Whoever said "Getting there is half the fun" wasn't facing an eight hour plane ride with little kids. The key to having the least stress free travel with kids (for you and your fellow passengers) is to plan ahead. These nine tips, from the second you book your trip to the time you're ready to head back home, will help you survive and thrive on a trip with rambunctious little ones.
1) Check plane departure and arrival times, taking time changes into account. Particularly with younger children, it can be advantageous to have them on the plane when they are likely to take a nap. Throwing them too far off their regular sleep schedule with an extra early departure or a too-late arrival can make everyone feel a little out of sorts on the plane.
2) When possible, pre-book seats and confirm them on-line so that you don't have the stress of negotiating on the flight just to sit next to your own three year old. Some airlines charge for this, but it can be well worth the cost.
3) Don't necessarily jump up to pre-board the plane if the airline allows "those traveling with young children" to do so. If you're not worried about finding overhead space, keep them in the terminal as long as you can. It can easily be a half hour wait on the plane from first boarding to take-off, even without delays.
4) Take food. Airline food is not only pricey and of limited selection, it can be hours into a flight before the service is offered to you. Bring easy finger food snacks for the kids, as well as for yourself.
5) Take a water bottle. Liquids are of course not allowed through security, but once past you can fill up an empty bottle of your own, or purchase a bottle of water for the flight. Juice boxes are usually also available for purchase. Again, the service can be slow to come around on the plane.
6) Establish rules on the plane before you get on the plane. Talk to the kids about not kicking the seat, grabbing the seat in front of them, and using their inside voices. Make sure to compliment them on their good plane manners as the flight goes on.
7) Bring tablets and handheld electronics for distractions, but please also have your kids used to wearing earbuds or headphones before you board the flight. It is extremely annoying to have them play a game or listen to cartoons for hours on end, out loud.
8) Let the kids walk up and down the aisle to stretch their legs, but go with them, and never let them run in the aisles, or enter the aisle if the flight attendants are doing food or drink services. Accidents can happen with hot water and metal carts.
9) Have a back-up plan if your plane doesn't have in-seat entertainment or if it's just not working. Hit the Dollar Store for some cards, games, colouring, and crafts that aren't too messy. Don't give them to them in the first hour; space them out to keep them entertained throughout the flight.
It's hard to achieve a perfect flight with any travel companions, let alone little ones. Set your expectations at a reasonable level and remember that anyone offering advice on the flight is simply doing that; don't ground them for trying to help.
This post originally ran on The Flight Network.
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