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Surviving a Long Plane Ride with Kids, Even When Bunny Is Left Behind

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My wife Michele and I moved to Buenos Aires when our daughters were only 15 months old and 3 months old respectively. As expatriates, we were excited about the opportunity to live abroad, but as parents we were daunted by the prospect of annual 11 hour flights from North to South America with toddlers. We developed several strategies to keep our girls comfortable, to entertain them and to maintain peace on the plane. Our simple steps can work for you.

Choosing Your Flights

Comfortable travel with kids begins with carefully choosing your flights. This is even more critical when you face a long journey.

  • Book your flight early to get better prices.
  • I also recommend, where possible, flying an airline where you have elite frequent flyer status. This definitely helps if problems arise.
  • Select the most direct flight and avoid connections. While the direct flight may be slightly costlier, you avoid the stress of connecting in a busy hub airport.
  • If you must connect, ensure that you have at least one and a half hours between flights, and longer if you change terminals. Minimum connection times make no sense when you factor in long terminal walks with little feet, regular airline delays and the need of children to go to the bathroom just as the plane is boarding.
  • Reserve your seats in advance so that your family sits together.
  • If traveling internationally, verify the passport and visa requirements with the country’s embassy. Be particularly vigilant if only one parent is traveling with the kids as you may need a notarized consent from the other parent for the children to travel. Check the rules out early. For more information, please see our helpful article on passports for kids.

At the Airport

  • Even though I am a procrastinator who usually arrives late at the airport when traveling alone, experience and my spouse have convinced me to arrive early at the airport when travel with kids is involved.
  • Bring your pre-printed boarding passes and all required documentation.
  • We bring a collapsible stroller for all flights with young children.
  • For overnight trips we bring an approved safety seat. The child seat is safer for your toddler and helps them sleep more soundly and comfortably.
  • Label the stroller and child seat before you get to the airport. Check the airline web site but most carriers allow the stroller and safety seat as part of your carry-on allowance.
  • Bring a diaper bag with 50% more diapers than you think you need and guard that bag with your life. (Dad is always responsible if the bag is left somewhere.)
  • Bring baby food and bottles as necessary.
  • At the gate, speak with the gate agent and ask for pre-boarding if possible.

You are now ready for travel with kids or for a Himalayan expedition.

On Board

Fight ear pain, boredom and other nuisances on your flight with these necessities.

  • In the plane, changes in air pressure cause everyone’s ears to ache. With babies, we give a bottle just as we take off and land. With older children, we give chewy candies for takeoff and landing. The chewing or nursing motions help equalize the air pressure and stop the ear pain.
  • We take some favorite cereal and granola bars which we spread out through the trip.
  • Even today, we take 4 to 5 new toys for our girls. Cheap but entertaining little gifts help the time go by quickly.
  • We always include crayons as you can play tic tac toe or hangman and you can trace your journey on the map in the inflight magazine.
  • As our kids are older today, the iPod is now a necessity. (See our list of great iPhone apps!)
  • Our kids regularly slept, but we usually had a favorite pillow, blanket or stuffed toy when we flew from New York to Argentina.
  • Lastly, we took precautions. We take Tylenol, Benadryl and Dramamine just in case we need them en route.
  • We also take one full change of clothes, including a swim suit, in our carry-on. We have had luggage delayed by one day and the swim at the hotel and a change of clothes make life bearable.

The Bunny is Left Behind

Even the best plans can go awry when your toddler leaves her pink stuffed bunny named Lapin in the Admiral’s Club Lounge in New York and neither Dad nor Mom notice until on board the plane. In that horrible event, we took turns distracting Shannon through the flight to Buenos Aires. On arrival, we bought a new stuffed bunny named Santino but he was white, not pink. Shannon learned to love Santino, but she would still break into big tears when she saw a picture of Lapin.

Three months later, Dad was back in New York on business. On arrival, I stuck my head into the Admiral’s Club and asked hesitantly if there was a pink bunny in Lost and Found. The American Airlines attendant looked strangely at the businessman before her and went into the back room to check. A couple of minutes later she returned smiling and carrying a precious pink bunny. Lapin had spent a wild three months partying in the Big Apple but now he returned with Dad to join an excited three year old girl in Buenos Aires.

A decade later, we are back in the U.S. and both Lapin and Santino still hold special places in Shannon’s room and in her heart.

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Our Hilton Mom Voyage team members live throughout the U.S. and have traveled by air and car all over the world with their families!

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