Holiday Plane Travel With Small Children

Sedate me now.

“Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go. I wanna be sedated.
Nothin' to do and no where to go-o-oh. I wanna be sedated.
Just get me to the airport put me on a plane.
Hurry hurry hurry before I go insane.
I can't control my fingers. I can't control my brain. Oh no – oh – oh – oh – oh”

-The Ramones, "I Wanna Be Sedated"

This song, while not exactly politically correct, may be the theme song for many a poor toddler brought onto airplanes during the holidays, or for their parents, or for the other passengers around them. Nowadays, most families have to go lot further than over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house. Many have to go on long--sometimes international--flights for the holidays to see the extended family.

There are many kinds of kids, just like there are many kinds of adults, but all of them have a ton more energy than those of us who passed our final growth spurt ages ago. Toddlers especially are a little bit like miniature, middle-aged drunk people: loud, opinionated, unsteady on their feet, prone to emotional outbursts, not exactly able to focus. If you are the parent of a toddler and you absolutely have to take your child on a flight, you are already very aware that you will bother people. After all, the kids bother you all the time!

When I googled “air travel with small children,” the results showed over 128,000,000 webpages with tips for parents on how to handle it. Most parents know enough to bring along a lot of activities, books and some kind of gadget with games or movies. But sometimes, even all of that isn't going to keep a generally well-behaved kid from kicking the seat in front of him or having at least one meltdown along the way.

I vaguely recall a four-hour flight with my kids, at the time, ages 1, 3, and 5. I might have blocked it out of my memory on purpose. I do remember that there were mixed looks of shock, contempt and sympathy (or was that pity?) from the passengers around us, depending on where they were in their own personal journey.

People who chose to never have kids purse their lips, shake their heads and seem to think you should simply leave those pesky little people at home. Those who are in the throws of raising kids themselves immediately swoop in with advice, since of course, we are all better parents than any other parents that have ever existed. And then there is the “been there, done that” crowd, who patiently smile at you, but still discretely ask the flight attendant if they can change their seats to the other end of the cabin.

The baby was on my lap—the stupidest thing ever—as if a mom could hold a baby safely while the plane crashes to the ground. He basically slept the whole way. The other two had declared themselves royalty of the aisles, the older one leading the younger one and telling our life stories to anyone who was too polite to shoo them away. My husband and I spent a lot of time corralling them. Yes, we did our best and we somehow passed ourselves off as the in-flight entertainment that time.

I know how awful it is to hear kids gone wild in close quarters, but the sound of the parents stage whispering, “Put your feet down. . . No, you just went to the bathroom. . . Stop hitting your sister,” is just as grating. Even so, as one of the other passengers on the plane, you are not allowed to shoot them with a tranquillizer dart from your spot three rows back.

There should be more websites for the other passengers with suggestions on how to be patient and make wise traveling investments, like noise-canceling earphones.

And the end of that theme song? Same as a toddler's war cry “Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba!”


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