My first word of advice to anyone setting off on a first flight with their kids is that children, like grown-ups, are all different and some are easier to fly with than others. So some of these tips may help, but the best advice I could give anyone is to prepare for the worst, be patient, and take deep breaths when it all starts to get too much.
My first flight with my eldest daughter (from Australia to the UK no less) involved no sleep whatsoever with a 9-month old baby speeding on Phenergan and smiling, chatting and waving to all passengers she could manage to trap into eye-contact.
My son, however, has an “off-switch”, which he can activate during any extended period of boredom and fall promptly asleep for as long as required.
My husband is worse than any of our kids, stressing about everything from leaving the gas on, forgetting passports, arriving late and boarding the wrong plane. He really shouldn’t be allowed to travel at all.
So anyway, here we go.
- Research. Choose your airline carefully – find out about the in-flight entertainment and any services provided for kids. It is worth paying a bit more for extra leg-room, peace of mind and happy, occupied kids.
- Packing. You really will not need as much as you think you’ll need on holiday, so pack what you think you need, take a break and then go back and remove a few items.
- Airports. Remember how much longer it takes you to achieve anything with kids in tow and apply the same formula to travel plans. Smile sweetly and helplessly at everyone and you may get help jumping queues. Ask if your flight is full when checking in. Some assistants will offer you the option of seating next to a vacant seat.
- In-flight. Give all the kids a back-pack with a change of clothes, lots of snacks, iPods, Nintendo DS – whatever electronic games they’re into – and a book or two. Don’t pack any games with small parts and especially not Lego or jigsaws. Give younger kids colouring-in books and older kids, journals. It doesn’t matter if the journal is ignored once you get to your destination – it’s served its purpose on the plane.
- Food. Especially if travelling with a baby, pack all his/her favourite foods and don’t rely on the airline because what they serve up may not be to your baby’s liking. Always ask for food/bottles to be heated up well in advance of when you need them because cabin crew doesn’t have access to a microwave and will need to use hot water to heat.
- Ears. We grown-ups can usually pop our ears to adjust to changes in air pressure but babies and children really struggle. Try and time feeds for babies to coincide with take-off and landing – whether breast or bottle, the sucking action helps. For older kids, try giving them boiled sweets to suck on.
- What to wear. Forget about style and focus on comfort, with plenty of layers to cope for changes in temperature – especially if you’re travelling from a British winter, for example, to tropical Thailand.
- Nappies. Airplane bathrooms are small. So you need to be prepared before entering with a squirmy smelly baby. Pack a small bag with one nappy, travel pack of wipes, a nappy sack and rash cream and store it in the pocket in front of you. You can re-stock after the baby is changed.
- Sleep. If you’re anything like me, sleep on a plane is only possible if you’re travelling alone in first class. With sedatives. So let’s be realistic. Get plenty of sleep before you leave so you at least start out refreshed. Make sure your kids do the same. Talk to your doctor about using sedatives for your baby or child. Some children travel well with sedatives, others become even more hyperactive. Test them out before you travel.
- Stay sane. Ignore rude people and don’t stress about annoying people with your screaming child/children. You’re trying your best, and you’re never going to see these people again, so who cares?