flying with children

Last week my advice column at the Orange County Register’s website was about flying with small children.  The irony is that in a week from today, we will be taking our first flight as a family of six, and I am TOTALLY FREAKED OUT about it.

We are so outnumbered.  We’ve only even flown with three kids once.  It’s hard to believe, but since Karis was born we’ve only taken one trip as a family – to Seattle over a year ago.  Every other trip over the past two years has been some smaller group of the family – most often one of us flying to Haiti with one kid while the other stayed home.  It is really, really exciting to think about being at this stage where we can just plan a leisurely vacation together with our whole brood.  It’s also really terrifying.  Because the last trip, with just three of them?

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It did not go well.

I am slightly traumatized about flying with my kids.  India gets really sick every time she flies and I have spent many a flight attempting to position her body so that her puking does not land on another family member’s lap.  On our last flight, we tucked an airplane blanket into her shirt like a bib, and then tucked the other end into the tray, creating a sort of “puke shield”.  It was effective, but still not a fun experience.

The last time I flew with Karis, it started like this:
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And then ended  in an earthquake and an evacuation it ended like this:
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This was Kembe’s last flying experience.  Same military plane, one week later:


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So, yes, lots of drama with the flying situation.  But really, barring any natural disasters, flying with four kids is stressful in and of itself.  Karis is at an awful age for flying – she is mobile and doesn’t want to be confined, and when she gets mad, she screams.  I can remember flying with both Jafta and India at this age, and the mid-flight meltdowns were pretty intense.  So were the dirty looks from our neighbor.

And yeah . . . about those dirty looks.  Do people realize that doesn’t help?  Do people understand that as parents, we want our kids to be quiet just as much as anyone else, and that the side-glances and eye-rolls only demoralize us in an already difficult situation?

For me, that has to be the hardest part of flying with children.  And I get it.  I really do.  I wouldn’t want to sit by my kids, either.  I am tempted to board the plane, strap them in, and then find another seat and pretend I don’t know them.  But we need (and deserve) to travel as a family, and as a result someone is going to lose the lottery and have to sit within earshot of us.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think the general public likes the idea of children more than they actually like seeing children.  A plane is certainly no exception.  So, the last piece of advice that I gave in my article was really, mostly, just for me:
Keep your cool.  Even with the best-laid plans, you may find yourself with a bored or tired child who decided to test out his lungs on the plane.  It happens . . . and the worst thing you can do is react emotionally because it will only heighten the frustration level for your child.   Apologize to the people around you, do what you can to soothe your child, and tell yourself that you are doing the best you can.  It’s all you can do – and a child’s meltdown does not need to be followed up with a meltdown of your own.  Remind yourself that at some point the flight will end, and do your best to ignore the glances from strangers because stressing out about how others are perceiving your family will only make things worse.
Easier said than done.  Any advice for me?  How do  you keep your cool?  Beyond busting out your uber-cool traveling neck pouch



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