Spring Break is that magical time of year when you find yourself standing in front of a room of onlookers, pants falling down, arms and legs spread-eagled, while a man wearing latex gloves pats you down and a woman with five-inch hot pink finger nails waves a battery-powered wand over your privates.
Sounds like an S&M club, right? Wrong — it’s security screening at the airport. Although, air travel does entail plenty of both sadism and masochism these days, especially if you’re traveling with young children. Only a sadist would inflict this torture on fellow passengers; only a masochist would inflict it on himself.
This brings me to my first and most important tip for flying with young children: don’t.
However, cringing at the thought of spending yet another pre-school vacation on a frozen playground and/or cleaning smeared hummus off every conceivable surface in the house — including my one-year-old son’s hair (he uses it as “product”) — this year, I decided to break my own cardinal rule and take the kids down to visit their grandparents in Southern California.
You see, as trying as airplane travel can be with young children, it’s over in a matter of hours. Spring Break lasts a whole week, longer counting the Saturday/Sunday bookends. And there’s not a single Cinnabon to be had. I tried baking my own last winter recess, but they just weren’t the same without that faint aftertaste of jet fuel.
Complicating matters, mom stayed home — “for legislative session,” she said, although I think it had more to do with all those Mark Ruffalo/Jennifer Aniston movies in our Netflix queue. I just can’t stomach watching them (I’m more of a Jake Gyllenhaal/Anne Hathaway man, myself).
Anyway, in preparation for our Orange County odyssey, I did a little online research — of course, only after bumping “Rumor Has It” for “Love and Other Drugs” — in hopes of finding some helpful advice applicable to a solo dad traveling with a toddler boy and a 4-year-old girl.
Of course, I found the same thing I always seem to find: namely, I know better than almost everyone else.
Which isn’t to say I came away completely empty-handed. On the TSA website, for instance, I learned that passengers should NEVER leave babies in an infant carrier while it goes through the x-ray machine. And they really do capitalize “never,” as if this happens frequently.
I also found out that passengers 12 and under can now pass through security screening with their shoes on. This provides a perfect stash spot for your illicit drugs. Air travel is uncomfortable enough without a plastic baggie crammed up your choice of body cavity.
Seriously, though, letting my one-year-old keep his shoes on strikes me as a rare bit of rationality from Homeland Security. If anything, they should ask to remove his diaper — really, that’s the likeliest place he’d be concealing a bomb.
Here’s something else I didn’t realize: children are not required to present photo identification for domestic US flights. Sort of makes me feel like an idiot for getting my kids those fake IDs, but then again, I don’t think the flight attendant would’ve served them double Scotches otherwise, even though my daughter does come off as rather mature. She can spell and add and everything; she knows the alphabet in French.
Another website — www.flyingwithkids.com — recommends packing lipstick and a small mirror in your hand luggage, so that “if you’re having a bad time, take two minutes to put on the lipstick and give yourself a pep talk in the mirror.” This works really well, actually. So well, in fact, I went ahead and put on foundation, eye shadow, and a little guyliner, too.
Many self-appointed experts advise packing snacks, specifically foods least apt to make an unmanageable mess. Problem is, for my kids all food makes an unmanageable mess, even raw carrots, somehow. This time around, I just started two IVs. No fuss, no muss.
A surprising number of sites also suggest using a toddler tether/child leash. Now, I’ll spike my kids’ veins and let them drink double Scotches — hell, I’ll even slip them half a Vicodin when no one’s looking — but I simply will not put them on a leash. Gotta draw the line somewhere.
Bring extra clothes. That’s actually a good one, too. Even better, laminate your child.
Aim for direct routes — out of Juneau, this means any flight with fewer than three stops between you and Seattle — and try to schedule travel during your child’s usual sleep or nap times. Go ahead, try. I dare you to. While you’re at it, try proving Fermat’s Enigma.
Air travel can cause dehydration more quickly in children than adults, so be sure to keep your little ones well hydrated throughout the flight. Here’s where those double Scotches come in.
Ease restrictions on screen time. In fact, find the longest children’s movies you can. Disney’s remake of Gandhi is a good one, you know, with Zac Efron as the voice of Jawaharlal Nehru? Or try the new computer-animated Dr. Zhivago in 3-D, brought to you by the producers of Despicable Me. That’s if you can get past all the commercial tie-ins and product placement. I didn’t even realize they had Burger King in tsarist Russia.
Attach carabiner clips to your bag. Not only do these come in handy when your kids inevitably demand you carry their bags (in addition to them), but they’ll make people believe you’re a studly rock climber, especially all the 20-something women who think a dad traveling all alone with his two kids is the most adorable thing they’ve ever seen. Come on, there’s no harm in a little innocent flirting. What happens in 27 E and F stays in 27 E and F.
Three words: take the ferry.
Three more words: barf bag puppets.
And finally, as an absolute last resort, always travel with a cyanide capsule. You know, just in case.
Happy landings, everyone. May all your carryon items fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. And if they don’t, well, you’ve always got that cyanide capsule.
• Read more from Geoff Kirsch at geoffkirsch.com.