It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: a crowded plane, a screaming toddler and a seemingly never-ending flight.
Flying with small ones can be an enjoyable (well, certainly tolerable) experience for you, your child and the other passengers – it just takes a little bit of forward planning to make it work.
As every good boy scout knows, it’s important to be prepared. If you’re travelling with a bub, ask for a bassinet seat when you book your flights. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so it helps to request them early. Bassinets are also useful to pop your little ones in to play, allowing you to eat your meal in peace. They also come with extra floor space, which is helpful when you’ve got baby bags and other carry-ons. Do check the weight limit of bassinets though, as they vary between airlines.
Remember to book kids meals. These are usually served ahead of regular meals and help to keep children entertained. It’s also a good idea to pack a few small snacks – boxes of raisins and muesli bars are good.
Always bring a spare change of clothes for babies and little kids, as well as plenty of nappies and extra formula if they’re bottle-fed. A change of clothes for you is not a bad idea either – many a parent has had juice or food (or worse) spilled all over them on a long flight.
Keep ’em busy
Give each child their own small backpack and include some favourite books, a soft toy that can double as a small pillow and a few new toys. Colouring-in books, age-appropriate word puzzles and small electronic games are all good too. Older kids can pack their own bags – it’ll add to their excitement.
There are also plenty of games for iPads and iPhones that you can download to keep the little ones occupied, and these will also come in handy in airport waiting lounges and on transfers. If you’re flying with more than one child, make sure you’ve agreed in advance who gets to play what, when and for how long.
Use the time waiting in any airport lounges to let the kids have a good run-around and really stretch their legs. Ignore the disapproving looks of other travellers – they’ll thank you when it’s time to board!
Kids of all ages will enjoy looking out at the aeroplanes, seeing luggage being loaded and watching take-offs and landings, so find an airport vantage point and spend some time watching the activity together. For obvious reasons, it’s not a great plan to let kids feast on sugar just before a flight!
Toddlers under the age of two aren’t required to have a seat on most commercial flights, but this does mean that they’ll spend most of the flight in your lap, which can be a trial for both of you. Long-haul flights will sometimes have spare seats that you can ask to move to, but it’s never guaranteed. If you can possibly afford it – especially with an older toddler – think about buying them their own seat, especially on busy short-haul flights. It might just save your sanity.
Keep ’em in line
Kicking the back of the seat, running up and down the aisles, shouting and crying – and that’s just the adults! The reality is that these are some of the downsides of flying with children, whether they’re yours or not. Speak to your own kids (when they are old enough to understand) about good behaviour before you fly and during the flight. Toddlers and babies aren’t quite so easy to reason with, and you may find that taking little ones for regular ‘walks’ up and down the plane or to the bathroom will ease their natural restlessness.
Kayte recently flew to the United States with her 22-month-old and had to apologise to half the passengers as they got off the plane.