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Flights Booked for the Family and then the Worry Starts

Navigating the challenges and self-inflicted worries of family travel with young children.

I guarantee that many of you reading the title of this post will assume I am referring to the risks of flying and the potential of a plane crash?  In fact, I am talking about another worry which many parents experience before and during a flight.

Having planted the seed of fear regarding the safety of air travel, I want to now extinguish this fear before it sets root. Statistically it’s extremely unlikely that you will ever be involved in a plane accident; in fact a 2006 study by Harvard University consultant David Ropeik, found the odds of dying in a plane crash to be one in 11 million. How does this relate to other odds, of a car accident or the flu? Check out the table below.

Event Odds of Dying
Flu 63 to 1
Fall 218 to 1
Car Accident 5,000 to 1
Heat Stroke 950,00 to 1
Lightning 2,320,00 to 1
Shark Attack 3,700,000 to 1
Plane Crash 11,000,000 to 1
Bee Sting 15,000,000 to 1
Blogging 35,000,000 to 1

So why do parents worry once the flights have been booked? Any parent or guardian with kids under the age of 4 years, and in some cases above the age of 4 years, worries about how their kids will behave on the flight.

This worry is not born out of the fact that you cannot control your kids, but more out of how others on the flight will perceive you and your kids. You worry that your parenting skills are up for review or for others to pass judgment on them, either to themselves or with those they are travelling with. In many cases I am sure that only a few pass themselves off as a critic without much insight, and the worry is mostly self-inflicted.

Nevertheless, the fact that your child could be crying, screaming, throwing themselves on the floor, standing up and trying to speak with those behind/in front, making faces with everyone who makes eye contact with them, disturbing the cabin crew, or sharing their food with everyone on board, is enough to make you worry before and during the flight.

We were very fortunate that our first born was pretty easy to control; largely due to his love for dummies. The dummy was an amazing magical tool; it had a relaxing effect on him during the flights. But our second born has hated the dummy from birth, which is a great thing really, as we do not have to come up with an elaborate 12-point plan later to try and get her to give it up – though I might be tempted to risk the plan after the last three flight experiences with her. It is almost impossible to keep her calm when she is tired and boredom sets in: let’s just say she can hit all the Whitney Houston high notes, but in a painful kind of way, so any ideas we had of retiring early due to our daughter’s singing career have been dashed.

How do we try to combat this worry of flying with our kids during a flight with other people? Just like many parents we try;

  • Tiring them out before travelling, with the hope that they will sleep on the flight.
  • Packing lots of colourful crayons, pencils, pens along with an endless supply of paper.
  • Story books.
  • Puzzles.
  • Bribes in the form of drinks and snacks. Without the bribe of a cool Swedish biscuit called Smörgåsrån (not bad on the Nutrition Facts side) we would possibly have become the most hated family on the flight. Our daughter was kept in check.
  • Great story telling (requires lots of energy and imagination) and endless ability to play I-Spy. But be warned, you will be drained.

Our list of child-control activities, or should I say parent-engagement activities, works on most flights depending on the duration. We try to turn a possible pressure cooker moment into a parenting skills session, by teaching the kids and making them aware of their environment and of others. Should this extensive list of activities start to lose steam, we pull out Steve Jobs (rest in peace Mr Pioneer/Genius), aka IPhone, IPad and the IPod. I am ever so reluctant to do this, as I see these as an easy fix (this is a blog post on its own, so I will just leave it at that), however they do have a welcome desired effect as a last resort. I do often wonder how my parents managed, without Steve Jobs to rely on.

In some funny way, I am waiting for someone to say to me one of these days “Can you not control your kid?” I have prepared an answer for them, it goes a little like this; “Once upon a time you were also a kid, and most likely your behaviour was no different from my kid’s.”

Tapping into my memory bank to those stress-free days without kids and reflecting on how I perceived parents with kids on flights, I realise that I used to feel sorry for them. You can often see the anguish and guilt on most parents’ faces when a child decides that this is their moment to become the lead in their own privately-commissioned film. Before I became a parent I always engaged with kids on a flight, largely due to the Peter Pan in me and my childish nature.

I guess that plane travel worries are no different to worries in other public places, like the moment in a nice-ish restaurant when you turn up with your family and all eyes suddenly turn to you. However the plane worry, I would say, is up there. There is something about being in a confined space at altitudes with nowhere to escape that raises the blood pressure.

Other people on flights are often patient and accepting, but when you get comments like “I am very impressed with your kid(s), as when you sat down I thought I would be disturbed during the flight by your kid(s). What a good child”, you know that there are a limited few that are not happy. It is the limited few, coupled with such comments that worry parents once the flights have been booked!



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