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Eating at 40,000 Feet: Traveling With More Than One Child
by Peter Van Buren and Mari Nakamura

So we'd gone ahead and taken the Doctor's advice and had our second child, thinking that our three years of experience with single baby maintenance while traveling long distances (my job has us relocate every three years, always abroad) meant that traveling now with two kids would be a piece of cake. Our plan was to get the kids seated, then kick back, pay three bucks for an in-flight frosty beverage and wait 16 hours for wheels-down. At worst we'd just have to repeat parental guidance twice.

Yeah, right.

There's work to be done to make sure those 16 hours pass as well as they can, and caring for two kids is more than twice the work, as often times their needs occur simultaneously, or require more than one set of hands (hello single parents!). Doing the right things while airborne is what this article is all about. We'll focus specifically on meals service time, an especially tricky period as it involves wet, sticky, greasy things (and then there are the meals themselves) and kids' likes and dislikes.


The single best tip is to order special meals for each family member. About a week or so before flying, contact the airline to order the meals. The minimum time to request special meals is 48 hours before departure, but I have found that that is not always enough lead time to get the meal you want.

Check out the airlines' web pages, or check with a good travel agent and you'll learn that special meals in many flavors are all available. Some common ones include low fat meals, salt-free, Kosher, low calorie and the Grail itself, a kids meals. But if you or your kids are not on a special diet, in need of Kosher food or otherwise in need of a "special meal", why not just order a kid's meal for each kid and be done with it?

In a word for one kid, variety. In two words for two kids, more variety.

Say what you will about airline food (remember this a family web site) but in the end it is usually the same and there are rarely much choices in flight other than a growling, medieval showdown between chicken or beef. By ordering everyone a separate, special meal you'll have a greater variety of things to mix and match, moving boiled carrots from the older child's plate in exchange for the rice the younger one does not like.


The other best thing about special meals is that they are usually served first, before the rest of the cabin gets their food. Your kids will like this.

It also works in the other direction: ask the flight attendant to please serve your kids first and then, after the rest of the cabin gets their vittles, ask for your own meal. Using this tip, you are free to assist your children in eating without the added burden of manipulating your own tray of goodies. The theory is that once the kids are fed, you may have an easier time eating your own dinner. If your kids tend to fall asleep right after eating, you get a double-bonus and can eat in (relative) peace. This is especially welcome when you are one parent with more than one child.


In tourist/economy class the food usually arrives with foil and/or plastic wrap. It can be real hard for a kid to get this stuff off and out of the way. The tray table is pretty narrow, and does not get any wider when the person in front decides mid-meal to recline his seat. Also, pulling the foil off a dish can release some pretty hot steam, or require holding on to a hot dish. Help out even if your kids eat pretty much on their own at home.

You do not have any say in when you eat aboard the plane so you might bring along some snacks for the kids. You already know what works best, but we always had good luck with ours with Cheerios in a bag or saltine crackers. Make sure the snack doesn't need to be refrigerated, will still be good to eat after eleven hours in your carry on, does not make hands sticky and can take a l-o-n-g time to finish.


Think also about what your thoughts will be about your child falling asleep without brushing her teeth after eating the snack. In a perfect world you'll be energetic enough to wait for the meal service to end, stand in line with the World's Most Unpleasant Other Passenger and navigate your child through brushing teeth in the tiny airplane toilet. We never took that flight either, so instead try and avoid really sweet snacks in-flight to minimize tooth decay. Needless to say, none of this gets easier with multiple kids in motion.


No, no, not you, the kids. Drinking can be very hard for kids while on a plane. The aircraft can be moving, the seat in front of them (and thus the one holding their tray table) can shift and sometimes the cabin attendants forget that kids need a lot less juice in a cup than grownups, so filling the cup to the rim is not helpful. We always brought along our own empty sippy cup and asked the flight attendant to put the child's beverage in that cup instead of the plastic cups on the tray the adults used.

These travel tips come from Peter Van Buren and Mari Nakamura, two parents with two kids who also run their own website. For more tips on traveling and living abroad, please visit their web site at www.travelwithyourkids.com. All contents Copyright 1999-2000 Peter Van Buren. All rights reserved.

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