My wife and I are used to long-distance travel with young children. With grandparents in different parts of the world, we have flown across the Atlantic countless times with one or two very young children. Before each flight, we are terrified of eight or more hours of nonstop screaming and the consequent looks from our fellow passengers. Accordingly, we prepare all kinds of diversions to keep the children occupied (and the other passengers peacefully asleep). I thought it might be helpful for other parents to share a few tips from our experience.
Boarding: Families with small children are usually allowed to board before everyone else. The idea is to give them enough time to stow away all of their stuff and get the children settled. NOT A GOOD IDEA! This just prolongs the time your children are confined to their airplane seat.
Unless you’re traveling alone, it is better for just one parent to board early in order to have enough time and space to deal with all the carry-on baggage you inevitably take with you when you travel with children (toys, diapers, snacks, clothes, etc.). If you take a car seat onboard with you, this is a good time to install it without having to deal with the child that will eventually be strapped into it. The parent waiting at the gate should board as late as possible and use that time to let the little one move around as much as possible. This is the last chance to get some energy out of your child until the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off. Go for a final diaper change with a good slathering of Weleda Diaper Care. The fewer on board diaper changes you have to endure the better.
Seating is a tough one. It is great to have a window seat for your child. You can entertain them with the goings-on at the airport before takeoff. But consider this: Depending on the seating configuration and size of your party, this may mean that you do not have direct access to the aisle. If you travel with a car seat, the decision is made for you, as car seats have to be installed on a window seat. In my experience, if the plane is not completely full, people are happy to vacate any seat in the same row as a baby. Having a whole row to yourself is the ideal scenario, of course. You may also consider splitting your party. If one parent has a seat a few rows away, you can take turns with your child and actually get some rest.
Foods, snacks, and drinks: In our experience, the best time to get a baby to sleep in an airplane is during takeoff. It may be the bumpy taxiing to the runway or the loud, constant noise of the engines, but both our children fell asleep the easiest when we gave them milk from a bottle (or breastfed) during this part of the trip. While regulations now allow mothers to take breast milk, formula or juice through security, you can also, if needed, try to get some warm milk at a coffee shop before you board. If this is not an option, the parent who boards early can try to get a flight attendant to warm up some milk before everyone else gets on board. Also take some of your children’s favorite foods and snacks with you. They do have kids’ meals on airplanes, but they are not always served when your child wants to eat. And if your kids are picky eaters, they may not like what they are served (and I do not blame them). It is also a good idea to pre-order special meals for the grown-ups. Whatever your preference may be (kosher, vegetarian, wheat free), there are a lot of choices now. The big advantage is that you get your food before everyone else. By the time all the other passengers’ meals are handed out, you are already done and you can avoid the long bathroom lines that always accumulate after dinner service.
Toys and entertainment: Don’t bring anything that is very small or can easily roll away. I don’t have to explain why. For small children, get a lot of small toys and wrap them up. The time it takes for them to unwrap the “present” greatly adds to the entertainment and prolongs the “value” of the gift. No need to spend much money here; a set of colorful pencils from the dollar store, or some party favor trinkets, works great. Chances are half of the toys will get lost somewhere between the seats.
Activity books are a great way to entertain slightly older children for a while. Also, let them watch TV on the plane. If you have an iPod, load some of their favorite shows on it. This is not the time to limit their TV exposure - kids know this is a special treat.
Flight attendants can be your greatest allies: If you are respectful to them and reasonable with your demands (they have to attend to a few hundred other passengers, too, including other small children), they will often go out of their way to help you with your baby needs.
Weleda: Get a Weleda Baby Starter Kit to take on board. It comes in a clear zipper bag, so you can easily pull it out for the security check. The products all meet the maximum size requirements. You may not need all the products on the airplane. A cream, a lotion and maybe the body wash, in case you need to clean something, should be enough. Pack the other products to use at your destination. The zipper bag is big enough to hold a diaper and some wipes, so it is all you need for an on-board diaper change. Of course, Weleda travel-size products are great for grown-ups, too. Get a Skin Food to protect yourself against the dry air on-board and a Salt Toothpaste to arrive refreshed at your destination.
If you have tips of your own, please share them with us. We will collect them and, at some point, publish an update either here or in WE, our lifestyle magazine.