All Aboard!

If you’re getting ready to board the plane with your kids during the holiday season, and the very thought strikes terror in your soul, let me say this: I feel your pain!

We fly away a few times a year, and recently, when someone asked me how I managed the solo flight with both kids (and one plane change), when we returned home a few days after Ski Dad, I said, simply: I have no memory of it whatsoever. Like childbirth, it meant I would inevitably sign up to do it again.

So, earlier this month, the family headed to Florida (complaint department moment: It was NOT WARM. NOT POOL WEATHER.) and I wondered what the trip would be like. As in, casually wondered, instead of actively worrying. I guess part of it stems from the fact that we do this enough to know that we can only control a very small amount of the action—and the kids’ moods. Also, Little Guy is toilet trained, so less stuff, less EXTRA stuff, etc. I will spare you the story of the “present” that rolled out of a loosened diaper in the boarding lounge onceuponatime.

 Anyway, we packed pretty light, but smart. And it went…WELL!

Here, some airport highlights:

SIT PRETTY We use a Sit-n-Stroll, even though our three-year-old is long past the days of passively hanging in a stroller. (Really, was he ever fond of those days?) Still, it’s novel, we ONLY use it on trips (so it’s appearance is a signal that adventure is in the offing) and this time he was to use it only as his sweet ride between concourses, and also his car seat. He learned the term Gate Check and (quite adorably) wondered if there were other items, such as our RV, that we could gate check, too. Even if you are on your last baby, if you don’t own this piece of gear, buy it before you come out for your vacation. Having a car-seat at the ready for rental cars or even airport shuttles and taxis is a fabulous thing.

Also, when the kid wants to walk (ahem, run) alongside you (and believe me, factor in time for this between flights, if you can), it’s a great cart for your carry-ons.

BOTTOMLESS PURSE. You know how the mommy handbag always contains a surprise? (Once, when I was interviewing a Famous Person, I dug into my handbag –WHICH I HAD CLEANED OUT before the interview—to fetch a pen, and came up with an armless Lego guy, half a Clif Z Bar, and (score!) a mechanical pencil replete with Spongebob motif.) Now, go through your house and find the dumb toys. Little mechanical things that come in kids’ meals, rev-up monster trucks that are roughly small enough to palm. Or Hot Wheels. If you don’t have some, get them. When you are hanging about the airport lounge, bust out these toys and allow your kids to zip ‘em around the floor. My kids managed to trip only a few unsuspecting passengers. Sigh.  

Steve Jobs is your best parenting weapon. I don’t care if your kids are on a strict diet of watercolor lessons and picture books at home. The iPod video is the must-have tool for any airplane trip. I downloaded identical video and audio playlists to two far-from-obsolete-but-redundant-to-iPhone-owners iPod Video units in our house. And to my iPhone. Just. In. Case. Plus a hand-held gaming console for each (the kind they make for three year olds, and one that even growunups love). Can I just say, my kids were so well-entertained that I got to use my new iPad inflight? Yes, we did some coloring, some reading to each other, some tic-tac-toe, but the kids were not sick of me by the second hour of flying. (SkiDad sits across the aisle, and manages the food and, ahem, tech support).

 Set aside some scratch for on-board food. Trust me, I pack my own snacks. Nutrient-dense bar thingies for one-and-all, mixed unsalted nuts, dried fruit. ThinBagels with a schmear (they take up less space). But I plan to buy something from the snacks-for-sale cart on the flight. Why? Cause the kids think it’s fun. And we can play “Be A Duck” with the canned chips. It’s cheap entertainment. And my kids are usually too full from the other stuff to finish the chips.

In the airport, eat at the place with the friendliest staff. A special shout-out to the Sports Grill in Concourse B of the Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport: This restaurant is so well-managed, the entire staff seems to come out to greet arriving patrons, lead them to the table, all the while attending to those already seated. The wait staff makes smart menu suggestions and carries crayons. Find a place like this in every airport you use. You won’t regret it.

And if you notice we had time enough on our layover for a sit-down meal, then good for you. I know, I know, you want the trip to be OVER. But our experience has shown us that no one enjoys the ride if we’re racing to catch a connection—or if you miss the connection and then first need to figure out how to get where you’re going before the week is up.