7 must-knows to make flying with kids a cinch
Long haul air travel with children can seem more like torture than a treat, especially when you see your fellow passengers eyes roll when they realise they are seated near your precious progeny.
From the very start, your patience will be tested. For those travelling with young children, there's additional packing, extra passports to carry and restless minds to occupy. There are ways to improve the air travel experience for families - so here's Kidspot's top list.
1. Be prepared
As tempting as it is to make our children drowsy during a flight so they sleep rather than scuttle up and down the aisles, drugs are probably a no-no unless you REALLY need them to prevent air sickness.
Alas, I tried to dose up a full-of-beans two-year-old with Phenergan before an interstate flight only to discover it actually made the child more hyper than I had seen him in weeks - and this was five-minutes before getting on board a two-hour flight.
It is much better to choose flight times that coincide with children's regular nap times and pray they don't get so over-excited that they miss their sleep.
Wear out the kids before getting to the airport and on a plane. If you have time, try an energy-sapping activity like swimming and talk to your child about what flying will be like.
2. Watch air travel rip-offs
An all-too-common practice that begins when you book the tickets and continues at the airport. The "headline fares" may look astonishingly good value - but they rarely represent the final bill.
If all airlines adopted the same policy, things would be far less stressful. But rules on dimensions and weight vary considerably. Jetstar and Qantas allow one main piece of cabin baggage (plus one smaller item) and the dimensions must not exceed 115cm (the total when width, length and depth are added together). Jetstar and Virgin charge extra on the fare if you want to check-in a bag.
Fall foul of an airline's myriad of regulations and you can end up paying even more at the airport. If your bags are too heavy you'll face yet more charges.
Check whether your airline allows you to take a stroller or pram to the plane - some overseas and regional flights allow you to have a collapsible stroller that can be stowed.
Also, not all airlines allow you to pre-book the baby bassinettes before the day of travel - some also have age and weight restrictions for that sanity-saving bassinette which allows you to put the baby down for a (fingers crossed) nap.
Check in online and don't lose your boarding card!
3. Know thy airport
Where do you start? With a few notable exceptions, airports are overcrowded and poorly-designed. The gates are often too far from security and they are built with little thought other than how to best accommodate more shops.
Removing just one sprawling duty-free from your average airport terminal would create enough room for a kids play area. And airports are notoriously expensive. Does $4.50 represent a fair charge for a bottle of water? Especially when you're probably going to have it confiscated by security 20 minutes later. A sandwich is likely to set you back $10.
If you're flying internationally, it is still important not to carry liquids which could be confiscated. For the partner who is NOT travelling with the baby, you can pre-pack liquids in 100ml or smaller packs in plastic bags.
Baby bottles are exempt from the liquids ban - which can also apply on the domestic leg of an international flight . The catch is that a nasty airline official can still confiscate liquids they think are unnecessary, so smile sweetly and hope that your baby is charming enough to cajole the officials into staying nice.
Book an airline lounge if you can - and pack your own snacks!
4. Expect delays and disasters
Cancelled flights and delays can be a big problem. Thankfully, those travelling with infants are often given priority and many airlines do their best to ensure those with small children are not inconvenienced.
But that still means almost one in every five flights leaves late. A nightmare for the parent who has scheduled snack, nap and activity times.
Phone the airline before departing for the airport to check that schedules are running smoothly.
5. Amusement in the air
Small kids get bored quickly, especially if they have to sit in a seat for more than 20 minutes.
Packing your own bag of treasures is the surest way to keep them amused, as parents usually know how to tailor an amusement kit to their kids' needs. Some children are happy with colouring in books while others need something more enticing.
A trip to the local $2 shop can uncover a range of cheap treats for kids - stickers, exercise books, paperclips (they can make necklaces and clip them to clothes) and for those hard-to-sit-still types try something like a large padlock with a key they can lock and unlock.
My two-year-old used to be obsessed with plugs, so taking a powerboard on a flight which he could plug and unplug as often as he pleased (without ANY risk of electrocution because it wasn't connected to power) kept him amused for, oh, about 10-minutes.
The other failsafe amusement was ordering ice cubes in a plastic cup from the flight attendants - endless fun until it melts and the toddler spills icy water all over themselves.
Plan your own kit but don't bring it out until the first signs of boredom hit.
6. Nasty cabins - take a breather stopover if you can
Short domestic flights aren't a problem, but an investigation by a London newspaper in 2009 revealed worrying evidence of toxic fumes contaminating aircrafts. The issue has been an open secret among pilots and cabin crew for years, and is caused by cabin air being drawn directly from the aircraft's engines.
In 2010, further evidence was uncovered by a German television network. It claimed that 28 out of 31 swab samples secretly collected from on board passenger aircraft contained high levels of tricresyl phosphate, found commonly in jet oil. Some medical experts claim exposure to the toxin can lead to drowsiness, headaches, respiratory problems and neurological illnesses - not nice for small children.
If you're flying internationally, take a stopover for a night or two to get out of the plane and save your lungs - and sanity.
7. Planned parenting during the flight
If you're lucky enough to be travelling with a partner, work out in advance how you will manage the children.
It can help if one partner books a seat across the aisle from the partner looking after the kids, so one person can get some shuteye while the other amuses the offspring. And it's only fair to take turns.
No matter how often you fly, it's still a shock to see how little leg room economy class passengers are permitted. And in-flight comfort is unlikely to get any better unless you want to upgrade to business class.
Smelly, scratching, sniffing, sneezing, snoring and portly fellow passengers will all look at you with disgust as they put on their sleep masks and pop in ear plugs - many people think parents traveling on planes with children are criminals and if your baby has a crying jag you should be arrested.
Simply smiling sweetly at nasty fellow passengers is the only solution. It can also help to charm one of the flight attendants into helping out every now and then.
Invest in ear plugs and an eye-mask for the parents to get some rest and stay on top of the challenges of longhaul flying.
More first holiday articles:
- First time on a plane
- Make flying with kids a cinch
- Packing for baby
- Camping ideas for families
- Fun car games
More special firsts:
- First birthday
- First Christmas, Easter and other celebrations
- Starting school for the first time
- First family holiday
- First sibling
- First pets
- Starting day care