Practical, tested tips for safety and fun when travelling by plane with young children
Travelling with children can be a real nightmare. Probably every parent has at least one horrible story burnt into their memory. Some parents of young children avoid travelling with their offsprings altogether. With some planning and preparation, your trip can be pleasant and fun. For curious preschoolers, travelling will be a big adventure that widens their horizons, enrich them in many ways and provide topics for discussion for a long time ahead.
Here are some tips to help you survive the journey with small kids at the airport and in planes. Preparation is the key – it’ll save you from getting crazy when flying with children 🙂
1. Prepare your children for the adventure.
Set the mood by explaining to your children some details about your plane trip. Tell them where you are heading, how many nights they have to sleep before they see the huge airplane; explain what happens at the airport etc. You know your kids, use vocabulary they will understand. If they are big enough, give each kid a special task: one will be in charge of (you decide), the other child will take care of something else. This will make them feel like an important member of an expedition, not like your extra luggage.
To make it even more fun, craft some toy travel documents for each child. Help them fold the paper into a small booklet that will be their passport. They can draw their face, write their names and draw the places and things they notice along the way. They can keep their little passports in their carry-ons.
2. Dress your children in bright clothing.
When I travel by plane with my 2 preschoolers I always put them in identical bright yellow, orange or red T-shirts. They like it and they look like cute twins despite the 2-year difference. When they play around during waiting time, they are easy to be seen. Two small moving objects in yellow, orange or red are way quicker to spot in a crowd than one child in dark blue and the other one in grey-green stripes. If you (heaven forbid) loose them from your sight, your panic moment will probably be shorter because your brightly dressed kids will attract your eyes (as well as those of others) much faster.
3. Write your phone number on their forehand.
As soon as we park at the airport, I take a ball pen and write the following on each child’s forehand: “My name is X. Call mom: +1 2 345 67 890”. It’s a visible spot that others can see easily, too. If your child gets lost, the person who finds him/her and wants to help, can easily call you with their cell phone and thus shorten the horrific moments of separation. I used to write the contact information on a piece of paper and put it in my kids’ pockets, but then I realized that there is a little chance that somebody will search their pockets for information. For extra piece of mind, you can do both, keep the contact info in their clothing as well as on their arms. Just in case.
4. Teach your kids to call your first name when lost.
When kids get lost, they tend to call you with “Mom!” or “Dad!” It’s probably a way better idea for them to shout your first name to get your attention in a crowd. My first name is not so common and if I hear it, I always turn my head. If your first name is very common, then it might be easier to use your nickname.
5. Teach your kids to stay in one spot when lost.
When kids get lost, they tend to call you and run around trying to find you. You run around, they run around and you can both easily miss each other. Teach your kids this: when they lose you out of their sight, they should stay where they are, look around and call your first name. This way you don’t run away from each other, you will search the perimeter around the spot you saw them last and with them in yellow T-shits calling your first name, you will locate them faster.
6. Keep them busy with toys.
Before you travel, pack an entertainment bag for the kids. If they are big enough to pull their own cute little carry-on suitcase (which they can get as a birthday gift before travelling) or carry a backpack, better for you, you can put them in charge of their own luggage. They will feel like big travellers and be proud of themselves.
You might even let them pack their own carry-on (with you checking it and adding missing items later). Their carry-on luggage should contain the following: favourite toy or two, 1-2 books, colourful washable markers, colouring book and plain white paper, portable DVD player with a charger cable and some DVDs (I never rely on in-flight entertainment as not all airplanes have screens on each seat and a portable DVD player can be used during waiting anywhere there is nothing else to do for the kids.) , spare clothes, small travel blanket and snacks.
7. Keep them busy with snacks and food.
Snacks should be a mixture of healthy ones and a few sweets. I always pack the following healthy snacks: baby carrots, cucumber sticks, apple slices, grapes, blueberries and dried apple or raisins. These fruits and veggies are very healthy, delicious and they double as treats, they are food and give kids energy, they have high water content to keep them hydrated if they don’t drink enough, they are high in fiber which helps with regular bowel movements and they keep them occupied and quiet (what a relief!) as they munch. They are also easy to pack in Ziplock bags or small plastic containers and they don’t spoil so quickly.
Unhealthy snacks: always take some for the trip. But don’t give them out freely whenever kids ask for them. Make it a challenge. Tell them they will get something at various points along the way. They can get a snack just before boarding if they cooperate during check-in and getting to the gate area. Then next treat can be offered after the main meal on the plane and so on. Kids will take it as a game and have something to look forward to. If they know the rules and when exactly they get sweets, they stop bothering you with their treat-begging.
Prepare for them practical treats. What I mean is treats that don’t make too much mess and treats they can play with, too. Great are sweets with small shapes, fun packaging and various colours that siblings can trade, sort on their food trays or play with the packaging. Our favourites are Smarties, Italian bread sticks, lollipops (Nimm2 and Yum), popcorn, Kinder Duplo chocolate bars or Kinder Surprise eggs and Haribo gummy bears.
Real food: always take some food for kids to eat in case they don’t like what’s offered on the plane (which always happens). Individually packed sandwiches and wraps are ideal. They may come handy anytime during the journey, so take extra.
Drinks: Water, always and forever! Pure water is best because: it’s the best thirst quencher on this planet, has neutral taste, no calories, no sugar, it’s refreshing, won’t cause spikes in blood sugar like juices and sweetened junk-drinks, can be used for hand-washing and wound-cleaning (in case your kid falls and scrapes his/her knee, you can use drinking water for rinsing dirt, pebbles and blood from the wound before spraying with peroxide and applying band-aid).
Make kids finish their water bottles before passing through scanners (they allow having drinks for very small kids, for older than 5 rarely) , keep the empty bottle and once you board and the flight attendants start to offer drinks, ask them to fill your kids’ water bottles. This way the little ones have drinks at hand whenever they need a sip and you don’t have to call and wait for the service.
8. Keep your kids entertained and quiet.
This is a must. It’s a challenge to fly with young children. As a parent you want to survive the flight without stress, you want your kids to be happy and avoid judgmental looks from other travellers, so it’s necessary to be ready and have all kinds of tricks prepared. Before you board, let the kids move as much as possible. Exhaust them, if you can. Let them walk the corridors to the gate area and let them play and be noisy. Tired kids sleep deeper on a flight and enjoy an in-flight entertainment for longer periods.
I always prepare a little surprise for my kids for the flight. I assemble a survival kit for them: a medium pouch with zipper filled with new crayons, small notebook, play cards, stickers, lollipops, chewing gum, granola bars and a travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer. That keeps them happy for two hours or so. Other two hours they spend watching cartoons, 3-4 hour of sleeping and one hour for food and drinks. A 9-hour flight is suddenly over, you are fine, the kids are relatively fine and the people in nearby seats happy your kids didn’t bother them during the flight.
–> Related article: HOW TO TRAIN YOUR KIDS TO BECOME HIKERS
9. Ask for help
When flying with small kids, it is difficult to get a bathroom break or as frequently as your body requires. You cannot leave your kids alone and run to the washroom so the only way it is ask for help. Wait for the moment when the plane is quiet, when they are not serving food and drinks or walking around with duty-free merchandise. Call a flight attendant and ask them to watch your babies.
And this is a way how we test the quality of an airline company. When we need assistance (parents with kids, disabled, older folks), we depend on services and helpfulness of their staff. As an adult traveler, you don’t need much. You can sleep, watch a movie, read and the flight is over. As a parent with kids, disabled or older person, one needs quality service and a smiling and helpful staff. (Transat staff on Toronto-Vienna flights disappointed me more than once. Austrian Airlines on the same route get five stars from me.)
10. Arrange for someone to pick you up at the airport
The final bit of advice for surviving long-haul flights with kids is: get someone to pick you up because this last part of airport-flight journey is going to be the hardest. The lack of sleep, constant attention-paying to your kids, adrenaline, lack of bathroom breaks and stretching, jet lag, all these are super tiring. In order to avoid collapsing or increased irritability, arrange for someone to pick you up as you arrive at the destination airport. This last bit of help is the best of all, believe me.
Do you have any other helpful and practical tip for surviving long-haul air travel with kids? What hack has worked for you? Which airline do you have the best experience with as a parent traveling with young children? Please let me know in the comments below.
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–> Related article: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FLYING WITH ULTRA-LOW-COST AIRLINES
–> Related article: 18 TIPS FOR VISITING CASTLES AND MUSEUMS WITH CHILDREN
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