The thought of flying with young children (especially on a long-haul flight) can be daunting for most parents. Spending hours on end being confined to squishy and squashy airplane seats can make even the most calm and in-control parent experience a little ‘sweaty palm’ syndrome.
Yes, flying with children can be challenging; and no, it is not the most pleasant experience there is. But in reality, it’s a means to an end. A flight is something that has to be endured in order to experience the pot of gold at the end of it… that being the holiday itself! Armed with a few tips and tricks, your next flight can be bearable (at least)… maybe even enjoyable…? (Nah, let’s be honest… wouldn’t go that far!)
International Flight Attendant, Mel Seitz, has been with Qantas for more than 20 years and has both seen and experienced it all when it comes to flying with children. Her two boys (now 8 and 11) have an Irish father, so they fly to visit family most years and have been since the boys were both very young. She offers the following advice to parents, to help make air travel a little easier.
The number one piece of advice to parents is not to stress. Yes, it may be easier said than done, but stressed out parents usually means stressed out children. Many other travellers are parents themselves and know all too well what it is like. “Don’t worry about if your kids make noise or have a tantrum,” Mel says. “That is what they do. Don’t worry about what people around you think. Just focus on looking after them and responding to their needs”.
Believe it or not, travelling with a young baby can actually be the easiest time to travel with kids. This is because they are not yet mobile and they mostly sleep for long blocks of time. “Bring whatever comforts your baby, whether it is a teddy or comforter and a small collection of books and toys to distract them”, she says.
Babies often cry around take off, which can be stressful for new parents. The change in cabin pressure might affect their sensitive ears, the new and unfamiliar environment may overwhelm them, or they may just be tired. My own experience has found that breastfeeding is an effective and easy way to comfort young babies during this time. Both of my own two children experienced their first flight before the age of one (11 months for my eldest and 4 months for my youngest). Breastfeeding helped to soothe them, as well as lull them to sleep. A bottle is obviously an alternative for bottle-fed babies.
An evening or night flight is usually a great option for young children. It generally allows for a greater block of sleep time whilst in the air. Try to mimic their regular routine as much as possible; with a feed, a fresh nappy and even changing them into their usual swaddle, sleeping bag or pyjamas. The sound of the engine can also act as white noise for young children, helping to make it easier for them to sleep.
“Try to tire your child out before the flight,” Mel suggests. If they are walking, let them expend their energy and move about in the terminal before getting on the plane. They obviously won’t be able to roam about much whilst in the air, so let them loose whilst the opportunity is there.
“Small toys and books are a must to help distract young children and also games if they are old enough,” Mel says. “Even better if these toys are new or at least haven’t been played with in a while”, she adds. I would even suggest wrapping the toys up for the extra novelty and time taken to unwrap them. Also, bring them out one at a time, rather than all in the one go.
Bring plenty of snacks that you know your child will eat. Small dry finger-food is best like cereal, crackers, sultanas and rusks, as well as good fillers such as bananas, sandwiches or baby food pouches. I also suggest travelling with a scoop bib, in order to make food time a little less messy. For the in-flight meal, Mel suggests pre-ordering the children’s option when you purchase your ticket. She says, “when travelling with Qantas, you can confirm by calling Qantas direct 72 hours prior to your flight”. Mel also mentions that Qantas has baby food available on International Flights, if required. All you have to do is ask!
It might sound obvious, but make sure to have all the necessities in your carry-on bag. Wipes, nappies, food, toys, spare clothing etc., should all be within reach. Slide the bag under the seat in front of you for easy access, rather than having them in the overhead locker.
When booking your ticket, request the bassinet seat if you have a baby/infant (usually up to approximately 10kg). The bassinet is a small drop-down bed for babies, which is usually fixed to bulkhead wall in front of the seat, usually behind the galley, toilets or cabin in front. Some airlines will provide it to families with age/weight appropriate babies on a first come/first serve basis, whilst other airlines will allocate the seats last minute to the youngest babies and therefore will only be confirmed last minute. However, bassinet seats are usually only available on long-haul flights and each airline has their own particular weight and measurement restrictions (note: some airlines may have a surcharge).
Yes, there is generally a call for families to board the plane first, but my own piece of advice is to ignore this call and board well towards the end (particularly when children are in the toddler stage). This saves the extra confined wait time on the tarmac. Having said that, please be courteous and organise yourself quickly once onboard, out of respect for the other passengers who are already patiently waiting.
Mel adds, “If you are planning to give your kids any medication (eg. Phenergen or anything similar), make sure you have tried it before your flight as it has the reverse effect in a small percentage of kids”. I personally do not recommend this as an option. However, be sure to consult with your doctor beforehand if you are considering using it.