Remember those heady, child-free days when you used to see air travel as an exciting part of the adventure? You arrived at the airport a whisker before the gates closed, travelled only with a carry-on containing a bikini, a sarong and a pair of wedges and then sat on the airplane listening to a Summer playlist and planning which beaches and bars you were going to patronise? You now have children. Travel will never be the same again.
But have no fear, ELM has collated 10 top tips for flying with kids. Happy Travels and God speed.
1. Pack light
It may seem like an impossibility but try to pack as little as possible. Remember that it’s unlikely that you’ll be staying at the airport so anything you’re taking you’ll have to transport across an unknown airport, to a taxi rank or coach and through a hotel resort. And travelling with less means less time standing at the baggage reclaim and a reduced likelihood of leaving any of it at arrivals.
2. Arrive early
Don’t make a rod for your back. Plan to get there early and go earlier than that. There are very few things that are worse than running across an airport with two small children and an assortment of baby paraphernalia. Give yourself time to contend with the inevitable obstacles in your way - poonamis, lost dummies and passport misplacements are easier to deal with when you have a bit of time.
3. Take advantage of early boarding
This is genuinely one of the only privileges of travelling with small children. Take it. It might seem like the most ridiculous idea to spend longer on the aircraft than yo
u need to but you’ll be able to get your luggage in the overhead bins without fighting with the other passengers and you’ll be able to set up camp in a slightly less frenetic atmosphere.
4. Screen time
Controversial topic but I’ve always found screen time to be an excellent distraction during flights. When my kids were small, I would download a shed load of Hey Duggee and Octonauts onto my laptop pre-trip. I bought two sets of headphones and a two-piece headphone jack so that they could both watch the screen at the same time. It was rare that it held their attention for the entire flight but even 15 minutes of quiet time felt like a little piece of heaven.
5. Be wise with your entertainment choices
Colouring pads and crayons are a fool’s game. You’ll just spend the majority of the flight picking crayons up off the floor. An alternative idea is to buy one of the Water Magic Books - it has one pen that you fill up with water that can be tied to the seat with a ribbon, with which they can colour the whole pad.
Similarly, don’t bring an assortment of little toys. You’ll just spend the entire journey scrabbling around under the seat and the ‘favourite’ one will inevitably get lost.
6. Pack an airplane picnic
I always found that putting together an assortment of tupperwares of mini sandwiches, bits of cheese, bits of ham or chicken, cut up fruit, oaty bar bites, raisins etc was an excellent way of dragging out the airplane picnic and thus fulfilling their incessant need for snacks.
7. Encourage sleep for the very little
If your child is still having naps, try and stick to the routine by letting them sleep in the buggy if you’re in the airport or on your lap if you’re in the airplane. The environment is so overstimulating that things will only be made worse if they miss a sleep (even if the nap is shorter!) It also helps if they’re sleeping during take off and landing as the likelihood is that their ears will hurt. If they are awake, breastfeed or give a bottle to the little ones and take a chewy sweet for the larger ones.
8. Lying is paramount
OF COURSE in the wider world, lying is bad. But in the case of flying with kids, a little bending of the truth won’t do any harm. If your children are anything like mine and start asking “are we nearly there yet?” before we reach the M40, explaining that there’s still 2.5 hours left in the confines of their seat will just create problems for yourself. The answer is always “Nearly there, darling.” And for goodness sake, if there’s an interactive map, don’t explain it to them.
9. Expect ‘looks’
Unfortunately, people can be really horrible. When I was flying once with my 18 month old who was suffering with sore ears, I overheard a woman saying “Why can’t she just shut that child up?” I cowered in my seat and fought back tears. Don’t be like me. Children cry. They get bored; they’re uncomfortable; their ears hurt. If people don’t understand that, they’re the fools… not you with your normal child with normal human emotions.
10. Clearly mark your bag with a big colourful bow (or something similar)
It’s never been so important to pick up the right bag. You don’t want to be hanging around for hours with squalling kids waiting for luggage that has already been nabbed by someone else. And if you take someone else’s, what if it doesn’t contain Calpol?