July has been a month of travel for your family: our desire to make the most of the summer holiday mixed with good, last minute opportunities for trips abroad, resulted in a calendar that now counts, between short and long haul, 6 flights in 4 weeks!
Jetting around this much is exciting but also tiring for adults and, even more, for kids: experience, however, has taught us that there are ways to make flying with kids easy and even enjoyable (yes, it can be that too!) and this month we are going to brush up on all our best tips for flying with children, before setting off for our adventure.
If you are about to embark in your first flying adventure with kids, don’t forget to also check out this post written with advice specific about flying with babies and our article how to fly alone with two kids and our tips to tackle jet lag in kids
Flying with kids made easy: top tips from a globetrotting mum
Get your kids excited and involved
Before a flight, it is very tempting to get the kids out of the way and pack your bags in a quiet room, without little hands and excited voices interfering with your decisions and, inevitably, thoughts. However, I find that enduring the mess that ensues when you do anything with little children is worth it: involving them in the packing process is a good opportunity to tell them what the flight will entail, talk about what to expect on the plane, what games will be allowed and what kind of space the will have available to play, eat and sleep.
If you have a bit of time, you can go as far as doing some role playing: my kids love to pretend their beds are plane seats and I am happy to pretend I am onboard crew serving them water (a childhood dream of mine, frustrated by my Italian small stature…)
The kids involvement makes the discussion on what to pack easier (my daughter agreed to leave home a teddy as big as herself when she realised he’d have to sit on her lap for 12 hours!) and also lays the foundations for entertainment on board: I always give my kids details about the plane before we travel, so while we wait to take off they can play detective finding them. ‘Can you see the airline logo we talked about? Where? And can you see the pilot, the toilets, the fasten seatbelt sign?’
Book seats together, double check and then check again
I used to think being seated beside my children would be an obvious consequence of booking tickets together but it turns out: it isn’t. Children seats are assigned exactly like adult ones so unless you pre-book them, there is no reason to believe you will be placed beside your offspring.
As unexpected as this may sound, it is not as unexpected maybe as the next piece of info: booking seats together does not guarantee much! I could give you endless stories from our own family travels and the ones of friends about failed pre-bookings of seats so, if you want to minimise the chances of being one of them, I highly recommend you check with your airline closer to the day at departure and then again at check in.
Crucial to the success of any flight with kids is a good selection of kids activities to keep them busy on board. As well as appropriate toys and games, make sure you pay attention to how you pack them: have in your carry-on bags anything you may need on the plane and stack them in such a way that you don’t need to root everything our to get whatever is at the bottom of the bag. No matter what that toy is, you can be sure the one stuck at the bottom is the one your kids will want first, so try make everything as accessible as possible.
Get them moving
One of the biggest challenges for kids on planes is not being able to move freely, so a good idea is to get them release as much physical energy as possible before boarding. If you travel at night, make sure they get fresh air and are active during the day and if you have only the time in the airport, make the most of it.
Some airports have children areas with small (or occasionally big) playgrounds and all have long corridors that the kids can use as running tracks: my son is an avid runner and all it takes to get him going is to challenge him to be faster than the people on travelator – it works every time!
Bring your own food
I have always loved plane food: my first experiences of air travel happened well before the arrival of low-cost carriers and the memories of elegantly dressed members of the crew offering me a dinner I perceived as free stayed with me as one of the strongest holiday feelings.
Despite my possibly irrational love for plane food, when flying with kids I always also bring our own and I make sure I pack something that the kids are very familiar with and are sure to like, like their favourite sandwich or a piece of fruit. When dinner is served, I get it for them too, but at least I don’t have have to worry in case they decide to throw a fussy eating fit while high in the sky. I have a few tried and tested tricks to make fussy eaters less fussy when travelling, but this doesn’t mean they never decide to be just contrary…
As well as having my backup meal in my bag, I also usually book our meals whenever flying long haul: pre-booked meals are served first so you can be sure to get what you want and minimise waiting time.
A big part of that awful ‘lack of fresh air’ feeling we get on planes is caused by poor hydration and the best way to combat it is to drink a lot of water. Some people recognise the need to drink simply feeling thirsty, but often dehydration is more subtle and might simply make you feel unwell or, in the case of kids, cranky and upset. Offer water regularly and avoid highly salty or sugary food. I find the best way to carry water is to bring an empty bottle through security and then fill it at either the water fountain at the airport or with just bought bottled water.
Bring toys and games
Well chosen toys and games will be a lifesaver when the kids are tired of the in-flight entertainment or if you are flying short haul. My favourite activities for the plane are a mix of things that the kids can do alone (sticker books, magic drawing board), some that get them to play with each other (board games) and more educational ones that we can do together such as ‘I spy’, creating a travel journal or read a book. As much as I’d like to cut down on my kids’ screen times, I don’t believe a flight is the right time to pick this battle: iPhones and IPads are fabulous flying companions!
You can have a look at my list of toys to bring when flying with a toddler here
My kids are enthralled by in-flight movies but do not like the fiddly little headphone usually provided on board. A pair of child-friendly, big headphones will make it easier for them to watch a movie on board and it is also a lifesaver for the rest of the plane when they spend hours listening to kiddies song or playing with children apps on the iPad!
Bring a favorite teddy
Flights can be frightening with kids and the change of pressure at take-off and landing might unsettle them. A favorite cuddly toy or a blanket can go a long way to reassure them and they are also a great help in getting them to settle.
Bring extra clothes
One of the inevitabilities of family travel: the chances of spillages during the flights are inversely proportional to the age of your kids! No matter how much a light packer you are, always have an extra set of clothes for the kids and, if you can, for yourself.
Disastrous spillages of sticky juice on the parents’ trousers have been experienced by pretty much anyone who ever set foot on a plane with a child, as you can read in these funny travel disaster stories here. If you are not sure how to pack carry-on with kids, have a look at my advice here.
I hope this article answer the question: how can we make flying with kids easier? Safe family travels!