Flying with children – 10 ways to make it to cloud 9!

by Rod Smith

Flying with children? It’s a pleasure – usually. Long hauls, short hauls – bring it on. I accessed our multiple frequent flyer accounts, having just gotten home to the Midwest (USA) from Sydney, Australia, to see my sons (8 and 12) and I have up racked up well over a million miles – and most of it as a family. My elder son had Premier Executive status with United Airlines by age 2.

If you and your children are flying anywhere this summer here are some ways to make flying with children a delight:

Ohare and my boys....

1. Anxiety is contagious – so relax. Get your focus off your children. Quit worrying about how they will behave, whether the baby will cry or not, and all the things that so easily get a parent going. Worrying upsets children. The calmer you are, the calmer your children will be.

2. Trust your children. By age seven each of my sons could find his way around several terminals, check himself into a flight, handle his passport, and respond to questions from customs and immigration officials. My sons have not had to do any unaccompanied flying, but I have used endless hours in airports, often during unexpected layovers around the world to teach them everything they need to know about being international travelers.

3. Trust most of your fellow passengers. You’re sitting in airports and on planes with parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts – people who don’t know your children but who know children. Recruit help when you need it. As a single dad I had to regularly ask someone to hold the baby while I ushered my toddler to the restroom.

4. Trust the flight crew. I am yet to encounter an unfriendly flight attendant when it comes to my children. Flight attendants have taken my children on walks, entertained them in the galley, and yes, even quite recently have taken them into the cockpit!

Nathanael seated across the aisle

5. Regard flying as an exciting slice of real life – not something tedious and overwhelming. It’s a joyous adventure, not a life-sentence! It’s only as big a deal as you make it.

6. Get over the uptight, sighing, dirty-stare passenger who feels above flying near a baby or with children. Your children have as much right to fly as any other ticketed passengers. If Mr. Grumpy World Traveler is bemoaning your child’s presence on a plane, imagine what he’s like at home with his children.

7. Don’t medicate children for your convenience – on or off the plane. Doing so will probably work against you one day.

8. Teach you children cabin etiquette and how things work – just as you teach good hygiene and table manners. Overhead lights, window shades, upright seatbacks, fold-down tables, using call-lights, seat belts, and the uses and rules associated with each are very interesting to young children – the sooner the children know cabin etiquette the better.

They've seen the world, but LOVE Indy!

9. Let your children speak for themselves. My children regularly ask to switch their kid’s meal option for an adult meal – and usually end up with both! They repeatedly ask how many hours are left in the flight, or what city is immediately below us, and personal questions about the captain. Don’t get in the middle or run interference. Flight crews, often also parents, can handle your children and a whole lot more. Trust them.

10. As far as it is possible, only use carry-on baggage. This speeds progress though airports and increases flexibility when there are flight changes or cancellations. Efficiency means less time and opportunity for moodiness! From as young as possible (I chose 6), let each child be fully responsible for his or her own possessions. Each of my boys packs his own bag, monitors its whereabouts at all times, and is fully responsible for getting it on and off the plane. I don’t allow my children to pack their things in my bags and nor do I put my stuff in their bags. I do not allow them to help each other out with their luggage. Such “helping” is not helpful as it only adds to confusion and finger-pointing when things go missing or, if for any reason, stress levels increase.”You pack it, you care for it, you carry it” – is one of our many mottoes.

(Rod Smith, a single parent to two boys each adopted at birth, teaches internationally for Youth With a Mission in the summers, and at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis during the academic year. Rod is a Family Therapist, writer, and teacher.)

One Comment to “Flying with children – 10 ways to make it to cloud 9!”

  1. Lucky dad, lucky boys!

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