Veteran pilot offers tips for smooth travel with children

The father of three and grandfather of three more has launched a new career as a children’s author with ‘Pop-Pop Airplane, How Do You Fly?’

Dan Pegram knows airplanes — and he knows children. The retired pilot flew for more than 40 years with the US Air Force and Southwest Airlines. The father of three and grandfather of three more has launched a new career as a children’s author with “Pop-Pop Airplane, How Do You Fly?” It’s the first in a series of books aimed at demystifying flight and sparking children’s sense of adventure. Over the years, Pegram has learned a few things about making family flights more hassle-free and — dare we say? — even enjoyable. He shared some tips for a successful flight.

Dan Pegram flew for more than 40 years with the US Air Force and Southwest Airlines. Handout

Q. What is the most important thing that parents should remember?

A. Parents should be organized, savvy travelers for both themselves and their children. Get up early on the day that you are traveling and don’t rush yourself or your children. Don’t be that family in “Home Alone” rushing through the airport, arriving at the gate all flustered and upset, totally disorganized. My family has teased me for years. I was always an advocate for getting started early. We’d find the gate, grab a cup of coffee, a little something to eat. Then we would be all relaxed and ready to get on the airplane and enjoy our travel experience.

Q. It's easy to over-pack when you're trying to anticipate your children's needs. What essentials should parents make sure to have handy?

A. Children have particular things that provide them comfort, like their favorite stuffed toy or animal or their favorite blanket. Bring things like that along. Don’t bring two or three — just their favorite. Kids also like particular snacks and things to drink. Put those things in a little ziplock bag and put them in a separate backpack for each child. That way it’s easy to find them when your children want them. Also, bring a change of clothing. You never know when there is going to be a spill or an accident.

Q. Once parents have covered the basics, do you have suggestions for keeping children entertained?

A. I don't want children to become overly dependent on digital devices, but they're a great way to keep children entertained and quiet. If you have an iPad or phone, put some of your kids' favorite games on and also pre-load their favorite movie or two and pack some little earbuds or headphones. Also, kids are creative. If you bring along crayons, a coloring book, a pencil or pen, they can write and draw. That will keep them busy as well.

Q. How can parents reassure a child who is genuinely nervous?

A. That’s the reason I wrote my book, to teach children a little bit about the airplane and what to expect. Fear of the unknown is our greatest fear. If parents approach the trip with a positive, informative attitude, then I think kids will be less afraid. Just inform them, “OK, we are going to the airport. We are going to find our gate. And then we are going to go down the jetway and get in our seats. We are going to fasten our seat belts. Then we are going to take off and you are going to love it.”

Once you reach cruising altitude, parents should also get up and walk around with their children. It's good for the parents' circulation, and for a child to be up and walking around and not confined to a seat will chill them out. If you carry your small children, the rocking motion is very comforting.

It's also important to remember that the altitude causes discomfort in some people. Your tummy gets a little full feeling when you get up to higher altitudes. Sometimes kids are experiencing that. I also recommend that parents have a snack for children to munch on or a bottle to drink from during descent. Chewing or sucking on a bottle is a great way for small children to clear the pressure in their ears.

Q. What else should parents be aware of?

A. I suggest that parents bring something to sanitize the tray table and the armrests. That's just a smart thing to do, especially during cold and flu season. Kids can't help but touch everything around them and then that hand goes right into their mouths. Please don't walk around on an airplane barefoot or with socks on. And don't allow your children to do it. Airlines do the very best they can with sanitizing the aircraft, but they can't be as thorough as they would like to be. There are germs all over everything, particularly in the bathroom. Parents should be aware of that.

Q. Sometimes parents can do everything right, but a child still has a meltdown.

A. I have found that the more tense the parents become, the more tense the children become. Parents are doing the best they can to calm their child, but they are embarrassed and they get more tense. As passengers seated around folks like that, the best thing to do is to be patient and understanding. Lord knows, all parents have been there and had to try to deal with it.

Dan Pegram’s book “Pop-Pop Airplane, How Do You Fly?” is published by Brown Books Publishing Group, $14.99. For more information, see

Interview was edited and condensed. Patricia Harris can be reached at

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