By the time kids reach preschool age (4-5 years old) they’re a lot easier to manage on a plane. Really, they’re a lot easier to manage in general! My mother-in-law calls it the “fantastic fours”. This definitely extends to flying. A few distractions on board, a little preparation and you should be good to go. Here’s my tips for flying with preschoolers to get you organized so you’re prepped and ready for an easy flight.
1. Take your Kids to the Bathroom IMMEDIATELY before boarding the plane.
By this age most kids are well past potty training, but this won’t guarantee an accident-free flight. Typically it takes well over 15-20 min to board an airplane. Add on taxi and take-off and it could be well over an hour from the time you board the plane until the seatbelt sign comes off. Throw in a little bit of turbulence on the ascent and it’s a prime situation for an accident. Make sure you know where the closest bathroom is to your gate. As soon as they start calling for priority boarding take your preschooler potty! You’ll still have plenty of time to get on the plane, and you’ll have done everything possible to avoid an accident.
If you want to take advantage of pre-boarding, head to the bathroom 5 min before your boarding time. If your flight is late, talk to the gate agent. Ask when they expect to pre-board and then go potty 5 min before that. Remember, if you pre-board you’re sitting on the plane longer. This increases the chances your preschooler will need to pee before the seatbelt sign comes off!
2. Talk to them about the flight beforehand
If your preschooler has never been on an airplane before, or it’s been a long time since their last flight, they might be a bit nervous of the unknown. This is likely mixed with excitement so it’s easy not to recognize the nerves. If you talk to your preschooler about airport check-in, security, boarding, and what to expect on the flight they’ll be less anxious and likely better behaved.
- Decide whether you’re going to pre-board, or board last (my suggestion unless you have lots of carry-on luggage). Talk to them about the boarding procedure. If you’re getting on first, tell them they can sit without their seatbelt until everyone is on the plane. Let them know that once everyone is aboard they will have to buckle up and sit nicely until the seatbelt sign comes off. If you’re getting on last let them know their seatbelt must be buckled up as soon as they sit in their seat until the seatbelt sign comes off. Prior expectations will help avoid meltdowns if they want to take off their seatbelt and can’t.
- Talk about the snacks you’re going to eat on the plane, beverage cart, and whether or not you’ll get a meal.
- Let them help pack their carry-on bag so they know what toys they’ll have to play with. If they still have a comfort item make sure it’s close at hand to help out during any sad moments!
If your preschooler is an avid flyer it’s still good to talk about the flight beforehand. Is it a short flight or a long flight: in preschooler terms, is there time to watch a movie or just play a few games on the iPad. Are there going to be snacks provided, or a meal? Do you have to take one flight or multiple flights to the destination? All of these things will help your preschooler set their own expectations for the travel day.
3. Give them something to look forward to once on board
Boarding, taxi and take-off can feel like an eternity to a preschooler who just wants to take off her seatbelt! If you give her something to look forward to you’ll have a bargaining chip to encourage the seatbelt to stay on.
One idea is to bring a small wrapped toy that they can hold onto and open as soon as the seatbelt sign comes off. I’ll often buy a small lego set for each girl and wrap it up for them to open on board. Sometimes I don’t even wrap it. They sit and wait for the seatbelt sign to come off so they can put down the tray table, open up the lego and build it. You could also wrap an activity book or small craft that’ll provide entertainment for a significant period of time.
Another option is to let them look through the menu and pick out a treat to order from the a la carte service on board. Anytime we get on an Air Canada flight Calais opens up the menu, finds the Swedish berries, and salivates over them until the cart comes by! It would really be cheaper to just buy a pack of Swedish berries before we go, but half the fun for her is ordering and handing over my credit card! For the $3 I figure it’s cheap entertainment.
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For an idea of what to pack for your preschooler, check out “What To Pack when flying with Preschoolers“.
What are your survival tips for flying with preschoolers?