With the holidays fast approaching, the race to reach family and friends often involves long, crowded airport lines and flights teeming with infant symphonies and toddler tirades. Traveling from Dallas to Denver, Boston to L.A., New York to Tampa or points in between, who hasn’t been held hostage by the double and triple decibel demands of a squirmy two-year-old or the bored battle cries of a slightly older sibling? Let’s face it: Long flights and confined quarters are not optimal environments for the Chuck E Cheese generation. And with smaller planes and today’s airline safety measures in place, running up and down the aisles to expend some energy is generally not recommended.
As a 30-plus year airlines veteran with a major carrier and mother herself, senior flight attendant Mandy Williams’ motto for parents on any flight is to be “overly prepared.”
While some airlines such as jetBlue have individual inflight televisions that include multiple channel options for kids, families sometimes travel with a portable DVD player which Williams acknowledges is fine. She does advise people not to forget the headset as the passenger in the next seat may lean more toward Bach than Barney, however.
“I always figure if I’m going to be on a three-hour flight, it’s best to bring at least three new things for my child to look at–introducing one every hour,” Williams explained, adding each should be an item that they’ve never played with or read before and which will consequently hold their interest. “If I were on a six-hour cross country flight with my child, I would bring six to eight new objects–toys (not “noisy” toys or those with a lot of pieces) and books–and maybe some favorite foods (but not “messy” food) —and that always helps.”
Also, if your child objects to putting on the seatbelt and experiences a so-called meltdown, Williams said her strategy is to tell the parents it’s all right if he or she is crying–but the seatbelt still needs to get buckled. If families come equipped with toys, books, and other distractions, the child can be redirected afterwards and the crying will soon subside.
According to Williams, it’s also important to talk to children before and during a flight so they know what things are (the overhead buttons, emergency button, etc.) and what’s expected of them–such as not to hit the emergency button when thirsty for a cola. “Occasionally parents expect the flight crew to act as babysitter,” she said, recalling incidents over the years when a parent has handed her a soiled diaper for disposal. But with the job airline personnel have to do from take-off to landing to ensure the safety and comfort of all passengers onboard, there really isn’t time for much else.
“Sometimes a child flying alone has gone through the parents’ divorce and is being shuttled from one to the other, maybe feeling very alone,” Williams said, adding she and members of her flight crew always attempt to make the child more comfortable. “It’s good to encourage a child, flying alone or otherwise, to talk to us,” she said, adding some kids like to feel they are a part of things by helping to collect trash, etc. “It really depends on the child.”
Though her son is now in college, Williams said by the time he was 11 or 12 and occasionally flying to see his grandparents as an unaccompanied minor, he was already a savvy passenger.
“I never let my son run up and down the aisles because the child who does that often grows into the adult who can’t sit still on an airplane,” she quipped. “But flying is like everything else in life. Be practical and be prepared.”