(Originally published in 2012)
My family and I just returned from vacation early this past Monday morning. The trip marked my 4 year old son's first time on an airplane. Both my wife and I were worried about how he would respond, but he handled all of the flights like a champ. His favorite part was "going super fast" on takeoff, and he didn't seem to notice any of the relatively minor turbulence that occurred (my wife was a different story, though).
I've got several different theories on why he wasn't scared. I know it has nothing to do with him being generally fearless, as he is quiet afraid of the dark. It may be attributable to the fact that he was with his mommy and daddy, and he knows that we would never put him in harm's way. More likely, though, it's the fact that he was completely prepared and knew what to expect.
It should come as no surprise to many of you that I spent the weeks leading up to the first flight discussing the details of the trip, the airport, and airplanes with my boy. He was prepared to the point that he stood statue-still in the metal detector with his hands raised above his head -- much to the delight of TSA. Unfortunately, I'd prepared him to stand in the new full-body scanner, and not how to pass through an old school metal detector (which is how TSA apparently deals with preschoolers who have not gone through detailed pre-flight briefings delivered by crazy fathers).
The part of the trip that was most surprising, though, was my son's obsession with the airplane safety brochure (OK, I admit, it was simultaneously surprising and totally awesome). He found the brochure in the seat back pocket on his own, and studied it on each flight diligently. To the credit of the FAA and/or the airline industry, he was able to fully-understand everything with a minimal number of clarifying questions. On our final flight, he even asked me to lift him up so that he could familiarize himself with the location of each emergency exit.
Although it was probably just childhood curiosity, I like to think that my son was interested in the safety brochure because he recognized that he was engaged in a non-routine activity. Perhaps he wanted to fully appreciate the associated hazards -- including, of course, the unlikely event of a water landing and/or a sudden loss of cabin pressure. A safety professional can dream, can't he?