Travelling by air with children can be challenging, but planning ahead can reduce parental stress. Young children may find the confinement difficult to handle, especially during long flights and the change of cabin pressure during take off and landing can hurt their ears.
On the other hand, travelling by plane can be an exciting adventure for children. The trick is to meet their needs and focus on the fun.
I recently travelled from Australia to London, via Dubai with my two children. River aged 5 and Tristan aged 3. I decided to book an early morning flight for our 11 hour trip to Dubai. Previous experience had taught me that travelling alone with two children was best when they aren’t overtired.
The early flight did mean they were up at 2.30am but having gone to bed at 6pm, they were rested and excited about the journey. We arrived at the airport 3 hours before the flight and checked in our 3 bags and pram. We were given a borrowed pram to take to the gate. A lot of people now check in online or arrive with 2 hours to go; arriving early meant no queues, so it was a calm and easy process. After check in we went for a drink and snack with Grandma before saying our goodbyes.
I found Security to be the most tricky part, especially if you have a younger child who is unable to walk or in my case, Tristan who is recovering from a broken foot. I had my laptop, 2 IPad’s and my phone in my bag all of which has to come out of the bag and into a tray. Then bag followed by the “borrowed” pram, which I had to ask someone to help me fold down and put up on the belt. I walked through the security screen first holding Tristan and River followed behind. Ok, that was all good, now the tricky part, getting all of your stuff off the belt, back into the bags and putting the pram up. All the staff seemed to disappear here and it was just manic with everyone else grabbing their stuff. I decided to put the children on a bench in eye view before going back to the belt. I put the pram up, loaded everything into it and went back to the boys. This gave me plenty of stress-free time to re-pack the carry-on bag.
Next up we went to the shop to buy water, juice and some snacks before finding our gate and settling down until it was time to board. Letting the children burn off some energy here is a good tip. Try sitting near other families so the noise doesn’t bother the other passengers waiting. Its important to remember that children will be children and not to stress too much about them sitting still and quiet.
As children board first, this gave us the opportunity to get settled into our seats before the other passengers embarked.
I’m surprised how quickly our flight went and how well behaved my children were. I did the same journey 17 months previously with my husband and it was a nightmare. Worst flight in history! Anyone on board without children would probably never have children after experiencing mine scream for 11 hours straight.
I would have thought this flight would have been worse due to travelling on my own with them, but they were a dream. I think it was down to my choice of flight time. They played with their Ipad’s, they watched movies, enjoyed the children’s meals, had a few walks around the plane and then slept for 4 hours.
The queue at border control was short and an easy process. No help in baggage claim, which was disappointing, but luckily my eldest River was a huge help with spotting our bags and pushing Tristan in the pram so I could wheel our bags through to arrivals.
I thought maybe I was just lucky and our flight onto London would be worse. We had 3 nights staying with friends in Dubai, it was great to break the flight up and to get the children excited about the next journey to see their Daddy.
Our next flight was a night flight – we didn’t really have much choice here. I put the kids to bed at their usual time, and woke them at 10.30pm to leave for the airport. Both feel back to sleep in the car, but were happy to wake once we had arrived. Check in and Security went well again, still tricky in Security – I wish they had people the other side to help out! My two were asleep before the plane had even left the ground, and slept for 6 hours! I was amazed and so proud! They woke with an hour to go, had a quick breakfast and then it was time to look out the window for our descent into London.
The queue at border control was long and boring, we played a few games while we waited (Who am I? and I spy) which had a few of the other passengers joining in. The staff in baggage claim were outstanding and helped me get a trolley and to get my bags on them. I was so thankful.
So I thought after sharing my story I would like to share some tips that helped me get organised and have a stress free journey with 2 children.
Pre-flight suggestions for flying with children
Planning ahead can make the flight more enjoyable for your child.
Ask friends or your travel agent for advice on child-friendly airlines. Some airlines are more helpful than others.
Arrange in advance for children’s meals.
Ask for bulkhead seats to give your child a safe spot to play on the floor.
If you have a young baby, arrange with the airline for a bassinette.
A car seat can be taken on board, but you will need to book a seat for it.
Older children will like having a window seat.
If flying over a long distance, try to book an overnight flight to coincide with your child’s sleeping habits.
Carry-on bag for air travel with children
Make sure your carry-on bag holds every item your child is likely to need during the flight but try to keep to a one-bag minimum if travelling alone with your child.
Change of clothes
Nappies, wipes and nappy sacks
Small pack of tissues
Bottles of milk
Favourite snacks, such as cheese or biscuits
Spill-proof bottle – remember you can’t take liquids over 100ml through security but you can buy drinks once you are through.
Medication they need on a regular basis –get a letter from your doctor so there are no problems in security.
A few toys and games – new ones are ideal as they hold children’s attention for longer.
At the airport with children
Dress you child in comfy and warm clothes – if on a night flight PJ’s are the best option.
Get to the airport 3 hours before your international flight so you are not rushing to check in and your child can run around or play for a while.
Change your baby’s nappy before boarding, as space is cramped inside plane toilets.
On the plane with children
Don’t hesitate to ask your flight attendants for help. For example, they may be allowed to warm bottles for you.
Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids to reduce the risk of dehydration.
Take toys that don’t take up too much luggage space – like books, pencils and drawing or colouring books, and handheld computer games (Ipads etc).
Younger children will like having their favourite ‘security’ toy on the flight.