Zen and the Art of Flying with Kids

Pearl and the plane

Prior to having kids I used to adore flying. Hours of uninterrupted reading, unapologetic watching of trashy films, a cheeky red wine and sleeping pill induced crash out. Oh, those were the days.

Now that I have a toddler and a minimum three-hour flight whenever I want to escape, things have changed. I’ve been vomited on, shat on, and weathered those awful looks (often accompanied by a loud sigh) that other passengers give you when they realise a baby’s in their midst.

But with a bit of organisation and patience (deep breathing goes a long way) plus a couple of creative ideas in the bag (as small a bag as possible) your holiday will hopefully get off to a smooth start.

Here some of our top tips for flying with the little people:

  • Do your research. Websites like seatguru allow you to compare different airlines and what they offer kids (among other comparisons including seat size). Discount airlines have amazing deals, but when you’re squashed in between two snoring giants with a wriggly baby on your lap, and a flight attendant who won’t give you the time of day (let alone a free water), it can pay to pay more. Alternatively if you have an active, almost two year old, and your fare is incredibly cheap, consider booking them a seat, for your own sanity!
  • Choose your own seat – aisle is best if you have a baby in your lap, while older kids tend to enjoy looking out the window.
  • Bassinets on planes are always limited so make sure to book in advance and be flexible around what day of the week you fly. If you are taking your infant car seat with you on the journey, think about bringing it on board (you need to book ahead). If your child likes the car, it can be a comfortable way of travelling for them.
  • The jury is out on night versus day flights. Apparently kids don’t whinge when they are asleep. That’s if you can get them to sleep after all the excitement of the airport and impending holidays. Nothing worse than dealing with a hysterical kid at 3am at 30,000 feet.
  • If you’re travelling long haul consider breaking up the journey. Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai are good fun on the Australia to Europe route; flying east from North America, London (and its magnificent child-friendly museums) is a good choice; flying west, Hong Kong makes for a great stopover.  Think of it as a mini-break and a way to overcome the jetlag.
  • Make friends with the flight attendants before you sit down, by looking about for those most likely to have their own children, and cultivating a friendly “How are you? I’m fine, but gosh, isn’t flying with kids hard work? I’d love a gin and tonic whenever you have a moment, but I know you’re extraordinarily busy” sort of not-too-harassed-not-too-nonchalant demeanour. It’ll stand you in good stead throughout the flight.
  • For younger children, break the flight into sections to help pass the time: sleep time, play time, reading time, movie time, meal time, stretching down at the back of the plane time.
  • You can amuse the toddler crowd with a couple of cheap toys they have never seen before. Amazing the amount of mileage in a bag-full of brand new things!Best bet is to go to your nearest dollar-store or equivalent because then you can throw them away after the flight. We’ve had success with slinkies, mini tape measures that flick back into it their box, finger puppets and little sticker books. A couple of books from the op shop are new and fun, and can also be left behind. You could even wrap the toys (for an extra few minutes amusement) but that would be very organised. Ziploc bags are less time-consuming and allow for easy access.
  • For children who are kept amused by watching TV (a particular novelty for kids who don’t watch much at home), let your standards slip a little to pass the time. Amelia’s 8-year-old watched a Mr. Bean movie 4 times on a 10-hour flight, with no apparent lasting ill effects.
  • Many parents find loading up their iPad or iPhone with educational, artistic, or story-telling little apps and games will keep even wee ones busy for quite a few hours.
  • Though it’s a controversial one, some parents we know swear by a small dose of melatonin (a natural substance secreted by the pineal gland, available in naturopathic pill form) for their children, to help them sleep during long flights or to lessen the effects of jetlag in the aftermath. Its available over the counter at the pharmacist.
  • Snacks. When all else fails, favourite foods usually don’t. Make sure you carry a wide variety of easy to eat, non-spill snacks (peanut butter sandwiches as opposed to a tub of yoghurt) to get you through the flight. And don’t show all your cards at once.
  • Dress in layers or carry a change of clothes. Sitting in vomit for six hours really stinks.
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