Parenting at 32,000 Feet

Ply them with chocolate, remember to reseal the sippy cup once the cabin pressure stabilizes and other lessons learned by a mom in-flight.

I admit it—I used to be That Person.

You know, the person who boards your flight, gets one look at your kid, and rolls her eyes aaalll the way back into her head.

Before I got pregnant, my husband and I flew to London every summer to visit his mother and stepfather, who were living in England at the time. On one particularly crowded flight, an Irish family with four kids sat right behind us and for seven very long hours proceeded to kick, scream, cry and fight with each other and everyone around them.

I cursed them—silently, of course—and vowed that when we had kids they’d sit quietly, hands folded in their laps, watching the in-flight movie or reading their books.

Go ahead and laugh. I’ll wait.

Finished? Good.

Fast forward to role reversal

In 2006, my husband came home and announced we were moving from Western New York to Central Illinois so he could pursue doctoral studies. Now that we’re 700 miles from our extended family and friends, we spend a lot of time on airplanes. With a 2-year-old.

Yeah. Now I’m that other person. The one holding the screaming baby.

On my first solo flight back East, I started apologizing before I even boarded the plane.  Cringing as Emmeline stood up and patted the head of the man seated in front of us, I pulled her back into my lap.

“Sit down, baby,” I hissed. “That man doesn’t want you to touch his head.”

I was equally apprehensive about the cabin crew.  “I’m so sorry,” I said, as I pushed past the drink cart on my way back to the restroom with my toddler in my arms.

Since then I’ve learned a thing or two about flying:

I’ve also learned that the cabin crew can be a parent’s best ally. Because dude, sometimes you need apple juice, like, right now.

Family travel tips from a flight attendant

Kim Kelley is not only a veteran flight attendant—she’s worked for American Airlines for the past 15 years—she is also the mother of two kids, ages 5 and 2.

Kelley points out that typical flight attendants are naturally outgoing and friendly. The crew is there to help, and introducing yourself and your child can go a long way toward ensuring that your family has a comfortable flight.

“Always try to say hello to the flight attendants, and let us know if you have any special needs or requests as soon as possible,” she says.

She adds that anticipating the needs and wants of your child before you get on the plane is key.

“Allow your child to bring along a small carry-on bag or backpack with their favorite blanket, stuffed animal or other lovie,” Kelley says. “And packing a few of the child's favorite healthy snacks, such as cereal bars, fruit snacks, nuts and dry cereal will help curb the onset of the unexpected hungries.”

In Kelley’s experience, most families are just as well behaved as childless passengers.

“I have not had any bad experiences with children on my flights,” she says. “The most memorable flights are the ones on which the children are so very polite and excited about the adventure of flying and going on a vacation, or in some cases, returning home.”

What to do when you’re the ‘bad parent’

As for the other passengers, travel expert Carl Winston says parents need to remember that other customers do have a right to travel in peace.

Winston, director of the School of Tourism and Hospitality at San Diego State University, says an out-of-control child can be likened to the drunk guy next to you in a restaurant, hollering for his next beer at the top of his lungs.

What, you mean the person next to me doesn’t want to listen to my kid have a meltdown because we’re all out of Goldfish crackers? Really?

“The provider does have an obligation to protect all their guests,” says Winston. And while he doesn’t advocate kicking a child off the plane for a minor infraction, he does point out that kids of any age shouldn’t be allowed to run amuck.

And that, he adds, is the responsibility of the parent.

I couldn’t agree more. I know I didn’t like it when someone let their kid kick my seat for hours or let them play with the seat-back tray until I got whiplash.

That’s why I remove my daughter’s shoes (unshod feet equal less impact on the seat), and make sure she’s well-stocked with treats and trinkets purchased solely for the flight and unveiled one-by-one to alleviate boredom.

My secret weapon? Chocolate. The M&M may be small, but man, it sure is mighty.

Themes: Family Travel