Even though the U.S. Travel Association reports that fewer people are traveling with kids, there are still times when it can’t be avoided. Not that you want to leave the children at home and have them miss out on family reunions or vacations, but some kids are notoriously difficult travelers.
Additionally, when “travel” means flying, the confined space tends to magnify the behavioral issues of irritable youngsters. Rather than risking ending up like the San Jose mom who was booted from a flight because, according to USA Today, her 2-year-old was excessively cranky, prepare for cantankerous behavior before you head to the airport instead of merely hoping for the best.
Take It From the Experts
If you rarely fly with children, it might not even occur to you that grouchy young ones could make for a miserable flight. The airlines have seen it all, though, and are the best ones to offer up advice on flying with cranky kids.
JetBlue, for instance, recommends that people traveling with kids not only arrive on time, but try get to the airport a little early. That strategy allows you to check your baggage and pass through the security checkpoints without franticly rushing, but it also gives you extra time to wear the kids out. Walk around the airport and sight-see a little. Burning off the extra energy will tire the tykes out and prepare them for an in-flight snooze.
Too Old for a Nap? Opt for an App!
Regardless of the age, most kids are whizzes with smartphones and tablets. Downloading a few apps before your trip will keep your kids amused, and keep you and your fellow passengers sane. Maybe your devices are already pre-loaded with games your kids enjoy, but it’s useful to have some new apps on-hand to ensure your children’s attention is on playing and not on whining.
USA Today offers up a short list of top-rated “traveling with kids” apps including “Finger Hoola,” “Questimate!” and “Pettson’s Inventions Deluxe.”
There’s a reason waiting rooms usually keep a stock of magazines: reading helps pass the time. It works for cranky kids too. Eileen Carter Campos encourages her kids to bring any reading materials they want, including books, magazines and e-readers, along on trips.
When you fly, have your kids fill a backpack with their favorite books, including coloring and puzzle books. For younger children, in-flight story time can become a learning experience during which you can help them learn their ABCs, and even get a start on reading basic, simple words.
JetBlue’s website has a downloadable reading activity kit you can print out pre-flight that will help build reading and language skills.
Tried-and-True Travel Games
The same games that work on a road trip in the car can be a success on a flight. You can always play pen-and-paper games such as the dot game or tic-tac-toe. Other fun road games for kids, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, include I-Spy, the Alphabet Game – pick any topic to match letters of the alphabet to such as animals, clothing, cars, etc. – or even a scavenger hunt.
Write a list of generic things that can be seen on a plane such as a cell phone, a briefcase or even types of people, such as a red-haired woman or a man wearing glasses.
Even fully prepared, there are times when nothing will soothe a crabby kid or hold his attention. In those cases, as harried as you will be, take pity on the people on your flight. Look for ways to minimize the annoyance factor for others while at the same time trying to calm the child.
Smarter Travel advises travelers bothered by misbehaving children to ask the parents to switch seats with their kid, but you should take that step or other preventative measures before being asked. Your fellow flyers will feel sympathy more than irritation and they’ll appreciate the gesture.