Peter Pan has it sorted.
His flights with children are a roaring success. Second star to the right and straight on till morning. For the rest of us without Pixie Dust, the challenge is real.
I have learned from my mistakes on long haul flights with young children, (sometimes flying alone with them) and I also gleaned a few gems along the way.
- Talk to your children before hand about the ground rules.
No matter how young your children are, their ears work. I usually have a little meeting before outings (flights included) describing what will happen and what I require of them. I explain what fun is to be had, but also what is not allowed. We repeat that a few times. Proactive is better than reactive, especially when frazzled on the plane. I have three major plane don'ts:
Don't kick the seat in front of you. Don’t grab on the headrest. Don't slam the tray table up and down.
My children don't eat airline/airport food, no matter whether I've ordered children's meals or not. (Or they don't eat enough to keep hanger at bay.) I pack cereal like Cheerios (Cheerios are dry so they get through security, and most airlines carry milk. If no milk/dishes/spoons are available, Cheerios can be eaten as a dry snack. I decant them into carry on size ziplock bags. Don't take peanut butter, it's counted as a liquid at security. In some countries you will have to dispose of dairy before disembarkation as you won't be allowed to carry it through customs. Dry children's cereal is usually acceptable, even in countries like Australia, but you need to communicate with customs before the sniffer dog exposes you. I also carry cereal like ProNutro for times I can get milk and a bowl.
- Pillows, blankets and a favorite teddy.
I take a small pillow and blanket for them as sometimes the layover in an airport is more difficult to manage than the flight. I have used pillows, blankets and a cozy corner to help them to sleep in Miami International, Heathrow and Washington Dulles.
- Changes of clothes.
Sometimes the little bladders don't make it. Keep the fuss to a minimum by being prepared. Bring a few changes and plenty of wet wipes.
- A stroller
Use a stroller as long as your child still fits in it. It gets you to the front of boarding lines and the handles make great hand luggage totes. If you are travelling alone on long haul trips with two children, as I have, you might have three pieces of hand luggage to carry. A stroller is a must.
With smaller children a stroller creates a ground zero. When we traveled to the US with a one year old and threeyear old, I bought a safety tether and attached it to the stroller. The 3 year old would slip her hand through the other end in the busy airport concourse and we could stay together.
- Ear pain management
Have a pacifier, bottle, box juice, lollipop or something similar for descent and ascent. For long haul flights, bring nasal spray to keep the nose open. If your child's ears are blocked and their nose is blocked, the ear is put under severe pressure. You can reduce that (and the pain) by keeping the nasal passages open. My doctor suggested spraying Iliadin just before the descent on a long haul flight.
Your best hope with a baby on a long haul flight is that they will sleep. Try to follow your nighttime routine and get them to sleep as best you can. Often the bulkhead seats are not ideal, although reserved for babies who fit in the bassinet (My children were robust and did not fit in the bassinets at the time we flew long haul). Unless your child is going to fit in the bassinet, don't sit there. The other children at the bulkhead will keep your baby/child awake. You can't put your child to sleep on the floor but if there is no turbulence you can walk the floor to soothe them.
- Keep calm and let airline staff fix their own errors
I was once seated away from my children (aged 4 and 6) on a two hour flight and no one wanted to move for me. In those situations let the airline staff fix it. They made the error. It might be relaxing to have your children seated twenty rows away from you, spilling juice on someone else, while you have a G&T, but you know it's not going to happen. Someone will eventually let you have their seat and all will be well. Same at baggage counters/security. If they confiscate your child's 110ml yogurt and she releases a five year old volcano of fury? Oh well. Let them have a taste of that, don't shield them from the consequences.
- Things to do
The long haul flights are easier because they have inflight entertainment systems. The shorter flights with NOTHING are exquisite in their torture. Roll up crayons are great but if they fall when the plane ascends, they roll back down to row 32. Have them in a non-slip cup on the tray table, or in a ZipLock bag that you can secure under the arm rest.
Play Dough is great if your child is old enough not to eat it or throw it.
iPads. I didn’t have one, but if you do, who needs inflight entertainment?
Stickers and sticker books.
Magnetic toys. We have snakes and ladders, chess and various "paper doll-like" sets. Melissa & Doug have some excellent choices.
- Washable slippers
You know the state of the bathrooms the morning after an overnight flight? Arm your child with slippers you can packet up and throw in the nearest washing machine. Scary stuff on those floors.
A word to the childless
There is no passenger who can be made more uncomfortable than the mother already is.
Meet Melissa Volker
Melissa is a mother of two girls and the slave of a presumptuous Burmilla cat. A beauty therapist by day (mainly when the wind blows onshore) , she writes eco-romantic suspense stories to chase her dreams.