It’s the stuff of nightmare for any parent. You board a three-hour flight with a small child, praying that your little one will fall asleep shortly before takeoff and wake up refreshed and happy a couple of minutes after the plane touches down at your destination. The alternative is too terrible to contemplate – a frightened and cranky kid determined to make everyone within earshot absolutely miserable. 

Your fellow passengers (most of them anyway) will probably try to stay patient as long as they can, but eventually air rage will take control of someone. Flight attendants will run up and down the aisle trying to placate business travelers who just can’t take it anymore while you frantically try anything to get your child under control. “What could I have done to prevent this?,” you wonder. There’s no guarantee things will go smoothly when you board a flight with your child, but there are a few tactics that other parents, those daredevils who fly fearlessly with little ones, have found helpful. 

Early boarding

You know that announcement you usually ignore, the one telling people with small children or those requiring special assistance they can board now? The airlines make that announcement for a very good reason. They know you’re up against it and they want to help you get settled before the other passengers start jostling and bumping their way to their seats. Take full advantage of the opportunity to get situated and begin preparing your child for the trip while you still can. So hop on, stow that carry on luggage, and start making little Johnny or Sally as comfortable and happy as you possibly can. Then you can start praying.

An important ally

If you ever needed a friend, it’s now. Think of the flight attendant as the best pal you’ve ever had. Make them aware that you’re flying with a scared or unhappy little traveler and let them know you may need some extra help. If you’re a good actor, try looking frightened and pathetic yourself. Try anything. Just get that attendant on your side. They’ve probably been there before and may even know a special trick you haven’t thought of. When you board early, have a quick word with an attendant so they can keep a special eye on your situation.

Keep ‘em occupied

You know your kid better than anyone, so pull out all the stops and keep him occupied. Remember, when it comes to flying with a young child, technology is your friend. This is one time you should be delighted to let your kid go nuts playing games on the iPad, or binge-watching Spongebob Squarepants until the little darling goes cross-eyed. Utilize those crayons if coloring is your kid’s big thing. Or, play “Go Fish” for as long as you need to. 

Whatever you do, don’t forget the snacks. This is one occasion when you shouldn’t worry about spoiling your kid. Bring along some healthy, travel-friendly snacks, like fruit pouches, granola, and cheese sticks. Try to hold back on the liquids, though. Multiple trips to the bathroom with a kid on a long flight are too awful to contemplate. 

My ears!

If this is your kid’s first flight, there will be unpleasant experiences that you probably can’t prevent. Things like your kids’ ears popping. Have some chewing gum (whatever flavor they like best), though discourage bubble blowing, which isn’t a good idea when you’re crammed into a narrow metal tube alongside a bunch of strangers. 

Try to remember that there’s only so much you can do if you have a child who’s really scared about getting on a plane. Try to be a patient and consoling parent and avoid losing your cool, as hard as that might be. You might even find a friendly fellow passenger who understands.

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