The first time we flew with our kids they were 6 and 4. The 6-year-old immediately discovered the barf bag in his seat back pocket and waved it in front of his little sister, who immediately peered into her seat back pocket only to discover...no barf bag. "I want a barf bag too," she moaned, eliciting giggles from the adults nearby and the offer of a barf bag from the friendly grandma sitting in the row in front of us.
Today, any peep from a kid on a cramped airplane is more likely to elicit an eye roll than a sympathetic gesture. And the airlines are doing little to make flying a more pleasant experience for families, according to this thorough and somewhat depressing story from the New York Times.
The story includes some tips to flying families, but they're not all great. Here are mine:
1. Bring everything you think you'll need on board with you. That includes food, drinks, diapers, wipes, changes of clothes (for you and the kids because they never just spill or throw up on themselves), and the car seat.
2. Ziploc bags are your best friend. Bring lots of them packed with all your supplies-from a bag full of tiny socks to ones packed with diaper changing paraphernalia. Pack one with the basic supplies for diaper changes--the wipes, powders, creams and changing pad. Pack several others with one diaper each. That way, if you head to those impossibly small lavatories to change the baby (at least one should be equipped with a changing table), you only have to take the two Ziploc bags, not the entire diaper bag. And, once you have put on the fresh diaper, use the empty Ziploc to lock in the odors from the dirty ones before tossing it in the trash. Your fellow passengers will thank you.
3. Download the movies, shows or games you need to keep your child entertained for the duration of the flight. I'm not a big fan of the "electronic babysitter" but when you need a toddler to sit still for a couple of hours, an iPad loaded with shows and equipped with kid-friendly ear phones could be your best friend. Yes, some planes offer in-flight entertainment, but you can't count on the system working, that the film they show will be toddler friendly, or that the carrier will be selling ear phones that fit little ears.
4. Pack your carry-on carefully. I recently sat next to a newish mom on her first solo flight with an 8-month-old. She had the baby on her lap and the diaper bag under her seat. Every time she needed something, she tried to juggle it all in the too-small space of economy class. I offered to help, but it was never easy to find what she needed in the cavernous and unorganized bag.
5. Check in online 24 hours before your flight is scheduled to take off. And I mean 24 hours--not 23.5. That's when the airline releases seats it's been holding for disabled passengers and others so it means you have the best shot at rebooking better seats or finding two seats together. And, yes, this might be a case where it's worth the extra money to book the upgrade seats.
6. Be nice. I know flying can be a frustrating experience these days. People get very nasty and the gate attendants take the brunt of their frustration. Try offering a little sympathy or a word of kindness and you could be pleasantly surprised by your reward. Bulkhead seat anyone?
7. Pick up the phone. In our Web-based world we sometimes forget that it can be possible (and preferable) to get a human on the phone. The customer service agents on the other end of the line tend to be under less stress and more motivated to solve a problem than the beleaguered folks at the airport.
What are your best tips for flying with little ones?
Cindy Richards is the mom of two who gets her muse from traveling the world, usually with kids in tow. She also writes for TravelingMom.com, where she also serves as editor.
See more of Cindy's stories here.