Kids and planes. Two things that I am quite sure where never meant to go together. I spent a significant amount of my childhood being dragged around the globe by my travel obsessed parents. Before the age of 6 I had lived on three continents and visited more countries than I could count. I have so many incredible memories of our adventures, so it’s no co-incidence that I have now become a travel obsessed parent. I love taking my children on adventures to far away places and I strongly believe that nothing better educates children than travel. There is only 1 problem: great trips usually begin with the deadly combination of kids and planes. When you have 3 under 3 this is far scarier than it sounds….but we’ve done it and survived!
So here are my top tips to surviving kids and planes:
Kids and Planes: Planning For Success.
It’s all about planning. There is so much to plan when organising a family holiday that the flight itself is basically ignored. Other than booking the actual tickets most parents try to avoid even thinking about the flight until they are literally walking onto the plane. To avoid a remake of the horrendously bad movie Snakes on a Plane, starring you kids, titled Kids on a Plane, follow my 6 step plan to happy flying.
Booking: When booking your flights travel at a kid friendly time (where possible). Having to board a flight half an hour after you child should have gone to sleep can be a nightmare. Overtired, over stimulated children at the very beginning of a flight= recipe for disaster. Try to sync sleeps and flights i.e. child wakes (either in the morning or after day nap) and you go straight to the airport. This means they are at their happiest at the airport and for take off. They are also more likely to then be relaxed enough to fall asleep naturally for their next sleep without a huge screaming scene! For long haul flights overnight flights tend to suit little ones as there is more likelihood they will sleep for most of the flight. All day flights can be very difficult with toddlers. In saying this you should also try to take jet lag into account and depending where you are travelling to and from this can be a deal breaker for a happy holiday. So make sure you do some research and build this into your plan.
Check in: Find out whether you can check in online. There is nothing worse than having to arrive at the airport hours before your flight only to have to stand in line and then hang around the terminal with your children. Check out what your airline recommends for travel with children on their website, HERE is an example of what QANTAS suggests for parents.
Seating: These days you can also pre-select your seats online. Ensuring you are seated together as a family and that you are near the restrooms is a great idea. Some airlines will now allow you to buy a seat for your baby and bring your car seat or capsule on board ( check with your airline as many need to pre-approve your capsule). There is also the option of buying a special child restraint. If you travel often I suggest buying one of these as the adult lap belts offered on planes will do very little to protect a small child in turbulence. If neither of these options is available, don’t be shy to ask at check in whether the flight is very full and whether they are able to block off an extra seat for you. If you don’t ask you don’t get and most airlines are happy to accommodate families.
We have made a few mistakes in this department before, like packing the children’s Panadol in our check in luggage only to have one of the kids spike a fever half way into a flight. FAIL. Or packing so much into our hand luggage that we are barely able to board the plane and therefore run out of overhead stowage space, our feet therefore buried in junk the entire flight. Moral of the story: find a happy medium. Write a list, pack the essentials and make sure you have a bag of items that are needed at hands reach for below your seat and another of back up items that can be stored overhead. Try to make sure you aren’t laden and have hands free!
Toddlers/Children: Kids love the idea of having their own bag. A little backpack will suffice but Charlie was given a Trunki for his last birthday and it has been brilliant. Trunkies are kids suitcases that you pull along and the child rides on. They are brilliant for long walks to and from boarding gates and can be filled with lost of things to keep little hands and minds busy. You should always pack a few of your child’s favourites but packing a few new things is just as important. Things like a tub of play dough, a new match box car, a new book, colouring in and sticker books, flashcards and of course an iPad or DVD player! Remember to bring along child friendly head phones as airlines will not allow you to operate such devices without them. (We found this out the hard way!)
Babies: Pack you normal baby bag items. But ensure you have extra nappies, bottles, formula and clothes. I will never forget Charlie having diahorrea before, during and after a flight. We had used both of his spare outfits before we even boarded the plane! By the time we landed we were down to a nappy and a blanket. Running back and forward to the loo taught me to pack a “toilet” pack. A smaller bag inside your large nappy bag than can be easily grabbed and has exactly what you need for 2 changes. There is definitely not enough room in airline toilets for you, your child and a huge nappy bag! Ensuring you have enough food for your baby is also vital. Just ask anyone who has been delayed on a trip. Stranded in an airport for hours on end your options are very limited.
Clothes: Dress your kids in comfy clothes, remembering that they may wish to sleep on the flight. Also remember spare clothes, even for older children. Accidents happen so be prepared! Also consider the temperature at your destination and pack clothes for your arrival. If you are likely to arrive at your destination late at night, pack your children’s pyjamas and your toiletries into a carry on bag. That way when you arrive at your destination you wont have to dig through huge suitcases to get everyone to bed. Also if your luggage happens to get lost (trust me this actually does happen) you will be able to make it through the night unscathed and hit the shops the following day.
Food: I cant tell you how many times I have heard children on planes complaining that they are hungry. Packing enough snacks in vital. Make sure you include lots of easy finger food and of course a few treats. If you have toddlers ensure you bring either a chewy lolly or lolly pop for both take off and landing – this help to relieve ear pain in small children who are unable to equalise their own ear/sinus pressure. You can actually buy products at the chemist that help with this problem but I have found a lolly works just as well. For babies ensure that you have enough food and bottles for not only the flight, but for any possible delays. It is also very important to try to either breast or bottle feed your baby on take off and landing as the sucking action helps with their ears.
Lounges/ airport hotels: If you travel often or have a long stop over you may wish to investigate the different airline lounges available. Many have showers, beds, tv’s, internet, lots of food and even kids play areas. For long stop overs investigate airport hotels. Singapore airport in particular has several excellent hotels within the airport that you can hire at an hourly rate. Having the chance to sleep in a bed and have a shower can be heaven after a long flight.
4. Distraction and Reward
There is 1 major reasons kids and planes don’t mix: BOREDOM. Oh, and having to sit still. I always wonder why parents make there children sit still in the boarding lounge? Your child is about to be strapped into their seat on the plane, let them run wild on the mean time and burn off some energy. I literally hold running races in the long gateway corridors of airports. I want my kids to be pooped by the time they get to the plane! Once boarded I pull out a treasure trove of goodies and try to really engage my kids with fun activities. When we are both over that its time for the iPad or DVD player to babysit for a while. The most important thing is to reward your child for their good behaviour. Ie. If you sit and play play dough for the next 15 minutes you can have a special lolly. I also recruit the air hostesses and give them a book or treat and ask them to come passed and give it to my kids for good behaviour. Kids LOVE this.
Communicate with your child:We always spend the weeks leading up to any trip pumping our kids up about it! We talk about what where we are going, what we are going to do there and of course, all about the plane trip. We talk about having to wear seat belts to be safe, about having to use an inside voice and about all the games and toys we will bring. I also place Charlie’s trunki suitcase on our dining room table and fill it with goodies. He knows that he’s not allowed to open it until he is on the plane and the suspense and excitement builds and builds. On the plane we talk him through everything. Seats belts, take off, landing and of course behaviour. Children are usually very responsive if they know what is expected of them.
Communicate with others: It is really important to communicate with passengers around you and with the flight crew, especially if you are having a difficult time or their patience usually defuses the situation before people get angry. I find most people are quite willing to lend a hand, a few have been incredibly rude but there is little you can do about this. The staff on board can also be very supportive, so ask for a hand if you need it (just not in the middle of the dinner service if you can avoid it!)n the flight. Pretending the other passengers aren’t there, or worse not asking for help when you need it, only cause more issues. If you child is having a melt down, talking to those around you and acknowledging that this is difficult for everyone and thanking them for their patience can really defuse the situation.
6. Patience and Perspective
At 35,000 feet with 3 screaming children patience and perspective are usually the first things to go out the window. So if you feel things beginning to escalate think to yourself, “…this is not going to last forever, before I know it I will be at my destination and I will be laughing at myself for getting so strung out!” Take a deep breath, find that extra little bit of patience you had hidden somewhere deep down and keep it all in perspective!
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