When Summer Vacation Means Flying With Kids

A few precautions can ease the trauma for pilot and passengers.

When we landed after our first trip from New Jersey to visit family in Kentucky, the first thing my wife, Leslie, did was hitch a ride to the local dollar store. She spent close to $50 on an arsenal of airplane-friendly toys to ensure our then-four-year-old twin boys would be well occupied on the trip home. Since then, a few more nuggets of wisdom have crept into our vacation flying strategy.

First, even though headset-equipped DVD players and video games are a gift from the aviation gods, be realistic about how long you can expect your VIPs to sit still at 10,000 feet. The range of our Bonanza can make a lot of our trips with one stop, but I finally acquiesced to keeping the legs down to less than an hour and a half, with plenty of time on the ground budgeted for snacks and running around. I console myself the extra approaches and landings have been good practice.

In flight, tossing food into the back seat is always good for a distraction. We try to stick with snacks that are healthy and less likely to contribute to motion sickness. Fruit, granola bars and trail mix are staples (invest in a portable vacuum cleaner), with sandwiches washed down with lots of water for meals. Of course, keeping them hydrated is important, but that leads to the next issue…

Have you ever explained to a controller that you need to amend your IFR flight plan to land after 40 minutes for a bathroom break? Because a lot of our trips involve skirting Washington, D.C.'s sensitive airspace, I guess they have to ask, but the truth usually elicits a chuckle from the controller. If you expect kids to use a pee bottle to avoid these conversations, be sure to include a few practice runs ahead of time. It's not fair to a toddler to expect a flawless performance under live conditions on the first try.

And just when you think you've cornered the market on shortened legs, they will cross you up and fall asleep five minutes after takeoff. "Uh, departure? Any chance of extending my clearance?"