Traveling With Young Children: A Survival Guide

Dec 5, 2011 10:39pm

The mid-air meltdown is now practically its own special category on Youtube.  Most of the videos are filmed not by parents but by the poor people who just had the bad luck to be seated next to them.

“You get the looks when you’re boarding on the plane,” said Summer Hall, who writes the Mommy Points blog.  “People are all afraid that you are going to sit next to them, afraid your baby is going to start crying, afraid you’re not going to attend to your baby through the whole flight.”

Full confession: I used to be the guy who rolls his eyes when a baby boarded a plane, praying they wouldn’t sit anywhere within earshot.

Now I’m the guy with three kids under age 5.  Karma.

Families traveling with small children make up at least 30 percent of the traveling public.  During the holiday rush, it can often seem like US versus THEM.  Surprisingly, although the airlines collect birthdays for all airline travelers, the industry doesn’t release many statistics about kids.

One reason may be that if you’re over age 2, so far as the airline is concerned, you might as well be an adult.  You’re paying full price for your ticket.  And you might as well be on your own.

We found that out the hard way on a flight this past weekend. The airline assigned my wife and I and our three daughters (ages 4, 3, and 10 months) four different rows on the plane.  I was in row 25.  My 3-year-old was originally seated in a middle seat in row 40.

Our trip was part of an unscientific experiment “Nightline” asked us to do — documenting our struggle to fly the friendly skies.  Helping to document the journey was “Nightline” producer Alyssa Litoff, traveling with her husband and their 11-week-old daughter.

It was our own little version of “Baby and Toddler Survivor.”

Our journey had its trials to be sure.  It’s tough to ask any child to sit still for five hours, yet on a cramped passenger jet there’s little room to move around.  Even less room to change a diaper.

“Long gone are the days where there are diapers on board planes,” said Suzanne Kelleher, editor of Wejustgotback.com.  “You really have to think like a boy scout and have everything with you.”

And you need to be adept enough to accomplish the task in one of the smallest, least sanitary spaces imaginable.  The process gives a whole different meaning to the notion of the Mile High Club.

Our flight was almost too good to be true.  Not only did we land 40 minutes early, the gate was ready!

They do say the process of observing something changes what’s being observed, and we had to wonder whether the presence of our camera might have had something to do with some of the special treatment we enjoyed.

The flight attendants passed out those little plastic wings.  They even welcomed our kids by name to New York City — the way they used to do when we were kids.

No tour of the cockpit, of course.  Some traditions appear to be gone for good.

“The moral of the story is if you could travel with a camera — great!” said Mark Orwoll, an editor for “Travel + Leisure” magazine. “But if you are just traveling with your family, I’d say keep your fingers crossed.”

Good advice for all of us.  We now have to get everyone back to LA.

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