Travelling with Children?
When it comes time to plan a holiday, some parents fret over the fact that they’ll have to fly to their destination. Then there are others who don’t think much about flying with children and consider it to be a non-event. Whichever camp you fall in will depend on the experiences you've had.
You may have spent hours beside someone's screaming child, or marvelled at how well behaved someone’s child has been. Or you may have been the one trying to manage a screaming toddler during take-off and landing or thanking your lucky stars that your little one fell asleep as the pilot made their first announcement. Either way, there’s never a guarantee on how smoothly your travels will be, but thankfully, there are some ways to prepare and set yourself (and your little one) up for success.
To help put your mind at ease for any upcoming travels, we asked the experts at Virgin for some of their advice on flying with children…
When booking your flights, think about your child's rhythms. Book flights that coincide with sleep time. Avoid stopovers when possible. If they are unavoidable, try to make sure there is enough time for your child to run around a little! They'll be a lot happier than if they are corralled straight back onto another plane. Equally, avoid really long stopovers unless you can leave the airport.
Find out what your luggage allowance is and stick to it. You don't want to have to rearrange your suitcase at the airport while keeping an eye on a roaming child.
If your child has their own seat, they’ll have their own luggage allowance. If they are big enough, have them pack and carry their own entertainment for the plane. If they are too small to help, remember how many hands you'll have when flying and try to keep your luggage to something you can manage on your own or between you and your flying companions.
Child-Friendly Meal Options
Check with the airline you’re flying with to see if they offer children's meals - these will be made to cater to smaller appetites with many options so even the pickiest eater will find something to their liking. The food is often packaged individually so that you can keep some items for later.
If you have really little ones, take pre-made cartons of formula which are easy to pour into bottles rather than making up the powder which is fiddly and messy. Remember that you may have to sample any liquids you bring on the plane as you go through security. It's a good idea to confirm what you can bring with your airline before you get to the airport to avoid confusion.
Pack lots of healthy snacks that you know your children like in small portions. Keeping sugars and food colouring to a minimum is a good idea as on the plane there isn't a lot of space for them to burn off a sugar high.
If your child is small enough to still eat processed food, make sure you bring more than you think you'll need! Children's appetites vary with their excitement levels and it's better to be safe than sorry.
Special treats that appear throughout the flight are a great way to keep the kids busy as you. But you need to be prepared! Think about the space they'll have and how messy the activity could get. Wrap each gift, as this adds an element of surprise and a few more minutes to the distraction time.
TV and Film
If you know your child is particularly interested in a TV show or film and you have a tablet, download a few episodes in advance, you never know when they will save the day.
If your children are old enough, have a conversation before you leave home about what your flying rules are. Just as there are indoor voices at home, there are quieter voices and space bubbles on the place that they need to understand. Talking to them about it in advance will help you on the day.
Once you are on the plane, check out the inflight entertainment and see what's available. Decide on what the limit of viewing is and plan around that, keeping in mind the flight time and what you know about your child's rhythms.
Remember to pack some sweets for small children that can be sucked on during take-off and landing. If your child is too small for hard sweets, a gummy worm can work well as an alternative as they can be sucked!
If your child is even smaller and you can bottle or breast feed during take-off and landing, we recommend it. If they really won't latch on at that time, a simple dummy can help alleviate the pressure. We also find that having a whiff of eucalyptus oil helps clear your child's sinuses before take-off, making a pressure build up less likely.
Remember the toys you wrapped up before you left? Plan to get them out every 45-60 minutes. And make sure that the last activity is put away before something new comes out. This may mean gift number one can make a reappearance later in the flight!
The Rules (re-established)
Have your child tell you what the flying rules were that you established at home. Getting them to repeat them back to you will make them remember them a little longer. Try not to get frustrated when they forget the rules, but remind them gently and don't ignore the breaches! Kicking someone's chair over and over again is not ok, and it's alright to remind them of that.
When the seat belt sign isn't illuminated, take advantage of it! Taking your child for a short walk up and down the aircraft once an hour can make all the difference by alleviating restlessness. Just remember to try and keep them seated and strapped in during the meal and drinks services as the aisles can get blocked by the carts.
Bear in mind that the toilets are always very busy at the end of the flight and are locked and out of use when the seat belt sign goes on for landing - so make sure to do your toilet trips with plenty of time to spare to avoid any accidents.
Respect Other Passengers
There might be a line for the toilets, but changing your child on the seat will not make you any friends. Another pointer is not to fall asleep or put your headphones in and ignore your child’s behaviour. It’s not the responsibility of other passengers to parent your child.
Try to Relax
The flight may not go to plan, or it might be brilliant, but if you are stressed your child will know and behave accordingly. A calm quiet voice will not only soothe your child, but it also won’t alert other passengers to your plight.
If things aren’t quite going according to plan, remind yourself that you’re doing your best. Ignore the stares and looks from other passengers and try to remain calm. One day they too may know what it's like to have an unhappy child in a small, confined space with no escape route in sight.