It’s official, there’s nothing worse than being on a flight when your kid is completely and utterly losing their mind. It’s the worst form of public torture and will make even the smallest sweat glands erupt. When people see how much we travel with our kids, one of their first comments, after the initial “I like you but you crazy” reaction, is their assumption that our kids are amazing fliers, travelers and overall proper members of society that can easily be taken anywhere. Clearly, these people have never met us in person or seen our Instastories, because if they had they’d know that our kids are definitely not perfect. And if they were, I’d check their tags to see where they were made, because there’s zero chance they came out of me – a perfectly imperfect work in progress. The reality is that we travel DESPITE the chaos that kids can bring to the equation, which says a lot about our determination, and our sanity.
At 4–years–old, 60+ countries and 200+ flights, Nala is “easy”. She can zone out to movies, play with toys or sleep wherever. Barring the occasional re-appearance of Psycho Sally behavior, usually caused by one of us having the gall to ask her if she’d like some water, she’s a pretty good sport and has mostly been decent throughout her years of traveling. I attribute part of this in the early days to her being a pacifier kid who could be soothed on the go, and the other part being that even though she’s a feisty little child of the corn, she’s just an easier temperament than our son.
Which brings us to the man of the hour, Mad Man Metta, who is currently passed out on me mid-flight after an epic 45–minute meltdown. At 2-years-old, he has never been an easy traveler, and for that matter, an easy anything. From the beginning, he’s rejected binkies, bottles, teethers. Name a soothing tactic and he’s made signs to protest against it. He’ll probably be an emotional eater one day, which works for me, because if he’s chewing, he’s not screaming, but for now, he’s kind of just a menace to the travel society. In the 2 years he’s been earthside, he’s been to 30+ countries, on 75+ flights, and looking back I can’t remember even one flight that we actually lasted in our seat the entire time. Part of it is due to the fact that he was having ear pain (which we fixed at 16-months-old with tubes/grommets and now use nasal spray as part of the solution, all in hopes for a better travel performance), and part of it is that he’s half Satan.
Does it completely and utterly suck to be the person with the crying baby? Not at all, it’s awesome and my favorite pastime. NO, IT TOTALLY SUCKS! I’m cold-hearted, Paula Abdul style, and it takes a lot to break me, and let me tell you, this kid has brought me to the brink of tears more than once on a flight. So, thanks for making me softer kid, but a nice Hallmark card with a puppy and a macaroni necklace would have done the trick!
Now that I’ve given my state of the travel–with-challenging kids union, I’ll bring you to the point of this post, which is to relay 5 tips on how to survive a bad flight with a kid, or gremlin, depending on whichever you brought with you that day.
- Get Up – run, do not walk, to your nearest plane galley. Now that your screaming kid has made you the passenger to be voted off the island by your closest seatmates, give yourself a break from the judgey eyes and take the kid to a place where he can scream while affecting the least amount of people possible. Just being in a different space than your seat can be the trick to breaking the downward spiral that they’ve fallen into. There’s plenty of fun latches and doors to look at, and usually, some old people doing tai chi stretches. The worst mistake you can make is to try and force them to sit in their seat when clearly, it’s the last thing they want to do. Fresh space, fresh attitude!
- Accept help – don’t let the embarrassment of the situation make you reject people’s kind-hearted attempts to distract your kid. Whether it be the grandmother sitting behind you making funny faces, or the single 20 something who’s a pro at peekaboo, purely for the hope that your kid will shut up, let them help! And when all else fails, enlist the help of the true kid travel specialists, the airline attendants. These people have seen it all and know all the tricks of the trade. They’ll pull snacks, toys, baby food, plastic cups, and just about anything to help out, all usually with zero judgments and a true desire to fix the situation. And even better, once the kid exhausts themselves to sleep, they’ll hand you a hot cup of tea like the true Mary Poppins of the sky that they are.
- Take turns – if you’re flying with your partner, it’s essential to give each other breaks. Mostly because if you’re the only one saddled with that asylum patient you’ve willingly brought into this world, you will hate your well–rested partner after you land. We’ll often set 20–minute timers and switch off staying with the 4 year old at the seats versus staying with the toddler in the galley. Even the most experienced traveling parent can feel completely overwhelmed by a plane tantrum, so give a helping hand, take your turn in the penalty box and then get back out onto the ice.
- Choose your sweet bribes wisely – go with something that’ll take them some time to get through and keep them quiet. We’re fans of lollipops and Twizzlers, basically, a sugar-filled pacifier and a dog chew style candy rope. We’ve made the mistake of bribing with things like M&Ms or gummies and they suck them down so fast that you’re right back in a tantrum within minutes, and this time it’s sugar-fueled and chocolate covered. Also, because we’ve been those desperate parents that will try anything, we’ve learned the hard way not to give gummies on an empty of a stomach and too close to landing, because lucky for us we got to see them again, multiple times, during our plane’s descent. So just a warning to the wise, high levels of sugar will cause an upchuck in many kids, which can be worse than them screaming.
- Drugs – if you thought I was above drugging my children you’d be oh so wrong. I’m not talking anything hard enough to get on a street corner in Baltimore, just some light Melatonin, Benadryl, Motrin, or Affrin being dealt over here. Kid melatonin gummies or Benadryl for long flight naps, Motrin for kids cutting some new teeth, and a mix of Motrin and Affrin for those with sensitive ears, make a journey much easier. Needless to say, do not use a flight to try any og these things on your children for the first time, always test it at home first to make sure they’re fine with it. Because you could end up with one of those weird kids that actually gets energized by this stuff and then you are completely up shit’s creek. Fine print disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, I’m just a desperate parent who uses everything in their toolbox when in the foxhole, so if you have concerns please direct them to your nearest pediatrician.
Are these tips revolutionary? Meh, not really, but they’re what we do. I could tell you about toys or iPads to distract them, but in my experience, when a kid is really losing it, they’re barely even opening their eyes to give that kind of distraction a chance. So while we use them, it’s only after we’ve gotten them to breathe and stop crying so hard that it even works.
The most important thing to do when behind enemy lines is to take a deep breath and remind yourself that all flights end eventually. Ideally not like the show Lost, but even that one landed. You won’t be in this tin box of hell forever and if you need to countdown the seconds until landing, so be it. You don’t know any of these people, you’re doing the best you can, and your baby isn’t trying to kill you via public embarrassment #nottodaysatan. It’s just about surviving until you get to your destination, and THEN making memories…or dumping them in a kid’s club at your resort, whatever floats your boat. Just don’t let bad toddler flights stop you from booking your next trip or waiting until they’re older. In the case of toddler travel, it’s definitely NOT about the journey.
For more tips and tricks on flying with kiddos, read up on any of the below so you can be like a Boy Scout and always be prepared. Or like the Boy Scout that can make a fire from just about anything so the plane has to land quicker, either really works!