Monday, October 11, 2010

Making the Skies Friendly

I went to link a friend to a blog post I'd done on entertaining children on long flights, and discovered I'd never posted it. I've had this list forever and would have thought it would have been one of the first things I put on the blog. Guess not. It's definitely worth reading through, even if you rarely fly but drive places with kids (which is what my friend is doing), since many ideas apply across the board.

Each of these paragraphs is a set of suggestions from a different mom who has traveled internationally with children. Well, in some instances, adjoining paragraphs may be by the same mom. I wasn’t very good at documenting when I first started compiling this document. And only several pages into it did I start attributing the ideas. I’ve offered several times on the message board where these where gleaned for people to come forward and claim their ideas, if they want to, so I don’t think anyone’s too offended at not being given credit.

Some of the ideas are age-specific, but you can extrapolate ideas, if your children are not those ages.

You’ll notice that some ideas contradict others (i.e. each child has his/her own bag/backpack vs. Mom has everything in her bag). Different things work for different families, so I, knowing this, left in even contradictory advice. Find what works for yours. Good luck!

When we go, I make sure we have plenty of snacks, so that no one is hungry if the plane food is really bad. I usually have cheese, carrot sticks, apples, crackers or rice cakes, pepperoni, and some treats (candy, mints, cookies). I grab barf bags and paper towels as soon as we get on the plane, for trash bags and spills, respectively.

We have each child take a backpack. In the pack, there will be some new markers, coloring book, new book, CD player, audio book, and probably some treats (candy, cookies, chewing gum) that they can consume at will . I usually take the children to a toy/book shop and let them choose a new toy/book that will be in the pack and unopened when we depart.

I usually take a big tote bag as my carry on. It includes books to read aloud. When my children had "lovey" blankets, I always carried the blankets to prevent their being lost. I always take at least a clean shirt for each child (or sippy cups) since we seem to always spill drinks on ourselves when traveling. When my children were younger (my youngest is 7 years old now), I took a full changes of clothes. The worst trip we had a dc threw up in my lap, but I've also traveled soaking wet from a soda can spilled in my lap just after take-off and boy was I cold the whole way home! Oh yeah, grab blankets as soon as you get on the plane. Our 9-year-old daughter likes to sleep flat on the plane floor, so we put one under her and another over her.

The last few times we've flown, the airplane had a TV screen in every single seat back. There were movies, games to play, and other electronic stuff for dc to do. I wasn't able to figure out how to block any of the movies (adult things and Scooby Doo) or to prevent dc from turning the TV on, but there were some okay movies too, like Finding Nemo. The movies can fill a lot of time.

I also try to have a couple of new things for each kid that they don't even know about to pull out at a desperate moment. If you are traveling over night at their age they may sleep quite a bit. Well, the younger one anyway. Our flight from Japan is around 16-18 hours depending on layovers. Last summer my 6-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son slept very little, but my 18-month-old slept a lot of the time. My children were very entertained by the personal movie screen, but that will depend on what things you let them watch and what happens to be offered at that time (if you even have the personal screens). I admit that my children watched a couple of cartoons that I normally wouldn't have let them watch (nothing majorly objectionable, but a few that I just wasn't that thrilled with). It's just such a long flight!

Ummm, drugs????

Don't forget that the flight attendants have trays of food out on the counter in their "kitchen" between meals for hungry/bored people to help themselves. We always encouraged our kids to take walks up and down the aisles and stop and be nosey with other travelers. Sometimes the older kids would be able to talk with other kids and trade games or even play a game together.

In 1985 we were on a C5 USAF cargo plane going to Guam to adopt Philip and 2 1/2 year old Brian was with us...we took all sorts of entertaining stuff...but alas, it was an 8-hour flight from Hawaii and no amount of marvels could possibly satisfy an active 2 year old...much to our dismay when we were disembarking, this "evil, insensitive man" handed me a letter he had penned in route saying with all sincerity and probably concern, that if we would read Dobson's books Dare to Discipline and The Strong-willed Child that we would have a child that would not cry and disturb other travelers. We laughed and cried and stewed and cut ourselves to shreds over that...for we had highlighted and underlined and read and reread those two books and thought we were following them to the letter! So what did I learn from that? Well, everyone's ideas of a well-behaved child is as different as fingerprints.

Another story you might find humorous that I read in Reader's Digest some years ago: A mother went to the doctor for medicine to "drug" her children during a lengthy flight and was given sedatives for them. She returned to the doctor after the trip and he asked her how her flight had been. She replied that it was wonderful. Her children were no trouble at all. She took all the meds herself and thoroughly enjoyed the flight!

Make sure the children are chewing gum or sucking on something when the plane takes off - that will help their little ears.

Take wet wipes, even if you don’t have a diaper-age child.

We always took coloring books/crayons/sticker books, etc. They are simple and kept our little ones entertained for quite some time. When we traveled this year our daughter had a goody bag in her seat when she arrived full of neat things the airline provided.

The drug suggestion actually reminded me of a funny story. My dad was in the Army and had to go ahead of us to Germany to get housing. My mom, brother and I were to follow. At that time my brother was 3 and VERY active. The doctor suggested my mom give my brother a Dramamine to help on the trip. The first day my brother took the medication and slept like a baby. The second day (the flight over the Atlantic) he spit it out several times until it dissolved to nothing. My poor mom had only brought the one with her so we were out of luck. Needless to say - the flight is still a very vivid memory even after 39 years if that tells you anything! The man sitting in front of my brother got so drunk!!

Blow up a balloon or two during layovers in airports - good for quiet soccer or 'volleyball', etc. Another hit is to blow up rubber gloves for funny balloons! Then just pop them and throw them away when it's time to board.

Call each airline (or have your travel agent do it) and request a "kids' meal" for each flight that serves a meal. It's always a way better meal...chicken nuggets, mac-n-cheese, yogurt, fruit, crackers and cheese, etc. And my children usually can't eat it all so I tuck some of it away for later in the flight.

Audiobooks! Or CD's, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that you bring an inexhaustible supply of AA batteries so there are no accidental "cliffhangers"! Some that we always pull out on vacations and road trips are The Chronicles of Narnia episodes that Focus on the Family has put out, and also their Adventures in Odyssey episodes, which are available on tape/CD as well.

Ask the flight attendants for any "kid packs" they might have available. These have been life-savers on long trips when our dc were little and had gotten bored with all the stuff in their own backpacks. They are typically small handle-bags stuffed with anything from coloring books/crayons, to puzzle books, playing cards, kiddy-oriented flight magazines, etc.

Take full advantage of any pre-boarding help they can give you. Once, in St. Louis we were worried about making our connecting flight, and they let us off first, and had my stroller waiting, but they decided it would just be simpler to commandeer a cart. They loaded us up with all our gear and drove us to our gate of departure honking all the way, much to the delight of my then-3-year-old son!

If you do the balloon volleyball during a layover be sure not to bring the balloon onto the plane. The changes in air pressure will cause the balloon to pop mid-flight which in this day and age is disconcerting to all.

A few weeks before a trip I buy several inexpensive toys, (you know the ones: they're made in China and they break almost immediately - it's the one time I go for cheap not durable because I only care about amusing the little ones for a few hours) and I GIFT WRAP them and stuff them in their backpacks along with new pads of paper, some new pencils or crayons and some stickers. I gift wrap as much as I can. It takes them time to open the packages (and every minute counts for me) and it makes the toy seem more festive and wonderful than it really is. Then take a deep breath and go.

Our last flight we met a young woman traveling alone with her 10 month old. As we waited together for our strollers by the jetway she sighed and said "That was so much worse than I ever imagined!" My husband said later, "She must not have a very good imagination. I usually imagine being locked in a telephone booth for ten hours with a screaming infant and then whatever we experience has got to be better than that."

I agree with wrapping the gifts. But however, I add to that. When I start thinking about handing one out...I give a 10 or 15 minute warning. I will show them the gifts and say "let's have 15 minutes of good behavior please!" Then I get a quarter hour of excited but quiet little ones.

I take pajamas for overnight flights. I take the children to the rest room, they brush their teeth and go to the bathroom, we change into pjs, go back and set our seats back and they go to sleep as if for the night. No sleeping in clothes for the kiddoes. To maintain something of their bedtime routine, I think, helps them sleep so much better and longer. The last then 3 yr old and 5 yr old slept 8 1/2 hours!!!!

Don’t underestimate the value of a ladies magazine. Many more pages than a children's book and they aren't looking at the articles...they are looking at the colorful ads and the pictures...they enjoy a magazine for about 15 minutes when most children's books are read twice over in less than 5 minutes!!!!

My kids are happy with a bunch of happy meal type toys, or JUNK from the dollar store. I'd rather use cheap stuff and then throw them away or give them away when we are done. Anything new and different is entertaining.

I take maze and dot-to-dot books on trans pacific flights. I would buy brand new ones (Amazon has tons) just for the trip. There may be several available for free on the internet, too.

Sometimes having the kids backpacks be rolling ones can be nice. You have to weigh the advantage of rolling v. the extra weight those usually are.

I always pack a full-size carry-on suitcase as one of our carry-ons, usually mine. In it, I pack at least one change of clothes for _everyone_ (including adults; we've had too many throw-up/bad diaper experiences), more than one for potty-training age; a can of formula (which I use to refill the three-serving divider in the baby's bag), if one is in that age range; toiletries for my husband & myself (love to wash my face, brush my teeth, and re-do everything at the end of the long flight); all our meds (never say you'll never need that is my motto :-); etc. I usually put my own personal stuff in a smaller bag inside this suitcase and take it out to put under the seat in front of me (although I've discovered I need a _lot_ less to "entertain" myself when traveling with kids; our tradition is to buy a couple of magazines at the airport after check-in). On good flights, we barely touch most of this stuff, but it's all there in case we need it, which is better than the other way around. Plus, if our luggage happens to get lost or a flight gets delayed/cancelled, we have all the stuff we need for at least one night.

My husband’s sister and her husband came recently, and they did use "drugs" for their kids, Benadryl, specifically. He's a doctor and she's a nurse, so I figure they know what they're doing, lol. Actually, we're just lucky to get kids (so far) who have _very_ adjustable body clocks, so we haven't had to do that. One warning I've heard, though, is to make sure to try it out before the trip, if you don't know for sure how your kids react to that particular med, since it actually makes some kids hyper!

One other good idea my sister-in-law and brother-in-law had was to travel with phenagrin(sp?), an anti-vomiting/diarrhea medicine. It basically knocks the person out so they can sleep, but it would be a life-saver if someone got sick, and there's nothing you can do about it mid-trip but push through. It is prescription, though.

If you have an iPod or other MP3 player, you can get audio books to put on that, a little more convenient than CD's or tapes.

Last idea for now: for a 4-8yo, a Leapster is a GameBoy alternative that we've really been pleased with. Aside from being exclusively educational, it requires a skill level more appropriate for those ages (my oldest son could do some things on some games on his friend's GameBoy, but mostly, he just pushed buttons). My 3.5-year-old can do plenty on the Leapster, too, just on the games that are included originally. He's getting a LeapPad for his b-day in July, before our next big trip. My plan is to have at least one new game for each of them to pull out somewhere along the trip.

Depending on the timing, I might put the youngest in her jammies before we board, or we might have the dinner, head to the bathrooms where we get ready for bed and then back to our seats where we put the jammies on. We lay back the seat, plump up the pillows and blankets to make a little nest and then hope for the best!

We pray for upgrades to business class, but they rarely come through for us so as a friend told me, "it's one day out of your life and then it's over."

I just keep reminding myself that I can do anything for nineteen hours (or how ever long its gonna take)! Most of the time my kids do great, but if something is embarrassing (say a crying kid), I am reminded that I'll never see these people again and it is worth it to go through this for all the fun that we'll be having once we're there!

I did hear a tip on a radio travel show. They polled parents for the very best toy/item to keep young kids occupied for hours on a plane. The winning item was unexpected - a roll of scotch tape!!

Try to check in early to get good seats especially the ones near the toilets, but more importantly to make sure that you get to sit together with your children.

I also would just suggest being very careful with how much you carry on. Sometimes the amount you’re carrying can become more of a headache than the actual time on the plane.

If you’re traveling in the winter-time, a friend who came to visit us had a wonderful idea: she brought a large army-type laundry bag with her on the plane. It was canvas, so it folded down to practically nothing and could be stuck in the side pocket of a bag. Once on the plane, she put everyone’s coats (and any other warm accessories in the bag and stored it overhead. That way, they were all easy to find upon arrival. After she got here, she used it for transporting laundry.

Red River Mom:
Tip 1: Fleecy blankets can easily be vacuum packed and will take no space at all. Buy the space bags or just use regular trash bags, use your vacuum cleaner and then tape it up. We do this every time we travel distance. Clothes take up no room at all this way and allow more space for other things.

Tip 2: Check out luggage storage facilities at the airport where you are overnighting. Often you cannot check luggage all the way through if your layover is too long. So we pay and store it at the airport and don't have to deal with it again until the next day.

Tip 3: Be prepared to put your kids to work. 9 yo can easily take on a cart of luggage (esp. carry-ons) while you and your dh each pile 5 on the other 2 carts. Put 6 yo in charge of 3 yo. While we stand in line to check in, my kids can often be found at the nearest pole or wall, sitting together and playing their gameboys and guarding the carry-ons. I need them out of the way while we are wrestling with bags, if the check-in folks want to see them they are nearby and smile on demand. LOL

Tip 4: Don't make your kids carry-ons heavy. You will end up carrying them! My older ones know whatever they pack, they carry, but I still wean through their stuff before we fly... amazing what my 11 yo deems necessary to ahve with her on the plane as opposed to in the luggage.

Tip 5: Take some easy card games for in the airports. We usually head straight to the gate where we can grab a bit of floor space, sit on the floor, and play cards.

Tip 6: When reserving your seats, you can book three seats together and then leave the middle seat free between the other two. No one will take that seat unless the plane is completely full and you will end up with some extra space. If the plane is full and the seat is needed, trust me whoever is in it will gladly trade with you so they are not in the middle between two of your kids!

Tip 7: Reserve children's meals through your travel agent in advance. They are so much better than the regular fare and a better chance your kids will eat something.

Tip 8: Take on healthy snacks but don't force the kids to eat. Keep them available, but don't be surprised if they are just not hungry. Just make sure they stay hydrated and they will be fine.

Tip 9: Pack up some new things for the kids as a surprise for on the plane. Save them until you are desperate and then whip them out and you get Mommy-of-the-year points.

Tip 10: Keep in mind, at all times, that the process of overseas travel will end, you will get there, and, even though it may seem endless, above all - you will survive!

Tip 11: The kids attitudes and coping during travel will largely depend on you. Laugh at the problems, smile at the spilled juice, nod sweetly when dealing with long lines, longer security, and endless red tape. You show frustration and your kids will pick up on it and reflect it right back at you. Make it an adventure (even if you know it means you will be nominated for Best Actress), your kids will do better because of it.

Wow, that was a lot more than I planned to say... Take what is interesting or applicable and toss the rest. And, have a great trip!

Jackie in Oz
I have had one or the other of my children pulled aside for the more vigerous checks (never do understand why a 9 year old would be considered a threat . .) and I always insist I am present, even if the security guy has to wait a few minutes while I organise the rest of us. If I am pulled aside and if I am travelling with the kids alone, I insist they come along!

Lisa Marie
I always made sure I had healthy snacks, a change of clothes, some favorite read aloud books, small toys (possibly electronic games) and whatever they usually slept with (blanket, teddy bear) especially if it's a "long" flight--you want them to settle down and actually sleep at some time! When our boys were around 2 and 3 they REALLY loved listening to things like Adventure in Odyssey on tape. It would keep them occupied for hours depending on how many different stories you bring!
(Children's Tylenol and Band-Aids are good to bring too--I say this from experience!)

First...accept the tiny of bottle of wine they offer and drink it.

Two, at least 2 changes of clothes...cause the reality is..... I mean for the dc and at least a clean shirt for yourself MINIMUM.

Snacks... most littles don't like airplane food.

A surprise toy...but not one with a lot of little pieces!!

• magnetic puzzles
• a new colouring book
• blocks, doll or a new car... they have never seen and give it on the plane.
• Pack one cuddletoy in their they can sleep.

Juice boxes for take-off so they can suck on something as the plane ascends/descends

Some books to read to them
Finger puppets

Keep it simple...the airline should give them a toy pack
You don't want to be lugging a lot of extra weight when the dc are heavy enough and you are by yourself... I learned that the hard way!

A walkman cd or tape with books or music they like is also great.

Last time, I put things in regular business-sized envelopes, numbered them, and sealed them. I probably did 10 envelopes for each child, and we didn't even get to them all! And I did the "I need 15 minutes of quiet behavior before you get your next envelope"...worked really well.

The favorites were:
• a roll of scotch tape (my dc went nuts over this and played with it for the longest time...hands down, the all-time fave!)
• about 10 bandaids (for them to play with, put all over themselves, etc.)
• sheets of foil (my oldest two had a ball making foil sculptures)
• oh, and I also had some little bitty stuffed animals (someone gave me from a Happy Meal or something)...I put those in an envelope with a questionaire that my dc had to fill out with the pet's name, favorite food, tricks, etc....a ton of questions! And they had the best time "inventing" info about their pet. Then they played with their pets for a long time afterwards.

My other thing is that my dc always wear Crocs when we fly so I don't have to deal with socks or helping dc get their shoes on.

What I personally don't waste a lot of space on is snacks. I take a few things, but then just save left over granola bars, etc. from the kids' meals during the flight. (But my dc aren't picky eaters so that helps.) I also don't take a lot of books...simply because of weight and space. My dc do far better on flights with unusual, fairly interactive things. (If I do take a coloring book, it's one of those Color Wonder ones so I don't have to worry about the markers.)

Last year, I downloaded some stories (ours were Odyssey, but you could do anything age-appropriate) onto my iPod. My dc took turns listening to it. That obviously won't help with the littlest ones, but maybe the oldest would enjoy it, and it definitely takes very little space.

When my kids were little, I used to carry lots of wet wipes ,for the obvious clean up of sticky fingers, diapers, but ds used them to clean the seat, table, window, floor ,anything really...kept him happy for a LONG time.

I used to do small presents in wrapping rather than envelopes, but I like the envelope idea. Stickers, wet wipes (ds once spent the entire 1.5 hour train ride "washing" the train we were in....), notebooks for the stickers/drawing in, some crayons (although the plane might a small pack from a restaurant or similar doesn't take up much space), audio books especially if you have the book and individual backpacks for the kids to carry their junk in. Magazines/comics that they've chosen "for the journey" plus some snacks - then pack the bag the night before pushing how exciting it will be and how the day will go plus how we have to behave. I found a small "first adventure" type book and bought that ds read it over and over whilst on the plane at 28 months. hmm it is still in print:

We like to travel with small magnetic doodle boards (not the ones that make lots of noise when erasing). My girls love to draw and this way I don't have to worry about lots of paper or crayons that will get lost.

Word to the wise - the sound of fifty crayons hitting the floor and distributing themselves in random places around the plane is not a happy one.

Hmmm - wonder if it's anything like the noise fifty-squillion bionicle pieces make when they hit the floor and roll chaotically around whilst wails of anguish are heard from a certain seat?????

There's an advert here that made me laugh, the Mom is booking seats and the assistant says, "Oh we can only sit three of you together". They get on the plane she seats the dad and two small children and then wanders up the plane to the other end to her own seat..... Would never happen in real life but perhaps a fantasy

Angle Bagsh
one thing I would request is the bulkhead seats, it's no fun taking care of little ones when the seat in front of you is in your lap!

My secret weapon was Ring Pops. You can't whine or cry while sucking a Ring Pop, and they last long enough to get you distracted!

Pull Ups for any kids with any chance of potty accidents, even if just while sleeping. I had one who was potty trained but fell asleep and wet the plane seat- that was the biggest pain of the whole trip.

Another big hit was one of those square pads of multicolored post it notes- the kids loved writing on those and sticking them all over the place. Mini magnadoodles- the pen is attached and you can't drop it! Etch a Sketch. Avoid, as others have said, anything with little pieces that can be dropped.

Wipes and post-its go right along with my theory that anything that you would normally say "no" to around the house...okay, maybe it's just my house. LOL! Wipes, post-its, bandaids, scotch tape, reinforcement stickers,...those are forbidden treasures.

And ring pops...that's genius! Plus you've got plenty of wipes for clean up!

Jennifer in AZ
Remember that you don't want toys that make noise-even toys that seem quiet at home are very loud on a plane!

That said, my dd loves her leapster and you can either turn the sound off or use headphones w/ it.

Crayola Modeling Material: My 5 and 3 year old played with this for over an hour on the plane. It's got a different feel than playdough. It is not messy and it's light. Store it in a ziploc bag.

Jennifer in AZ
If you have a lay-over, have the little darlings run around. If you can find an unused gate they can play tag or something. My dc liked to play a game they made up called "Naughty Noo-Noo". If you have seen teletubbies, it's that Noo-Noo. Anyway, they would march around the seats/bench and then whenever someone yelled "Naughty Noo-Noo" they had to run until they were laughing too hard to continue. Silly kids! Then they would play again.

We tended to take too much and then you will have to carry it all because they are tired/grumpy and cant carry their own bags. This is an important point to mention to her. We have found that we don't take very much - colouring books, pens, soft toy (1) or small soft toys, a few little cars or other little toys they like, 1 or 2 small reading books, but often they don't use much of these things - and I know from experience we have travelled for sometimes 30 hours at a time when the kids were little.

Pick an airline that is good and check if it has individual TV screens - we love Emirates best - they give everything!!!

Hunca Munca
Before boarding each flight, we wrote each kids seat number on the back of their hands. Made making sure we were all in the right places SO much easier as we boarded.

laminated name tags: put laminated name tags inside pockets and remind the children never to take them out. if you can attach them to the garment by any means so much the better. the name tags should contain essential info, eg, their names, country of origin address, tel no including country code and area code, destination address and tel no again including country code and area code as well as health info, eg, allergies, etc.

about food. i never take any into the plane. they feed you anyway. what i do is feed them while waiting at the airport so i dont worry if they fall asleep during the flight, whether its long or short, etc... i usually bring the stuff they fail to eat that way i dont worry about where to get food and feeding them once we arrive at our destination. this also works when there's a connecting flight and a long wait in between.