Were a family who like to make the most of our time together and enjoy travel and all it has to offer, but we are also practical and honest people and don’t want to paint a picture that travel is always easy and trouble free and especially with Children. For many people the mere thought of boarding a plane with children and facing a long flight is enough to put them off going in the first place. So based on our own experiences with air travel with children we have put together the following guide to help make your journey go smoother and give you the confidence to book that family holiday in a faraway destination.
Our experience so far
Poppet was 8 months old when she first flew. It was a short flight to Brussels and pretty uneventful and a good short duration which is always useful for a first flight.
The next time we flew it was a 10 hour flight. Poppet was 15 months old and not quite walking, I was 20 weeks pregnant with Champ and Poppet sat on my lap for most of the flight. I don’t think either of us really enjoyed that flight but Carl came off it pretty happy.
By the next flight (another 10 hours) Champ had arrived and with two kids brings twice the challenges but we survived and one crucial piece of advice stands out above all others. Preparation is key!
Explain to them what is happening
When your kids are old enough to understand what is going on explain to them what is going to happen so there are no nasty surprises. Tell them what happens at the airport, that their bags will be taken away and that they will see them again after the flight. Tell them about what take off is like. When we had a flight with lots of turbulence I told Poppet that it was fun and that the plane was bobbing around. She loved it then (me not so much)!!
Nappies and Toilets
A notable challenge when flying with babies is how and where to change a nappy. The fold-down table in the loo can only be about 40-50 centimetres long. I don’t know about your kids but Poppet was 58cm when she was born. So no child is actually going to fit on the table! When changing Champ I was constantly worried that he was going to drop off as he was being changed at a strange 45 degree angle. It is either that or your child adopts some complicated yoga pose with legs going up the wall and the chin touching their chest. As time went by we learnt that is if it was just a wet nappy and we could create a little huddle we could change Champ on the seats (on our own mat of course). But you have to be wary of those around you. A lot of people could take offence to this. Dirty nappies had to be reserved for the toilet. When Champ got to standing age we found pull-up nappies a little easier as they could be changed standing up. Reading accounts of others some try to change their little ones on the closed toilet seat and on other flights the stewards have offered an area of floor where the little one can be changed. The best option is to ask. Whatever you do, try to do it quickly. Undress as much as possible first and have everything to hand.
This will depend on the age of your child. If your little one is still a baby a few of their soft toys and regular strolls up the aisle may be enough. It is amazing how people-watching and getting reactions off fellow travellers can occupy a little one.
When your child starts getting more interactive you will need to think about entertainment a little more. My favourite shops for flight entertainment supplies are pound shops. A couple of years ago I bought a string of 4 packs of colouring pencils for £1. So that was a pack each for the way out and some for the way back. It didn’t matter at all if we lost a few on the flight. I would avoid pens on flights at all costs. In a small confined space your little one, you and any unsuspecting passengers nearby will get caught and if they are pound shop ones the ink will be a pain to get out.
Kids magazines will while away some time too, probably more than they do at home as there is less to distract them. When Poppet was 15 months we got a magazine that had a tiny toy xylophone on the front. It wasn’t loud enough to annoy anyone but it kept her occupied for nearly the whole flight. It even made it home and I’m sure it is still in the toy box somewhere.
When they are old enough to sit and enjoy films this will keep them going for a while. We bought our two their own headphones as the free ones on the airplane wouldn’t fit their ears properly. Poppet decorated hers with stickers, killing 20 minutes or so. It can also be worth getting an adaptor unless you know that the airliner you are travelling on takes single prong ?? Some still work on double adapters and it would be a huge annoyance if you have special headphones for the kids but can’t use them.
I often pack a few craft items. Sticky tape can be used to stick plastic cups together to make shakers . The little ones have had great fun with post-it notes. Stickers can be used to decorate headphones, cups, Mums and Dads. Think about a new skill your child can learn whilst flying. When Champ was 23 months old we got him a little toy covered in different types of buckles. He spent quite some time figuring out how to open them up and do them up again. Poppet has done some good writing practice on flights.
Our two have Trunkies. These are little suitcases on wheels with fun designs. There is a separate bag you can purchase to go inside which can be hooked onto the pouch on the seat in front. We put a few toys and snacks in these so the kids have them easily to hand.
Older kids may be into tablets or have their own mobile gaming devices. These will while away some hours. Flights may be a good place to get your kids into good old fashioned books. It’s worth a try!
Comfort and Sleep
I always take a little blanket for each child. I wash it before we travel so that it smells familiar and comforting. A little pillow can help a lot too. Again wash before you travel so it smells like home. You can get little neck pillows for children which help to support their necks and stop them flopping forward. Our two have always liked to sleep with their heads on our laps. So think of your comfort. Go to the loo first and have everything to hand!
Airlines will often let you take an approved car seat on board, so do check. If so your child should be used to sleeping in this and they will know what is expected of them during the flight. Be warned that a few airlines may count this as hand luggage so you won’t be able to bring much else with you. Check before you travel.
The changes in air pressure will often get to a little one’s ears. Sucking is one way to help equalise the pressure. For babies this could be breast feeding, taking a bottle or sucking on a dummy. For toddlers giving them a drink which requires some sucking action, such as a sippy cup or a drink with a straw. Older children could have a drink or suck on a sweet. Make sure they have had sweets before and are safe with them.
Food and Drink
Even the best eaters can be fussy on a flight. Airline food isn’t the most appetising. Most airlines offer kids’ menus but our two have never taken to them. I always pack plenty of snacks. Some that are fun but some that have some nutritional value as it may be all they eat for hours. If there isn’t a long time between leaving home and flying you could make sandwiches or take picnic food. I try to include some fruit and have taken carrot sticks for Poppet. Crackers or cheesy biscuits such as Cheddars are a favourite for journeys. Dried fruit travels well. Chocolate is fun but messy and do you really want a sugar hit when there is nowhere to run it off?
For babies you can carry pureed food and bottles of formula but be prepared to try them at the bag search. One journey we took we were in the air for breakfast and dinner. The lady at bag search insisted I try the lunch food. I argued saying that it would spoil before lunch and I asked if I could try the breakfast food instead. The answer was a resounding ‘No!’ After that I pre-ordered food and formula at Boots (pharmacy chain) to collect airside. This way we didn’t have to taste the food or milk and risk it spoiling.
One word of warning is to be careful about what you carry off the plane. Quite a number of countries have restrictions about what you can bring in. They won’t allow fruit or vegetables and some meat products. If you do carry any by mistake you must declare it or risk severe penalties. Jars or sealed packets of food are usually ok but it really is safest to declare it.
Any travel is best done in comfortable clothes, unless you are throwing everything at trying to get an upgrade! Kids are no exception. Dress them comfortably in layers. The temperature on a flight is always unpredictable, sometimes hot but often cold so dress for all extremes. Food and drink spills, leaking nappies, travel sickness – take spares! That is for the kids and you. At the very least pack yourself a spare top. Even if you don’t travel with kids opening a juice carton in such closed quarters can lead to a wardrobe malfunction! As well as packing spares pack nappies sacks or plastic bags to put any dirty or soiled items in.
Often parents wonder what to do on night flights. We usually take a set of pyjamas for the kids so that they have the idea that they are supposed to sleep (remember to pack any comforters in your hand luggage). You can either get them into their PJ’s before boarding or once on board depending on the time of the flight. Remember to pack night nappies in your hand luggage if needed. It might be worth taking training pants for those going through or just past potty training as a plane is not the place you want to have to deal with accidents.
Other useful items and tips
Always pack plenty of wet wipes and tissues. These will be useful for cleaning spills, dirty hands and faces, vomit, bottoms or just for a quick freshen up. I always carry a few packs and make every grown up in the party carry some so that they can be accessed quickly and there is no rummaging around.
Know where the sick bags are and keep them to hand. Even those you thought were hardy travellers can become travel sick. There is no point wondering where the bags are when it is too late.
Disposable bibs are great, even if your child has stopped using bibs at home. As I said eating in confined spaces often leads to accidents and using a bib can save a change of clothes. They pack down to nothing and can be disposed of at the end of the meal.
A few of the products we mentioned to help flying with kids available via Amazon, our travel shop affiliate.