Ask the Expert: Flight attendants dish on flying with children
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Flying with children can rank right up there with vaccination appointments and paying taxes on the list of absolute least favorite things to do. But, when Grandma and Grandpa live two time zones away, you can find yourself booking the flights and hoping for the best – like a cruel and tiring gamble. So, we enlisted the help of
Waren Senica, a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline for seven years, to help navigate some of our questions on traveling with little ones.
Senica says that a good flight starts with purchasing a seat for each person in your family.
“I recommend buying a seat for your kids and bringing a car seat unless your child is still a small baby,” Senica said. “This will help parents and keep kids safe, especially on long flights.”
After posing several questions to Senica on the Dos and Don’ts of flying with children, he opened the topic up to a major airline flight attendant forum on Facebook and received dozens of responses. We compiled the flight attendants’ tips into the following list:
- Be sure to bring enough to entertain your child during the flight. Make sure all your bases are covered with a snack and drink (especially if your children has any sort of food allergy – airlines don’t always carry specialty food items), several activities, and a blanket or jacket. For items like diapers and wipes, be sure to pack double what you think you may need for the time you are on your flight.
- Pack a smaller bag with items you know you will need DURING the flight, like diapers/wipes, bottles, and pacifiers. Place this bag under the seat in front of you so that you have access to it throughout the flight, even during times when the seatbelt light is on. Flight attendants say that needing to access overhead storage multiple times during a flight can be unsafe and a nuisance for those seated around you.
- If you bring electronics to entertain your children, throw in an extra set of batteries and headphones to make sure they will definitely be able to use the device during the flight.
- When it comes time for food or beverage service, try to go over options for a snack or drink with your children prior to the flight attendant arriving at your row so that you or your child are ready to order when asked. This helps speed up the food and beverage service and makes the flight attendant’s job a little easier.
- Do try your best to make sure you are seated next to, or as close as possible, to your children so you can monitor their behavior.
- Be sure to bring your children’s car seat for them. As one flight attendant put it, “your child can’t ride in a car going 60 mph unbuckled, so they shouldn’t ride in an airplane at 500 mph without being restrained.”
- Try to burn some of your child’s extra energy by letting them run in the airport gate prior to boarding the plane. Do a set of jumping jacks or a quick game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” to get out some of the wiggles. Passengers are more likely to tolerate a little noise in the gate, than a lot of noise on the plane.
- Bring a few wet washcloths in a ziplock bag. Planning ahead can make clean up easier for you and the flight crew.
- Do ask the flight attendant to watch a baby or child for you if you need to use the restroom. They are happy to help as long as passengers are polite!
- Do teach and encourage children to be polite and courteous to their fellow passengers. Encourage them to help clean up their space at the end of the flight to help teach personal responsibility. Flight attendants notice parents who make an effort, no matter how the child ends up acting.
- Do not hand dirty diapers to flight attendants. Remember, they handle your food and drinks!
- Do not allow children to roam around the aircraft by themselves.
- Along the same lines, don’t send young children to the lavatory without a parent. Walk back with them and stand at the door if they are not tall enough to lock it.
- Do not let children walk into the lavatory without socks and shoes. This was a big pet peeve of many of the respondents!
- Don’t make the flight attendant tell your children to sit down and buckle up. That is your job as the parent.
- Don’t let your children climb, jump and run on seats, in aisles or galleys.
- Do not allow children to unbuckle their seatbelt (yours should be buckled, too) if the “fasten seatbelt” light is illuminated. There is a reason the captain has turned the light on.
- Do not change diapers on the tray table where people eat and drink.
A few other tips Senica passed along included the best way to handle jet lag with children.
“Make sure to hydrate,” Senica said. “Drink lots of water, exercise and do some outdoor activities during the day once you get to your destination. Personally, when I have a long layover in a certain city, I take a power nap, usually 30 minutes to an hour, then do some sightseeing and exhaust myself the rest of the day.”
And for those pesky clogged ears that so many children deal with, Senica passed along a favorite tip of flight attendants in addition to chewing gum for children or offering a bottle or pacifier for babies: Valsalva’s maneuver.
“It’s simply pinching the nose, closing the mouth and then exhaling,” Senica said.
So, now that you have the insider information on flying with children, go book that next trip to see Grandma and Grandpa. Here’s to hoping that your next flight with children is quick and painless!
-by Emily Robertson