It’s a summer holiday season. Sun, sea, sand… and the trauma of taking little ones on a plane! It doesn’t have to be that way though. Flying with young children can be daunting, but there are some simple steps parents can take to make everyone’s lives easier.
Whether you’re hopping across to Spain or planning something a bit further away, these are our tried and tested tips for flying with young children.
- Check your seats: Most airlines allow you a choice of seat while you’re booking, for free or for a minimal fee. Although you can’t sit in exit seats with young children, you can request bulkhead seats. These are the ones that separate different areas of the plane, such as lavatory areas and Economy/ Business. You’ll have extra legroom and space for your child to stretch out and play – as we all well know, confined children are rarely happy children!
It’s also worth double-checking how much you’re being charged if your children will be sitting on your lap. Some flights charge almost full ticket price for a child without a seat. If that’s the case, you might choose to pay full price and take the extra seat – extra space will be a godsend when you’re in the air.
- Split your journey: Often it’s actually cheaper to have several stops than it is to fly direct, and many parents will find this suits them better too. Although your actual travel time might be increased, your ‘sitting still’ time will be broken up.
You might even take it one step further and arrange a night’s layover somewhere on the way. Many airline providers offer affordable hotels near the airport, so you can generally swing a stopover without too much additional cost. Flying with children is a little like a plaster: some people prefer to rip it off all in one go, some people peel…
- Snacks away…: Flying with young children is a challenge in itself, let alone flying with hungry young children. Don’t put yourself through it! Pack a good supply of snacks – more than you think you’ll need, and then some. Bring a mixture of snacks from the snack spectrum too, starting with the ‘ideal world’ snacks you want them to eat right through to…. Well, who’re we to judge? If 4 packets of Jelly Tots are all that’ll keep them quiet on a long-haul flight, those carrot sticks aren’t getting a look in.
- Dress for comfort: As if you even needed telling! Seriously though, children can be acutely sensitive to temperature change and restrictive scenarios – think comfortable, easy-on, easy-off and temperature adaptable. A warm hat can be a lifesaver too – air conditioning on board can be freezing, and cold children don’t make for sleepy children.
And don’t forget their favourite teddies! Take them in hand luggage: I promise you’ll be grateful when Molly starts crying for Blankie when you’re 30,000 feet in the air. Oh, we’ve all been there.
- Be interactive: Given a choice, most of us would spend the entire flight reading, watching in-flight films or sleeping – in comfortable silence. When you’re flying with young children, you don’t have that luxury. Childish excitement can admittedly be wearing, but remember how magical flying can be if you’re young. Of course they’re irrepressible.
Embrace your role as in-flight entertainer and play games with your little ones. Some of the classics are low (adult) effort for high (child) engagement – that’s what you’re looking for. Think I-Spy, Count The Passengers, 20 Questions… even Sleeping Lions if you can get them to go for it!
- Take a tablet: This works especially well if you’re a parent who limits screen time in daily life. The tablet is the Forbidden Fruit… and a long-haul flight is the perfect time to let them have a bite. Load your tablet with TV, games and apps they’ll enjoy and let them loose. Again, there’s no judgement here… good parenting means something quite different in the air!
- Choose your timing: Different families prefer different tactics here, but do give timing some thought. A night flight will often mean children can sleep through as it’s their normal bedtime, but then you’re well and truly up the creek if they don’t. On the other hand, a daytime flight leaves little chance of them sleeping once they’re past a certain age – which means you’re in for the long haul with them.
There is a piece of old folk wisdom that suggests tired children will sleep… With that in mind, letting them stay up late the night before might be a good tactic.
- Think like Pavlov: Children, dogs… what’s the difference? In all seriousness, if your child is new to flying this is your chance to ‘train’ them in good flight habits. Try wrapping up a series of little presents (toys, sweets, games, stickers) and giving them away regularly as a reward for good behaviour. You can start taking them away again too, if needs be!
Make flying into a game – you could even come up with a checklist before the flight and tell them you’re scoring them throughout. That’s a top tactic for competitive siblings – promise the winner a special reward when you land and watch them try to be impeccable.
- Take a well-stocked Kiddy Bag: The best laid plans can come to ruin when you realise you forgot the baby wipes/sick bag/spare nappies. Plan for the worst and you’ll almost definitely be prepared. Calpol can be a lifesaver, as can aspirin if you find yourself coming down with a migraine! Take spare clothes, spare wipes, spare everything – mishaps will inevitably happen.
It’s also great to take some old fashioned non-screen based activities. Pens, paper, puzzle-books, travel games – the more the better. Don’t forget headphones too – you can buy special child friendly ones that are infinitely more comfortable for young childred.
Airlines are well accustomed to little ones on board, even on long, long haul flights but it can be a daunting task as a parent, especially if it’s your first time. Follow these tips and you’ll be flying home free before you know it!