When it comes to traveling, it is common for children to have fears. Children might be afraid of high places and not want to go over bridges, or they might ﬁnd tunnels to be frightening because they are dark and enclosed. Being in an airplane can also be scary for children. Using the tips below, you can help relieve your child’s fear of flying and make air travel less scary.
Addressing safety concerns
What if your child is concerned that the plane will crash or that terrorists will be on the plane?
Remain calm and reassuring while discussing your child’s fears. Tell him or her that the grown-ups are working very hard to make ﬂying safe. Explain that, just like there are pilots and ﬂight attendants, there are airport workers and security personnel whose job every day is to make sure that everything is safe for passengers.
Airports screen all individuals, regardless of their age. Speak to your child about the screening process before you arrive at the airport so that he or she will not be surprised or alarmed. Explain that the security oﬃcers are making sure that everything that people bring onto the plane is safe. Let your child know that you may be asked to remove jackets and shoes and place them on the X-ray belt. Consider having your child wear shoes that are easy to take on and oﬀ, such as those with Velcro closures. Also make sure that your child knows that he or she will have to place his or her belongings, even a favorite doll or security blanket, on the belt that goes through the X-ray machine. Assure the child that the clothes and belongings will be returned to him or her after they come out of the other side of the machine.
What if you or your child is selected for extra screening?
Security personnel are not permitted to ask you to do anything that will separate you from your child. If you are selected for additional screening, your child may accompany you to the designated secondary screening area. If your child is selected for additional screening and appears anxious, provide reassurance that there is nothing to be concerned about as this is a normal procedure that happens at airports, and that you will be right there with him or her.
Restrictions on your luggage
Explain to your child that people who work at the airport want to be very careful and make sure that everything inside of people’s luggage is safe, and for this reason some things are not allowed in your bags. Avoid a stressful situation at the security screening area by adhering to restrictions. If you pack prohibited items in your carry-on luggage, it may upset your child to see your family’s belongings, even items of no value, being conﬁscated or thrown away. Because airport security precautions change, it is a good idea to check online for current prohibitions and requirements before you leave for the airport.
Tips for making air travel less stressful for children
- Before you fly: To help your child to have a positive attitude towards ﬂying, be enthusiastic about your coming trip during the days prior. Tell your child that traveling in an airplane can be exciting and fun, and that you are looking forward to the trip.
- Arriving at the airport: Leave yourself a lot of extra time. A long wait is preferable to a stressful race through the airport in order to not miss your ﬂight. This stress may aggravate your child’s fears and make him or her very reluctant to ﬂy in the future.
- Keep your child busy: While waiting to board the plane, and during the ﬂight, your child may become restless and irritable. Bring activities or a favorite snack for your child. Being engaged in an enjoyable activity will not only help occupy your child during long waits in the airport or on the plane but will also help distract your child from any fears he or she may have. Be sure to verify that the food and activities that you intend to bring are allowed to be in your carry-on luggage and brought onto the plane.
- Turbulence: Turbulence is a common occurrence that can be unnerving for adults and children alike. You can provide reassurance by remaining calm and comforting your child. You may wish to explain that, just like roads, the air can be bumpy too and that’s why everyone’s wears a seatbelt in an airplane, just like they do in cars.
- Earaches: Changes in air pressure in the airplane cabin, due to changes in altitude, can aﬀect children’s and adults’ eardrums and cause pain and discomfort. The small size of children’s ear and nasal passages make children more vulnerable to having blocked passages, which can cause ear pain while ﬂying. To prevent pressure from building up as your airplane changes altitude, help your child open passages by encouraging him or her to yawn frequently, drink plenty of decaﬀinated ﬂuids, chew gum or suck on hard candy (if age appropriate). Using a nasal decongestant spray or pressure-equalizing ear plugs may also help. If your child does experience pain and becomes upset, let him or her know that this is a common part of ﬂying and that it will get better in a couple of minutes. If your child has an ear infection, or has experienced prior ear pain when ﬂying, consult your pediatrician before your ﬂight.
- Taking off and landing: Like turbulence, the taking off and landing of a plane may be scary for your child. Your calm demeanor will go a long way towards calming your child since your child learns how to react to a situation by taking clues from your behavior. If your child is agitated, ask your child what his or her concerns are and provide reassurance and explain how airplanes get up in the air or down to the ground. Consider giving your child a toy to play with, reading a story or playing a game together, in order to distract and comfort your child during take-off and landing.