“Excuse me Ms., these are not your seats for the next leg of your flight. Your seats are 7E and 8B. You need to move.” It is 4:00 am Alaska time. We are on a stop over in Seattle continuing on to Houston. Please tell me I am dreaming. Did he really just tell my husband and I that we have to move our gear and our sleeping child who flopped, flailed, and wailed through the first hour of our trip? And even worse, did he really say seats E and B? Middle seats, separate rows, this must be a nightmare.
Flying with my “spirited” child over the past year and a half has given me new insight into the dreadful experience of flight anxiety. Although the spectrum is broad, hardly any parent can escape at least some level of anxiety when flying with their child. Constant attentiveness and creativity are required. Prevention and intervention of chaos while flying with a child varies drastically with developmental age. That leads us to the first rule of thumb in coping with chaos:
Know your child. Do what works.
For an infant breastfeeding or a bottle might be the trick, while a new DVD might be what distracts a toddler or an older child.
Snacks, snacks, snacks. Novelty snacks, favorite snacks. There are lots of times to pay attention to a balanced diet, flying is not one of them. Packing healthy snacks is great, but be sure to have ample supply of what you know will work in a moment of need.
Rest Up. Flying anywhere from Alaska is more like a marathon than a sprint. Quality sleep, healthy diet, and a well packed diaper bag are the fuel you need to get you to your destination.
Breath. Remember the little videos that tell you that in case of an accident to first put on your face mask and then your child’s. The same principle applies when your stress level starts to rise. Take the time to breathe deeply and slowly and then face the situation at hand. A frantic parent is not much help to a frantic child.
Bathroom Respite. I have never found so much solace in an airplane bathroom as when my son was 3 months old and had screamed continually for 3 hours during a flight. The bathroom was where I could ignore the stares of surrounding passengers. The changing table gave him room to stretch out and me a chance to recoup. For an older child this might be the last place you want to be, nonetheless it may be a welcomed change of scenery
Team Work. When possible, flying with a partner can greatly reduce the stress of flying with children
Be Wise and Compassionate. In honor of the serenity prayer, accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can. Flying is tough for big and little people. One thing you can be sure of is that the flight will end. Laugh, cry, whatever you need to do, just try to do it quieter than your child.
Does anxiety about flying interfere with your life? Online and resources and books are abundant on this topic. Consult a professional counselor if it seems that your worry about flying has become excessive and uncontrollable. Help is available.