Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Flying with kids - handling flight-delays

Traveling by plane always involve the risk of delays: congested airports, mechanical problems, weather, strikes... there are many reasons your flight might be delayed. And if you're traveling in winter, the risk is even greater in my experience since bad weather like snow and fog can really mess up the flow of traffic at any airport. When you're flying with kids, this can be extremely stressful, since most children (young ones especially), don't always do well when they have to wait around for anything.


Last year when we were headed to Sweden for Christmas, a very short hail-storm at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport ended up delaying us a lot. Not the greatest travel experience ever, but once we reached our destination it was OK of course.

Most flight-delays can't be avoided, but there are things you can do to make things a little easier on yourself and your children when you run into unexpected wait-times. 

1. Explain what's going on to your children
As a parent, it's easy to assume and take for granted that the kids have understood the announcement over the speakers, or what the person at the check-in counter just told you, but that's often not the case. Kids do not always pay attention, and might not be able to grasp exactly what's happening. I try to go over with the kids why we are delayed simply but in some detail (hail puts ice on the wings - then they have to remove the ice - that can take a long time).

I'm a big believer in that most kids handle problems and challenges better if you explain what is going on to them quite thoroughly. This is why I do a step-by-step walk-through of our trips with the kids before we leave, for example. Same thing goes when unexpected things happen while we're traveling. I find that with my own kids, this tends to reduce their worrying and can also re-direct their attention so that they're not just wondering when we're going again, but can look out at the tarmac and try to spot de-icing trucks, mechanics, a new plane, or whatever. 

2. Make a plan
Once you've explained what's going on to your kids, you can try to make a plan together. Does somebody want to stay at the gate (if that's where you are) while others go looking for some kind of activity? Can you ask the ground crew approximately how much time you have before it's reasonable to expect the flight to leave? Tell the kids what you know, and then try to lay out a plan for how to spend the time. (Sleeping is not a bad idea in some cases!)

T-Rex to the rescue!

3. Do something useful and/or fun
Here are some examples of things to do in an airport while you're waiting for the flight to take off:
  • Go to the bathroom (much nicer than airplane bathrooms!)
  • Go for a snack or a meal at a restaurant
  • Stock up on extra snacks and maybe magazines or books
  • Find the play area
  • Go shopping for souvenirs or gifts, or just window-shop for the heck of it
  • Dig out the activities you hopefully brought along in your hand-luggage
  • Play simple games like "I Spy", 20 questions, or "Rock, paper, scissors"

If you're stuck on board the plane, it can be a little worse. Some things to try:
  • Those activities and games will come in handy now
  • Watch movies or play games on your electronic devices (this is why you should have them fully charged before you leave on your trip!)
  • Read books
  • Draw or color
  • Make up stories together - each person makes up a bit of a story and the others follow, taking turns
  • Play with hand-puppets - my kids really love this, and it often helps them and me relieve some stress.

4. Try not to stress
This is often really difficult to do when you're stuck in a place like an airport or airplane for an undetermined length of time during a travel delay (my main worry is always connecting flights, and that can stress you out a lot). However, try to remember that you will eventually reach your destination one way or another (in most cases anyway!). Also, if I'm stressing out, I know my kids will respond in kind: nothing seems to set their stress-level like me acting slightly unhinged.

Try to bottle up that worry and stress, and pass the time with them the best way you can. Some deep breathing exercises, maybe some stretching to relax those tense muscles, and why not a cup of nice coffee, or tea or some other easy to consume treat might be in order.

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