Avoiding “the look” when you fly with children

The tinsel’s off the tree and the last stocking has been stowed. Ready to relax? Not so fast! Spring Break is right around the corner, and many of us, lured by glossy travel brochures and picturesque websites, are already planning trips filled with good old-fashioned family fun!
What we tend to forget, though, as we daydream of “shushing” down the slopes or swimming with the dolphins, is that there will likely be extensive travel involved in reaching our own personal “Wally World.” And trust me, whoever said “getting there is half the fun” has clearly never been on the receiving end of what I like to call, simply, “the look.”

What is “the look”?
If you have ever boarded a plane with children under the age of 10, chances are you have gotten “the look.” Not only do you know what look I’m talking about, but if you are like me, you are probably guilty of having given it yourself in your pre-family-boarding days. It’s an expression that falls somewhere between dismay, panic and full-blown aggravation. It clearly communicates “Oh please, not my row,” is often accompanied by an eye roll and, in severe cases, an audible sigh. It leaves no doubt as to the fact that your fellow travelers would prefer that your children be stowed with the luggage during the duration of the flight.

AVOIDING TURBULENCE
While you may not be able to avoid getting “the look” when you board, you can certainly diffuse it during travel. How? By being prepared and investing in what I call a little “travel insurance.” Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years (some the hard way) to get you through what could otherwise be a bumpy flight:

• When traveling with an infant, try to choose flight times that are close to or during naptimes or bedtimes. A sleeping child is a quiet child.

• Be ready to combat baby’s stopped-up ears with bottles and pacifiers.

• Head to the nearest dollar store and pick up some new (quiet) toys and surprise your child with them at various intervals. Or print out pictures to color from a favorite cartoon website.

• Give your child his own special carry-on, and let him fill it with a few favorite toys, books and snacks.

• If your child is a first-time flier, prepare her by reading books and talking about what to expect in order to eliminate any fears and anxiety.

• Always, always, always have a change of clothes, extra diapers and baby wipes on hand. I cannot stress this enough! Never hurts to throw in an extra shirt for yourself too, just in case.

• Be considerate. Don’t let your child kick the seats, jump up and down, talk loudly, crank up the volume on an electronic device or otherwise annoy the other passengers. Lay out your expectations and the consequences clearly and before boarding.

• If a toddler meltdown or a school-age showdown occurs, stay calm. The more agitated and nervous you become, the more your child will feed off that, and things could escalate quickly.

• Finally, never underestimate the power of alcohol. No, not for your child, for your fellow passengers. Offer to buy a round for those seated in your immediate vicinity. They might be more forgiving, or they might doze off and quit staring at you. I once heard about a couple traveling with twin toddlers who passed out homemade cookies to all their fellow passengers before takeoff as a pre-emptive strike. Smart move!

With a little advance planning and preparation, traveling with a small child doesn’t have to be a hassle. Fortunately, both of my children have always loved to fly (and fortunately, we’ve never been on a flight that lasted longer than two hours). But trust me when I tell you that there is no greater satisfaction than having the same person who gave you “the look” commend you on your “charming” and “wonderfully behaved” children at the end of a flight.

By Bonny Osterhage