By Corinne for The Pragmatic Parent
The first flight we took with our one-year-old twins was an absolute disaster. It’s painful even rehashing the experience.
Twenty minutes into the two-and-a-half-hour flight, my twins began to fuss. It wasn’t because of the pressure change because they had made it through take-off and settled into cruising speed with no problem and were comfortably sucking on their pacifiers.
At first, it started as fussing, and then changed to whining. I dug through my diaper bag grabbing snacks and toys.
The stewardess warmed bottles in two mugs of hot water and my husband and I tipped the kids back to settle into the crook of our arms for what we thought would be a milky, peaceful drifting off to sleep.
Instead, they drank their bottles and popped right back up. The whining started again and gradually moved to crying intermixed with bursts of screaming.
I rubbed my daughter on the back, I bounced her, patted her bottom, and held her pacifier in place. Nothing was working and at this point, her crying escalated to full-blown wailing.
I saw my husband dealing with the exact same thing. His face was red and the tight-lipped glare he shot me was all I needed to know he was in serious trouble too.
My son was squirming in his arms, throwing his head back, his arms spread to the side taking in air. A second of momentary silence gave way to a goliath-like scream.
Frantically plucking toys and snacks out of my diaper bag, we tried to distract them and grab their attention with something new. But nothing worked.
They wouldn’t go to the nice set of grandparents sitting behind us and the suckers a mom brought to us from the rear of the plane only did the trick for ten minutes until they were wailing again and this time with a little extra oomph.
I apologized over and over about the crying and then finally, I just stopped turning around. I even stopped checking on my husband who was shooting daggers at anyone who dare look at him handling our hulk-strong baby. I felt the glares burning a hole in the back of my head and I could hear the rude snickering about our overtired and incessently crying babies.
When we deplaned, my husband harsh-whispered that we were renting a car and making the 18-hour drive back from California to Colorado via minivan. From the look of the sweat on his forehead, he was not kidding around.
I tearfully dialed our pediatrician asking for tips on flying with babies and then as what felt was our best resort, we swung by the apple store and forked over a small fortune for the holy grail of child entertainment – an iPad.
Before you begin to judge me… It may have been our first flight with kids, but I wasn’t unprepared for the airplane ride. My diaper bag was so full it wouldn’t even close.
I had packed the snacks, I had brought the toys, I had even stashed away special treats laced with bribery. The problem? I brought all the WRONG things.
Thankfully, our trip was a one-time sucker punch and we’ve since taken a half-dozen more flights with our children and have not had any more horrendous in-flight experiences.
My preparation for air travel has evolved and involves pin-point precision that makes even the old me jealous by the time I hand over the first round of goodies.
These are my 9 tips that work like magic, especially on long flights. There is an art to the timing of delivering the goods, and your next flight will go smoothly if you follow the step-by-step tips to pulling out in-flight entertainment in this order.
1) PACK A BACKPACK FOR EACH KID
While Mom and Dad have handle their purses and carry-on luggage filled with cry-proof entertainment, your will be carrying their own. Children love to carry their own backpacks and delight in unzipping their own bags once they’re settled into the flight.
It’s exciting for kids to feel like grown-ups and they like to be in charge of carrying their own accessories.
When you first get on the plane, store the backpacks and your carry-ons and let your children get settled. Take in the surroundings, look out the window, socialize with other passengers and listen to the PA announcements.
Once the excitement of boarding the flight and getting settled has passed, THEN pull out backpacks.
Keep a few things in your child’s backpack, but the majority of snacks and entertainment in your own carry-on so that they don’t go through everything in five minutes flat and spend the rest of the flight searching for things to do.
2) ONLY PACK SUGAR-FREE SNACKS
Bring a variety of healthy snacks for the kids to munch on during the flight. There is a time near the beginning, in the middle and at the end to hand out snacks, just don’t dish them all out before the flight has even begun.
Simple and easy to pack ideas:
- Snack pouches & Applesauce
- Crackers & Goldfish
- Cereal in premeasured bags
- Dried Fruit
- Fruit strips
- Granola Bars
Avoid sugary snacks like candy, lollipops, and sugar-packed fruit gummies which will only energize up your kids – something you want to avoid on an airplane at all costs.
Bring milk or water bottles that meet TSA guidelines but try your best to limit water intake for fewer bathroom trips – especially if you’re a single parent traveling with multiple children who are out of diapers.
3) SURPRISE THEM WITH SMALL TOYS & ACTIVITY SETS
You can certainly bring things from home, but it’s a fact that kids will be enthralled with new items they haven’t seen before or played with at home.
If you chose to bring toys from home, several weeks before the flight, put these items away so they aren’t played with leading up to your trip. When it’s time to open-up the backpack, these will have a new feel to them too.
Travel Tip: Stay away from noise-making toys for everyone’s sake!
4) DECORATE THE WINDOW
If you happen to book a window seat (and you should because kids love looking outside during take-off and throughout the flight), bring a couple sets of inexpensive window clings and let your kids decorate the window.
They easily peel off and can be moved around. Encourage your kids to create story lines and scenes with their imagination.
5) HIDDEN PICTURE BOOKS WORK LIKE MAGIC
Head to the local library or buy them here and here a couple days before your trip. If there is a chance the library books will get lost and you’ll have to pay to replace them, hidden picture books are inexpensive and will continue to be cherish for many years and are worth the purchase.
6) PLAY A GAME
A simple game like hang-man, tic-tac-toe and Would You Rather are fun for kids of all ages.
7) ARTS & CRAFTS
8) YOUR LAST RESORT: ELECTRONICS
Save the best for last but don’t pull them out too early if you can wait. Use electronics as a reward for good behavior and playing quietly on the flight.
Don’t forget to pack kid-friendly headphones so other passengers nearby don’t have to listen to the sounds of the latest Pixar movie or Frozen app on full-blast.
9) IF ALL ELSE FAILS…
If all else fails, ask the flight attendant for a stack of plastic cups for the kids to play with on the tray table. Sometimes it’s the simplest of things which work the best!