Flying… With Children (International Edition)

The challenges of an international flight can pretty much be boiled down to this: you’ll be sitting down for more than five hours.

We’d brought along lots of things to snack on. The Wife portioned them out into little ziplock bags which meant (among other things) they could easily passed along from the parent with the big carryon bag to the kids. Our kids pretty much only get goldfish crackers on flights or long car trips, so that is a special treat they look forward to. The Wife had also put together bags of mixed nuts and raisins. The one downfall of these kinds of little snack foods is that kids will drop anywhere from thirty to ninety percent of them. Flight attendants who have been helpfully offering you extra pillows and peanuts for your young’ns may be unable to hide their horrified expressions when you finally remove the carseats and reveal all the debris lurking underneath.

While I have noted that nothing is as boring as being on an airplane, international flights often have little TVs on the backs of all the seats with free movies and shows to watch (note that my experience here is pretty limited, but our Icelandair plane certainly had this feature). You’ll want to bring plenty of activities along, anyway, because no one can watch the same four episodes of Dora the Explorer over and over for seven straight hours.

RU’s backpack had been crammed with toys and stickers and gewgaws. Once again, the Wife put an extra special twist on things. The activities were divided up into bags or envelopes and the girls were told they could open one every hour. This added a celebratory air to the proceedings, even if the “surprise” was a toy normally shunned at home rather than a shiny new one.

When assembling your sack of in-flight distractions, the first rule is to not bring anything you or your kids really care about. Books may get torn and doused in juice, toys may get dropped and left on the airplane, and the whole bag might get lost in the shuffle somehow. If you are taking things from home, pick a few small, cheap toys they don’t play with much (ideally ones that do not make noise). Those little books you get in kids meals that are floating around in your van? Gather ‘em up and bring ‘em along. If you are buying new items, stick to things that are similarly inexpensive and disposable. Those shelves at the entrance of Target where they try to unload a bunch of crap for one or two bucks is a great place to start. You’d be surprised how much mileage you can get out of just a pack of sticky notes and a ballpoint pen from the hotel.

Finally, don’t neglect your big guns: the iPad. As I’ve said before, we don’t normally rely on electronic devices to keep our kids quiet and busy. Plane trips are a big exception. Make sure you have your tablet charged up, and if your kids are going to have to take turns you’d best figure out ahead of time how to make sure that goes smoothly.

(Don’t neglect to pack something for yourself, too. My motto is “always have a book with you,” but I failed to follow that dictum on this trip. Since I was the parent sitting in the row with our girls, I did not anticipate having any time to myself at all — either I would be busy with them or they would be sleeping, in which case I would be sleeping, too. As it turned out, there were several stretches on both flights where I had whole, consecutive minutes where no one wanted anything from me. However, as I was sitting right next to my kids, I didn’t think it was appropriate to indulge in watching Mad Max or The Shawshank Redemption or any of the other in-flight movies I would have found entertaining. So, yeah, a novel would have been very welcome.)

Our flight from Denver to Iceland was going to be seven hours long. We’d be leaving in the afternoon and landing in the wee hours of the morning, Iceland time. This was a pretty good timetable for us. That put us getting wheels up around nap time, so if the kids could sleep the whole way, they would wake up acclimated to the time change. Plus, they’d be asleep for the seven-hour flight, which ’tis a hibernation devoutly to be wished.

Once we were in the air, we gave the kids a dose of melatonin. It was their nap time, anyway, but we wanted to make sure we put the final nail into the coffin of their wakefulness. July had fought off sleep on the flight from [Undisclosed] to Denver like a mother wolf fighting off a grizzly bear. No fooling around with that business this time; the sooner she went to sleep, the sooner I could go to sleep.

Oh yes, I took a dose of melatonin, too. I needed to adjust to the time difference as well, after all. Besides, two of my three children wake up at dawn every day; I can always use some extra sleep. Unfortunately, while it did make me very drowsy, I could not completely seal the deal. Instead, I sat in that gray, blurry zone between sleep and wakefulness for a few hours, too groggy to entertain myself.

Then the girls woke up.

Hoping I could still manage to get some shuteye in, I gave them headphones and turned on Dora for the rest of the flight.