A couple of weeks ago we surveyed 884 mothers to better understand mommy attitudes and opinions toward flying with children. Given the recent spate of news reports related to airline policy changes for family travelers, we figured that there was a good chance that moms would have something to say. And the results did not disappoint.
Certainly it seems that many moms (65%) feel that there is a negative stigma attached to flying with children. And no doubt, this contributes toward the fact that 68% of moms rate their level of stress as moderate to extreme when flying with kids.
But what is shocking is that more moms (40%) are concerned about their child disturbing others than they are about their child’s physical and mental comfort during the flight (26%).
While I am all for being highly considerate of others – and preach this message daily to my two young sons – it baffles me that moms feel they have to put the happiness of strangers above the well-being of their child when flying.
Moreover I can’t help but wonder if American moms would feel this way if they were offered the type of targeted services that business travelers enjoy today as part of airline efforts to improve overall flight experience. Certainly Fly.com research earlier this year showed a significant lack of child-friendly services on domestic airlines, compared to international counterparts. Airberlin, El Al Israel Airlines, Etihad Airways, Gulf Air, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific offer everything from airport family rooms, special meals, children activity packs, cots, diapers, and even in-flight nanny services. In contrast you are lucky if you get child-friendly in-flight programming and pre-boarding on domestic airlines.
Hopefully this will change. After all family travelers represent a lucrative customer base for airlines in as much as they offer more tickets purchased per itinerary.
Until then, here are some ideas on what you can do to help improve the flight experience for your child, yourself and other passengers.
Time Your Flight around Your Child’s Daily Schedule
Children often behave better when their normal routine is not disturbed. It therefore makes sense to try and time your flight around key elements of their regular schedule, such as meal time, nap time and bed time. For example if your child normally eats lunch around noon and then takes a 2 hour nap around 1:30 pm, for a 5 hour flight, you might want to consider a departure time around 11 am. This will allow you to make a fun activity out of meal time as well as minimize “awake” time. Just make sure you bring a book and their luvvie if these are things they need to help fall asleep.
Pick Window or Aisle Seats
While most cabin crews will still try to accommodate families wanting to sit together, it is often a good idea to pick window or aisle seats to increase the chance that the person in the middle seat will switch with you.
Select an Airline that Still Allows Pre-Boarding
Southwest, Delta, jetBlue, Alaska and Virgin still offer pre-boarding, so take advantage of this courtesy to give your child (and you) a chance to get properly settled in for your flight.
Let Your Child Blow off Steam before their Flight
Try to squeeze in some time at the park, or some other active endeavor, before the flight so that your child has an opportunity to expel excess energy. Also look to see whether your airport has a children’s playroom (such as Minneapolis Saint Paul International and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport).
Aside from their favorite teddy bear and book, consider packing a new plane-friendly toy or game that they haven’t seen before in your hand luggage. This should help alleviate boredom and keep them engaged and quiet – at least for a while. Depending on age, sensory products, puzzles and electronic games can be big hits.
Think About Your Child’s Comfort
Air pressure can cause havoc on young children’s ears and can be quite painful. When you hear a child crying during takeoff and landing, there is a good chance that this is the reason why. With this in mind, one of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to remember to nurse or give your child a bottle, drink or lollipop (depending on age) as soon as you start to feel the air pressure change. Over the last six years this nugget of information has never failed me.
Also consider bringing a small pillow and blanket for nap time. I’ve heard from some moms that they even put a blanket across the top of the seat to reduce stimulus for nap/bed time – although my six year old loves using an eye mask.
Featured Image: Family in the Airport (Shutterstock.com)