Tips for Little First-Time Fliers

byLaura Schmitt
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the May 22, 2012 Issue #661 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Laura SchmittYour Disney destination is calling you, but the nagging concern over screaming children in flight or everyone losing it on a marathon car trip puts a damper on the fun. Air travel can be a challenge for everyone, and for parents of young children or special needs children, such as those with ADHD, autism or sensory issues, it can be the deciding factor on a family vacation. I'm here to share some tips from our own experiences in travelling with young children in the hope that it helps alleviate some worries for you and in turn sets everyone off on the right foot. This article will help you in deciding how to pack, what to be aware of in the airports and planes, as well as how to prep for unplanned events en route. Of course there are variables for every family and every voyage, so it is my hope that you readers will write in with your experiences to share. Together, we can kick-start the Magic for everyone.

First, each traveler in your party should carry a small bag, if they are able. (If not, an adult can add the child's items to his or her own bag.) Keep in mind that the weight of the bag will affect your child's ability to cope with traveling. A small, lightweight, wheeled bag or very light backpack works best. Do not add heavy items! We don't want those little ones worn out before the trip begins. If your child has sensory issues that benefit from weighted vests, a well-fitted backpack can be a comfort during travel. Be sure to pack a change of clothes and extra undergarments, and if you are travelling with a child in diapers, consider packing more than you think you'll need. I recall our first air trip with a 10-month-old, during which she experienced diarrhea on the plane, and we went through the three changes of clothing and diapers that we had brought along. After that, we had to cross our fingers and hope for the best! Our bags, however, did not land with us. Our first stop was to a store to purchase back-up clothing. (We now always bring a child-specific anti-diarrheal medication, just in case.) Parents, you might consider a change of clothing for yourselves, as well.

In addition, I suggest packing swimsuits and goggles along with a toothbrush and any comfort items in the carry-on bag. Checked luggage does get delayed from time to time, so make sure any day of arrival necessities are included. This would include medications, a snack, and a small tube of sunscreen. For children with sensory issues or spectrum disorders, we find bringing the sensory relief items from home to be helpful. Whether it is weight, earphones, sunglasses, or something else, make sure your child can feel safe within their space on the plane. You can bring earplugs if you are worried about abrupt loud noises.

Your child's carry-on bag should also include something fun to do on the plane. Each child will have his or her own favorite way to spend time, but whatever you and your child choose, remember the weight. Skip hardcover and large books for smaller paperbacks or electronic readers, if available. If bringing toys or favorite blankies from home, look for a small one, and keep it simple. I don't advise bringing an irreplaceable item from home, because of the inevitable meltdown that will occur if it is lost. Instead, try to negotiate with your child on a travel back-up to take the place of the special item. You can have the replacement toy or blankie spend a few days next to the favorite pre-flight, to help get the scent of "home." If you are planning to give gifts to your child, small items can be given on the plane or in the airport, to kick off the fun.

Once you are on the plane, do not put your child on the aisle seat unless you are certain they can keep their legs and hands in at all times. A snack cart going by could seriously injure little limbs! If you have two or more children who may bicker, you can swap seats throughout the flight if needed. Next, consider what take-off may mean to your child. Some children experience a significant amount of ear pain when the cabin air pressure changes. For the very young, you cannot explain to them how to yawn or chew, so for babies, I recommend a bottle of water or a safe toy that can be sucked or chewed on. Keep in mind you will need to fill up an empty bottle once you pass through security. For older children, I bring Vitamin C-enriched lollipops and hand them out during takeoff and landing. We also bring gum. Keep in mind that gum is not available on Disney property, so if gum chewing will help your ears on the plane, make sure you bring enough for all legs of your trip. I also bring packets of vitamin supplement mix in our favorite flavors, and everyone who is old enough has one with a small glass of water when the drink cart comes around. This is a nice way to boost Vitamin C and help the immune system during travel. (In the interest of staying healthy, Mom or Dad can further help by bringing cleaning wipes to wipe down any area that their children will use during travel.)

For some little travelers, suckers, gum, and chew toys just don't cut it and the ear pain they experience can be quite severe. This is the case for our youngest daughter. As she ages, the severity has lessened, but when she was smaller, we did take eardrops and Benadryl, per our pediatrician's recommendation, on the plane. Talk to your health care team if you have any specific health concerns, so that you can get the correct items for your needs.

When you are navigating airports, please hold your child's hand. This is key when getting on and off the trains and buses within larger airports. Our 8-year-old took two steps behind us and she was nearly separated as the train doors began to close. You can imagine how terrifying that would have been for all of us. Thankfully, she was in my reach and we all made it before the door closed, but I can see how it would be very easy to lose a child in an airport. Hold hands, use strollers, use slings, or even those child harnesses. Do whatever you need to ensure your child does not get separated from you while you go from place to place. For young children, you can also coach them on what to do if you should get separated and include your phone number on a bracelet, their shoes, or other easy-to-access area on their person.

The next tip is important both in your air travel pathway as well as in the parks: DON'T RUN FOR A BUS! If you run, towing small children, in a mad dash to catch the bus transport, you may end up with an injured child. I have seen it again and again in the park bus queue and we have experienced this lesson firsthand. Remember this: if you miss a bus, there WILL be another and it will be there soon. If you encounter a situation where you will have to wait a long time, you may want to have one adult run up to hold the bus while the other adult walks with the children.

Odds are you will navigate the process of air travel with relative ease, and even if your luggage was delayed, you'll still be able to check carry on at your resort and start your vacation. With some pre-planning, you can avoid most travel problems that are in your control. You will feel great that you were able to get there without taking the marathon drive, or without children screaming mid flight. For those of you with additional tips to new families of air travel, please share. Disney is truly a magical place with inclusion for everyone, and it is my hope that getting there will never be a deterrent for a family who has yet to experience that magical sprinkling of pixie dust!


Tips for Travelers with Special Challenges

Infant and Toddler FAQ

Traveling with Children 5-11 Years Old


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Schmitt and her family of four travel to Disney each year for the fun, food, and memories. You can view photos of the gluten-free, dairy-free meals the Schmitts enjoy throughout Disney property on Laura's blog.


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.