Quick Tips for the First Time Flier
As a flight attendant mom I am often asked for tips for a first time flier. The whole purpose of this website, Cloud Surfing Kids, is to help parents feel prepared when flying with their kids, and I love sharing tips that work for me and that I see working for other families on the flights where I’m working. Here are a few ideas to get you started as you prepare for your first flight with kids:
Talk about the Flight before the Travel Day
Talking about what to expect when you fly can help reduce anxiety and fear of the unknown. You can even take a “practice flight” in your house. Walk through waiting in a couple of lines and the security checkpoint–where you’ll put all of your things (including favorite toys) through a small tunnel and meet them on the other side, walking to the plane, sitting in the seats and buckling seat belts. Talk about staying in your seat when the seat belt sign is on. A first time flier won’t be familiar with cabin pressure. Talk about the funny feeling you might get in your ears when the plane descends and how it can feel better when you yawn, chew food, or drink water. Mention that the funny feeling gets better as the plane gets closer to landing. (Don’t fear ear pain from air pressure. Although it is horrible, it really is not that common. As a flight attendant I only see about 5% of my passengers experiencing ear pain, if even that much. On most of my flights I don’t have anyone complaining of ear pain.)
If you have a sensitive child it might be helpful to let them know the airplane engines are loud. You can find a sample of the ambient airplane noise on many white noise machines, if you have one at home, or if not you can download a white noise app on your phone that usually includes an airplane engine sound. Some other ways to prepare for a flight with a sensitive child can be found here: Ways to Help Your Child be Calm on a Plane.
When I’m traveling with my young kids I find it much easier to check our large suitcase. Even if you have to pay extra, it really is worth the money to not have one more thing to carry on the plane with you. If your children are older (I would say more than ten years old), you might be comfortable bringing luggage on the plane. When packing, plan for as many scenarios as you can (medical needs, delays, food, etc.) but be as compact as you can. When I pack for myself and my kids, Ella, age 8, and John, age 3, I use one 26-inch rolling duffel bag for my checked bag. Then I pack a backpack for me to carry, a rolling backpack for Ella, and a mini Backpack for John. Then I bring a small cooler for food (one that can fit under the airplane seat) and a small open tote bag where I shove anything extra that doesn’t fit into the bags mentioned (blanket, camera, sweater, etc.). Always, always bring enough food, medicine, diapers, formula for at least twice the hours of your expected travel day. Read here for more explanation on why I say Always Pack Spare Clothes for EVERYONE traveling. If you have a child in a car seat, I highly recommend buying or borrowing my favorite tool, GoGoBabyz TravelMate Wheels, which snap onto your convertible car seat to create a stroller.
As I said above, everyone’s biggest fear, ear pain, really doesn’t happen that frequently. That said, ear pain when flying is more common in children because they have shorter Eustachian tubes than adults so fluid is more likely to build up in their ears. If your child has a cold or stuffy nose from allergies, you want to do as many things as you can to prevent ear blockage. Here are my tips for flying with stuffy noses for children, and for adults, read my Flight Attendant Tips to Prevent Blocked Ears.
Combat Fear of Turbulence
Some first time (and even experienced) fliers are very fearful during turbulence. There are two things that sometimes help my fearful passengers when we are experiencing turbulence:
- Imagine you are on a boat, rocking in the waves. Even when they are big waves, the boat (plane) is safe. You’re just rolling on the waves.
- If you are buckled in your seat, you are safe during even most extreme turbulence. Even if carts are thrown to the ceiling and slammed to the floor, in your seat buckled in you are safe. The plane is designed to withstand greater than hurricane force winds, which is a condition far beyond any you would be flying in.
If you, as an adult, have a fear of turbulence, try not to show that to your kids. I was on a flight with Ella when she was just 3 years old. Shortly after takeoff, we encountered wake turbulence. Wake turbulence is turbulence that forms behind an airplane. It only affects your airplane if you are too close to the plane in front of you. Our plane dropped about 15 feet very suddenly. I reached over to grab Ella, who fortunately was buckled in her C.A.R.E.S. Harness. Even buckled up I watched her lift off the seat about an inch. Most of the cabin screamed, and I looked at Ella to gauge her reaction. She exclaimed, “Woo hoo! Let’s do that again!!!” For her it was a fun roller coaster ride. So even if you are fearful during turbulence, try to let your kids have fun with it (with seat belts safely buckled).
Take a Picture
Don’t forget to take at least one picture to preserve the memory of your first time flying! It’s great if you can stop by the cockpit during boarding to say hello and ask if you can get a quick picture in the cockpit, but if that isn’t possible, just be sure to take a few snapshots of your kids during the flight!
Flying can be stressful, and flying with kids just adds to the potential for stressful situations. But it can be so much fun to! Try to give yourself as much time as you can to get through the airport and to the plane so that you’re able to relax and let your kids enjoy and explore the new environment. When things don’t go exactly as planned, imagine yourself a palm tree, flexible and swaying with the wind, never breaking. Both in the airport and on the plane things will go more smoothly the more you engage with your kids. Even for toddlers it helps if you describe the things you’re doing and give them an idea of what is coming next.