No one expects toddlers to be perfect angels on a flight, but the Federal Mask Mandate has turned many less-than-perfect angels into straight-up demons. Air travel is a nightmare come true where instead of a sheepish apology to your seatmates for your child’s in-flight exorcism, you now face the penalty of being booted from the plane.
Making it even harder on many families is the TSA’s extension of the mask mandate which was originally set to expire May 11. The mandate will continue to be in effect until September 13.
Now, I don’t have a crystal ball to help me peer into the future, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that the next deadline will be extended again despite much of the population choosing to be vaccinated.
While it might be tempting to tell families of young kids to choose another form of transportation or not travel at all if they can’t follow guidelines, that's neither feasible nor helpful when it comes to solving the problem named What do I do with my toddler to keep us from getting kicked off the plane?
Since the mask mandate has been in effect, I’ve taken two round trips with my toddler for a total of 12 flights. Yikes! I know. But my pain is your gain, so listen close and take notes, this just might keep you from getting kicked off.
The Masks: The more normal and practiced a behaviour is, the more likely it will go over smoothly in a new setting. That means you need to take the time to practice masking at home if your child is new to masking.
Point out others who are wearing masks when you’re out and about. This is an instance where peer pressure will help you.
Finally, pick out a mask your child can get excited about. For us it was a Mickey Mouse mask that made all the difference.
Don’t gate-check the car seat: Didn’t know you could bring a car seat? Most US carriers allow car seats, and most car seats are safe for air travel. Car seats are a magical mix between a straight jacket and comforting hug. Sure it might be hard to wrestle and buckle them in, but if your child is like mine, they calm right down once escape is no longer an option and become pretty good natured. If yours doesn’t, at the very least they will be buckled and less able to flail about while you try to remask them for the hundredth time.
Just be sure to check your specific car seat. There will be a small white sticker with red lettering on the base of the car seating letting you know if the model is safe for air travel.
Plenty of snacks: Bring enough snacks for an army of toddlers. Bring the sugary, high fat, crunchy whatevers that your child loves and doesn’t get to eat on a regular basis. If your child is actively eating, they don’t have to be masked.
Limited toys: I know this sounds counter intuitive, but you need to fight the desire to bring the entire toy box as your carry on item. Too many choices can overwhelm children and cause a meltdown. Pack two or three small items and call it good. My travel go-tos are a match box car, a small board book, and a fidget toy. Sometimes the more you try, the harder they fight. Keep it simple with the distractions.
Prepped tablet: This is so obvious it doesn’t feel like a tip, but I’d be remiss not to mention it. Nothing turns a writhing demon into a compliant zombie faster than a pixelated screen. Download favorite shows before leaving home and watch your kid completely forget that the lower part of their face is swathed from ear-to-ear in uncomfortable fabric. Works like a charm.
There you have it, the best way to fly with a toddler and make it to your final destination.
Though it won’t help in the short term, the best thing you can do is to contact your preferred carrier and request they follow World Health Organization guidelines that children under the age of five not be forced to mask. If masking on planes is a long-term solution instead of a short-term one, changes and accommodations need to be made.