Last week, while waiting in line to pass through security, I watched a major meltdown. Not the nuclear reactor type, although that crosses my mind every time Homeland Security ups the intensity of their equipment. This one was caused by a young girl who didn't want to put her American Girl doll on the conveyor belt. When her mother tried to take it from her, the child locked the doll in a death grip. Seeing her reaction, her little brother did the same with his shoes. Then the woman's third child, still belted into his stroller, also began to scream. The poor mother had tears rolling down her cheeks and she hadn't even boarded the aircraft.
Traveling alone with your children has never been any mother's dream, but in today's world it could be a nightmare if you're not properly prepared. Here are some things to consider before heading to the airport:
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Prepare your children. Before my daughter Cortney flew from San Francisco to Chicago with her 4-year-old and 2-year-old, she explained exactly what would happen at the airport. They practiced taking off their shoes and putting them on the counter. Each child picked three small toys for their carry-on bag. They practiced carrying their backpacks and putting them on the counter. And for several days, the children repeated the mantra, "You never cry on airplanes." The children went through security without a hitch. And when another young child began to cry, Gabi, the 2-year-old, shook her finger at her and said, "Never cry on airplanes." The children were better behaved than many of the adults.
Plan for the unexpected. Make sure you pack your carry-on for all kinds of emergencies. Medicines, snacks and diapers packed in checked luggage won't help you at 35,000 feet.
When Tad Dail flew to Miami with her 2-year-old, she packed food and toys in her carry-on to keep her daughter entertained. But she didn't plan on the youngster knocking over an entire Pepsi. "Mia was soaked," said her mother. "And I had no change of clothes for her. She was wet and sticky for the entire flight."
On a flight to London, I watched a mother pull packages of raisins, tofu and almonds from her bag and hand them to her hungry children. The woman was the original health nut. Problem was, her kids weren't. They wouldn't touch the stuff. Trying out new snacks on a long flight can make you nuts. Stick with what works. And be prepared for any emergency.
Be flexible. Flights cancel and divert and rarely go as smoothly as you expect. If you find yourself with an unexpected delay, be creative. Many airports have special playgrounds for children. Playing I Spy type games can keep older children entertained. And older children can keep younger children entertained with games like Old Maid.
If the delay turns into several hours, check to see if nearby hotels offer free transportation. Some have swimming pools and game rooms available.
But most of all, be sure to pack your sense of humor. When you're traveling with youngsters, don't ever leave home without it.
• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: Gail Todd recently won several writing awards for her column. During the recent Society of American Travel Writers Central States Writing and Photography Contest, the column, "Airport security deserves a dressing down," was awarded first place in the Travel and Commentary category and "Tips to keep your bags from taking flight," received an honorable mention in the Consumer Reporting category. In addition, the column, "Insects on planes can drive passengers buggy," received a Mark Twain Award in the Short Copy category in the annual Midwest Travel Writers Association writing contest.