One of the things I used to dream about before getting my license was to fly my wife and two-year old daughter around, sharing the experience of flying together. I would daydream about flying off to a fun destination, grab lunch (and coffee) and then enjoy a nice flight back to the home field. I often questioned if having an enjoyable flight was doable with a two-year old. Was this feat even possible, ensuring fun for everyone on board?
Now that I have my private license and have taken several flights with my family, I have found that it is very much doable, and can be a very enjoyable experience. Building upon existing articles and recommendations on this topic, I would like to share some ideas that made our flight with a young child enjoyable and manageable. By no means am I a CFI or expert. These practices are based solely from personal experience, and I have found them to work for our family. Who knows, maybe they can work for you too!
First, plan well ahead. Plan for extra time during the preflight, at your destination, and post flight. It will take you longer to load the items into the plane (i.e. carseat, child, and personal items). Planning for extra time allows for flexibility and will also reduce the pressure/stress of get-there-itis. Adding more time into the equation helped my family and me slow down and enjoy the experience, versus trying to meet a strict timeline, and prevent rushing to failure.
Pack a small bag for the child, including a book, small toy, snack, extra diapers, wipes, a bottle, dried milk, etc. My daughter has her favorite toys, so we make sure that she has access to these items once seated in her carseat. Also, we packed a warmer layer, i.e. jacket, blanket, and small trash bag for contingencies if we had to stay overnight, or if she simply became cold at altitude.
We also brought a camera—take some photos of the flight, capture and share the experience for later. It was fun for us to see the expression on our daughter’s face once we took off, and once aloft.
Proper hearing protection is a must. We have found that over-the-ear hearing protection (Noise Reduction Rate of 25db) worked well for our little one. Foam plugs did not work well with our daughter – specifically they didn’t stay in her ears very long. A technique we used was to practice wearing the hearing protection a few days prior to the flight, to get her used to wearing it.
Preflight management. Walking out to our Cessna 172 rental, my daughter became excited at seeing all the different airplanes on the flight line, wanting to run off all over the place with excitement. That being said, it helps to have a family member there to ensure positive control is kept, so the child does not run off. That family member/friend/co-pilot is vital in keeping the child at bay, and will help the pilot perform a preflight check that is not rushed, focusing on the task at hand. This of course translates to all phases of flight.
Get accustomed to the airplane. For my wife and me, it helped to talk to our daughter prior to the flight, stating, “Today we are gonna fly in an airplane!” We have found that this sets a positive tone for the flight, including her in the daily agenda of what is about to occur, and provides some mental preparation of the upcoming activity. Once at the airfield and prior to the preflight, I like to point out different parts of the airplane to help with the introduction of it all – “Look at the wings, and the propeller – how cool!” Once inside, let the baby/toddler get acquainted with the airplane, touch the seats, controls, point out the instruments. Watch their eyes light up as you point out different things to them.
We kept the first flight shorter in duration, because we were unsure of how our daughter would handle the flight. The flight was from Montgomery Field (KSDM) to French Valley (F70), a 40-minute flight one way. That being said, we had closer airports planned that we would fly near on our route in case we needed to make a stop (Gillespie and Ramona airports.) Ultimately, we wanted to start out small to see if she handled the flight well, and if she did not, we wanted to be prepared. All in all, we had planned to land at French Valley, enjoy a nice lunch and return. That’s exactly what happened!
Lastly, celebrate! After it’s all said and done, and the plane is buttoned up for the day and you are back home, it can’t hurt to celebrate the occasion. For us it was going out to eat to talk about the experience and identify what needed to be improved upon. We have flown several times together now, and I actually prefer flying as a family versus flying solo!