I don’t like planes at the best of times. Sealing myself into a small metal tube, filled with even smaller seats, hurtling through the skies at 38000 feet with not a parachute in sight is not my idea of a fun time.
But you know, needs must, if you happen to have family on the other side of the world.
Then you add kids into the mix. And things get a whole lot more complicated.
BUT the good news is that there are some things you can do to make long haul flying with little ones a bit more of an enjoyable experience. And here they are:
1. Book a night flight
Take advantage of natural circadian rhythms and try and book a flight at a time when they’d normally be sleeping. With any luck, they’ll sleep for a lot of the flight meaning you can too! Lights are normally dimmed a couple of hours in, once the in-flight meals have been served, so a flight that takes off in the early evening is best in our experience.
2. Consider a stopover
While it’s often tempting to just ‘get it over with’ and reach your destination as quickly as possible, having a bit of a break in the middle of flights can be a really good idea. Kids can’t really run around on the aeroplane, so the chance to let off a bit of steam and explore an exciting new place (even if it is just the airport) can be a sanity saver. On our most recent long haul flying experience we had some time in Singapore Changi airport, which was amazing – it has a rooftop swimming pool, butterfly garden, sky train and soft play areas which really made a big difference to our somewhat anti-climatic trip home from New Zealand with three small children.
3. Take your stroller right up to the plane
Most airlines offer the option to check in your stroller with your bags, or take it with you to the plane. ALWAYS TAKE IT WITH YOU TO THE PLANE! It may seem like a bit of extra faff going through security or around the airport, but having somewhere comfortable and secure for little ones to nap in, combined with the bonus of something to hang your hand luggage on can be the difference e between a good or a bad start to your journey . And the staff will check it in for you when you board and get it out ready for you to use as soon as you land too.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of airports provide strollers to use while in transit – I’ve seen them in Dubai and Singapore (the Singapore one cleverly incorporated a luggage trolley too!).
4. Investigate your airline
Many airlines have special things they have put in place just for kids. In the past we’ve had puppets, drawing packs, activity folders, and baby sets complete with teethers, bibs and wipes (Seb and D were very jealous of Little B’s ‘Scully’ toy from Jake and the Neverland Pirates last time we flew!). They will also probably have some dedicated kids films and TV, and childrens’ meals available too.
5. Pack an activities bag
Invest in a couple of new, small and lightweight toys and games (sticker books, aquadoodle, colouring pencils, playdoh…) and bring them out gradually throughout the flight. The last time we flew we got a new card game and a ‘where’s wally’ book – that sort of thing can keep them occupied for a good length of time if you’re lucky!
6. Stock up on snacks
Airlines will have snacks available (Seb was thrilled when he found the ‘hostess call’ button!) but if there is turbulence, or it’s during take-off, taxi-ing or landing, then there won’t be an opportunity to get them. Having a few cereal bars or some little packets of biscuits or raisins can be a really good idea, and something to suck on when taking off or landing helps avoid painful ears as well.
7. Select your seats
If you’re travelling with a baby you can often request bulkhead seats, which can have a bassinet installed for babies so they don’t have to spend the entire time on your lap. These seats have extra room for STUFF which just kind of accumulates rapidly in the space of a few hours, and you also don’t get the problem of the kids constantly kicking the seats in front. It’s worth noting though that babies can’t stay in their bassinet if there is turbulence, and also that you don’t automatically get assigned one – the youngest babies on the flight will get priority. So don’t rely on it!
8. Grab your gadgets
Forget all the stuff about not plonking kids in front of tablets or handheld gaming machines and just go for it. Bring them along with a couple of new apps or games and let them play. Don’t forget your charging cable either – a lot of aeroplanes and transit stops have usb or plug sockets so you can top up your power.
9. Bring a baby carrier
Useful if you end up walking round the plane, if you want your hands free when you’ve got a baby on your lap, and for getting through the plane once you’ve left your stroller at the gate.
10. Accept help
Not everyone on the plane will be particularly thrilled to see you turn up with kids, but a good proportion of travellers have been there themselves and will be happy to help out – if they offer to play a bit of peekaboo, give you a hand with luggage or just another adult to talk to, then let them help! And if no-one offers, don’t be afraid to ask.
And remember, it is only a day or two of your life, and you are unlikely to see any of these people ever again – so just do what you need to get through it. Go into it with very low expectations, and good preparations, and you might just be pleasantly surprised.