It’s the summer school holiday and lots of families are headed on their family vacations. So, I’ve been asked for advice about flying with children.
My favourite advice to give for flying with children is, “take a train!” Seriously, flying with children is really easy if you remember to plan ahead and take a few extra precautions. Remember that you are in a confined space for a number of hours with lots of other folks so you must prepare for the worst, even as you hope for the best.
First, a few points about booking travel. If you are travelling with an infant then remember to book a bulkhead seat. While it may cost a little more, it has more legroom and often there is an opportunity to use a bassinet, supplied by the airline, if the flight is of long duration. The rules for what constitutes a ‘babe in arms’ are different from airline to airline, so be sure to check the fare rules when booking an infant ticket so you don’t have a nasty surprise at check-in. Also, one adult ticket is required for each infant – even if the infant has her own seat. So, if you have three kids under the age of two, you’ll need to have another adult fly with you. Of course, if you have three children under the age of two then you are probably too tired to travel and should take a staycation!
Remember, look for flights that leave at convenient times. Leave in the early evening for an overnight flight so that your child is properly settled when it’s time to sleep. Dress you child in comfy loose clothes for long flights. Travel during the day for flights of short duration so that your child isn’t cranky after a late night or early morning wakeup.
I highly recommend selecting your seats in advance to ensure that the family sits together. I know that some airlines charge extra for seat assignment, but certainty of where you will sit provides a peace of mind that is worthwhile when flying with a child. Remember that a passenger must be eighteen years or older to sit in an exit row, so don’t inadvertently select an exit row seat – even if you desire more legroom.
If the flight is more than three hours, then consider pre-selecting a meal for your child. In the excitement of anticipating the flight, your little angel might not be hungry. She might easily become hangry (‘hungry and angry’) once she’s on the plane for a while. Most airlines offer a wide variety of wholesome children meal options that your child will find appealing. Regardless of the length of flight, pack snacks in your child’s carry-on and buy water once you’re past security in the airport.
Prepare your first time-flyer by explaining the process of check-in, security, boarding and in-flight service so that your child is prepared. Small children may require repetition to understand but by speaking with small children confidently and comfortingly about what they can expect, the anticipation won’t turn into anxiety.
When packing for the flight, make sure that you always take along a small, light-weight buggy (‘push chair’ or ‘stroller’). Smaller buggies are the best for travel. You can often take the buggy on-board or even check it at the aircraft entrance. Most airlines will allow you to check both buggies and car-seats without charge. It’s a very good idea to take your own car-seat because renting one abroad can be expensive!
When preparing for a flight, your child will likely be excited. Burn off a bit of that excited energy by heading for the play area before boarding the flight. Most airports have fun areas where little ones can play and run around. Your little angle will be happier and more relaxed if she plays before boarding.
Once on the flight, remember that a ‘babe in arms’ should be securely belted for take-off and landing with an infant restraint belt that hooks into the adult’s seat belt. Even during flight, keeping the infant seatbelt loosely around your child will protect the child in the event of in-flight turbulence.
Smart parents will download child-friendly videos to a phone or pad device to provide comforting entertainment for their child while inflight. Don’t rely solely on the aircraft’s inflight entertainment system as some aircraft may not have this option and others may not have suitable content for your child. Also, pack a few toys that your child will enjoy quietly. Don’t take your child’s favourite toy as carry-on because, in the bustle at the end of the flight, such items can be easily left behind. Take a few older toys for your child to provide comfort without the worry of loss. Many airlines will have packs for small children to keep active children quiet and occupied. Check with your flight attendant if she doesn’t offer one once you’re on-board.
Make sure that you know the location of toilets and always accompany your child who may be confused by the ‘scary’ workings of inflight facilities. The suction evacuation of the toilets can be startling to adults the first time, so imagine what it can be like for a child.
One final tip, maintain your calmness if the worst happens and your child has a meltdown on a flight. The calmer you are, the quicker your child will quieten and recover. Some passengers may be disapproving but all parents on the flight will smile knowingly as they have their own memories of their children’s’ tantrums at inappropriate times.
If you are flying with children, plan ahead and enjoy your family time!