Top Tips for flying for young children!
When we fly it is on most occasions meant to be the start of a long awaited ‘relaxing’ holiday. However add kids to the mix and suddenly the word ‘relaxation’ goes straight out of the window.
Let’s face it airports and aircrafts are not fun places for children and stressed, bored children lead to stressed, anxious parents losing their s**t (or is that just me???!!!!)
I have a friend whose husband is an airline Captain and therefore she gets to fly everywhere first class, but even she recalls the tail of making a long haul flight locked in the toilet with a screaming baby because she was too embarrassed to return to the cabin!
Bring to the equation flight delays, cancellations etc then it’s not unexpected that tempers can start to get slightly frayed.
In December 2017 coming home from Lapland we were all boarded onto the aircraft before a technical problem was discovered. We were then held on the plane for 4 hours whilst they decided what to do with us (remembering this was a Christmas special and therefore packed with small children). TUI were not able to get us home, and being in Lapland 5 days before Christmas it was very much a case of ‘no room at the inn’ so they had nowhere to put us up overnight either. Hence around 250 passengers with about 1/3 of them being young children were herded into a small chalet restaurant where we were held for almost 18 hrs. It was NOT fun!! I truly felt for the TUI holiday reps who were trying their very hardest to try to keep everyone happy and up to date with information and yet were getting passengers screaming and shouting at them. Yes it was frustrating but what people thought they were going to achieve by screaming and hollering I do not know. Delayed for 18hrs in safe place waiting for a rescue flight, or taking a chance being flown home on a plane with a brake unit failure? I know which one I would choose every time!
Keeping your cool
I have been flying with my children for 18yrs now since my oldest was 2 (now she’s Cabin Crew and ready to pass on tips of her own). We have faced several travel delays in the past, the longest being 8 days back in 2010 when the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano erupted in Iceland which resulted in the whole of British Airspace being closed for several days. The first we knew about this was when we were trying to book in online for our return flight to London from San Francisco. There was a message on the British Airways website saying don’t go to the airport but await further updates, none came. We tried and tried phoning the airline and Expedia with whom we had made the booking with, my Mum was doing the same from the U.K. but neither of us could get through. After 24hrs of no information and now having ‘missed’ our time slot I was getting concerned of how we may be penalised for not showing for our flights, also rumours were starting to circulate amping travellers and social media by this time that British Air Space was going to be closed for a year and that we would have to make our way cross country to New York where the Navy would sail us home! I decided we had no choice than to go to San Francisco airport to find out how and when we could get home. 1000’s of other passengers had decided to do the same and hence we queued for hours, and hours and hours (with a then 12 yr old daughter).
Now maybe I would not have been so calm if I had been flying out on holiday rather than returning, or if I had been flying out to connect with a cruise ship, attend a wedding, or funeral or be getting married etc, perhaps there were passengers trying to make it to a destination to spend final hours with a dying loved one. Who knows what and where each passengers final destination was to to be that day, but I have never seen so many angry people in one place at the same time. Even from way back in the queue we could hear check-in staff being screamed at, sworn at and abused and this went on relentlessly.
By the time it was our turn at the check in desk, we were tired, fed up and weary but the first thing I did was to say to the lady at the desk “I am so sorry you are having such a bad day, we promise to be nice to you……” you could almost see the look of relief as a big smile swept across her face. She wasn’t able to get us on a return flight home for another 8 days but on behalf of the Airline British Airways they put us up in a lovely hotel and gave us vouchers for $100 each per day for food there. The looked at us and said “we are putting all the passengers who are polite to us in the good hotel and all the ones who are rude to us in the really rough one down the road and not giving them the food vouchers” That was a real eye opener, no matter what the circumstances, keep your cool and be polite because manners cost nothing and you may just reap the rewards. When we came to check in again 8 days later the guy at the check in desk said “oh your ticket has been flagged for an upgrade, which I am happy to tell you is available and so you will be flying back to London Business Class” That was the first time in my life I had ever turned left on an aircraft and my daughter and I were over the moon. I don’t know if it was the lady from our first visit to the airport who flagged our ticket for the upgrade home but I know of no other reason why we would have got it.
One thing we witnessed with so many people with young children stranded in Lapland for 18 hours was that parents were complaining that they had run out of nappies and formula for their babies and toddlers. After all they were only preparing for a 3 hour flight home and when we departed the broken down aircraft we were not allowed access to our hold baggage. So if you do have babies or young children I would highly advise always carrying in your hand luggage more nappies and formula than you will expect to need, as well as being over stocked with snacks.
The other thing was phone charges as many people (myself included) had packed chargers within our hold luggage for the short journey home. With 18hr delays people were desperate for both chargers and socket space. Now I always carry both a charger (socket adapter if required) and at least one power pack in my hand luggage.
Lets be honest here, as nice as the gesture is the kids packs given out on board by most airlines are pretty naff and unlikely to keep children entertained for the length of the flight.
The major airlines all now have pretty good in-flight entertainment systems for long haul flights, however if you are on a shorter haul trip or flying with a scheduled airline you may still find you are flying 4-5hrs each way with no in-flight entertainment.
Now I confess I am a regular user of #unpluggedchildhood as the activities I do with my son generally mean he is not glued to screens – however, when we fly it becomes a completely different story and is more a case of “here’s your iPad sweetheart, now pop your headphones on and don’t disturb Mummy for the next 8 hours” 🤣(anyone else!????)
Yes, let’s be honest here, ipads are a fantatsic way of keeping children entertained and the perfect in-flight companion. Of course the good old fashioned ways of books, colouring, crafts etc are all fantastic as well (I kept my daughter entertained with such for many, many flights pre iPad days!)
My experience is that children 5+ can generally be entertained fairly easily on planes, but it’s not so easy with younger children and especially under twos. I remember trying desperately to get my son to watch kids TV entertainment but he wasn’t haven’t any of it, and refused point blank to put headphones on! You are therefore possibly going to find yourselves walking up and down the aisle for half the flight just to give them ‘something’ to do because few toddlers have the ability to sit still and be quiet for endless hours!! I would therefore recommend getting an aisle seat which makes life a lot easily of you are up and down a lot. Remember also that babies and very young children are going to be extra sensitive to pressure in their ears, they don’t understand what is going on and are too young to follow any kind of direction to try and clear them. There is no easy solution to this, but I used to bring out a drink about 10 minutes into the descent to try and help with this. Sweets, lolly’s etc may also help so long as the child is off an age where they will not be a choking risk.
Bathrooms on aircraft are renowned for being tiny, and not great fun for changing nappies – pull down changers are fine for small babies, but try it with a two year old and you will have arms and legs all over the place because the child will be far bigger than the changer. I would like to say I have found a magical answer for this but sadly I don’t – I am simply including it to forewarn and who may not have tried it before!
The same goes for their bassinets, most people don’t buy a separate seat for under 2’s as they can travel free on laps. However I remember flying home from Orlando to London with my son at 21 months, expecting I would be able to pop him to sleep in the bassinet for the night flight home – NO CHANCE, he was far bigger than ‘it’ was and hence my daughter and I had incredibly cramped flight home with said lump sleeping across our laps!
I first flew with my daughter once she was two and old enough to have her own seat. I flew with my son from a year old and must admit I had some long & exhausting flights in doing so! In hindsight and as a single parent I think my decision with my daughter was the right one.
Sometimes flying is Babies and toddlers in inevitable, but if it’s just for a holiday/vacation then you might want to consider a cruise…I did both with my son under 13 months and the cruise was so much easier and so less stressful, but more of that in a future blog.