Remember the days when you could leave the house without a mask in tow? Even during those “simpler” days it was not necessarily easy to travel with toddlers. Now, add on a highly contagious virus and the need to wear masks and sanitize your hands continuously; the thought of flying with toddlers during COVID can seem impossible. This feeling can also be exacerbated by the videos of parents getting kicked off flights because their toddler refused to wear a mask. This was my exact feeling when deciding to fly with our twin two-year-old boys last month. Most American airlines enforce a mask policy starting at the age of two. Below are four strategies that I used to ensure a safe and successful flight during the pandemic with my toddlers.
Get 6 Simple Tips on Flying during COVID based on my first flight during the pandemic, here.
Choose Your Airline Wisely
Toddlers touch everything. I mean everything! So the last thing I wanted was my toddlers to share elbow space with a stranger while flying during COVID. Therefore, I was adamant about using an airline that blocked middle seats. We personally took JetBlue. At the time we took our flight, they had changed their policy and only blocked middle seats of certain rows. I contacted JetBlue and they confirmed that on my flights they had blocked middle seats on rows 1-12 and 16-25. We quickly booked four seats in one of the same aforementioned rows to ensure we didn’t have to sit next to anyone else.
Other American airlines that block middle seats as of December 2020 are Delta, Hawaiian, and Alaska Airlines. Be sure to double check the airline policy before booking.
Wear the Mask, Kid. Please!
Let’s set expectations here. Don’t expect your defiant toddler to freely wear a mask the first time you give it to him or her.
Practice Makes Perfect
The best way to ensure your toddler wears a mask while flying during COVID is to practice before your trip. Most likely they’ve never worn a mask before. So the first time they have a contraption that covers their mouth and nose probably won’t go as well as you hope. However, like with anything, the more we practice, the more we get accustomed to it. Personally, as soon as we thought we were going to fly, we started practicing wearing masks with our boys.
Get Them Excited to Fly
Our boys love going on vacation and love flying. Since its been over seven months since they’ve been to an airport, we reignited their love by watching a few Super Wings episodes. Soon after they were continuously asking about going to the airport and on a plane. We promised that we would soon do both but first they would have to wear a mask. Once they connected wearing a mask with something they wanted to do, a light bulb went off and their resistance went down.
Options. Options. And More Options.
I think I bought every type of mask possible, from disposable to reusable to neck gaiters. This allowed me to observe which masks my boys liked most. For them it was the cloth reusable mask, then disposable – all specifically sized for kids. Making sure the mask fits properly and comfortably is key. Mask adjusters, ear grips, or lanyards can help the mask fit comfortably and/or ensure it does not drop on the floor.
Only Offer Two Options at a Time
Although I had multiple options for them to wear, I limited their options for each wear to only two – normally the same style but different print. So I’d position it as, “Do you want to wear Paw Patrol or dinosaurs?” This gave them some ownership and made them more willing to wear the option they chose.
Make It Fun
Don’t force your kiddos to wear a mask when practicing. Make it lighthearted and fun. Consider making it a game to see who can keep their masks on the longest? And no matter how long your kiddo decides to wear a mask, make it a big deal! Similar to potty training, any attempt to wear a mask is a step in the right direction and cause for a celebration.
Be Prepared for the Plane
To board the plane, everyone two years and older has to wear a mask. This is the time when flying with toddlers during COVID can feel the most challenging. But rest sure, that if you’ve put in practice, your kiddo will put on his/her mask on. Similar to airports, the level of enforcement once you’re boarded varies by personnel.
There are three things that kept my kiddos from touching everything in sight on the plane: 1) Snacks 2) Entertainment and 3) Sleep. With that said, bring their favorite snacks and entertainment. If your kiddos are anything like mine, they are either eating or sleeping most of the flight. Therefore, they aren’t required to wear the mask (while eating) or it’s fairly easy to get them to wear a mask (while distracted or sleeping).
Sanitation…Make it a Game.
Before settling into our seats, we were sure to sanitize everything within our reach. Instead of me trying to clean everything myself, I gave them a sanitation wipe and made it a game- who can clean the most? It was a hit! My little helpers went all in on cleaning their area.
Only Worry About What You Can Control
Toddlers are going to be toddlers and touch everything in sight; they don’t care if they’re flying or if it’s COVID. Within minutes of reaching our gate, my boys were rolling on the floor wrestling. At that moment I came to terms with knowing that there is only so much that I can control. Therefore, I decided to clean what I can and to sanitize our hands often. I still gave my boys the freedom to be toddlers and do what toddlers do – touch everything. This made for a much more enjoyable experience for my boys, myself, and the folks around us.
If you desire or need to travel via air, flying with toddlers during COVID, it is possible. You just have to spend a little time beforehand preparing for your flight. It doesn’t have to be labor intensive. Just a few minutes each day, or even every few days, can do the trick.