Air travel with small kids takes bravery, planning

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m traveling alone with my 3-month-old daughter and my 4-year-old son over spring break. It’ll be a long flight and I’m already dreading it. How can I make it easier on myself, my kids, and the people around is?

A: Air travel is already plenty stressful. Throw in two young kids and your hair will turn gray just thinking about it. For many traveling parents, the problems start when they try to get everyone through security. You can reduce some of the stress by putting everyone in slip-on shoes (you’ll all have to take them off – even the baby), and having the baby in some kind of wearable carrier (as long as it doesn’t have any metal parts you should be able to leave it on).

Many airlines have dropped the pre-boarding option, even for families with young children. But even if yours still does, consider skipping it. Better to let your 4-year-old run himself ragged in the waiting area than up and down the aisle on the plane. So if possible, wait until the very last second to board.

If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, don’t try to save a few bucks by not buying the baby a seat. Although not required by the airlines, a carseat is the safest choice for your infant. Plus, you’ll need a place to put her while you’re tending to your preschooler. If you don’t buy a ticket, bring the carseat anyway. If the plane isn’t full, you may be able to sweet-talk a gate agent into putting you next to an empty seat. But it’s a gamble. If the flight is full, you’ll have to gate check the carseat so make sure it’s already labeled with your contact info.

Be sure the baby has something to suck on, and offer your son water during takeoff and landing. Sucking and swallowing will equalize the pressure in their ears.

Planning a flight during your baby’s normal sleeping time can also help. If she’s fussy, apologize to the other passengers. Older children present a different set of problems. Your son is used to being able to move around and won’t understand why he has to stay in his seat. Talk up the trip a few days before you leave so he understands the plane is just like a car and that you expect him to sit with his seatbelt on.

Bring lots of toys, books, and snacks to keep your 4-year-old occupied. Small toys like magnetic drawing boards, sticker books, or small cars can keep your son engaged and quiet. My basic rule is at least one toy for every hour of flight time. And leave all the loud, noisy, or talking ones at home.

If your son insists on kicking the seat in front of him (what kid doesn’t?) and you can’t get him to stop, take off his shoes. His little feet may not reach the seat in front anymore. You might also want to bring a portable DVD player or load up your video iPod with a few of your son’s favorites. Have him practice using headphones for a few days before your trip.

Armin Brott is an Oakland, Calif.-based author of six best-selling books on fatherhood. Find resources for fathers at www.mrdad.com.

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