Testing Airplane Travel Advice with an ACTUAL Toddler

June 8, 2012 at 5:25 am

Watching planes while waiting to take off!

Even though G is only a year and a half old, he’s already been on 8 airplane flights, and we’ve got another trip scheduled for the beginning of next month! It’s not that we’re so desperate for travel that we’re dragging our baby back and forth across the country; this is simply the result of a spread-out 21st century family and a lot of work-related frequent flier miles.

I’d love to say that after all of his time in the air, we’ve gotten a system down and things run smoothly. This is absolutely NOT the case. Every time we travel, I work hard on preparing for the task ahead. I look up advice and shop for products on the internet. I carefully consider ways to make travel easier on G and the other airplane passengers. I remember seeing all of those other happy, quiet families on the plane and try to figure out what they did and I did not do. I usually come up with a beautiful plan that should work great – only to be smashed to pieces by the reality of toddlerhood.

So, for all of you parents who have traveled with babies or are considering it in the future, here’s my breakdown of how all that travel advice works with a REAL kid!

Advice: Time the flight to your child’s nap or sleep schedule.

What happens for other people: When those big jet engines roar up, the baby drifts off to sleep and spends a quiet two hours napping in Mom’s lap.
What happened for us: The plane arrives late, and boarding happens a full hour after his usual nap time. Toddler is exhausted and running on adrenaline, causing tantrums and screaming in the airport. Once the plane takes off, he cries for another half hour while we work to get him to sleep. He takes half a nap and wakes up cranky and confused. This results in him throwing goldfish crackers at the people in the row in front of us.

Advice: Try bringing a car seat if your baby sleeps well in one.

What happens for other people: Parents buckle child into seat for a safe and secure flight. Sometimes they jiggle a toy in front of the baby and she laughs playfully. After a few happy minutes of flight, baby drifts off to dreamland for the remainder of the trip.
What happened for us: Baby is so excited about getting on the plane that he refuses to get into his car seat. After some wrestling, we strap him in and he commences howling. Then he discovers that he can reach the seat in front of him with his foot and starts repeatedly kicking the back of the poor woman in front of us. Every time I grab his foot and tell him to stop, he starts screaming. We discuss if it’s better to have one unhappy person getting kicked and a quiet baby, or nobody getting kicked but an entire plane annoyed by the screaming baby. We still haven’t found an answer to that question.

"Ooooo! Plane!!"

Advice: Make sure babies drink during take-off and landing to help clear their ears.

What happens for other people: Mom happily nurses baby during takeoff or a toddler sits and sips on her little pink cup of water. Child is happy and pain free, yey!
What happened for us: This has been an important part of our airplane flights, but rarely goes smoothly. If my baby is tired or sees us putting together the bottle of milk before take-off, he will cry and cry for it. This usually happens as the plane is sitting 12th in line for take-off, and I have passengers giving me dirty looks for denying my baby what he clearly desperately wants. I actually had a woman ask me once “Why don’t you just give him the bottle?” Well, honey, when you can’t take more than 3 oz containers through security, this milk is precious stuff! And I’m going to save it for when he really needs it… 20 minutes from now when we finally get to take off! Also, just a note, if you let your kiddo drink and eat as much as he wants during the flight, getting him to choke down more for landing is NOT easy. Yes, this is the voice of experience speaking.

Advice: Bring lots of healthy snacks.

What happens for other people: After take-off, Mom unveils a reusable container full of organic apple slices! Child squeals with joy and sits happily watching her DVD and munching away.
What happened for us: Well, once we got to the airport two hours early, flew through security, and then had a ton of time to fill before getting on the plane. I revealed the location of the snacks early, and my baby ate them all before the flight. Then there was the previously mentioned trip where he woke up angry and confused from a too-short nap and decided to entertain himself by throwing his snacks at everybody around us. Warning: even organic apple slices can be a dangerous projectile! On our last trip, I was sure I brought enough (soft, not pointy) food for all possibilities, but this time my husband declared all of the snacks to be “for the baby” and refused to eat them. This left HIM cranky and unhappy. Sigh.

Advice: Airplane entertainment options abound!

What happens for other people: Parents buy little baby earphones, and little baby airplane sticker sets, and drawing boards with markers attached, and DVD players, and many other wonderful toys and bags. Kids are so happy to have new things to play with on the plane that they don’t even notice what’s going on around them!
What happened for us: On a normal day at home, my kiddo spends most of his waking hours running around. He loves to “go for walk” which means we go outside and play in the grass or walk over to the playground or throw rocks in puddles. We don’t let him watch TV (he’s less than 2 years old, and our Dr said to avoid it). So, plopping our kid down in front of a DVD player just does NOT work on an airplane. I say “Ooo, G, look, let’s watch Cars!” and he looks at me like I’m bat-@#*~ insane and clearly do not understand how much greater his life would be if I just let him stand on the armrest of his seat again. We can get him to play with toy trucks if he’s allowed to stand on the floor and push them across the seats. MegaBlocks actually worked pretty well on the last flight, until they all got tossed too far away to reach while the seatbelt light was on. Sometimes we can read books with him and sometimes we can play with his squishy-light-up squid thing. But if people really wanted my kid (and every other one on the plane) to be entertained, they’d let us open a window and chuck organic apple slices into the engines!

Entertained by MegaBlocks for a little while

Advice: If all else fails – Benadryl.

What happens for other people: Total baby zonkage.
What happened for us: A low dose resulted in a pretty calm happy kid for two hours of a flight home once. He still crawled all over the floor and generally annoyed the nice man sitting next to us, but there was a lot less screaming. So I tried it on the next flight with a full dose. He conked out nicely and slept for the first hour, and then woke up yowling like a wounded puppy. Ever see David after dentist? We had something very similar for the rest of our three hour flight to Cleveland.

My Advice: Just relax and go with it

You can bring all of the snacks and toys in the world, but the only thing that will really make a difference is your attitude. If you’re freaking out, more than likely, your kids are going to freak out. Though, sometimes, they just freak out anyway. But if you’re happy regardless, at least the people around you can soak in your positive energy.

One thing I refuse to do is apologize for my kid. In an age of high childhood obesity rates and zombified kids playing video games all the time, I’m actually proud of the fact that my child is curious about the plane and people around him, and that he does not like to sit still for three hours. Seriously, who actually enjoys being sedentary for that long? Not me, or my baby.

So, if you’re ever on a flight and you see me running down the aisle after a half-naked and soaking wet toddler with apple slices in his hair, maybe you can smile and laugh with me! Some baby noise during a few short hours of travel isn’t going to kill anybody, and if you get up and play with us, you might actually have a more fun flight!

Happy flying!