“You’re crazy.” Simply put, this was one friend’s response back in 2015 when I told her that we we’d just booked to fly to South Africa with our 9 month old son. “Ahhh it’ll be OK”, I said half-smiling, half gritting my teeth, wondering if we’d made a big mistake and should be driving to Centre Parcs, or something more sensible sounding. Fast forward two years, we’ve added another child into the mix and been fortunate to visit places all over the world, from Ankhor Wat to Arizona and I’d jump on a plane tomorrow for another 15 hours or so if it meant we could wake up in another far away country with our children. Because here’s the thing: in my opinion, sitting on a plane with kids is the easy part, it’s the sitting on the beach part that I find tricky. So here’s some quick tips I’ve picked up along the way if you’re heading on a plane journey with little ones and might be interested in some ways to maybe make it a little more palatable even, dare I say it, enjoyable.
Leave colossal amounts of time in the airport
However much time you were planning to leave, take that and add at least half the time onto that again. Everything takes longer with small children – you already know this, but nowhere is it more true (and important) than in an airport. Even when we think we have loads of time, we often still finding ourselves power walking (Sam) and lightly jogging (me) to get to the gate in time. And don’t forget to find the kids’ play areas – the one at Heathrow is right next door to a Pret which means you can sit with a caffeinated drink and watch the energy sap out of your child ahead of your flight. It’s kinda cool.
Fuel is everything
Having enough food on board is crucial; it serves not only to keep everyone relatively content (have you seen how happy rice cakes and breadsticks make children?) but it’s also time-consuming. By that I mean, have you ever seen how long it takes a toddler to eat a bag of popcorn if you ask them to line all the pieces out in a row? Or how about if you ask them to make shapes with them? Bring on board more snacks than you think they could ever possibly consume because I promise you, they’ll all get eaten (if not by them, by you). That being said, if you really want your little ones to sleep, I’d suggest trying to get some proper food, ideally carbs, down them or alternatively bring something on board with you and don’t be afraid to ask for your childrens’ meals earlier – (see below on air hostess etiquette).
I’m not suggesting you give out goody bags to people sitting next to you – that’s just unnecessary, not to mention kind of weird. I simply mean, talk to people, make eye contact with them, help them with their bags and basically be a good human who happens to be in possession of a small, very loud person. In particular, focus on the air hostesses and other people with children. Both are powerful people: the former because they have access to delights such as yoghurt, fruit and water – all valuable commodities when traveling long haul with children and you really need four minutes to go the loo and a banana will give you that. British Airways also carry Ellas Kitchen pouches on long haul which let’s face it, are pretty much gold dust in this situation. The latter because another friendly mum or dad with a whole back story and a toddler the same age as yours to share toys and snacks with is some of the best entertainment (bar a film, but you ain’t watching any of that) out there.
Don’t keep them in their seats
Despite looking out a plane window being one of the best story books out there, that will only last you so long (probably 7 minutes, max) Instead, let your mini run wild in the aisle to expend as much energy as possible. Good luck trying to avoid business class – a grubby, sockless, squealing toddler bursting through that elusive black curtain is not ideal, for anyone, least of all you who is going to have to be the one to sheepishly retrieve your small person. By the end of your flight, you’ll know the cabin crew area behind the seats very well and if you’re lucky, won’t have had too many encounters with suited business class folk trying to get on with reading their book and sipping their g & t#notjealousatall
Whilst parenting is undeniably about team work, there are moments where you sometimes just need a break (How have Kit Kat not capitalised on the parenting arena?). And being on a plane with small people, is one of those. Give each other time slots (that have to be observed – there’s no messing about here) and know that your moment to recline that seat is coming.
Take a sling
There are a tonne of gadgets out there to help traveling with children but in my mind, nothing beats the humble babycarrier. Relatively small, foldable, and allowing for a superb rocking motion perfect for calming / lulling little ones to sleep, we don’t travel anywhere (not even hardly to the pub) without one. My favourite is the Connecta baby carrier – there have been many times where this was the only way our kids would fall asleep, and from there we would transfer him to arms/ a bassinet.
Technology will be your friend
Pre download shows on your phone and don’t rely on the plane for kiddies programmes – you might just have a seat with a duff entertainment system like we did that time we’d downloaded ONE twenty minute episode of Peppa Pig for a 12 hour plane flight.
If you fly overnight, they *will* sleep at some point which discounts at least a few hours. Also, if your child is under 1 and / or can still fit in the bassinet, make sure you book this (and keep checking it’s confirmed). On the sleep note, cross everything that your plane is not busy. This can make a world of difference; just one extra single aisle is all you need to offload a restless, dribbling toddler desperately trying to sleep, balanced against your chest, legs straddled, jaw wide open…. you get the picture.
I hope these few tips might be of some use, and if anything else, encourage you to take the leap and book that flight. Happy traveling – if in doubt, just do it. The world is waiting for you (and for your little ones) and whatever happens, you’ll learn a tonne along the way.
Thanks so much for reading as ever and definitely drop me a comment if you have any thoughts / questions / tips you’d like to add – I’d love to hear from you.
P.S If you are pregnant and are about to purchase DVT socks, I’m not sure I’d bother. These are for people who are stationary. And you won’t be.
P.P.S If you enjoyed this. you might like ‘How to go backpacking with a baby.’