The thought of having to cope with a long-haul flight is the reason many parents won’t travel with their children at all.
As a seasoned family traveler, I can just say: the best thing you can do to reduce the stress of air travel is to change your attitude. Think like your kids, for whom flying and all that’s associated with it – from soaring above the clouds to meals in trays – is a fascinating adventure. Here are a few useful tips:
Smooth sailing: For kids, travel can be an adventure. If you have the option with domestic travel, daytime flights are best, so you can put the kids to bed at your destination and the routine isn’t thrown out of whack too much. Long-haul international travel, with both night and day legs, is trickier.
While the general advice for reducing jetlag for all passengers is to adjust to the time zone of the destination as soon as possible, you can’t force that with kids.
If you are traveling with a baby, book a bassinet seat. While no airline guarantees bassinets, and demand often outstrips supply, if you get one, it’s a lifesaver, but check the weight limits. Emirates bassinet for example support a child of 11 kilograms. If your baby is too big, he or she will be on your lap. Bring a wrap and a familiar toy.
UPS AND DOWNS
Changes in air pressure at takeoff and landing can be distressing for children and babies, who don’t know why it’s happening. Ironically, shorter flights can be worse than longer ones, because the pain happens twice in quick succession.
Swallowing helps the ears equalise, as do chewing, yawning, and popping the ears by holding your nose and gently blowing out.
If you are breastfeeding, do it as the plane takes off and again when it starts descending for landing. Otherwise, give your baby a bottle at takeoff and landing and encourage young children to drink. Chewing jelly sweets or gum can also help.
Always order meals for babies, toddlers or children, or any other special meals, at least 48 hours before your flight.
If you are doing a multi-leg long-haul journey, reconfirm the children’s meals before each leg.
Children’s meals are delivered to your seat before the general meal service, which means you can help your little one with their meal before yours arrives. Children get hungry all the time, so it’s a good idea to carry snacks such as dried fruit, muesli bars and crackers.
Don’t rely on the inflight entertainment system to keep your children happy. Anyway, the screens are positioned for adults rather than kids and movies are not always suitable for children.
Carrying your own child-sized over-ear headphones will mean you don’t spend every five minutes refitting them.
Books and activity kits, which might contain notepads, coloring books, stickers, pencils and crayons, are essential.
Do a countdown to take-off or touchdown. Read the safety cards together and learn what different parts of the aircraft are called. Look at maps to work out where you’re going. As I said, it’s all an adventure.