a spider monkey on crack for the entire flight.

2. DO bring a crap-ton of familiar food, milk and diapers.

Things often go awry when traveling by plane and you never know when you might accidentally get stranded in a random backwoods airport. These items will save your life. Stuck in an airport after a few canceled flights, my toddler refused three different meals that I had bought for her in the airport. She decided that she would only eat the disgusting warm cheese that I had packed about 10 hours before and I was so desperate to see her eat anything, that I let her.

3. DON’T let crabby travelers get to you.

They may not understand why your baby is crying hysterically during take off and they may feel that you aren’t disciplining your 8-month-old enough, and thus blame you because their crabby old man nap is being interrupted. And then they might yell at you to quiet your baby down. Take heart. Karma is a powerful thing, and that man has just guaranteed that he will be on an airplane with kids – crying ones – for the rest of his existence.

4. DON’T give your kid Benadryl to make them drowsy on the plane.

I had a friend who once tried this….with her three-year-old twins…..on a cross-country flight. This technique can horribly backfire since, in some children, Benadryl can actually WAKE THEM UP MORE. I can’t really imagine a more horrible scenario than being stuck on a plane for hours with small children who are MORE awake than small children usually are.

5. DO bring copious amounts of hand sanitizer.

It helps your peace of mind, if nothing else. The only down side is that you can’t actually squirt it into your kids’ mouths. Once, while on a plane with my son, I looked over at him and he was actually sliding his seatbelt inside his mouth. Inside. His. Mouth. Like to make sure he could get every single germ available. And then when he licked the hand rails on the train between terminals I pretty much gave him up as a lost cause for sickness and fevers to come, and seriously started questioning his intelligence. We had to start telling him that there is actual poop on everything in the airport. Yes, we are the parents who are yelling, “Poop hands!” while walking up the escalator.

6. DON’T bring a million toys or waste your money on buying “new” toys.

Children don’t give a shit about toys when they are busy trying to make your life a living nightmare. The best toys to take on an airplane with kids? Ask your flight attendant for a couple of plastic cups. And you won’t even care when they fall on the ground and you never see them again.

7. DO bring lollipops for that complete and total freak-o-rama.

The kid is pissed. So pissed that they are screaming at their max capacity for long enough that you start to get feral looks from your neighbors and you also begin to fear and admire the child’s commitment to being pissed. During one such episode, I had a lady who claimed to be a pediatrician give me a lollipop (or she might have been a lollipop saleswoman? I should have probably checked her credentials), and the sugar and the sucking kinda jolted my toddler out of whatever wild space she was in. And while I would never encourage taking candy from a stranger, that woman may have saved our life that day.

8. DO let your older kid watch whatever junk and play whatever game on whatever electronic device available.

Survival is survival, and as you are already wrestling the aforementioned spider monkey, you probably won’t have the mental space to answer 5 billion questions about how planes get into the air or why farts stink or listen to how hot the pink power ranger is, and what does hot mean anyway?

9. DO let people help you, even if that help appears in a condescending form.

I once had to get myself and the kids from the plane to a (very) remote parking lot to pick up our car. I had a towering pile of suitcases, a pack ‘n’ play, two carseats, a reluctant six-year-old helper and a completely useless toddler. I was obviously struggling and a woman asked me if I needed assistance. The way she said it, though, was like, “I really do not want to help you, but human decency is requiring me to offer you help even though I think you are a complete idiot for getting yourself into this situation.” But perhaps I’m paraphrasing her expression. Whatever. I stubbornly refused her help. I was dumb. Take help when it is offered, swallow your pride, and save your sanity.

10. DON’T be too envious of that older woman sitting across the aisle from you who is reading People magazine with her perfectly manicured nails, smugly sipping a cocktail.

You too, will travel in style someday, kid-free, with hair that doesn’t spend its entire existence rolled in a ball on top of your head, and with clothes on that haven’t recently had crusty warm cheese scraped off of them, and you will reminisce and begin to miss those days when your kids were small. Yeah not really. Actually, the next time I get to fly kid-free, I plan on buying two martinis and toasting myself for getting to the other side.

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