If it’s not something you’ve done before, an international flight with kids is something that causes many parents to break out in hives. Eight, 16 or 24 hours locked in a confined space, being required to sit in seats when most children’s natural inclination is to run and bounce at great speeds non-stop until they fall down asleep … it sound like some cruel form of torture for everyone involved; kids, parents and passengers.
Perplexingly on a plane is when our kids are at their best behaviour. We bundled Noah onto his first plane at 8 weeks old. He slept the whole 3hr flight so it’s probably not surprising we decided this plane caper was easy! I learned otherwise when I did a solo flight with him at 14 months just as he hit the peak of the ‘look I can run away from Mummy’ stage but lets not talk about that. I’ve done my best to blot that flight out of my memory. Since then we’ve flown more times than I can count with the kids. 50, 60 flights? It’s something like that. They’ve had a lot of practice at flying so perhaps it’s not that surprising they’ve learned how to behave on a plane.
Outside of a plane our children are noisy and active. They don’t sit still and they don’t understand the concept of volume. They’re loud or they’re asleep. If its quiet for any other reason it usually means they’re up to something. Hayley has probably found a roll of sticky tape and is covering every door knob in the house with it or has a sponge and is coating the bathroom with soap and water. Or Noah is laying traps to catch parents. At airport parking they’re still running at fever pitch. At check-in they’re trying to weigh themselves, invariably tipping over the queue poles and fighting over anything and everything like brothers and sisters do.
And they definitely haven’t grasped the idea that if there is one place you really should be on your best behaviour it’s while we’re passing through customs and immigration. Despite frequent mock threats from us that the immigration men won’t let them through and they’ll have to stay behind!
step onto the plane and suddenly angelic halos appear. Here’s Hayley about to board her first international flight. See, you can almost see the halo appearing. They become quiet … well quiet in a relative sense. They slow down and demonstrate before unknown skills in sitting for hours on end.
It’s usually about this point that I wonder if fairies have swapped my children for with a well behaved changelings, and if so who do bribe to keep them?
By the end of the flight they usually have nearby passengers lining up to tell them how good they were. I kid you not. Even people who tell us they hate kids on planes turn around and compliment Noah and Hayley.
Why? How does this miracle happen?
Lots of experience on planes is a factor of course. But the biggest factor is a family practice we’ve adopted especially for flights where the normal order of the universe is suspended.
We call it Plane Rules.
On a plane most of the rules that we as parents normally apply get left behind as soon as the cabin door closes. With Plane Rules, anything goes. If it will keep our children happily occupied in their seats without tantrums, screaming, kicking the seat in front or exhibiting the kind of behaviour that drives everyone around us batty, then it’s given a green light.
Rule 1: One thousand and one snacks.
Ordinarily we apply a limit to between meal snacking. Not on a plane. We’ve discovered that when you can actually get our active kids to sit still they will consume more food in an hour than they have for the past month. When it comes to a long haul flight, it usually takes 4 hours of constant snacking before the bottom of their stomach is found. I used to pack just a few snacks. Now I have an all-you-can-eat buffet that would daunt a sumo wrestler and end up ordering from the inflight service. Provided the combinations aren’t going to induce vomiting on descent, if they want to eat sultanas, apples, donuts and sandwiches for four hours straight and ruin their lunch then that’s fine by us. It’s PLANE RULES.
Rule 2: Candy dreams are encouraged
On a plane, we ignore the usual sensible parenting rules like no lollies right after breakfast. Flights are long and if lollipops buy us an extra 30 minutes of peace and prevent cries of sore ears on descent, then tooth decay concerns be damned. Its Plane Rules.
Besides we can pack tooth brushes. Bonus points, teeth brushing will buy us another 5 minutes of quiet time mid flight! Sadly Colin embraces the candy laws almost as much as the kids. We almost missed a flight when Colin and Noah ran off to get lollies for the flight and didn’t come back. Last boarding was called several times. Hayley and I were standing at the gate holding the plane with visions of missing it and forking out for an expensive Airport Hotels when the boys appeared happily clutching their bags of lollies, completely oblivious to the problems they’d caused.
Rule 3: Television is on demand
Our kids usually have more than the recommended dose of TV time but there still are limits. We’ll turn it off and boot them outside or grab out the lego and board games. Unless we’re on a plane. Under Plane Rules there’s no such thing as too much television
You want to watch all three Lion Kings followed by Rapunzel? That’s six hours of television. Hold on, let me consult the plane rules … YEP! No problems. Seven hours straight of Cut the Rope and building Smurfs villages on Dad’s new iPad that he’s barely even used himself … sorry Dad it’s Plane Rules!
(This last one actually happened on a flight back to Australia. Colin had owned his iPad for one day. He got 30mins of inflight iPad time. Noah stole it and sat so quietly for 7.5hrs that Colin couldn’t ask for it back. He did grumble quite a bit but it was Plane Rules!)
Rule 4: Read it again please mummy!
What? You’d like me to read “There was an old woman who swallowed a fly” with silly voices for the 60th time today? Are you sure you don’t want a different book? No … OK then. “There was an old woman…”
According to Plane Rules, even if it’s something that would normally drive us absolutely insane like re-reading a favourite story 3000 times in a row, if it will keep a child happily in their seat and not annoying other passengers (although arguably perhaps our silly voices reading the story again and again will) then it’s a go. Besides, if you’re lucky they’ll nod off before the 60th retelling.
Rule 5: You will play dinosaurs and ponies with us!
Like most parents, there’s a defined period of time that I’ll happily play dinosaurs and ponies with the kids before insanity starts creeping in and I feel the urge to run off and do anything else. Even clean. And just ask Colin how hard I usually work at avoiding cleaning.
Except when Plane Rules are in effect! You see, we figure if we’re going to ask the kids to do something they find hard like sitting in a seat for hours on end then we need to do a few things we don’t like.
Like 30 hands of Uno where the rules keep getting changed. Or colouring even though I know I’m going to get in trouble for drawing a unicorn pink when clearly he was supposed to be purple. Silly me! Or engaging in a full out war between dinosaurs, Spiderman and Transformers. Or playing Squares and letting Noah win all those squares he keeps making in clear defiance of the obvious strategy of the game. Oh I’m such a silly Mummy. No I didn’t see those three sides of an almost square you just made … however did I miss that? Just wait till your not on a plane kiddo, then we’ll have a Squares rematch!
Rule 6: Self-packing
Another important part of Plane Rules is letting the kids have some choice into the contents of the backpacks they bring on board the flight. Toys, colouring materials, craft activities. Even if the choice makes no sense like wanting to pack a new pair of shoes to play with.
Shoes? Really? Are you sure you want to play with shoes on a plane? And you’d like to wear your brothers power rangers outfit with a princess dress over the top on the plane? Well I certainly wouldn’t, it’s a bold choice but OK!
We’ll usually buy them a new colouring book or small toy that doesn’t get played with until we board the plane. Last flight Hayley chose playdough. The cleanup staff after that flight probably hated us but she did spend almost 6 hours playing happily in her chair. I’d call that a win … although next time I’ll come up with a way to keep the mess under control so the airline isn’t tempted from banning us!
Rule 7: Mum and Dad get plane rules too!
If Plane Rules can apply to the kids we figure it can apply to us. When your at 10000 feet, a beer at 10am or a fourth cup of tea is perfectly fine if it helps mum and dad keep their cool. Cause if there’s one thing worse than kids screaming on a plane, it’s a Mum or Dad screaming after having lost it at the kids! It’s a bit hard to hide on a plane filled with people once you’ve made an idiot of yourself.
Rule 8: Time out, tag you’re it, Dad!
Sooner or later, even the most saintly parent can’t handle playing dinosaurs anymore and getting an in-depth word for word retelling of The Lion King. And Colin and I are no saints. So Plane Rules also allow for parents to pass the baton and have time to themselves to read. We often book 3 seats together and one adjacent single seat, taking turns in who gets to read or pass out! It’s a great seating arrangement.
The small print: The limits to the no limits Plane Rules
Of course there are limits that apply within the scope of ‘anything goes’ when it comes to Plane Rules. It’s not complete anarchy. No chair kicking, no behaviour that’s going to insight rage in nearby passengers and nothing that encourages you to be out of your seat if it can at all be avoided. Because lets face it, about 4hrs into the flight the kids are going to start coming up with any excuse to go to the bathroom just to get out of their seats.
“Yes mummy, I know I pee’d two minutes ago but I REALLY need to go. AND my hands are sticky so I have to wash them. AND I have some dirt on my knees. No, I don’t know how it got there since we’ve been inside a plane all day. AND I really really REALLY want to press that noisy toilet button”
Other no goes during plane rules?
Well 300 juices in the space of an hour that might induce vomiting is also not a go. Lots of sugar is given a green light but if it’s a sweet that’s known to induce hyperactivity then it’s not allowed. Painting and marker pens that might stain seats are banned. We’ll keep that for outside play and here’s the reason why … Toys that are likely to roll across the cabin floor, getting lost are preferably left at home, along with lego and things that if small pieces are lost the entire thing becomes useless! And no loud movies or games, unless headphones are used. And of course once we step off the plane, Plane Rules end. Except for sometimes after a long flight when there’s that brief window between leaving the plane and getting to your accommodation where everyone’s rats and you need just a little more TV and snacking to get you through the taxi or bus ride!
Check out also the tips about comfort during a long flight.
Plane Rules isn’t rocket science. It’s simply about us acknowledging that sitting for extended periods of time in the one seat and keeping quiet is not something that young kids find easy, so sometimes you have to bend your normal sensible parenting rules and play with the kids when you you’d really rather be reading a book in order to make the flight work. It’s also about working as a team and making sure Mum and Dad stay sane as well!
So that’s our secret to surviving a long haul flight. What’s yours?
We’re heading off to the UK in a few months on our first 16hr flight. We’ll see how well Plane Rules hold up by the time we hit Heathrow Airport Parking !