Top tips for flying with your children

Top tips for flying with your children

There are many ‘first times’ for young children; their first word, first steps, their first use of the toilet, their first day at school. For each of these momentous occasions there’s the build up, the excitement for parents, the pride on the child’s face, and the move to the next challenge. It’s what makes parenting such a journey.

Then there are the other firsts, such as their first car journey in a new seat; the first time they pay for something with their pocket money; and their first flight.

In a survey conducted by Hippychick of 600 parents, 32% questioned said they would never take their youngsters on a foreign holiday because of the fear the flight will turn into a tale of exploding nappies and whingeing. While understandable, it’s also a little sad. Would those same parents still stand by that if they won a family holiday? Also, at what point does the family finally say that the child is ready – at the age of four, or seven, or ten? Do they remain strictly confined to the UK, or trains or boats for their holidays until then? Better to prepare them early so that they are comfortable flyers by the time they hit their teens.

Before you fly
A word on preparation. All children of any age now need their own separate passport, costing £46 for under 16s (online or post) or £55.75 for Post Office Passport Check and Send. A child’s passport is usually valid for five years, which might seem a little strange when one considers how different a six-month old baby and the same child five years on might look! Remember that some countries insist that six months remain on passports until they run out before allowing you to enter a country. You can easily get carried away with excitable children before you leave to go on holiday but don’t forget to check you have the right travel insurance for you and your family’s needs.

Airlines allow you to take prams or strollers on a flight, and their weight is not taken into account when considering luggage. The pram will be left at the departure gate and later put in the hold, to be unloaded onto conveyor belts on the other side. Therefore, don’t leave anything in the tray beneath that is important to the child such as teddies or blankets, or the parents such as wet wipes – you won’t get them back until you land.

Knowing the time of the flight well in advance gives you at least some scope for trying to subtly adjust the child’s sleep in the run-up to departure; indeed, ideally you’ll time it so that the two coincide perfectly. That is perhaps easier said than done as most children will probably fall asleep in the car journey to the airport, but still possible with careful planning. 
The smoother the transition from seats on the ground to in the plane, the better the chances that little one will drift off.

Trial run
If you’re concerned about how a child will react to their new adventure to USA, Asia or other long-haul destinations, why not take them on a much shorter flight first? A 1- or 2-hour flight to Scotland, Ireland, Spain or France for a weekend break will prepare them for the sights and sounds of an airport, the security, and the check-in process, as well as the actual sensation of flight and landing itself. If they scream solidly for the entire journey, at least the torment for all concerned will be short-lived. It will also give an indication as to whether they need a separate seat and how to prepare better next time.

Toys and essentials
Your hand luggage is limited, so it might prove beneficial to pack make-up and parental non-essentials in your stowed luggage, and swap said items for your children’s essentials. Wet wipes, sweets (for earache when the plane takes off), dummies and spare underwear/nappies/t-shirts are vital.

A new small toy that you know they’ll like is a clever idea, preferably one that demands concentration and creativity such as a building game or modelling clay. In addition, pre-load some of their favourite TV shows and music onto a digital device, and bring some good headphones in case the in-flight ones are not comfortable. The key is keeping away boredom, no matter how this is achieved.

Parents are aware of their child’s favourite items from home such as toys and games (see below), but if you’re still concerned consider bringing a comfort blanket, their pyjamas or even their favourite pillow case. Ask for extra cushions from airline crew.

Ask for help
Air crew will have experienced most situations on flights, including scared or stressed children. They’ll have a number of tried and trusted remedies, to perhaps include taking the child for a walk and/or giving them a little gift.

If you’re lucky enough to be seated near another family with similarly-aged children, they can sometimes do all the work for you. This writer’s two-year-old daughter discovered a similarly-aged little girl behind her on a flight to Las Palmas and the two spent the entire journey laughing and giggling, only stopping when they both fell asleep ten minutes before landing.

Stay calm
The last, but perhaps most important tip. Shouting (or indeed swearing) at a crying child will benefit nobody, not least surrounding passengers. The child, already in an unfamiliar and alien environment, will become even more stressed and the situation will escalate. If you have to take a two-minute toilet break to calm down while your other half looks after things, that’s fine.

Firstly, try not to become embroiled in a war of words with tutting or disapproving passengers. You’ve paid for your child’s ticket and he or she has as much right to be there as anyone else. 
Secondly, tackle the source of frustration. If it’s pain, perhaps for ears popping during the flight, give them a sweet or a Calpol sachet, or whatever else normally works. Some blogs suggest that milk and healthy snacks, particularly ones that require the sucking of a bottle, can help. If it’s tiredness, arrange their position so they are comfortable. This might unfortunately involve them lying across you or on your lap for prolonged periods, and some parents recommend placing your bag in front of the seat to create a modified ‘mini bed’ that they can stretch out on.

Thirdly, if it’s boredom, use some of the methods described elsewhere on this page to make them happier. Ask them what they would like to do. Most likely, a combination of comfort, attention, and food will do the trick. Enjoy your flight!