Flying Out to My In-Laws Is Too Much Money. Do I Have to Do It Anyway?

The Goodfather advises a man burdened with a long, pricey flight for a family of four who just wants to stay grounded.

Originally Published: 
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Dear Goodfather,

So my kids are 12 months and 3 years old and my wife and in-laws are insisting that we fly with the kids to Colorado from Little Rock so we can spend Thanksgiving at their house in Durango. That means not just one flight but a couple. One of those airports is a regional one where we have to cram the kids on a smaller commuter jet to get where we need to go. Then even after all that we still have to drive for a while with the kids.

I’m pissed about this for a couple of reasons: I hate flying and I’m really really not feeling great about how my kids will behave on the plane. I also don’t feel like the cost is worth the trouble just to see my in-laws. Not to mention we have to mess around with car seats and strollers and all that. It feels like all of this would be way easier if her folks came to us. We still haven’t got the tickets yet and this is my last-ditch. Is there a way I could convince my wife and in-laws to come to us instead, or at least convince my wife it’s better to drive?

Aerophobic in Arkansas

Boy do I know where you’re coming from. My kids are 6 and 8-years-old and my wife and I have had a long-standing flight moratorium with them since they were babies. There were a couple of reasons we did this, including the budget-crushing cost of flying four people to visit in-laws. That’s not even to mention the soul-crushing burden of dealing with airlines, fellow passengers and the chaos of two little boys. So, we’ve been a no-fly fam. But, importantly, we were very clear with far away in-laws that this would be our policy until our kids were in middle grades and able to keep themselves out of trouble. It sounds like you missed out on the chance to establish that particular boundary early on. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t build it now.

Look, you’re down to the wire here and you’re about to throw a significant wrench into everybody’s plans. I suspect your partner already has a pretty good idea about your feelings about flying — and flying with a toddler and a baby. But it doesn’t sound like you’ve really made your case, for whatever reason. By the tone of your letter it sounds a bit like you’ve been nurturing a little kernel of resentment. So let’s take care of that first.

It’s pretty unfair to be resentful of people you haven’t clearly communicated with. In my experience, folks are more reasonable than you might have allowed yourself to believe. That’s true even for in-laws. I don’t truly believe anybody wants to see you and your family inconvenienced or put out. So when you bring up keeping your family home this Thanksgiving, which I hope you’ll do soon after reading this, you need to make sure you come into the conversation with the attitude that you’re all on the same team.

But you’ll also need to come into the conversation with a plan. My suggestion to you is to offer an olive branch, of sorts. Offer to fly your wife’s family to you.

You were already planning on spending for a couple of tickets anyway, right? Up to four if you were planning on keeping the kids in the car seats during the flight. By offering to buy tickets for your in-laws, at least it shows that you are dealing in good faith. Buying tickets for in-laws also shows that you’re not simply trying to ditch them. That helps too.

Happily, when it comes to this situation, you have facts on your side. It is both more complicated and more expensive for you to fly your family to Colorado than it is for your wife’s parents to fly to you. You can lay these facts out pretty easily, step by step. But you have to do so calmly and in a way that doesn’t sound too whiney. Remember, the goal here is to make sure your in-laws know you want to see them. Focus on logistics rather than emotions and you might be able to win them over.

I will say, though, before you have the talk with your in-laws (via video chat if you can swing it), you need to have your wife on your side. That shouldn’t be too hard. I truly doubt she wants to get on a plane with a one-year-old. And if she really does, then try to understand her motivation and see if that motivation can be met in another way. I suspect the offer of flying her folks out will help.

You’ll notice that I have not addressed your suggestion of driving. There’s a reason for that. Driving is dangerous. In fact, it’s probably one of the most dangerous things we do with our kids. Considering the length of the drive you propose, not only would the trip still be pricey (think hotels, food and gas on the trip), it would also expose you and your family to dangerous holiday traffic. If the decision is between driving long distances and flying, I will recommend flying if you can afford it.

I understand your trepidation. But there are ways that you can help ease the trouble of travel with your children if a conversation with your in-laws fails. For one, book a flight for when your baby is not napping. You want the time in the air to coincide, as much as possible with when your baby is happy and alert. If your wife is nursing, that’s great. She has a built-in soothing system for fussiness so no worries if the flight is around mealtime.

For your toddler, things are a bit different. You’ll want them as distracted as possible. So, go ahead and ditch the screen time limits. Let that kid mess with your phone for the flight. You can also distract them by wrapping toys in wrapping paper. They don’t need to be new, they just need to be wrapped. The unwrapping will take some time and be super fun for your kid. Also, bring some tape. Because when toys get boring you can tape them together to get a whole new toy.

With some good planning, you can make the flight less painful, but I suspect that with some good communication you may not need to make the trip at all. Just stick with the facts and you should do fine.

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