Flying with children is and always will be a mixed bag. The main issue is their unpredictability; a previously-sleeping baby may decide they didn’t enjoy take-off much, and scream throughout the whole flight. A toddler who played up in the queue to board may be the world’s best flier. It’s hard for parents, and it’s tough for kids.
If you’re flying with children this summer, here are some tips and tricks to help you keep them calm throughout the flight. We wish you the very best of luck...
DO give them something to do: Providing your child is old enough to need entertainment, it’s a good idea to pack their favourite toys, some books and some games for the flight. A word to the wise - avoid anything with flashing lights or that makes a noise. Lots of parents bring along a selection of toys so their child can have a ‘change’ once an hour or so.
DO attempt to keep their sleeping patterns as stress-free as possible. The rule of thumb for jetlag is the minute you board the plane, you’re on your destination’s time. This won’t work for kids, who don’t understand that they have to ‘go to sleep’ at midday, even if it’s 2am at your destination. Let them sleep when they’re ready - and don’t forget to bring along their pyjamas, a small pillow, a favourite blanket and anything else they associate with bedtime at home.
DO bring along some of their favourite foods and some healthy snacks. Plane food is nasty enough at the best of times, and hunger doth not a happy child make. Most airlines will be more than happy to let you bring along a packed lunch, but you may not be allowed to board your plane with a bottle of their favourite drink.
DO dress them in layers. Being too hot or too cold will aggravate a potentially-stressful situation, and you want to be able to sort any issues as quickly as possible. DO remember to be patient. If your child wants to play a game with you, wants to have a chat or just wants to cuddle, let them. Smaller people tend to find flying either totally thrilling or impossibly dull, and understandably, they’ll look to you for reassurance and a way to make sense of sitting still for hours at a time. Getting snappy will only upset them, and their mood will deteriorate from there.
DON’T discipline them by making threats or shouting. It’s hard to threaten a child with an early bedtime on a plane, and shouting won’t win you any brownie points from your fellow passengers. If your child is playing up, you’re better off trying to distract them - or asking a member of the cabin crew to have a quiet word. It’s incredible how cooperative a child will become when spoken to by an adult who isn’t a parent.
DON’T drink or eat spicy foods if you’re breastfeeding. We’re not saying live like a saint, but try to keep your diet as ‘mild’ as possible a few days before the flight - you don’t want to irritate your child’s stomach on a long journey. That potentially means no cheese and nothing that’s going to give your baby a stomach ache. Sorry. For more information, check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s website.
DON’T try to palm them off onto cabin crew to get a few minutes’ respite. These people are not babysitters - they’re trying to take care of hundreds of stressed-out, tired people at once. Telling your child to ‘go to the back of the plane and see what the stewards are doing’ is a recipe for disaster.
DON’T allow your child to have limitless drinks before the flight. They’ll need the toilet every ten minutes, and their constant clambering over their fellow passengers will be hugely irritating. That said, DO make sure your child stays hydrated throughout the flight as air humidity on planes is lower than on the ground and dehydration can increase the risk of catching an infection and cause other health problems. On the subject of hygiene, don’t forget hand sanitiser and some wet wipes - it’ll save you numerous trips to the bathroom to clean up when your child gets messy, such as after a meal, or if they’re left unattended for a few minutes.
And DON'T forget - if you buy our family travel insurance, up to three children (aged 2-17) and up to two infants (under 2) go free when travelling with their parent or grandparent. How’s that for a deal?
Have you taken your children on long haul-flights before? What are your tips for making the experience as stress-free as possible? Do you have any questions about flying with children that we didn't cover off in this article? Then head to our Facebook page.