Anticipation.... — Photo courtesy of alberth2
When it comes to travel, most very young children are excited, especially when it comes to airplanes. Their sense of awe when looking out the window at the airport and actually seeing these huge metal birds in person, coming in for landings and pulling up to the gate, is one of innocence and joy. Fortunately for them, they have no idea about weather delays, flight cancellations, mechanical failures and all the hassles that can be associated with flying. Their parents are lugging around diaper bags and strollers while trying to corral their overactive wandering toddlers. They're balancing holding sippy cups and their own personal items while trying to find the gate, all while keeping a smile and chiming in with their little one how much fun it's going to be "once we're on the plane!"
An older child, however, flying for the first time, may behave quite differently. With a keener awareness and a healthier dose of fear (possibly after being exposed to a few disaster movies), they may very possibly react in quite the opposite manner. Hopefully, in this case, the parent has flown before, and is able to provide some much needed reassurance in their knowledge of air travel.
Apprehension at takeoff — Photo courtesy of Robert Gaal
First of all, if the subject of the ultimate fear comes up (the airplane having an accident), it's import to remind your child that air travel is by far safer than traveling by car. Our chances of being in an air accident are 1 in 11 million. We have greater chance of being in an accident on the way to the airport than we do once we're on the plane.
After the horrible realities of 9/11, an older child may have seen some pretty graphic images on television involving airplanes. It is important to remind them that the airline companies care about our safety greatly, and strict precautions have been taken to carefully get us to our destinations.
Airport rules — Photo courtesy of x_jamesmorris
Talk to your older child ahead of time about what to expect when arriving at the airport, from parking the car to checking in baggage, to going through security. The people in uniform and the x-ray machines at security can be intimidating. Be sure to tell your child under no circumstance to make any jokes about having a toy gun, knife or weapon of any sort. It is no laughing matter. And be sure your child did not mistakenly pack any such item (especially an heirloom!). It will be taken away at the checkpoint, causing a lot of upset for your child and you. Keep a positive demeanor and if traveling with your spouse, have him or her go through the security booth first, to show how it's done.
Remind your child to use the facilities before boarding, as it will be a while before being allowed to do so once in the air. When boarding, point out the cockpit and tell the pilots it's your young traveler's first flight. Many times, they are quite friendly and willing to let them step in for a moment to see all the controls. Flight attendants may have activity kits for your child to keep them happy.
Once seated, explain all the buttons overhead and have your first time flier look at a map of where you are and where you're traveling. Most airline magazines, provided in the seat back pocket in front of you, provide maps towards the back pages. Also interesting is showing your child the printed layout of the airport, and which gate you're leaving from. And of course, encourage them to bring their favorite music to help them sit back and enjoy the ride.
Super flyer — Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines
At takeoff, distract them by getting them to guess how long it will be from the time the plane starts accelerating til the time it's in the air (a game my dad used to play with me). Usually it's around 40 seconds. Teach them the different sounds the plane can make, like the landing gear coming up and going back down. At landing, prepare them for the extra noise when the plane is braking. Have them look out at the wing and educate them how the wing flaps and spoilers help the pilot to stop the plane.
Travel success — Photo courtesy of edenpictures
Upon arrival, employ your older child to use the map to learn where the next gate is, if catching a connecting flight, and of course congratulate them on their first flight. Air travel is a huge and sometimes scary adventure for an older child. Remember to celebrate their new-found confidence and success in conquering all their flying fears.