Ah, pre-boarding — the one logistical benefit of having small children.
Mums and dads, this is what you probably believe the first time you manoeuvre your brood to the front of the line at the airport gate. “Hooray!” you think. “We’re in early! Now we have time to buckle little Ivy and Kai into their seats before they can play another round of tag next to the Cinnabon. Let’s get settled and relax.”
Here is what really happens: After that initial exhale, you wait. You watch Group A passengers thrust suitcases into overhead compartments and awkwardly slither their bodies into their seats. And then you watch Group B. Then C, and maybe D. And then you wait some more — “Is there a Henry Chow on board? Henry Chow?”
It has now been 40 minutes since your kiddos first stepped onto the airplane, and they’re losing it. One has to use the bathroom, again.
The other one has gone through the entire box of surprise toys you brought for her, and also the snacks. Everyone is hot, or cold, or crying. “How much longer?” your children whine. You look out the window and see that you’re still on the ground. Who ever thought it would be a good idea for young children to spend more time on a plane than absolutely necessary?
A better travel tactic: Board last.
Yes, skip the invitation to join the early boarding group of “all those travelling with small children.” And then when all the other fliers are making their way into the aircraft, have your kids get their jiggles out. Jumping jacks! The Carlton! Tae bo! Floss one out!
This is not the time to hand over the iPad (you must save it as toddler currency for the flight). Instead, this is an opportunity to empty bladders, change diapers and get your kids physically prepared for a longer-than-they-think stretch of quiet sitting.
Sure, there are some exceptions. If you are travelling with a clunky car seat, you should board early to make sure you secure it correctly. If you must be guaranteed some overhead space, you should probably use the pre-boarding perk as well.
Here’s a good idea from the New York Times for those travelling with a fellow parent: One of you boards early and stows luggage, while the other parent hangs behind with the kids and boards with them last.
(I shared this tip with my husband and he immediately yelled out “I CALL LUGGAGE!”) Airlines may or may not let a parent of small children board without said children, but it doesn’t hurt to ask (share your reasons). Finally, if you’re travelling solo with your young kids and don’t have assigned seats, definitely board early so you can sit together.
Remember, timing is almost everything when it comes to the pleasantness of young kids. Once you’ve got everyone buckled in, move onto reviewing your toy distribution strategy. It’s all about having a plan.