Sonny’s summer vacations are over and so is my “vacation” from enjoying awesome weather and monsoon at my parent’s home. Despite all the whining from sonny “No school, me go airport, Ma. ” and the onset of my sleep deprivation all over again, I am glad in a way because those three hours at preschool give him ample play time with his buddies and they succeed in wearing each other down. And believe me, an almost 4-year-old definitely needs that outlet for his incessant energy. No single adult (read the hapless mom i.e., me) can survive the constant running, playing, and rough housing.
And those brief three hours have finally given me some alone time to write another post.
And considering that we are back from yet another trip to my hometown, I thought what better post to write than to write about tips and tricks for air travel when one is flying alone with a preschooler. So here goes my trove of pointers to make short duration (less than 4 hours) air travel anxiety-free and fun…hopefully:
1. When To Reach Airport: As the instructions on every ticket say (but which we tend to ignore 😉 ), it’s always good to reach the airport at least 2 hours before departure (for domestic flights). For a busy airport like Delhi, it gets really painful to stand in long queues trying to appease and entertain a kid who is part sad because papa is not going and part super-excited because of the airplane (of course!). And then trying to drag him through security and onto the departure gate half-sprinting to make up for lost time is no joke especially if boarding has already started.
2. When To Fly: The best time to fly with a preschooler is the early morning hours or his afternoon nap hours (As I mentioned earlier in my road trip post, this holds good even in case of air travel). Once the little one have had time to run around and play in the airport (in short, exhaust himself thoroughly), he will promptly fall asleep once the flight takes off (and if you are lucky, may even sleep throughout the flight).
3. What To Carry:
- Carry-on luggage should, preferably be a backpack, the size of a laptop bag.
- The weight should be no more than what you can carry comfortably. You have to remember that you may have to carry your preschooler part of the way too, so do adjust accordingly.
- If it’s a new bag, don’t forget to familiarize yourself with all the ten-thousand different pockets it has got and do keep a mental note of where exactly you have put which item. It’s no fun to fumble in your backpack for ID proof or a handkerchief or any random thing while trying to restrain your preschooler from running away.
- I know some people might disagree to this point, but if your kid is someone like mine, do not give him a kiddie-backpack or small suitcase to carry (just for the feel of traveling). In all probability, after the first ten steps, you will be the one carrying his luggage as well!
- This last point is for people like me who have a tendency to imagine every permutation and combination of emergencies, no matter how remote that could happen on the way and tend to keep backups of backups. (Remember Mr. Monk packing his suitcases?) You will have to curb your inner worrier. Only essential items should be put in the carry-on luggage and the rest should go in the check-in. The longer the walk to the departure gate, the heavier your backpack would start feeling if you are not careful. And so, these days my backpack typically contains the following items (of course after I have learned to stop myself from going crazy with backup items!):
- My Laptop – Can’t go anywhere without it 😉
- Sonny’s iPad – To entertain him just in case he gets bored on flight (doesn’t happen ever – he is either sleeping or playing with the fellow passengers – but still, you never know!)
- Two pair of clothes for sonny – One t-shirt full-sleeved, pair of full pants (just in case it gets chilly on the plane) one t-shirt half-sleeved, pair of three-quarter pants
- One pair of clothes for me
- One medium-sized towel
- One handkerchief
- Lip Balm
- Aloe Vera
- Band Aid
- Ear Plugs for sonny – Never used it, still keep it
- Candy – Give it to sonny (if he is awake) for chewing during taking off or landing so that the change in pressure does not bother his ears
- A pack of biscuits
- A small juice pack
- A small water bottle
4. What To Wear:
- Slip on shoes – Easy to take off and put back on
- Comfy T-Shirt
- Elastic Waist Band Pants – Easy to handle during bathroom breaks
- Jeans – Indian ethnic wear always takes a backseat during flights, you need those extra pockets for your cellphone, boarding passes, and other random small items handed over to you by your little one
- Dark colored T-Shirt – Kiddo will invariably use yours to wipe his face and hands from time to time and the color hides the grime 🙂
6. What To Eat: For a preschooler, don’t bother carrying too much food from home. If the wait at the airport is more than 30 minutes or so, you could always buy him something to eat from there. If not, then airplane food is as good a choice as anything else. Irrespective of whether sonny is hungry or not, I always buy something during the flight because this whole process is quite exciting for him. And despite his amazingly picky eating habits, he always takes a bite or two, once the hostess places a sandwich on his tray.
- Bathroom Break: Do make sure to take your child to the bathroom 10-15 minutes before boarding and once you have landed at your destination. (In my experience, airport restrooms are always a better option than trying to squeeze in a squirmy preschooler into the tiny bathroom of a plane).
- Learn to Ask For Help: Remember the placard “Confront me If I don’t ask for help.” which Sandra Bullock donned in the movie “28 Days“. Before sonny, I strongly resented the term “damsel in distress” and never asked for help while travelling alone, no matter how difficult the task at hand was…..And that is how I got my slipped disc (Well, more about it some other time!) Anyway, children have this amazing ability to bring down your biggest walls and that’s exactly what happened in my case. Now, a typical travel day will see me asking for help from the airport officials for directions, from the ground crew (of our chosen airplane) to help with the check-in luggage, from any random stranger to let us move up the line (because kiddo is restless), from the cart-drivers for a lift and many such big and small favors. So, if you are one of those people needing the “help me” placard, then do learn the fine art of asking for help. And you may be surprised to see how accommodating everyone is……mostly.
7. When To Freak Out: The answer is a simple – NEVER. Children easily pick up stress signals from their parents and chose that exact time to have their share of meltdowns. So unless the sky is falling, rather, even if the sky is falling, do not freak out. Remember, the worst case scenario is that you will miss your flight, nothing more. And if you have already checked in your luggage and gotten your boarding passes, the chances of even that happening decreases many folds (Which airplane would want to de-plane your check-in suitcases after they’d been placed in cargo? It’s much more time and effort consuming than waiting a few more minutes for their final boarding call). So, just breathe in and out deeply and don’t freak out. It’s just a matter of a few hours.
8. Pick Your Battles: This point does not necessarily demand a separate heading, but I wanted to emphasize it. Almost 4 year olds are feisty and are just about starting to test your limits and asserting their independence, so do pick your battles very carefully. Sonny wants to carry his own boarding pass (“Golden Ticket” as he likes to call it), no problem. Just keep an eye on it from a distance. He wants another juice and you are worried he might need to pee again, no big deal. It’s just another 15 minutes, tops. Factor it in and you will be fine. Unless it’s a safety concern, let him be. And for things which you do have to say No, try to give a valid reason. Children understand much more than we give them give them credit for! (And if this doesn’t work, there’s always some stern looking airport official in uniform who can be your enforcer 😉 ).
9. Enjoy Your Flight: Though this may sound like a distant dream amidst all the worry and exhaustion, once you and kiddo are seated, do try to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight! You made it this far, what’s another few thousand kilometers 🙂