Why Flying With Young Kids Is Better Than Flying Solo
I've always been a travelaholic, which means I will raise a well-traveled child by default. She was photographed for her first passport at three weeks old, and on her first international flight to Spain at five weeks. She crisscrossed Europe for three weeks before returning home and has been on a flight every other month, on average, since then.
Likely for that reason, she loves to fly. She's familiar with the process (and actually helpful, even at just under three years old). By the time we get to the gate, she's thrilled to watch the planes pull in and out, guessing which one is ours, and track the luggage "trains" transporting goods across the tarmac.
Will she grow to be a travelaholic herself? That is yet to be seen. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the perks of traveling with her. Because contrary to popular belief, I find it easier to travel with a child than without.
You read that right. She has flown nine times in the past year and on six of those flights, I flew with her solo. I repeat, flying solo with a toddler added perks not available to the average childless adult traveler that made each of our voyages easier (see my tips for traveling with a toddler here). Like what, you ask? Here are five reasons I prefer traveling with my daughter to without her.
Cutting Long Lines
See, here's the thing: TSA, airport and airline employees don't like crying and screaming children any more than tired and anxious parents like to field glares, sighs, harrumphs or snide, biting comments from fellow travelers. So, more often than not, parents with small children get to go in a separate, very short line, or skip to the front of the line when it comes to security and customs. That means after a 14-hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, when the customs lines were miles long, my daughter and I skipped straight to the front while hundreds of our fellow travelers waited for hours to cover the same distance. It makes a huge difference in stress levels for a parent, and the travelers in their vicinity (so don't roll your eyes or comment when a young family skips ahead of you!).
Skipping Full Body Scanners
While the controversial effects of the full body scanners are still debated, most folks are generally uncomfortable with either the radiation, the privacy issues, or both. I'm not a fan of technology with unknown effects, so after a time or two I refused to pass through a full body scanner. That earned me an invasive personal body scan by a disgruntled member of the TSA each time and it was always unpleasant, at best. But it was better than unknown effects to my body. However, while I was pregnant, a doctor's note excused me from the full body scanner and requested I be permitted to pass through a simple metal detector. And I haven't gone back since. Babies and small children are not sent through the full body scanners, so my daughter and I both metal detect it now, enabling me to avoid a pair of TSA hands in my private places in the process. Win, win.
Boarding The Plane Early
With the exception of American Airlines, and a few other primitive airlines, most airlines permit travelers with young children to board early, after first class (and specially designated passengers) but before the general economy population. I can't tell you how much this perk matters, especially when I'm traveling solo with my daughter. I pre-organize my carry on bags as well as I can before boarding the plane, but getting settled still takes a bit of time. I must get my girl into her seat, and then continuously wrestle with her to stay there while I yank what we need out of bags (entertainment, food, water, blankets, headphones, etc.) and into seatbacks, before finally placing the proper bags in the overhead compartment and under the seats. Allowing a mother the ability to do this without 39 people pushing, glaring, sighing, harrumphing or making snide, biting comments in a line behind her is priceless, and will result in a calmer parent and child during the flight, and a return customer. In fact, if you're a parent booking a flight, ensure that your airline will permit you to do this before booking with them.
Getting Meals First
We all know that American airlines (not just American Airlines, but rather all airlines in America) starve the passengers who have paid hundreds of dollars to travel with them, even cross-country. But if ever you find yourself traveling internationally, almost every other country feeds its air travel passengers, even on short flights. The perk of traveling with a child is that they are served their meals first before the general population, preventing any hangry meltdowns and permitting sneaky bites for mama. Bonus tip: if you, parent, order a special meal (i.e. vegetarian, kosher, etc.), your meal will be served before the general population as well. Why is this helpful? The sooner your children (and you) eat, the sooner they will settle into the flight. That might mean playing, reading or sleeping, but young children are not known for their patience and when waiting for food, the sand slips through the hourglass that much quicker. So feed them, and tuck them in for the long haul.
The Wonder of Air Travel As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Child
This is, by far, my favorite reason to fly with my daughter. The perks above keep me from losing my mind, an otherwise easy outcome of air travel. But it's the wonder in her eyes and the pure unadulterated fun that she is having that really calms me down, slows my pace and shifts my attention into the present moment. And, she's right! How literally wonder-ful that after a bit of hassle (ahem, check-in and security clearance), we can watch magical machines take off into and return to the ground from the sky, and an army of people (grouchy people, but still) who make it all happen. Then we get to travel from one far-off place to another relatively quickly (relative to travel by camel, donkey, horse, or even car), connecting us with new parts of the world, friends and family afar, and culture that wouldn't otherwise cross our doorstep of awareness.
Do I have you convinced yet? I'm not saying kidnap the next small child you see in the TSA security line in front of you. But if you're a parent who avoids air travel because it seems too daunting, I'm here to tell you that it's not as bad as you think. I promise.