On a recent United Airlines flight from Chicago to New York, I flew solo-as in no kids with me. Yet somehow, I ended up as an ad hoc parent to some of the families on the flight. Standing in the airport terminal waiting to board prior to 6am, I watched a young boy in front of me repeatedly ask his father, “Daddy, is that our flight? Daddy, is that our flight?” As we made it through the breezeway, the father finally confirmed it was, to which his son loudly replied again and again, “Daddy, I don’t want to fly on this plane! I ONLY want to fly on the space shuttle!” Chuckling, I mentioned to the father that he should be prepared to pay more for tickets on their next flight.
Once on the plane, I was hoping to catch some badly needed shut-eye, so I worked to find my seat, stow my bag, and sit down quickly. Alas, it was not meant to be, as my seat assignment was in the middle of three families with young children, including the aforementioned now-dubbed, “Shuttle Boy.” These children were busy asking their parents lots of questions. Lots. Some of those questions were asked more loudly than others. There were a few other “singletons” such as myself strewn about, but from the expressions on their face, I was fairly certain they didn’t have children. Watching them, I felt an instinctive need to stand up for and protect my nearby parental brethren as they desperately tried to get their kids settled down for the flight. I’d been there before.
Listening to the non-stop queries from kids to their parents (or anyone who would listen and potentially answer, i.e. me,) I answered back to the children bending over the tops of their seats and looking to me for responses they weren’t getting from their parents. It was then it occurred to me that perhaps there should be some sort of FAQ briefing guide for parents flying with young’uns. Something to equip parents with ready made answers to help keep their kids as calm as possible. So, I’ve assembled some of the most frequently asked questions I’ve overheard asked by kids while flying, and I’ll attempt to answer them for parents who have little experience with the glamorous thrill of flying with children.
FAQ’s from kids: #1: “Mommy, why is Daddy already asleep? We’re not even in the air yet!”
This is perhaps one of the great mysteries of flight. The ability for the flight-bound father to immediately fall asleep upon contact with the seat, which is usually in another row, and at the very least across the aisle from the rest of the family. An easy abandon comes over him once buckled in, as if an invisible mask has dropped down from the ceiling dispensing an aerosol version of Xanax. I suspect (after witnessing on multiple occasions) that many fathers simply come equipped with a pocketful of Ambien. The question I’m unable to answer is why they don’t share with others on the flight.
Speaking of masks, I often hear these questions after the viewing of the In-Flight Safety Video:
#2: “When are the masks going to drop down from the ceiling, and why can’t I put them on all by myself?”
Your standard and immediate parental response should be along the lines of: “Those masks are NOT going to drop down from the ceiling, and if they ever should do, I’m warning you all–the first one of you to argue over who gets to put theirs on first gets no (insert baseless airline threat here, e.g. no peanuts, no pretzels, no soda etc.)!”
This inevitably leads to:
#3: “When will the waitresses come take my order?”
Whatever you do, make sure these words are not uttered too loudly. NEVER allow the use of the word waitress in earshot of your flight attendant! If you want your child to be eligible for a second packet of peanuts, pretzels or sweet biscuits, you’d be best to remind them of all the important things flight attendants are tasked with doing. Such as keeping you safe from OTHER unruly passengers. Flight attendant is the descriptive phrase they should use—so teach them when they’re young. Or be sure to order on their behalf.
#4: “Mommy, if I accidentally drew on the seat, will I get in trouble?”
Highly unlikely. Draw on. Anything to keep you quiet will be appreciated by the flight staff and other passengers. Parents, think about bringing some “dry-erase” markers for kids to use just in this situation.
#5: “Who turned on the TV’s, and why are they coming out of the ceiling? How does it know what channel it wants to be on? “
If the TV is coming out of the ceiling, you’re a bit out of luck to start, as this means that neither you, or your child will have any chance at controlling the content, and it’s probably not content they’d be too interested in anyway. Don’t answer this question—rather work to distract them away from this technology, perhaps allowing them to get their hands on your personal ipad, iphone, or handheld device. If you’re lucky, the airline might provide headphones for them to listen to music. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised that the United Flight had earphones tucked into the seat backs of every seat. No charge!
And finally upon descent:
#6: “Mommy, why do my ears hurt?”
Your response, “They hurt from pressure.” Of course, little do your children know that you are also under pressure. Pressure to make sure they don’t start crying because their ears hurt! Luckily, there are a bunch of potential helpful ear-popping hints that fall right in line with things kids love to do. These include: sucking on candy, drinking juice, swallowing, yawning, pinching your nose and blowing (gently please), sniffing, holding your ears shut (yes, it actually lessens the pressure difference), breathing in and holding for three seconds before letting out a big breath of air, and chewing gum. Try any/all of these techniques to take some of the pressure off. And remind your kids not to stick the gum under the seat when they’re through.
If all else fails in your answers to their questions, you can always distract by pointing to the barf bag in the back of the seat in front of them. Make sure to utter the word, “barf,” clearly as it’s certainly a favorite word for a wide age-range of children. Barf! Now you’ve got ‘em. You’ve earned your wings.