Heading home (or away) for the festive season? Don’t let the flight add to your stress, here are my favourite long-haul flying tips for families:
- Call the airline before you fly – in the day of electronic ticketing it’s easy to become complacent; if you want particular seats, kids meals or to understand luggage allowances it pays to confirm these things with the airline directly before you fly rather than be disappointed at the airport (and not all requests can be made on the internet). Call at least 48 hours in advance so any special requests can be met.
- Take advantage of pre-boarding – if travelling long-haul, it pays to get on the plane first (though I wouldn’t recommend this for short flights or in smaller aircraft as this means a longer period of time to keep them still in a more confined space). If you are in the bulkhead row you cannot keep bags at your feet during take-off; you may well find the locker above you is already full of cabin equipment so you need the next locker down before all the space is taken. Take the time to get all your essential items for the first hour in arms reach. Note another strategy here is to send one grown up ahead to get everything organized so the second grown up just needs to get kids in seats and you are set to go.
- Use bathrooms before boarding – it’s much easier to change nappies and take toddlers to the toilet in the terminal before boarding. It may take some time after boarding before you can get into that tiny little cubicle so try and get to the bottom of it all before boarding time – the just in case wee! (click here for loads more travelling toilet tips).
- Choose seating wisely – only book the bassinet row if you need the bassinet, otherwise if you are travelling with toddlers or your baby’s too big, it pays to have a row with movable seat arms to lay them flat. If you’re flight is not too over-crowded, you might try to play ‘spare seat lotto’ where you book a row of three/four and hope for an empty seat between you (though this is a high risk strategy during the busy festive period its always worth a gamble – ask at check-in how full the flight is before playing).
- Food glorious food – even if you have remembered to book a child’s meal (yes you must pre-book them!), it could take until a couple of hours in to the flight before it arrives so bring plentiful snacks with you, trying to avoid anything too sugary – there is nowhere to burn this energy off! For toddlers under two travelling on laps you will not be served a child’s meal; they will offer you an infants meal and I have only ever seen pureed baby food available on board so make sure you are self-catering for them.
- Bring a busy bag – it goes without saying children need entertainment! Try to be a little creative here; you might not have the time to ‘wrap each toy as a little surprise’ as I so often see recommended, but do try and put a mix of old-time favourites and a few new and interesting things in there. Look for activities that they can undertake fairly independently and avoid toys with small fiddly parts that can get lost – for more advice on busy bag items check out getting through the flight.
- Rubbish! – I have never seen rubbish accumulate so fast as when I’m stuck at 30,000 feet with only four square foot of living space. If the food trays stacked in front of you aren’t enough to make you cry, the plastic wrappers from the blanket and headphone sets, the wet wipes from multiple spillages and sticky fingers, the snack wrappers, stray sultanas and the stack of plastic cups will probably get to you – and this is just the first two hours. Take a few plastic bags yourself that you can pass to the air stewards and keep your area as clear as possible of clutter – they will also be grateful to you for gathering it all up!
- Take spare clothes – for everyone. Even if toilet trained accidents can still happen, drinks get spilt, children get air sick. Take an extra carry-on if you can manage it that just contains emergency supplies – I throw extra snacks and nappies in here as well in case of a delay. Don’t forget more plastic bags to wrap dirty/wet items (my mum’s penchant for plastic bags is slowly rubbing off on me).
- Ear pressure – this is our Achilles heel. Even on a smooth flight my little boys still scream on descent (NB at least 30 minutes before landing on long haul – listen for the captains announcement then start acting). For babies have boobs/bottles/pacifiers at the ready; for older children teach them to suck on sweets or chew gum. Toddlers that are in between these stages are difficult – any drink that involves sucking may help, try playing a game of yawning before descent or practice blowing their nose. If your child has a bad cold or ear infection, seriously consider deferring travel as this ear pressure can be excruciating for them.
- Have a jet lag plan – understand what time of day you will land and when the first full night’s sleep will be after landing; working backwards try and instigate a sleeping pattern to fit this as soon as possible – i.e. do you want them to sleep immediately and wake before landing or keep them awake as long as possible so they are tired when you land?
Need a last minute gift or travel entertainment for the flight? Check out our stocking-stuffer ideas for little globetrotters
Wherever you are headed these holidays, enjoy your travels, have fun with your family and wishing you festive flying success