Speak to any parent of young children and they’ll tell you that one of the major things putting them off travelling is a fear that flying will be a nightmare. It’s an understandable fear - after all, isn’t the goal to arrive at your destination feeling relaxed and chilled?
The fear of a nightmare flight causes many parents to choose short car trips or staying home over flying, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right approach, flying with kids doesn’t have to be painful at all.
1. Pick a good flight time
If you know your baby gets cranky in the afternoon, don’t pick a flight that’s later in the day. When possible, choose your flights around nap time, or work out how best to get your infant to nap on the plane.
2. Inform the airline
Tell the airline at your time of booking that you will be travelling with an infant. Also carry proof of age for your child, such as a birth certificate, immunisation book or passport.
3. Ask for an aisle seat
Trying to get past other passengers in your row when you’re carrying a baby is no easy process. Plus no one wants your baby’s dribble dropping on their head as you teeter on past. Where possible, request an aisle seat for ease during the flight.
4. Pack smartly
If you plan to carry your baby on your front, be smart and don’t pack your luggage in a backpack. Choose a suitcase with wheels and pack as lightly as you can. The less you have to manage the easier the experience will be.
5. Pack extra supplies
Flights can be delayed and the last thing you want is to run out of formula or baby-friendly snacks. Always prepare for the worst, packing extra nappies, wipes, snacks, milk, toys - anything you think you might need.
6. Freshen up before you board
If you need to change your baby’s nappy, do so just before you board. Not only does this reduce the chance of you having to clamber into the toilet later on, it ensures your baby is at their most comfortable when settling on the plane. Also use this time to go to the toilet yourself as you might not get another opportunity!
7. Be polite
Infants can’t apologise for their actions, but you can. The biggest complaint about infants on airplanes is not their crying or their delight in hoisting themselves up on the seat in front of them, but the seeming indifference of parents pretending to ignore the behaviour.
8. Protect baby’s ears
The feeling you get in your ears when taking off and landing is strange and unusual to a baby, and can be painful. Having something your baby can suck on is a great way to relieve some of this ear pressure. Don’t give it to them as soon as you board - instead wait until you’re just about to take off. Otherwise they might lose interest by the time the wheels lift off the ground.
9. Allow ample time
You never know when a toddler tantrum might strike or car sickness may take hold, so allow plenty of time to get to the airport. Far better that you get to the airport way too early then have to struggle dragging both bags and a toddler through the airport at lightning speed when you’re stressed.
10. Get the extra seat
When booking your flight, you may have the option of seating your toddler on your lap or acquiring their own seat. If you value your space and want extra comfort, take the extra seat!
11. Take the pram
Even if you don’t plan on using your pram that much during your trip, a pram can be invaluable when at the airport. Most airlines will let you board a stroller or pram for free, and some will also allow you to hold onto them until you get to the gate. Even if your toddler refuses to get in it, at least you can use it to carry your bags.
12. Divide and conquer
You might like the idea of boarding early to ensure you have plenty of overhead baggage space, but early boarding can mean an extra half an hour onboard. If you’re travelling with your partner, consider one person going ahead to claim to overhead cubby space while the other boards at the last minute with your toddler.
13. Bring toys
Toys are a must for fidgety toddlers, and they should be varied. Many frequent flyer parents choose to wrap up small gifts they can hand out each time they feel the start of restlessness setting in. By using this technique you can ensure your toddler always has a new focus. Don’t just think of toys either - sticker books and craft items are a great source of entertainment too.
14. Burn energy before the flight
The airport is the time when your toddler should be getting their wiggles out, not sitting in the airport lounge on an iPad. Having just sat down on the ride to the airport, move around as much as possible to ensure your toddler burns some energy. This might mean walking lengths of the airport or running the travelator over and over, but better to wear them out now than later on the plane.
15. Pack lots of snacks
Toddlers have a habit of asking for food when they are bored, and a flight is one time you can pander to their requests. Have a series of healthy snacks at the ready and you won’t feel so bad when they are eating more than they should be.
16. Choose seats wisely
A toddler will be up/down, up/down and this can get pretty exhausting for both mum, dad and your fellow passengers. An ideal seating arrangement is the three window seats, which will allow your toddler to see the view, stretch their legs and jump around in the middle a little.
17. Pack a change of clothes
You’ve likely thought of packing spare clothes for your toddler, but what about yourself? Unlike at home, if your toddler spills a drink, their lunch or gets sticky fingers on you, you won’t be able to just run upstairs for a fresh outfit.
18. Ignore the stares
Even the most angelic of children will garner a few not-so-pleasant looks from your fellow passengers, so don’t let their looks concern you. Toddlers are toddlers no matter where they are from, and they all have the same behaviours and development. Most people will be sympathetic if your child has a meltdown, and if they’re not, as long as you acknowledge it then you’ve got nothing to feel bad about.
19. Keep it simple
Games are a great way to keep your kids entertained during a flight, but you don’t want to be carrying onboard a whole lot of supplies to make it work. You also don’t want to be scrambling under seats trying to find lost Lego pieces. Keep games simple with games like I Spy, Two Truths and a Lie or Yikerz!, which sits perfectly on an airplane tray.
20. Pack each child their own bag
Fill a small bag with different goodies - think sticker books, crafts, small toys, crayons, colouring books etc, and have a bag for each individual child. That way you’ll save any arguments about what belongs to who.
21. Pack the iPad
A smartphone or iPad can be your best friend when your child has had enough and is uttering those dreadful little words “I’m bored”. If possible, pre-load your iPad with games, songs, TV shows, Disney films - anything that works to keep them entertained!