I love flying – the whole experience. Now, though, as a mum of two, I’m facing that challenge which can seem pretty daunting – flying with children.
As a singleton, there was an undeniable buzz about rolling up at the airport, indulging in a little Duty-Free shopping and having a leisurely drink at the bar. My reading matter of choice would be a selection of glossy magazines and the latest literary best seller.
Then there was the thrill of the flight itself, the runway taxi, the exhilaration of take-off. I even enjoy airline food in those tiny trays accompanied (against the counsel of every skincare guru) with a chilled glass of wine.
Now a completely different experience awaits. Oh yes. It’s time to take the family on a plane and I’m now viewing what used to be a pleasure as something to be endured. The potential for chaos is there in spades – travel sickness, kiddy melt-downs, lost passports and the absolute nightmare scenario of lengthy flight delays.
This is before you even think of the cost of travel, getting to the airport and remaining married after the holiday. The Husband says I am a complete nightmare in the build-up to any holiday. As we women know, however, this is because we generally do all the organising and packing whilst our partners polish the Sat Nav.
So I have duly done my research and compiled some helpful advice on flying with children (and added some from my own experience of travelling with Caitlin and Ieuan) which is contained in the tips below.
Tips for flying with children
Get them enthusiastic at the prospect of flying
Here’s Gareth Williams, CEO of Skyscanner.net on the subject. “Don’t forget that flying was once wondrous. To them it still is, so point out the small houses, the clouds, the setting sun…. And if you’re desperate, get them to count how many passengers are on the flight (I kid you not – it worked a treat). If you can, get a visit to the cockpit. Even adults enjoy it. Your kid may decide to be a pilot, which is fine until they dream up something else.”
Get your passports sorted in good time
Make sure you have the family passports sorted out in good time, especially if there is a risk of yet another strike at the passport office!
Photography specialists Jessops are offering a special baby passport photo service which you can read about HERE.
Don’t leave packing until the night before
It’s just too stressful and there’s a risk you’ll forget something. Write yourself a checklist, making sure the basics are covered first – travel documents, passports, medication etc.
Know your luggage allowance
Make sure you know the luggage allowance for your airline. You can check this online by entering your booking reference. Here is British Airways’ advice, for example. They say that a checked bag can be up to 90cm x 75cm x 43cm (35.5in x 29.5in x 16in) – including any bits that stick out, like the handle, pockets and wheels. Generally, for non-hand luggage, you can take a bag up to a maximum weight of 23 Kg (51 lbs) for a child under 2 and a bag up to a maximum weight of 32 Kg (70 lbs) for a child between the ages of 2 and 11 but please make sure you check.
Also check hand luggage allowances- again, if you look at British Airway’s guidance, you can see all the rules and regulations laid out. Anyone over 2 can have a cabin bag and a personal bag, whilst infants can have a cabin bag only for items required during the flight.
Know your banned and restricted items
Make sure you are familiar with liquids, banned and restricted items[HERE]. Briefly, when passing through airport security screen, each liquid you carry (for example contact lens solution) must be in its own container of no more than 100ml. All liquids should be carried in a single, transparent resealable plastic bag of up to 20cm x 20cm (8in x 8in) with a total capacity of up to a litre.
If you are travelling with a baby or infant you can carry as much baby milk, powdered formula, sterilised water (must be in a baby bottle) and baby food as required for your trip, even if this exceeds the usual limit on liquids. This also applies to liquid medicines if you have a supporting prescription or doctor’s note.
Allow enough time for travel
Make sure you know check-in requirements for your airline. Many airlines will also let you check in online usually 24 hours before your flight. For example, ebookers.com advise that for international flights you should check in at least 3 hours before departure, with 2 hours required before a European flight. Domestic flights generally check in at least 90 minutes before departure.
Check that you have booked travel insurance for the whole family
Have you got your European Health Insurance Card? which replaces the E111? This gives UK residents access to state-provided healthcare in all European Economic Area countries at a reduced cost or sometimes for free. If you have an EHIC, the UK healthcare system will cover the costs of any unexpected medical treatment needed as a result of accident or illness. You still need travel insurance before the EHIC will not cover you for repatriation to the UK if your illness or accident is serious. Travel insurance will also cover you for other events that could go wrong such as lost or stolen luggage.
Get breakfast ready the night before
If your flight is really early, it’s still a good idea to make sure there won’t be any rumbly tummies (with the accompanying bad temper) en route. A carton of fruit juice, a piece of fruit, a wrapped brioche rolls and perhaps a Babybel cheese can all be packed up the night before.
Lay travelling clothes for the whole family out ready
This is a time for comfy old clothes where it doesn’t matter if they get stained. Let Victoria Beckham worry about the Paparazzi. Remember to consider the climate you’re travelling to but don’t forget that the weather on returning to good old Blighty is often cold and wet!
Let the children choose one special toy to take with them
This could be, for example, a comforter in their hand luggage (perhaps a backpack). But if it’s THE special toy, you might be better persuading them to leave that one at home.
Losing a favourite teddy can be heartbreaking. You can also add crayons and paper and a favourite book. Knowing my two, we will be better off relying on iPads / tablets loaded with their favourite apps or DVD / TV favourites. To avoid annoying your fellow passengers, headphones would also be an idea.
Don’t forget to take the iPad / tablet chargers
Also, consider whether you’ll need an adapter at your destination. Also bear in mind that if you take a laptop, it will have to be removed from the bag for an x-ray.
Take Your Car Seat Along
If you have a baby or toddler you might like to consider taking your car seat along. There are many benefits to flying with a car seat.
The first is probably the most obvious: a car seat is the safest way for your little one to travel.
Secondly, your child knows their car seat and they will feel more secure and content in a space that is known to them.
Thirdly, if your child has reached the crawling or walking stage yet, you will understand how beneficial it will be to have them secured down with their car seat harnesses – especially when that seat belt sign comes on.
It is important to get a seat that fits the airline guidelines. Here is a great guide to help you find the right FAA approved car seat for your next flight.
Try to avoid unnecessary queues
You might want to budget for Meet & Greet Airport Parking, for example.
Take plenty of snacks
There will probably be loads of places where you can buy food but you can bet Ieuan will be having one of his “peanut butter only” days. Mini sandwiches, bottled water and juice cartons if you have room are recommended. I would also take some boiled sweets to suck during take-off in case of ear discomfort.
Make sure you have a toilet break before boarding
You can bet that kids will want to go before the “take off your seatbelt sign is lit up”. Another great piece of advice is to put your child back in pull-ups if they are potty training – just for the duration of the flight, of course.
Keep bugs at bay
Pack antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer. You could wipe restaurant cutlery for example where you not sure about hygiene.
Track your kids
How about t-shirts printed with your mobile number on? Very Paddington. Or another suggestion I have come across is to write your mobile number in biro on their arm.
Mug up on games to keep them occupied
I-Spy is a perennial favourite or why not buy books of junior word searches and dot-to-dot.
Easier said than done if you’re a nervous flyer yourself but you can’t expect your kids to be calm if you’re a nervous wreck yourself.
This may well be your once a yearly break so it makes sense to plan and organise as much as you can in advance so that you minimise any less than fun travel experiences. A bit of preparation up front (yes I know you’re busy) may save many hours of frustration on the day of travel.
I hope you have a great time.