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, however, those without Pixie Dust, the challenge is real.
I have learned from my mistakes on long haul flights with young children, (with and without the husband) 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 is not allowed. We repeat that a few times. Proactive is better than reactive, especially when frazzled on the plane. I have three major don’ts.
Don’t kick the person in front of you, don’t slam the tray table up and down and don’t grab their headrest. Those behaviors are unacceptable.
Detroit 2008 (6 hour flight with one connection)
My children don’t eat airline/airport food. No matter whether I’ve ordered children’s, vegetarian, lacto-ovo or kosher meals. They don’t eat it. (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 galleys carry milk. If no milk/dishes/spoons are available, Cheerios can be eaten as a 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 on the plane 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.
3. Pillows, blankets and a favorite teddy.
I take a small pillow and blanket for them as sometimes the layover in an airport is worse than the flight. I have used pillows, blankets and a cozy corner to help them to sleep in Miami International, Heathrow and Washington Dulles.
Miami International Airport 2013 (waiting for a connection)
4. Changes of clothes.
Sometimes the little bladders don’t make it. Keep the fuss to a minimum by being prepared. Bring a few changes. Also wet wipes. Bring plenty.
5. 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 will have three pieces of hand luggage to carry. A stroller is a must.
Delayed by a volcanic ash cloud, Perth, Australia 2011
Otherwise a roller bag for older children so they can manage their own hand luggage.
With smaller children it also creates a ground zero. When we traveled to the US with a one year old and 3 year old, I bought an arm leash and attached it to the stroller. The 3 year old would slip her hand through the other end in busy international airport concourses and we could traverse safely and stay together.
6. 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. If your child has a cold, a spray like Iliadin is necessary to keep their nose 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.
8. Hold Airline/Airport staff accountable for their errors
I have been booked on a two hour flight and seated away from my children. I don’t try to fix that. I stand at the front of the plane and let the staff fix it/move other passengers. Passengers are sometimes resistant, but hold your ground, you didn’t book the seats like that. How relaxing to have your children seated twenty rows away with someone else while you have a G&T? But really. You know it’s not going to happen. Someone will want the G&T more and let you have their seat. 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.
9. 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 they can go AWOL when the plane ascends and then roll back down to row 32. Have them in a non-slip cup on the tray table, or in a ZipLock bag that you squish and 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 when my girls were smaller, but now, 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.
Perth to Adelaide 2011
10. 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. DO NOT let them go in there barefoot.
Jet lag after flying Austin-Dallas-London- Cape Town (with a tornado delay and a long connection in London) 2013
A word to the childless
There is no passenger who can be made more uncomfortable than the mother already is.