Flying With Small Children

Hint: definitely put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

My first flight with a small child that belonged to me and was my responsibility was when my oldest (now almost 9) was 18 months. Somehow I had been talked into flying from San Antonio, Texas to San Diego, California with him. I dragged my in-laws along for the ride because I was terrified of being alone with a sleep deprived, raging toddler in a small space for three hours.

I was so fried by the end of that flight that I barely remember meeting my husband at the airport. The sad part is, my child did fine. I was the one who was a wreck. This was because I failed to follow a few simple but elegant rules.

  1. Don’t freak out. This probably seems obvious but at the time I was so worried about every little detail–will I really need his birth certificate?–that I completely lost sight of the goal which was to make it the six hours from point A to point B without a major meltdown.
  2. Don’t automatically assume everyone hates your child. Some do, some don’t, most don’t care that you have a child and some don’t even know. This is a lot easier to ensure, however, if you follow:
  3. Plan entertainment. I cannot stress this enough. If your child has toys they haven’t played with in a long time, now is a great time to reintroduce them. Screen time is always a matter of discretion, but I suspend any rules about it on an airplane. Now that my kids are older, they get to watch a DVD on the portable DVD player and it is heaven.
  4. Know what the airline requires with seats. Generally, children under two do not need their own seat if you are willing to ride with them in your lap for the full flight. Lap children may fly for free, but check with your airline for requirements. If you’re flying with a lap child that does not need a ticket, bring a copy of the child’s birth certificate for proof of age. If you do purchase a seat for your child, how they stay in it varies by age. Infants can ride in their infant car seat. For older babies riding in a convertible seat, you can bring the car seat they have onto the plane and fit it into the seat with the regular belt. If you’re flying with a lap child, you can check the car seat, either at the baggage check or at the gate, and the child can experience the joy of the lap belt that they will probably not keep on.
  5. Bring snacks. Of course you will bring snacks, but don’t forget to include something for them to drink while the plane is taking off to force their ears to open and avoid painful popping.
  6. Have someone to meet you at the other end. If you can at all do this, it is so worth the joy of magnificently departing the airplane and dramatically handing over the child to whomever has come to meet you. Child gets new person to hold them, you get a bathroom break, and everyone is happy.
  7. Speaking of the bathroom – I have never had to change a diaper in an airplane. I avoided this mainly by making sure the kid had a fresh diaper before we took off and then begging them silently not to poop until we landed. If you do have to pull off this maneuver, I recommend cozying up to a flight attendant and asking the best possible way to go about this. They’re pros at this flying thing and can surely help you figure out how to do it.

I had learned these valuable lessons when my second was eight-weeks old and I flew with her. It was the easiest flight I have ever had. She slept the whole way and was so quiet that when we landed the woman in the row in front of us said, “I didn’t know you had a baby!” Honestly, the hardest part of that trip was fitting the car seat base in my parents’ car.

Happy travels!

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