It’s a hot summer day and we’re stuck on the tarmac in a small plane, waiting to take off for an airport with notorious afternoon delays. The shuttle is full to capacity with seats so tiny I’m pretty much glued to my neighbor. As the sweat trickles down my forehead I think, can this flight get worse? Right on cue, my toddler begins a monumental tantrum, complete with flailing limbs that are unfortunately making contact with the innocent bystander in the next seat as people up and down the aisle turn to gawk in our general direction.
What I’m experiencing is every parent’s worst travel nightmare, but if you travel with children it will happen to you at some point. And let’s face it, being stuffed into a tiny seat for hours isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time, but adults can readily distract themselves with reading, crossword puzzles, music – anything to mentally escape the current situation. Toddlers just need a little help from an “activities director” to pass the time until the wheels finally touch down. On close to a dozen flights with my toddler, many with delays, here’s what helped both of us have a better flight.
Simple distractions. Never underestimate the power of ice cubes in a plastic cup. Toddlers find it fascinating, and you’re all but guaranteed a good 15 minutes of quiet play. An hour into the flight and baby’s already tired of the toys you brought? Quick, make a puppet from the barf bag! Tearing paper is also a top toddler activity – the airline won’t miss a few Skymall catalogs or in-flight magazines.
Food. Bring lots of your toddler’s favorite portable chow – Cheerios and Goldfish crackers, raisins and yogurt drops – anything small that he tends to pick up one-by-one, which will keep him entertained as he practices the pincer grasp. Also, those Biscoff cookies airlines sometimes give out? Great teething biscuits.
Technology. Smartphones and tablets are huge hits with babies and toddlers. My not-quite 2 year old will watch videos of herself for 30 minutes at a stretch – an eternity in toddler time. There are apps for every age of child, and younger babies will probably be interested in whatever you’re browsing or watching. The best apps for planes are ones that don’t rely on sound as much as visuals to be interesting – it’s too hard to hear with all the in-flight ambient noise, and little ones typically don’t like wearing things in their ears (which can rule out favorite TV shows or movies until they get used to headphones or earphones).
That’s a short list of things you can control, but the biggest variable that will affect the success of your flight will always be other passengers. Sometimes fellow travelers aren’t so understanding, which ups the stress level for both you and your child. Fortunately for us, the woman in the next seat was lovely, she even picked up a tiny sock (thrown off in a fit of rage) and made a sock puppet that helped quell the tempest.
So those are my survival tricks when flying with my little sidekick – I’d love to hear any surefire tips you have for making the time fly for toddlers in-transit!