12 tips for surviving plane travel with young children

By Joss Hooren

Instead of feeling excited about your upcoming flight, are you worrying about how to keep the kids happy, entertained, well slept, well fed, and clean for the duration, preferably without annoying every other passenger on board?

Don’t fret, it really will be OK. I can honestly say that every one of the 25 mostly long-haul flights my 2-year old has been on to date has been a breeze, but we have learnt a few things along the way.

Here are some tips to ensure your journey is as stress-free as possible.

  1. Think ahead, way ahead!

For short-haul trips, book a flight that coincides with nap time if possible. Avoid naps on the journey to the airport and with any luck, your child will sleep on the plane.

For long-haul journeys, you can gamble with the overnight flights; ideal if he sleeps, but you risk keeping other passengers awake if he cries all night. Personally, I prefer to take the risk, and so far, it’s paid off.

  1. Choose your seats wisely.

Whether or not you book your child their own seat will largely depend on their age and your budget. Children over 2 require their own seat but under 2s have the option of travelling on an adult’s lap. Travelling on your lap is obviously the cheaper option.

For infants under 6 months (height and weight dependent), you may have the option to book yourself a bassinet seat. Regardless of whether you need the bassinet, these seats have extra leg room so I advise going for these anyway; the additional play space will be valuable!

If you choose to book a seat for your child, consider whether you will take his car seat and strap this to his seat for the duration of the flight. Not all airlines allow this and not all car seats are suitable, so check whether this is an option with both the airline and seat manufacturer.

  1. Use your baby luggage allowance.

If you book your child her own seat, she will have the same luggage allowance as you. If she’s on your lap, she won’t have a separate checked baggage allowance, but you can take an extra carry-on bag. You are also typically allowed two items of checked baby equipment (pram, stroller, car seat, travel cot, etc.).

I strongly advise buying bags for these items to avoid damage, and pad them out as much as possible (hint: you can get away with a lot here – we have previously strapped a backpack-style carrier to a stroller and bagged them together, and filled our car seat bag with enough clothes and cloth nappies to fill another suitcase!).

  1. Pack your hand luggage for all eventualities.

Take loads of nappies, wipes and multiple changes of clothes (including a change for each adult). Consider the possibility of nappy explosions, spit up, leaky boobs, spilled drinks, dropped food and teething slobber, all from the squished confines of your economy class seat (yes, all these have happened to us).

No one wants to spend a long flight covered in this delightful array of fluids, and your fellow passengers won’t thank you for being smelly and underprepared either! I recommend having a large wet bag to store any dirty items mid-flight.

Even if you don’t experience any of the above embarrassments, what happens if your flight is delayed, your luggage is lost, or you have an unexpected stopover? All of these things have also happened to us. Thankfully, I have always had enough nappies and clothes to see us through.

  1. Leave more time than you think you could possibly need.

Before my son was born, neither me nor my husband had ever missed a flight. I am rather ashamed to admit that we have now missed several! Everything takes twice as long when you have young children in tow, so don’t forget to leave extra time.

Despite missing these flights, we have never had to pay a penalty, so no harm done. If you do find yourself running late, try not to worry. Speak to staff at the check-in desk when you do arrive, play the baby card, and they will usually be happy to help as much as they can.

  1. Take a sling in your hand luggage.

Getting through the airport at either end will be much easier and quicker, and a you’ll have both hands free to carry bags and dig out passports and boarding passes.

Airports are also busy, chaotic, noisy and brightly lit, and therefore likely to be overstimulating. Keeping little ones close is the best remedy for this and will help protect against the dreaded grumpiness that follows overstimulation.

If you’re using a soft carrier, you won’t be asked to remove this at security, but they are likely to take swabs from your hands and the sling itself. They are testing for bomb residue following reports of carriers being used to disguise suicide bombs. This only takes a couple of seconds and won’t hold you up at all.

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