Baby Makes Six: Surviving air travel with young children

It was during the eight-hour wait for our second flight that Eddie decided Mom had oversold flying on an airplane to Nova Scotia.

“I want to go home now,” he informed me. “To my bed, and my toys.”

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“Sorry, buddy, we have to wait for the next plane, and then we get to go to Nova Scotia and see your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins!” I said in the cheeriest voice I could muster through my fog of exhaustion.

“Mama, I want to see my toys now, not grandma and grandpa,” he explained patiently. When I repeated my cheery refrain, he decided running around the airport was the best way to relieve manic energy. I was relieved when he passed out on a low window ledge, curled up in my sweater.

My husband and I have taken many long trips with our kids. When we lived in Yellowknife, visiting our folks on the East Coast meant a 16-hour day and three plane rides. We drove from Yellowknife to Victoria with three of our kids when we moved here. And when Eddie was six weeks old, we drove to Drumheller and back to take in the dinosaur fossils at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

None of the older children remembered flying, though, since they were so young, and Eddie, of course, has no memory of that first road trip.

Plus, Clayton and I were flying on separate airlines, he with the older three, and me with Eddie. (We received tickets on two separate airlines as gifts — the minor inconvenience of splitting the family unit was more than worth it.)

Here are a few things we learned this trip, in hopes it helps other parents flying this summer.

First, pack a substantial amount of food for each child. Although there are lots of options to buy at the airport and on the plane, you might not find something your child will like. Having the kids pack a lunch in their carry-ons also allows you to make sure they will get some fruits and vegetables that day.

Don’t pack liquids, though; security will make you dump it out unless it’s formula or breast milk.

If you’re travelling with a toddler or pre-schooler, purchase headphones that will fit a child-size head before you get to the airport. Ear buds will not stay in tiny ears. Believe me, you’ll want headphones for the airplane’s entertainment system.

Eddie often falls asleep listening to a playlist of lullabies on my smartphone, and having that music with us was invaluable when he became exhausted and overstimulated. If your child falls asleep to music, find some way to bring it.

Bring activities and light toys, but don’t be too ambitious. Clayton and the older children planned to play Dungeons and Dragons on the flights. They never got to it, because they were sitting in two separate rows; Clayton carried the heavy D&D books for nothing.

If you’re going during the school year, check in with your child’s teacher well beforehand, and get their schoolwork. Homework was a good downtime for the kids, surprisingly, and the kids came back to school mostly caught up.

Finally, don’t be surprised if the kids are harder to handle on the way back, just when your own reserves of energy and patience are mostly spent. It’s a good idea to save some special activity or treat for the trip back.

On that long travel day, Eddie perked up after his nap, and marched onto the second plane in his pyjamas. The flight attendant saw him, smiled and said: “Would you like to meet the pilot?”

Eddie posed for pictures on the flight deck, shook the pilot’s hand and was soon in his seat, and then soon asleep, ready for the great adventure before him.

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