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Flying the (kid) friendly skies


On an overnight flight to Paris several years ago, I experienced what I considered to be an odious breach of the delicate social compact that exists between airline passengers. After the dinner trays had been removed and everyone was settling in for a bad Sandra Bullock movie, the gentleman (I use the term loosely) next to me began flossing his teeth. I was mortified, to say the least. But having since logged more than a hundred hours of flight time with my two small children, I wonder if I wasn’t being a little uptight. I mean, how many passengers have I appalled by changing a diaper on the seat? Isn’t that worse than publicly tending to one’s oral hygiene? I’m not sure. What I do know is that there’s plenty of room for flossing in the airplane bathroom, but if you’ve ever tried to change a diaper on one of those Lilliputian changing tables, you’d probably cut me a little slack. I’ve learned that when flying with kids, expediency is all, and basically I’ll do anything to get through another flight. Here’s how I managed to survive my summer of flying:

Fly early. Given a choice between a crack-of-dawn flight and a later one, I take the earlier every time, even if it means rousing the kids at 4 a.m. Knowing that I’m going to arrive at my destination before, say, 11 a.m., somehow makes it seem like the trip can’t possibly be as long and torturous as I’m anticipating. Of course, I fly direct whenever possible, but direct flights out of SA can be limited (just ask those Dallas-bound AT&T execs).

Don’t wear a watch. Seriously, you just have to accept that a four-hour flight will feel like four days; glancing at the time every five minutes will make it feel like 40. 

You can’t pack too much food. Every parenting manual worth its weight in wheat germ warns against using food as entertainment. I couldn’t agree more, except at 36,000 feet. I stuff every pocket of my carry-on with thrilling snacks that my kids rarely get in their normal life back on the ground. The downside? What goes in, must come out. Which brings us to …

You cannot pack too many diapers. When flying with little ones, it’s not just tempers that can be explosive. Ahem. Diapers eat up a lot of space in the carry-on, but if I don’t take a dozen, minimum, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll be stuck on the runway or at the gate for hours (have you ever seen diapers for sale at the airport?). And if I don’t bring a full-size container of wipes — as opposed to a petite “travel pack” — I count on one of my kids having

Bring a laptop or DVD player. The first time I flew alone with my older daughter and her DVD player, I was so thrilled I almost cried. I was reminded of the old days, when I’d fly solo or with an adult companion. We exchanged occasional pleasantries, and I luxuriated in all my idle time, working through the stack of New Yorkers I’d optimistically packed. But there are caveats: finite battery charges, the need to explain why the captain has ordered electronic devices be turned off when there’s only 10 minutes to go on The Aristocats, inevitable technological glitches. On one flight this summer, my iBook froze up after a single viewing of Baby Da Vinci and a brief Photo Booth session, leaving me with three hours to kill. We colored every coloring book, stuck every sticker, lifted every flap in every lift-the-flap book, and it wasn’t long before my thoughtfully selected novelty snacks became projectiles …

When all else fails: Skymall. After my carry-on is depleted of all its resources and my 18-month-old has opened and closed the window shade seven or eight thousand times, I reach for the most important item in the seat pocket: Skymall, the catalog tailored to the outsized needs of American consumers who want for nothing, except perhaps an Indoor Dog Restroom or Kitty Washroom Cabinet. What child can resist its charms? Marveling over the brave new world of pet waste disposal technology — especially during potty training — has bought me more than a few moments of harmony.

Drugging your kids. I’ve never bought that whole dosing-your-toddler-with-Benadryl-before-takeoff concept because taking over-the-counter cold medicine never made me feel all docile and sleepy. If you must medicate, try self-medicating. That five dollars you spend on a Bloody Mary after take-off may be the best investment you’ve ever made.

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