Tips for stress-free flying with kids
The team at FamilySkiNews.com are all frequent family fliers. Between us, we’ve travelled extensively – both long and short haul – with our kids, and with a large number of airlines. Our Travel & Transport Advisor is even a commercial pilot for one of the skiing airlines. Here (with our help!) are his tried-and-tested tips to make sure that your family ski holiday gets off to a good start from the moment you reach the airport.
1 Plan ahead for minimum hand-luggage
Before you even leave home, you can smooth your journey by ensuring that you have the minimum amount of hand luggage possible. Give each toddler their own rucksack with a book, toy, snack and teddy to carry. If you’re travelling with a push-chair/pram/buggy, bear in mind that – even if you’re lucky enough to take your equipment right to the aircraft door at your departure airport, you may well have to carry everything and everyone some distance at the other end – from disembarking the aircraft to the luggage retrieval point – at your destination.
Click here for our FSN list of recommended hand-luggage essentials for babies and toddlers.
Don’t skimp, however, on toys, books, games and other in-flight entertainment, especially if it’s a long-haul flight. Make sure any electronic games and equipment (iPods, DS’s, etc) are fully-charged and filled with as much music and as many movies as possible (and that you’ve packed the charger so they can be re-charged whilst you’re away)!
2 Check-in online if possible
On arrival at the airport you will already have printed off your boarding passes and so all you will need to do then is drop off your suitcases, giving you more time to concentrate on your childrens’ needs.
3 Make sure you arrive at the airport in plenty of time
Getting into the airport and checking-in is possibly the most stressful part of your entire journey – humping heavy suitcases around with children in tow who always need the toilet just as you’re getting to the front of the check-in queue; or who want a ride on the trolley then fall off and hurt themselves, etc, etc…. while you try to tie on last-minute luggage labels and find all the passports in your cavernous handbag.
Click here to see FSN’s Five Top Tips for Airport Parking to ensure your arrival at the airport goes as smoothly as possible.
At check-in, request a window seat if possible -looking out of the window will keep you little ones occupied on take-off and landing at least.
If you have a stroller/push-chair with you, ask to gate-check it. This means you can keep it with you until just before you board and then get it back again on the tarmac at your destination. (Note: airlines vary in their policies with buggies so you may wish to check this out in advance).
4 Keep airport shopping to a minimum
Try to have everything you need already bought and in your checked-in suitcase before you leave home. There’s nothing more stressful than having to rush round the shops at the airport buying last-minute sun-cream, socks and storybooks. It also means more for you to carry!
5 Make sure everyone’s had plenty to drink before you go through customs
Of course, you can no longer carry fluids over 200ml through customs so be ready to dispose of the contents of any water bottles, etc. Check on your airline’s website for hand-luggage restrictions.
6 Go to the loo now!
Once through customs, make sure everyone goes to the toilet/has a clean nappy before you reach the boarding gate. Take it from us, you don’t want to be fighting your way down the tiny, cramped toilets on the aircraft the instant you board, clutching a nappy and a screaming child, as everyone’s trying to find their seat!
7 Get to the boarding gate in good time.
Bear in mind that in some airports, the departure gate may be a 15-20 minute walk away – or even longer if you have toddlers who are walking it themselves!
8 Let the airline know your needs
Make yourself known to staff at the departure gate, as most airlines have a policy which enables families with young children to board first. They are usually also keen to get you on the aircraft and settled as quickly as possible so they can board the remaining passengers, so be cooperative with the ground handling crew and be ready to part with prams and push-chairs and other bulky baby equipment (which will need to go in the hold) as you board. NB: there’s no guarantee that your pram/buggy/pushchair will magically reappear at the bottom of the aircraft steps on arrival at your destination, but it’s always worth asking if it can be arranged for you as you part with it! Otherwise, you will next see it at baggage reclaim.
9 Stay calm on the plane
Rule number 1: Forget what the other passengers think! You’ve paid good money for your seats, and any signs of stress in you will be picked up straightaway by your children.
We’ve all had horrific experiences, with babies screaming, toddlers throwing bread rolls, kids being sick over the seat, kicking the seat in front, etc, etc… so expect the worst and then you might be pleasantly surprised when your children behave!
Rest assured also that the cabin crew will do everything they can to keep your kids comfortable and happy and that, when you get off the flight, you’ll probably never see your neighbouring passengers again. (That said, one of our kids once bit another passenger, only to find they were staying in the same accommodation for the week – ouch! – but this type of incident is, thankfully, an extremely rare scenario!).
Fingers crossed… babies and toddlers will usually sleep once the engines start (as they tend to in cars).
Try to make your kids as comfortable as possible. Sitting in one place for long periods of time is not natural to toddlers and preschoolers so you will need to use all your patience and creativity (along with your bag of carefully-planned games and toys) to keep them in their seats. Don’t feel bad to get up and walk them down the aisle (only when it’s safe to do so), for a change of scene and to stretch their legs.
The cabin-pressure during take-off and landing can trouble little ones’ ears, so hand out a boiled sweet to suck to prevent any problems. This is also a good time to breast/bottle-feed an infant, for the same reasons.
Remember also that this is a hugely stimulating (and often alien) environment for kids so be mindful not to over-excite them, and to monitor them closely for signs of hunger, thirst, sleepiness, anxiety, need for the toilet or illness (ear-pain, teething, gas pains – all gas bubbles expand in flight, etc). Above all, be patient and remain calm. Some children benefit from noise-cancelling headphones to calm the environment down.
On long-haul flights, there is often a child-friendly film to amuse older kids. Here’s an amusing story of how one family with twins pacified their fellow passengers by handing out letters and chocolates. We feel this is a somewhat extreme approach… but it worked for them.
Some airlines handout little toys and gadets – Swiss is especially good for this. That said, don’t rely on the airline to provide the entertainment…
10 Bring plenty of entertainment
There’s nothing worse than bored kids on a flight so remember to pack some of the following: story books, reference books (about the destination/ about flying, etc), magazines, paper and crayons, stickers, cuddly toys, crosswords, sudoku, iPods, DS’s, miniature games – ideally ones that require little space, are appropriate for shared space (ie toys that don’t make a noise), and that don’t have hundreds of tiny pieces to scatter on the floor of the aircraft! Something like Monopoly is clearly not going to be suitable, but there are plenty of activites that can be played quietly without bothering anyone else, including some great miniature travel games and puzzles with magnetic pieces, such as hangman and backgammon.
Aircraft are fascinating for most kids so make the most of the environment to explain what’s going on to you kids, or to play games like i-spy, or ‘name something beginning with A, B, C, etc. The in-flight safety card seems to provide plenty of fascination and entertainment for kids up to the age of around 10 too!
11 Expect poor food
Kids often love airline food – especially as it all comes in lots of little pots and boxes and is fun to ‘explore’. However, you may wish to pack some small tasty snacks to compensate for any shortfalls. Think small, non-messy snacks without the need for cutlery that take a long time to consume – grapes, carrot sticks, raisins, chewy biscuit bars, etc. We advise against too many sweets (stuffy cabin + big bag of sweets + flight motion = travel sickness)!
12 Don’t rush on arrival
After landing, stay seated until the other passengers have disembarked. You can then have a good scour round for dropped crayons and lost toys, etc, to ensure you don’t leave anything vital on board. There’s nearly always a wait at baggage reclaim anyhow, so (within reason!) take your time!