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The 3 Best Flying Tips for Parents and Passengers

Updated on March 17, 2017

Recently, my family has traveled more than ever before. It was almost as if the universe had said, “What are the most inconvenient ages for your children to be on a plane? Yes, those are the months you, my friends, will be flying everywhere.”

First, my family and I traveled to Arizona. That’s my wife and me with all three boys—ages seven, four, and one. Flying from Anchorage, Alaska to Las Vegas, Nevada, and then driving two and a half hours to Kingman, Arizona. Second, I took our baby down to Colorado. That’s me with an (oversized) infant on my lap from Anchorage to Colorado Springs, and then a drive to Castle Rock, Colorado. Just typing out these travel plans in the simplest form possible is exhausting. I honestly don’t know how we made it back.

Like many things in parenthood, traveling with children can be difficult. Here is a bit of my story, with some do’s and don’ts for the open air.

Tip #1: Travel light, travel smart!

Everyone always packs wrong

Your kid plays with the same toy every day for an entire year, they bring it everywhere, they can’t live without it, it’s their favorite. What happens as soon as you arrive at the airport holding said toy? They don’t want it anymore. Now you’re stuck holding the dirty old teddy bear because it won’t fit in your already bulging carry-on bag. Another harsh truth is that you’ll never pack the appropriate amount of diapers. At home, you might only change the little darling four or five times throughout the day, but then the TSA needs to swab their tiny baby hands to make sure they didn’t recently handle any explosive material. Now, they’re having dysentery diarrhea every thirty minutes and you’re scrambling in the Duty Free for anything you can wrap their ass in because you didn’t pack enough diapers! The science is there too; extreme stress can produce irregular digestive activity. According to Chris Woolston, M.S., in HealthDay News, “When the brain feels severely stressed, it unleashes a cascade of hormones that can put the whole digestive system in an uproar.”

The goal is to bring the bare essentials while having enough of the necessities to avoid emergencies. It’s never fun to lug around a bunch of extra crap in an already difficult situation. A big thing to remember is that we live in a modern age with conveniences everywhere; you can pick some items up along the way. Call it pride or vanity, but I’d much rather spend a few extra dollars on junk food than walk around wearing a fanny pack full of fruit snacks.

Strollers can also second as great foot rests.
Strollers can also second as great foot rests.

Tip #2: Easy Mobility = Parental Sanity!

Whatever has wheels

We were stuck at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas because our flight kept getting delayed and we found a kid play area. This brings up a great point: most larger airports have an area dedicated to allowing children to run around and act crazy, essentially an indoor playground. While my wife let the slightly larger monsters loose, I changed our baby’s diaper pretty much in the middle of the hallway because we were approaching the eighth hour of being trapped in Sin City’s transportation Mecca and I just didn’t give a damn anymore. After I placed the stink bomb in a custodial cart (which the employee talking on her phone during ‘break’ didn’t seem to appreciate), I noticed a couple of wheelchairs around the corner. I swear this was a sign from the gods that everything was going to be okay. See, American airport wheelchairs are designed to handle up to five hundred pounds because they need to be able to withstand the potential weight of Americans that typically require a wheelchair in an airport. I put all our carry-on bags and both of our older children on that chair and guided them around from terminal to terminal with ease. Be warned though, this is not usually allowed in most airports, liability is too high. You may need to be creative and, as usual, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Think about how tired you are after getting to the airport, going through the lines, walking all that way, carrying all that stuff, dealing with those people, feeling the guilt of everyone dealing with you, sitting in an uncomfortable position for an extended period, and having jet lag on top of it all. Now, imagine doing all that with your legs half the length, a bladder the size of a walnut, a bag that almost outweighs you, not being able to reach anything, and in a world that you’ve never seen before. That is your child’s experience. “To give you a real-life idea of what moderate exercise is, all of these qualify: walking at about 3 miles per hour, cleaning your house, biking (10 mph or slower), doing water aerobics, ballroom dancing, or playing doubles tennis”, all examples given by Catherine Holecko on verywell.com and reviewed by a board-certified physician. Well, Catherine, my kids blow that ‘moderate exercise’ out of the water in the first five minutes at a grocery store. Our kids wear out robots. Most children have the same reaction once they’ve hit their physical peak, “I’m tired, carry me!” If you have a super-sized wheelchair, stroller, luggage cart, or piano dolly, you could avoid some serious extra baggage.

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Tip #3: No one be nice to my baby!

Hey, Mrs. Peek-a-boo in 22B, you’re not helping

Let me get one thing crystal clear here. There is no one on that plane that wants the baby to stop crying more than the baby’s parent. We, as guardians of nature’s most wonderful creation, want nothing more than for our little dumpling to shut their cute tiny mouth and close their big dewy eyes and drift off into a peaceful slumber. If that happens, then, we can drink some overpriced tequila and watch Dr. Strange on an outrageously expensive tablet with crappy headphones. But that’s not what happens. From my experience, there are two reasons a child will fight sleep when they are obviously exhausted: pain and/or stimulation. So, the friendly adult behind us that is smiling and making eyes with my baby? Yeah, making it worse. Sitting at the gate is one thing, but contained in a flying steel tube is a whole other ball game.

Now, I know, it may seem like you are doing your civic duty by making the child or baby smile and laugh instead of scream and cry, but what you are doing is sparking activity for the already whirlwind of emotions trapped within a miniature human that is being physically restrained by their originator. Ruben J. Rucoba, MDon healthline.com writes, “Lots of physical activity, loud noises, or loud music before bedtime can overstimulate infants and cause them to fight sleep, especially at night.” A person needs to be a damn bad parent not to know how to make their kid laugh or to keep them entertained. That’s not the goal. The end objective is sleep and a bit of fussing may precede the dark dreamy rest that our under-aged traveler needs. If you see a baby hopping around and making noise on a plane, do everyone the favor of diverting your eyes and ignoring them. Only then will they realize that there are no other options than to surrender to the still, quiet calm of rest. Of course, if you are willing to commit to switching seats with the parent, by all means, play away.

Stopping off for a burrito at Sea-Tac
Stopping off for a burrito at Sea-Tac

This all may seem like common sense: don’t overpack, be mobile, and don’t let people stimulate your kid, but these tips are the first layer for avoiding other problems that can arise while traveling with children. If you’ve read this and have only learned that I have a brash and cynical attitude, please, heed these words: be flexible. It’s going to suck. In the end, you’ll more than likely make it to where you’re going and you’ll probably even make it home. If you’ve never flown with kids, you’ll never truly be ready for it. Even if you’re a family-flying veteran, each trip is different and there will always be something new. Just hold on tight and remember… someday they’ll have to fly with children of their own, which is what I like to call “Grandparent’s Revenge”, but that’s a blog for another day.

© 2017 Tim Kacillas

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