Wednesday, April 25, 2012

7 rules I live by when flying with my kids

Flying with my kids on our most common long-haul trip between Vancouver, Canada and Stockholm, Sweden, sometimes feels like a marathon race combined with an obstacle course. It's the kind of activity where I always feel like I have to "stay in the zone" (as they say in sports) in order to get to the finish line in one piece.

Over the years, I've learned a few tricks, or rules, that I now live by on every trip. They work for me, and they make getting there with my wits and belongings just a little bit easier.

1. Always look back
If I've been sitting down somewhere, or standing around in one spot for a while (in the airport or on the plane or anywhere else), I always look back to check if I've forgotten anything as we're leaving. It's so easy when I have the kids with me (or even if I don't!), to put something down and then forget to pick it up. It's kind of like checking your blind spot when driving, and I know it's saved me from losing stuff on more than one occasion.

2. If it's valuable, keep it on you
This kind of goes with the first rule. Anytime you put a bag or purse down, there is a chance you'll forget it (or that someone will grab it). Items I definitely can't travel without, such as passports, cell-phone, credit cards, money, and assorted travel documents stay on my person at all times. I carry them in a small travel purse that I do not take off or put down anywhere, until we reach our destination. This is especially crucial when I'm doing the long-haul flights by myself with the two kids.

3. Check and double-check with the airline
A few weeks before we travel, I always double-check with the airline that everything I've asked for has been done: seating, kids' meals, getting a bassinet (when the kids were babies), and so on. These days, a lot can be checked online, though sometimes I still end up calling the airline to make extra sure that humans, as well as computers, are aware of my requests. I've avoided our family being seated far apart on the plane on more than one occasion by doing this. Most airlines are quite accommodating to seating families together, so if you can't do it by using the online check-in, then call the airline or ask at the check-in counter.

4. Kids' movies come first
The individual entertainment screens available on most long-haul flights are a great way to keep kids entertained. To buy myself as much peace and sanity as possible, the first order of business when I sit down with my kids on a flight is to get their movies working. Usually, the movies won't come on until the plane is in the air, but I always try to quickly get their headphones ready (this is easy since I bring kids' sized head-phones for them). Once my kids are watching something, it's a lot easier for them and me to relax.

5. Don't worry about nutrition, worry about full stomachs
It can be really hard to get your kids to eat on a flight. They may be uncomfortable and anxious, and the food on board probably looks and tastes different than they're used to. The solution I've found is to let my kids have a big, familiar meal before a long flight (chicken nuggets and fries will do), and then bring enough snacks on board so I know they have something to eat even if the airplane food isn't to their liking. If they only eat pretzels, lollipops and granola bars, so be it. I'll make up for it with fresh fruit and vegetables once we land!

6. Go to the bathroom!
I know my kids are sometimes too excited or anxious on or before a flight to really "feel" if they need to go, so if we have some time to kill and there's a bathroom, I will take them in there and hope for the best. It's so much nicer to do it that way, rather than wait for the panicked emergency run when we're standing in the security lineup. On board, if I see there is no lineup for the bathrooms, I will ask my kids if they need to go too. Waiting for an airplane bathroom at the back of a long lineup with a child doing the potty-dance can be pretty harrowing!

7. Make it sound good
I find that my kids respond a lot better to requests for good behavior if I phrase it in a way that sounds exciting, rather than an order. "Put your seat-belt on NOW!", is often way less effective than "Let's put our seat-belts on so we can get to grandma and grandpa!" But when I'm exhausted from a long day of travel, and the lack of sleep and the cramped quarters and the hustling from flight to flight is wearing me down, it can be hard to sound like a reasonable, intelligent parent, but I do try.


  1. This is a good list to follow when you are traveling with kids. I completely agree that when you get on the flight to make sure the kids have their movie ready to go. I let my kids have the iPad and they can watch movies on there. They can play games, read, watch movies, and watch TV through DISH. With the Sling Adapter hooked to my receiver and the Dish Remote Access app, the kids can watch live TV from anywhere we can get a 3G or Wi-Fi connection. A co-worker at Dish told me about the Dish Remote Access app, which allows you to watch your subscription channels and DVR recordings. The kids absolutely love it and they stay quiet for hours.

  2. Great tips about using the ipad! I don't have one yet, but my kids sure love it when my dad and brother let them use theirs!


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