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We're traveling from SF to Paris (direct) with our 20-month old soon. What are tips for surviving the flight and not having everyone hate us?

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Don't let slightly older children see the wings at landing and takeoff, lest they do what my daughter did: Scream out in terror "The plane is going to crash! The wing is broken! Look, there's a huge hole in it!" –  afrazier Apr 14 '11 at 22:22
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Regardless how it goes, keep in mind that you've paid as much for the trip as everybody else and it's your right to travel with your children! Try to politely ignore passengers that don't think you've got this right. Since you're obviously making your best effort to keep the disturbance low (regardless whether it works), you can truthfully say to yourself that it's not your problem if others are bothered. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 15 '11 at 7:54
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@tomjedrz: That's a terrible idea. Drugging your children. Benadryl will make them uncomfortable, it makes the skin crawl. –  Dave Clarke Jul 30 '12 at 8:35
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@DaveClarke my sarcasm was obviously too subtle ... –  tomjedrz Aug 3 '12 at 16:38
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+1 for actually caring about the other passengers. Too many of my flights have been a pain because most parents don't. –  TwoThe Mar 10 at 12:37

13 Answers 13

  1. Buy a bunch of cheaps toy that the child has never played with.

  2. Bring something like a travel etch-a-sketch or some craft things that can be played repeatedly

  3. Ensure he has his midday nap, this usually knocks 2 - 3 hours off.

  4. Try and find other young children on the plane that they can talk to. This works like a miracle.

  5. Portable DVD player if there is no in-flight entertainment.

  6. Plenty of snacks. We bring instant noodles as this is not junk food and takes my son at long time to eat.

  7. Regular (once every 30 minutes) take them for a walk. This is limited in where you can go, but it helps a lot I found. You can take them to bathroom once an hour and every half an hour just take them for a loop either forward or backward through the kitchenette. The flight staff don't mind as long as you are not going into a different class section of the plane.

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not a whole lot of talking going on at 20 months IMHO –  Jeff Atwood Apr 15 '11 at 7:12
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For those people aren't clever enough, a child doesn't have to be able to read Shakespeare to communicate with children the same age or older. 'Talk to' doesn't mean to sit down and discuss politics, I could have easily said play with. –  xiaohouzi79 Apr 17 '11 at 22:08
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I am sorry you found my comment upsetting. I was just pointing out that the OP said the child was 20 months old and may not be able to constructively talk to, much less play, with other children at that age without extremely close supervision. YMMV. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 17 '11 at 22:14
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@Jeff - I included my answer from personal experience. Having taken my son on 4 x 10 hour flights since he was 7 months old. Having other children there to 'talk to' or 'play with' saves me having to entertain him for most of the trip. There is limited space on a plane and if you bring some toys both children can enjoy each other's company. I don't feel your comment is constructive or accurate. Two 20 month olds have enough speaking ability to play together on a plane. –  xiaohouzi79 Apr 17 '11 at 22:22
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@JeffAtwood That depends on the 20 month old. My 19 year old (girl) started talking at around 14 months and hasn't shut up since. –  tomjedrz Nov 13 '11 at 17:09

Here are the best things you can do from my experience:

1) Do whatever you can to get bulk-head seats. These are the seats in the front of a compartment that have a bunch of extra space. This is great for when your child is awake and wants to walk around for a few minutes. It also allows you to stretch, stand with your child, and change diapers much easier if you need to.

2) Pay for a seat for your child (if you can afford it) and bring a carseat. A child is much more likely to sleep in their seat when they're buckled in to a carseat.

3) Bring a bunch of toys (new ones are best as others described because it captures their attention more)

4) Bring a handful of new books.

5) Bring an electronic device that you can play movies on. Turn down the screen brightness so that it lasts longer, or better yet, try to get a flight with power plugs.

6) Schedule a flight that overlaps with their sleep time.

7) Bring plenty of snacks.

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Not all airlines allow the carseat, so ask first. –  Lennart Regebro Apr 16 '11 at 7:52
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Also check that your carseat is approved for use on the airline. Probably less of an issue for domestic US travel, but the carseats that are commercially available overseas (eg in Singapore) are often not approved for use on US carriers. –  JamesF Mar 13 at 7:04

In addition to @Squidly's answer, we found that it helped to let our son do what he wanted (within reason) and let him climb up the chair and crawl around. People generally didn't seem to mind and he was happy. Had we tried to "make him behave" (by which I mean, keep him in his chair) the flight would have been much, much worse.

Also, book an overnight flight there and an evening flight back so he'll have had a whole day to tire himself out before boarding the plane.

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+1 for picking a flight at sleep time! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 15 '11 at 7:39

Make sure you have something for them to suck on (pacifier, lollypop, gum if they can chew it) or their thumb - Just in case the pressure causes pain in their ears. My 7 year old has that happen about 50% of the time when we fly, and a piece of gum makes it better within a few minutes.

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For our then 15-month toddler, we used a baby bottle with plain water. The basic idea is that the chewing and sucking movements allows the cranial canals to align any pressure differences. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 15 '11 at 19:07

Bring lots of toys for your child to play with, books, activities. If you can food. Basically just keep your child busy and entertained the entire flight. Also with that long of a flight you will have to be prepared to find a way for him to nap, if you can get a darker area of the plane that would be good for that. Also movies on a laptop tends to help as well.

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As nobody has mentioned it yet, Take care of yourself. A tired jetlagged parent will not effectively parent to a 20 month old.

See also a useful Question on Travel.

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We travel with low expectations, and everything seems to go better than expected. Make them run around the airport a lot before getting on the plane. People don't mind b/c they know what you're trying to do.

If its overnight change them into their sleeping clothes and give them clues its time to sleep soon.

99% of other passengers are great. We've had people move seats so we get an extra seat (and they get away from the kid!) And hopefully there will be some other kids nearby, the best distraction ever for a kid.

Good luck.

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Pack carefully. Preferably with a cabin bag that has lots of separate, easily-accessible compartments. Don't try to do anything for yourself when the baby is asleep, apart from sleep.

My experience is (so far) mostly with a younger child (3-6 months) and while at that age they're less mobile (and therefore generally easier to travel with) one of the biggest (and most avoidable) problems we had was that all the toys, feeding equipment and changing paraphernalia were distributed across three different bags, stuffed into the overhead locker. Inevitably, whatever you need to placate / clean / feed the child will be stuck behind somebody else's bag, if you can even get up to the locker to open it (as typically the seatbelt light will come on / the drink cart will block the aisle / something else inconvenient will happen five minutes before your child needs something).

Therefore if you can minimise the amount of stuff you need to pack so it will fit into one bag (ideally something that will fit under the seat in front of you) you'll find travel less stressful. We ended up with no possessions of our own in the bag that we had in the cabin, after several trips where I'd over-optimistically packed reading material, a laptop to work on while the baby was asleep, and so on, none of which were any use until after we'd disembarked.

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Prepare something to drink for landing.

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or something to chew, this also includes take-off –  xiaohouzi79 Apr 19 '11 at 22:47

Just a small tip, big lollypops keep my 2 year old son busy (quiet) for a good 45 minutes. Also a gadgety thing to hold is good. My son loved his sister's pink sparkly hand fan to open and close. DVD players are mandatory, of course.

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Phenergan may be an option, though consult a doctor first. My daughter travelled to Turkey when she was 18 months. The combination of planes and buses took about 40 hours - of which she slept for about 4. This is not fair on the kid and rather hard on my missus (she travelled alone).

My daughter did not take Phenergan since our daughter and son are in the small number of kids for which antihistamine make them hyperactive rather than sleepy.

My son was 6 months when he went to Japan - he slept the entire trip. Sometimes you are just lucky.

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I can't believe you are suggesting to drug a child. Horrible. –  Dave Clarke Jul 30 '12 at 8:38
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@Dave Clarke - You are aware that Phenergan is an antihistamine, not crack? It has been certified for use with children and babies. I have no problem giving a child's dosage of a child's medication to a child if it helps the child sleep - something that children need. Guess what, I also give my children baby panadol when they have a temperature! –  dave Jul 30 '12 at 21:01
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Firstly, you are using the drug for something that it is not intended to be used for. Secondly, as you mention in your answer, the drug can have undesirable side-effects. –  Dave Clarke Jul 30 '12 at 22:53
    
@Dave Clarke - All drugs have side-effects (panadol also makes my son hyper), that kinda the point of drugs. Whether something is an effect or side-effect depends entirely upon intent. A parent has to balance risk verses benefit for every medication they offer. Obviously, we spoke to our GP first so I feel our decision was reasonable. jon_darkstar seemed happy to offer valium, not something I'd be happy with. Each to their own. –  dave Jul 30 '12 at 23:33
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Some doctors discourage vaccination: vaccinationcouncil.org/tag/medical-doctors-against-vaccines . Some doctors discourage allowing anyone except white Christians to reproduce: humanitas-international.org/holocaust/eugenics.htm . Some doctors discourage gay rights: well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/… . What's your point? Pretty much any argument has the support of "some doctors" –  jon_darkstar Aug 8 '12 at 14:00

If people will hate you or not depends on if the kid will hate flying or not. My daughter for some reason loves going on a plane, and eitehr sleeps or jumps up and down trying to get the attention of other passengers, which they usually thing is fantastically cute.

I've seen other kids that hate flying, and they will scream and be a pain throughout the whole flight, and obviously everyone will hate them.

So the recommendation here must be to make the flight fun for your kid. And intercontinental flights are long, so that will be difficult. Many other recommendations here for things to bring to keep your kid entertained are good, so I won't repeat them. :-) You know better what to bring for your children anyway.

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I do not know how old your kid is, but I had to travel 12 hours with my 2 year old and his mother, and this worked well:

-Travel during the night, so the baby is tired and willing to sleep

-Make enough activities before the flight to ensure that the baby get tired enough to sleep well

-Sometimes you can have sits where there is an extra place to attach a baby sleeping chest, so you might ask your airline if they have this as well.

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