Flying with children: 25 top tips for keeping kids happy on board
It’s summer, and time for the big annual summer holiday! If you're flying with kids you might be worried about arriving in one piece. What if they act up, or spend the whole flight screaming? What if you land more frazzled than ready for fun? We could say "stuff 'em" and tell you not to worry about people who tut and sigh, but we know it's not that easy.
First of all, here's some hope that everything will be alright: consumer champion Sarah Willingham explains why she loves travelling with her kids and how she copes on flights
Next up, some top tips from Skyscanner staff and well-travelled mums who know a thing or two about flying with children ...
1. Understand the charges and regulations for each airline
If you've ever looked into flying with babies you'll know that there are so many variations in the charges and regulations involved with taking your baby on a flight. Different airlines have different rules. Some charge for one thing; while with another it's free. Check out the table below which explains all of the variations parents need to be aware of when flying with babies.
Flying with a baby: airline fees and regulations
|Airline||Infant fare*||Free hold luggage allowance for baby equipment**||Cost of additional seat for infant***||Free priority boarding as standard|
10% of adult fare on flights to/from the US
|1 stroller or pushchair + 1 car seat, booster seat or travel cot||Full adult fare||Yes|
|British Airways||10% of adult fare||1 pushchair + 1 car seat + 10kg of hold luggage||Additional seats can only be booked for infants of 6-23 months
75% of adult fare
|easyJet||£22 one-way||2 of the following items: pushchair, baby buggy, travel cot, carrier, car seat, booster seat||Children over 2 years of age must occupy their own seat
Full adult fare
2. Plan and plan some more
Blogger Vicki from online parenting magazine Honest Mum's top tip for flying with kids is be prepared-over-prepared. Vicki says: "you can never have too many wet wipes and snacks! Fill your bag with snacks, games, playing cards, a portable DVD player in case the aircraft doesn't have one and make sure you buy water once you're through check in. I always take extra clothes and medicine, you never know when your kids might get a temperature or feel unwell."
3. Write notes for fellow passengers
Worried the other passengers on your flight are going to hate you if your child screams all the way to Malaga? Or, even worse, enjoys a penchant for kicking the back of the seat in front. Why not follow the example of the parents who handed out bags of sweets to fellow passengers on their flight or pen them a message of apology in advance.
4. Wet wipes and Pull Ups
Cathy from mummytravels.com says: "pack some spare clothes for them and for you - even now my daughter is potty trained, I've kept some emergency pull-ups. And you can never have too many wet wipes! That way if there are delays or you're in a plane that's stuck on the runway for ages, you won't be panicking...or spending a whole flight smelling less than fresh after an accident or unexpected illness. You almost certainly won't need it but it makes me feel much more relaxed, and I think my daughter picks up on that too. That way flights are an exciting adventure, not a potential nightmare scenario."
5. Keep it simple
A game can keep kids occupied and make the journey fly by - but you don't want to be carrying lots of equipment to make it work. So keep it simple. Easy games like I-Spy are the best. Get ideas for more simple, cost-free, games you can play with the kids on your next journey.
6. Consider a backpack for hand luggage
Gretta from Mumsdotravel.com says: "my kids are teenagers now, but my top tip for flying with younger children is to have a backpack as hand luggage so that you have both hands free. That makes it easier for you carry your child or hold their hand or push a buggy or show your passports or whatever else you need to do at the airport."
7. Hold your baby up high
Ok, so this one won't work for everyone, but some parents have found that holding their baby above their head makes them stop crying. No scientific reason we can think of for this one working but hey, if it does the trick... Not one to do on takeoff though!
8. Pack each child a plane bag
Katie from mummydaddyandmemakesthree.co.uk says: "pack them a plane bag - We have three young children and my girls have amassed many flights between them at a young age. We always pack a plane bag for them, we don't let them see if before we get on the flight and in it are cheap pocket money toys to keep them entertained. Things you can buy in supermarkets and that only cost a couple of pounds each, like crayons, colouring books, little sets of Lego they can build and of course sweets in case all else fails! They love it and get excited to open them as soon as we are up in the air."
9. Check the flight price for your little one
Assume your baby is flying free under 2? Double check. Oksana found she was expected to pay far more than she had imagined on one recent flight: “you may be surprised that some airlines force you to pay up to 75% for a ticket without a seat. This happened with me and my one-and-a-half year old son. In this case you don't save money! Buy a normal ticket. At least you will get extra space - that is really valuable.”
10. Check in early
If you are flying with the family, or holidaying with your extended kin (sharing a villa with your sister and her five kids perhaps?) you’ll be struggling to all sit together if you leave it late to check in. So do this online as soon as check-in it opens. Unless you don’t want to sit anywhere near your sister’s five kids, that is.
11. Tell the police
Skyscanner PR Manager and mother-of-two Mary Porter has loads of tips on flying with toddlers. Our favourite is: “warn young children of the ‘Aeroplane Police’ who are looking out for badly behaved children. I am not suggesting you scare them out of their wits (and admittedly we never did explain what the Aeroplane Police actually do when they catch a naughty child). However, it proved hugely effective in stopping my toddler climbing over seats, playing with the fold down table, kicking the seat in front and all the other things that passengers around you really love.”
12. Pre-order your baby milk from Boots
Baby milk is something that always throws up questions. What can you take? Will you have to taste it at security? How much are you allowed and will it be enough? To avoid these questions did you know you could pre-order your milk from Boots and collect from a store in the airports departures? Find out here which airports are available. Alternatively check out Skyscanner's guide to hand luggage restrictions do you don't get caught out.
13. Be a slave to the (circadian) rhythm
If at all possible, choose flights at the ‘normal’ time your kids are meant to be falling asleep. If they're shattered and it's bedtime back home you might just find they'll drop off. However, this could backfire if they're so excited that they don’t want to sleep - tired and bratty is never a great start to a holiday.
14. Make regular toilet stops
“I don’t need to go” can quickly swing to the other end of the scale when it comes to childrens' bladders - even the older ones. So make sure they go to the toilet immediately before getting on the plane/boat/train. Don't give them too many fluids either or they'll be up and down to the toilet all the way to your destination - extremely annoying for the person in the aisle seat! This is sensible advice for adults too. Drinking five pints of lager before getting on the plane is dangerous, especially if you’re held up during taxiing!
15. Play pilots
Kids scared of flying? So were Oksana Ermolaeva's, a Skyscanner blogger for Russia who made the whole thing into a game. "I played role games with her", she says. "Let your child be a pilot or a flight attendant. Play everything that normally happens onboard. This really helps to avoid pre-flight and in-flight panic.”
16. Arm yourself with snacks
For the ones on solid, gown-up food, make sure you pack plenty of snacks. Like an irascible cat which hasn’t had its morning Whiskas, a hungry toddler will damn sure let you know if they're hungry. So, until the in-flight meal is served, fend them off with snacks. We won’t get into a debate here – obviously mainlining Haribo is not good for them, but unless they have a soft spot for grapes, it might be the only thing that works.
17. Never travel without an iPad or tablet
Travel blogger Monica from thetravelhack.com says: "most parents start off with good intentions when it comes to screen time for their little ones but you're definitely allowed to let your standards slip during a flight! Load your tablet with games, songs, TV shows and Disney films to keep them entertained for as long as possible. Even tiny babies can be distracted for 10 minutes by a cartoon with a catchy song and it can be just long enough to enjoy your in-flight meal or avoid a tantrum. Try The Furchester Hotel - it works like magic for my little guy! Also invest in some kiddie headphones so you don't annoy your fellow passengers with those catchy Disney songs." Before you stock up on free apps to keep the kids entertained, check out our list of the best ones for your iPad or smartphone to get before you fly, guaranteed to keep children entertained long enough for you to at least eat your in-flight meal.
18. Keep them comfy
An impractically-dressed child is an unhappy child, so get them dressed up in soft, roomy layers that you can take on and off as the plane's air conditioning demands - pyjamas are probably your best option. It's worth taking a pillow too, so they can snuggle up in the window seat against the wall, drift off and dream of holidays.
19. Calpol can be your best friend
In the unfortunate event of your child being poorly when you fly, have handy an emergency stash (no more than 100ml obviously) of mother’s little helper, Calpol. Ear drops are also a winner for coping with altitude change.
20. Be prepared for upset tummies
The worst fear you might have about travelling with the kids could well be what if they get sick? A bit of advance planning will make this something to shrug off rather than panic over. Sounding like he speaks from unfortunate experience, Mark Logan, Skyscanner COO says: “always pack more sick bags than you think you’ll need for the drive to the airport in the hire car. And don’t pack away all of their clothes - for the same reason. Also, ensure that you bring your medical cards if you're travelling within Europe. In my case, with three children, there’s a statistical likelihood that you’ll need it.”
21. Cuddly toys can make all the difference
Skyscanner Co-founder Bonamy Grimes has a clever solution for that desperate moment when nothing seems to make it all better: “stock up on toys, but make sure you hold back a favourite teddy that you bring out on the plane, and keep one in reserve for the way back.” There is always the risk of losing a cherished companion in transit, which is heart-breaking, so whenever you buy them a soft toy, buy two and if the worst happens, substitute New Peppa for Left-On-Plane Peppa.
22. Take a break
Initially this one may seem to add even more stress to your journey, but it does makes sense. Oksana says that for her kids, several transit flights work much better than one long haul. “Kids have time to move (run, jump) in airports, which they can’t onboard.” Probably best not use this tactic if they don’t like the take-offs and landings, or have a habit of getting lost in airports, though.
23. Use the time to get creative
No matter how much you love them, a bored child is a pain in the rear. Here are items for keeping the terrors from the perils of boredom:
- Notebook and pens or pencils
- Reading books or a Kindle
- iPod/headphones: if music be the food of a happy child, play on!
24. Remember the wonder of flying
Flying is fun. In fact, flying is amazing. Remember that your little ones don't associate budget airlines with baggage restrictions and commuting for business - they’re probably quite excited about going up in the sky. So you should be too. “Don’t forget that flying was once wondrous. To them it still is, so point out the small houses, the clouds, the setting sun..." says long-suffering Skyscanner CEO Gareth Williams. And if you’re desperate, get them to count how many passengers are on the flight. We kid you not, this has been known to work a treat!
25. Take care of yourself out there
While pouring all your efforts into project managing your offspring’s on board, in-transit behaviour, don't forget to look after your own wellbeing and comfort. Take care of yourself and the rest will take care of itself. If you are in good form, you’ll be far more able to cope with the inevitable tests thrown at you by your errant charges. So, pack your passport, give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and read our article on how to avoid those common mistakes that can ruin your holiday before you have even taken off.
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