Summer is right around the corner, which means that families across America will soon be packing their bags and heading to theme parks (SeaWorld, Disney, etc.), beaches, mountains, or maybe just to Grandma's to show her the new baby. Either way, planes will be full and parents everywhere will be holding their collective breath as they board their flights and pray that their child doesn't decide to scream all the way across the country.
As a parent of three little busybodies myself and an avid traveler, I can vouch for the fact that we parents are well aware that the prospect of sitting next to a family with young kids is about as enticing as a root canal to the average childfree traveler. But having logged thousands of miles with the kids on international flights, my wife and I have learned a few things along the way:
1. The local dollar store is your friend. My wife often stocks up on a few new toys to present to our kids at appropriate times on flights. New coloring books and crayons are great for toddlers, so is a set of plastic dinosaurs or farm animals. The toys can be used as incentives or rewards for good behavior for toddlers. The baby-safe items are great for distracting very young children at just the right moment.
2. Be prepared. It helps to plan out activities in advance and make sure you've got all of the supplies you need. For babies, bring spare diapers, bottles, baby food jars, formula, etc. We used to put pre-measured formula powder in empty bottles so that we would only have to add water to the bottle and not have to worry about spilling powder during the flight. Later, we bought Parmalat pasturized milk that comes in individual serving boxes that don't have to be refrigerated. Oh, and it's usually a good idea to bring a plastic shopping bag or two so that you can quickly seal up any particularly maloderous treats that the baby blesses you (and your cotravelers) with during the flight.
Now the youngest is three, so our main worry with her is that we've got enough to keep her occupied. For her and her siblings, we bring drawing materials, a couple of her brother's favorite cars and trains, card games, and her baby doll. Oh, we also learned the hard way not to forget her threadbare "blankie" if we want to have any hope of her sleeping during the trip.
3. Enjoy the one-on-one time with your kids. I've had some great quality moments with my kids while traveling on planes. They love the attention, and it might just keep them from kicking the seat in front of them or uncomfortably staring at the passenger in the seat behind them. If you've got a young baby, play pattycake, peek-a-boo, whatever it takes. One game that my kids like to play is flashcards. You can buy them or make them on the plane. We practice numbers, letters, words, addition, subtraction, etc., depending on who I'm playing with. If you don't have flashcards, you can pull out a magazine and have them identify letters or tell you about what they see in the pictures. Or get an Origami book with simple projects for kids and create some paper birds.
4. Finally, there's the secret weapon. No...it's not medication...it's personal DVD players (laptops also work). Prices have come way down in the last couple of years and they're worth every penny. We also purchased a three-way headphone splitter at Radio Shack so all three can listen and watch at the same time. On long flights, we try to delay DVD use until the kids are close to a revolt, due to battery constraints. That usually works out perfectly. The kids generally get more fidgety as the flight goes on, so if we can keep them occupied for the first part of the flight, we're good to go for the last bit. On short flights under two hours, we don't bother with it, but it definitely accompanies us on anything longer than that. It also comes in handy if we get to our destination airport but still have to drive an hour or two to get to our ultimate destination.
As a postscript, I have to say that our kids have been awesome travelers. We've dragged them across the country and over to Europe numerous times and have never had uncomfortable scenes in flight that lasted more than a couple of minutes.
Oh, one more thingÃ¢â‚¬¦if you're planning on flying this summer, you should consider booking before this Thursday. Flights are filling up fast and Southwest's summer sale ends Thursday at midnight. After that, you'll have to hang around your computer and pray for a Ding! offer.