Flying with kids: 4 tips for parenting while flying with toddlers

Flying with kids is simple says our veteran of 36 flights with her two-year-old: Her for 4 tips for parenting while flying with toddlers revolve around the basic assumption that it's not about you, it's all about the kid.

By , Correspondent

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    Flying with kids can be a chore – lugging around that stroller, diaper bag and Pack 'n Play in addition to wheeling your suitcase. Our veteran of 36 flights with her first-born says it's possible ... really. Here, a toddler explores a plane installed at a school playground near Tbilisi, Georgia. 2011.
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We have a big plane ride home today. Today – unless something changes and I decide to fly while being even more pregnant, which I promise is nearly impossible  ­– marks the end of an era for our little family: The final journey of Baby M as Lap Child.

In other words, next time we’re going to actually have to pay for the little squirt to fly with us. She’s soon to be that age (2) where most airlines simply won’t buy the “she’s going to sit on my lap, really she will” rhetoric. 

Prompted by this upcoming milestone, Husband and I decided to try to count up the number of airplane rides that our little freeloading jetsetter has flown. We got to 36, and then got tired of thinking. See, when you fly that much with a toddler, you don’t have much energy for anything else.

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Still, spending that much time in the air has made Baby M an awesome traveler.

She helpfully points out to the flight attendants which cabin bathroom has the changing table. She’s happy to sit during takeoff and landing, as long as she has a window seat. She knows that the moving walkways at Baltimore-Washington International are way cooler than the ones at, say, Manchester Boston Regional Airport, and has no qualms about telling other people at the gate that they are about to go on an airplane, fast fast, and that we will soon go up-down, up-down. 

She also knows that if she holds out, and threatens to create just enough of a fuss, her parents will let her eat salty pretzels and cheese crackers and ice from their sodas and anything-else-just-please-stop-trying-to-get-down-no-you-cannot-run-in-the-aisle.

This many flights with child has also made us better traveling parents. And because of this ­– and because I am a bit overwhelmed today with nostalgia and the uncomfortable recognition that traveling will soon cost much more – I thought I would share a sampling of the many lessons we’ve learned. You know, as a public service for the other new parents who suddenly find themselves checking in for a weekend flight (oh, those days of carry-ons are way gone) with two suitcases, a Pack 'n Play, a stroller, a car seat, a diaper bag, a crying child, and a dawning sense that this will not be the same as it used to be. Not even close.

So here goes:

1. Give up hope. Those days of catching up on your magazines or pleasure reading in the air? Over. Done. Your airplane ride will not be spent reading or sleeping or working, or even making conversation with that chatty person in 16B. No, those sky hours will be consumed by the child. She will devour them. Meanwhile, you will struggle to stay one step and activity idea ahead as you wonder why this flight is taking so darn long. This all is much easier if you just assume the flight is lost time. And eventually, you might find that you and toddler actually enjoy the rides together

2. Plan. You must have snacks, diapers, and water, and ideally another set of clothing. Maybe this is obvious for most other parents, but I’ve ended up with an angry, hungry, naked child by the end of at least one flight. It’s OK, she survived. But it’s better if you bring the gear. Along with an arsenal of activities more interesting than the in-flight magazine – anything from books to crayons to Post-it notes (awesome).

3. Let the child move when she can move. This goes along with No. 1. While waiting for your plane, you will not read or browse the duty free shop’s cosmetic section or sit for an overpriced meal in an airport restaurant. And since these options are gone, you might as well walk around with your kid. (Assuming he’s walking.) Up and down a terminal hallway, on the moving walkway again and again and again, up and down the escalator. It’s mind numbing. We know. And you also have to keep close attention to make sure they stay safe with all those moving floors and rolling bags and rushing people. But best to let them get some energy out while it’s possible.

4. This is less of a tip than a life lesson. The next time you travel without your toddler, you will be amazed at how easy it is. Four hours stuck on the runway? Whatev. Once you’ve done that on a completely full plane with a child on your lap (been there), you realize that if you’re on your own there’s really no problem. Take a snooze. Passport control seems long? Relax. Once you’ve squished into a developing world airport’s custom control room with a jet-lagged baby attached to your front, you realize that doing the same on your own is cake. Parenting can be all about new perspectives.

So take those for what they’re worth. And I’ll be back with tips for dealing with two babies on a plane sometime in the next decade. Maybe. Because, frankly, that thought makes me terrified.

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