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Challenge: Traveling with Kids

How to Prepare for Your Child's First Flight

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Any time you travel with kids, you need to perform a mental checklist. Keep in mind, this list might change depending on the age of your children.

  1. Snacks

  2. Diaper bag

  3. Entertainment

  4. Clothes

  5. Bottles/Drinks

If you’re traveling long distances in the car, you’ll need to expect some hurdles. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. Boredom

  2. Fighting in the back seat

  3. Numerous bathroom breaks

  4. Car sickness

  5. Crankiness/Irritability (for both children and parents)

My children have never been on a plane. My husband I want to plan a family trip to Disney World - the happiest place on earth - within the next couple of years. But given both of our work schedules and the fact that both our girls will be in school, we don’t want to take more than a week off. Up until now, we’ve driven to every vacation destination we’ve visited. I think the longest stint in the car was about six hours and it was a long six hours. My youngest was an infant so diaper changes were a must, plus my oldest's tiny bladder and inability to sit still for more than 60 minutes at a time. So, I’ve accepted the fact that if we’re going to visit Disney World, we need to get on a plane.

Here are just a few things I’ve researched that should help my girls’ first plane ride be a smooth one.

1. Choose the Right Destination

One thing that doesn’t worry me about our first flight as a family is the fact that from where we live, it’s only a three hour flight to Florida. This means that by the time my girls get antsy or bored, we’ll be preparing to land.

I suggest choosing a nearby destination for your child’s first flight. This means don’t try flying to another country or somewhere that requires a connecting flight for your child’s first time in the air. You want it to be a positive, relatively easy and stress-free experience. This way, your child will want to fly again and you can slowly extend the flight times and choose more exotic and exciting destinations.

2. Prepare Entertainment

This same rule applies for a road trip with children - entertainment is key! Of course bringing things to do on your airplane ride can be slightly more complicated. This is because you’ll need to limit what you bring depending on the size of your carry-on. You can’t bring infinite types of entertainment. But don’t worry, there are ways around this!

Before your trip, try downloading some new games on your child’s tablet. A new game is exciting and interesting for your child. It will likely keep them entertained for a large portion of the trip. You can also purchase movies online and download them to your device. Though it’s important to offer children alternate forms of entertainment, for the sanity of yourself and the passengers on the plane, electronics are a win! But be sure to bring along a set of headphones. Not everyone on the plane wants to hear what your child is playing.

You can also bring along a few books to read and art supplies. Plain paper and crayons, or even a coloring book can provide hours of entertainment and fun. Another bonus is that the plane ride itself may very well be entertainment enough for your child. Book them a seat near the window and allow them to watch the clouds go by. Some planes are also equipped with televisions in the headrests where movies and other shows can be purchased for a small fee.

3. Bring Snacks

Who doesn’t love food? Snacks can help the time go by for kids and adults alike. Though airlines offer food for purchase, it may not be what your child likes. You can’t bring an overabundance of food through security, so you might want to take a walk around the airport and find shops or stores that carry some of your child’s favorite treats.

If your child is old enough to chew gum, it’s a good idea to bring some along. Chewing gum will help lesson the effects of the change in altitude. If your child is too young for gum, they can drink something during these times of the flight. Parents of infants often time feedings around the flight. This means their infant will be taking a bottle during both take-off and landing, keeping them comfortable and happy.

4. Talk About It

One of the best ways to prepare your child for any new experience is to discuss it first. Sit down as a family and see if your child has any questions or concerns about going on an airplane. You can explain how boarding works and compare the ride as similar to a car ride. Your child will have their own seat and wear a seat belt. Reassure your child that once the plane is at cruising altitude, they’ll feel as if they’re riding in a car. Depending on your child’s age, you can prepare them for turbulence by describing the sensation as similar to going over speed bumps or hitting a pothole.

You may also want to brief your child about the safety video and/or instructions that the flight attendant will perform prior to take-off. Answer any questions your child has openly and honestly as possible, without eliciting unnecessary fear.

5. Be Prepared

Though flying with children is as commonplace as flying for business, there are still those passengers that will inevitably give you dirty looks or roll their eyes once they discover they’re sharing their flight with a child - especially an infant. Don’t allow strangers to make you feel badly or uncomfortable. You and your family are paying customers and have every right to fly!

But, you can help create a less stressful situation by discussing a few things with your child prior to take-off:

  • We use inside voices in the plane - no yelling, screaming, whining, or raising your voice

  • Don’t kick, push, or pull on the seat in front of you

  • Only open the tray table when you need it and be sure to close it gently

  • Stay in your seat with your buckle on unless you’re getting up to use the bathroom

Some simple preparation can really make the difference between a relaxing and enjoyable flight and a major headache.

I plan on utilizing all of these tips when it comes time to fly with my girls. Then, both our destination and our plane can be coined “the happiest place on earth”.

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