Who’d go on a flight with children? You get up at the crack of dawn to stand in queues at the airport for an hour. Now you’re finally on the plane where you’ll be confined to a small seat for hours at a time. There’s very little space to move, it’s almost impossible to sleep and there are only a handful of toilets between hundreds of people. Surely, it’s a recipe for disaster for children who can barely sit still for more than five minutes at a time?
Flying is a huge adventure for children. My two like nothing more than getting up in the middle of the night to leave the house for the airport. They love taking off and landing and the thrill of being up in the air. Plus, they’re going on holiday! What could be more exciting? However exhausted you feel, there is something uplifting about being in the company of two people who think they’re having the ultimate adventure.
If you’re prepared for all the things that can make your kids grouchy – boredom, tiredness and hunger – there’s no reason why you can’t all enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
Here’s a list of all the things we’ve found that help make flying a pleasant experience for all the family.
- DON’T feel pressured into paying for allocated seating. I used to dread the boarding gate scrum for seats. Flying with my children became a lot less stressful when the no-frills airlines started allocating seats at check-in. Airlines like Easyjet and Ryanair say that if you want to be sure of sitting together you have to pay for the privilege – they “will try and put families together” but can’t guarantee it. On Easyjet you can check-in online up to a month before your flight so the sooner you do it the more likely you are to get the seats you want – without paying any extra.
- DO take them to the toilet before boarding. It takes quite a lot of time for the seatbelt signs to go off and the last thing you want are children saying they need a wee just as the plane takes off.
- DON’T check-in your pushchair. You should be able to push it right up to the aircraft door. Make sure you’ve got an address label tied to the handle with your name, address and phone number on it.
- DO give them boiled sweets to suck at take-off and landing to ease any ear pain due to the change in air pressure. Babies and toddlers can be given milk or another drink.
- DO prepare for tiredness by having a favourite cuddly toy and comfy blanket for them to snuggle down with.
- DO go through the usual sleep routine if it’s bedtime. If you give them milk, a bedtime story and get them all snuggled up, they’ll be far more likely to go to sleep.
- DO encourage your children to be independent and pack a few things for their flight in a bag they can carry themselves, whether a rucksack or a small suitcase with wheels. My two love their Trunkis which they can wheel through the airport themselves.
- DON’T leave the house without checking what they’ve chosen to pack. Mine have tried to smuggle in a wand, ten soft toys and the entire Harry Potter collection before now.
- DON’T pack tiny toys that are likely to get lost on the floor or down the back of the seat. Or toys that make noises.
- DO pack a small surprise to produce when they start getting fidgety. A few days before we travel, my two will also choose a magazine which they’re not allowed to look at until we get on the plane.
- DO prepare for boredom by packing lots of quiet activities. Good things to take include the wonderful Usborne sticker books, wipeable activity cards, magnetic travel games, books, playing cards, finger puppets, iPods filled with music and stories, pens and notebooks and a couple of their favourite toys.
- DON’T get everything out as soon as you get on the plane. If you stagger their books and activities they will always have something new to look at.
- DON’T insist your children stay in their seats all the time. They should occasionally stretch their legs by walking (or crawling) with you up and down the aisle – they will love the attention they get from the other passengers.
- DO encourage your children to charm the people sitting near them by smiling and playing ‘Peekaboo’. Hopefully, if they’ve seen them being cute, they’ll be far less likely to get grumpy when your kids start whining and kicking the seat.
- DO pack a gourmet picnic. I’m not talking lobster and champagne, but a selection of delicious food for you all, and some of your children’s favourite snacks. If we’re on an early morning flight we always buy lovely pastries, yoghurt pots and smoothies at the airport so that we’ve got the thrill of a fancy breakfast once we’re on board.
- DON’T be afraid. You don’t want your children to pick up on your fear – they need to feel reassured that flying is safe. A friend of mine says that having children has cured her of her fear of flying – she’s too busy marvelling at their excitement to be afraid anymore.
- DO ask if you can visit the cockpit. You’re not likely to be allowed to visit during the flight but if you ask the flight attendant, your children may well be allowed into the cockpit at the end of the flight. It’s an excellent bribe for good behaviour!