Travelling with children can be a hassle for those around you, but ultimately their pain is only a fraction of yours. Whether it's stress, lack of sleep, or just plain embarassment, bringing a kid along for the ride can make any flight worse. It doesn't have to be that way, however. Just a bit of preparation and planning can make flying with children as easy as 1, 2, 3... 45678.
Time of flight
Different children sleep at different times. Partly, this has to do with age, but every kid is different. If you haven’t, take some time in the days leading up to booking your flight to notice when your child hits the lowest points in the day. Some flights will be too long to catch entirely in these periods of down-time, and sometimes you’ll need to travel with multiple children on different schedules. However, even in these cases, some planning and minimize any hassles associated with bored, fidgeting children. Try to set your most likely nap time at about an hour into the flight, so you’re not dealing with a grumpy, sleepy child while trying to board. Let the excitement die down, the whine of the engines kick in, and the slow droop of the eyelids should begin soon enough.
Be prepared – snacks, games, toys, etc
Carry-on space is at a premium these days, but there are few ways your could use this space more effectively than with snacks, toys, or anything else that could keep your flight quiet and relaxed. Bring more snacks than you need, and try to get new toys for the flight. A new game, or better yet a travel game you can play with your child, can occupy a curious mind for hours. Puzzles are good, if your child is old enough, but competitive games almost always take up more time. When it comes to keeping a kid entertained through a flight, a game of travel Monopoly can be all that stands between you and a cabin full of dirty looks.
Keep them hydrated
This builds off of the general imperative to be prepared, but it’s especially important to keep children from drying out. It’s often overlooked that the dry, recycled air in a pressurized airplane cabin can actually dehydrate people – especially small people. If your child seems to be getting progressively grumpier as the flight goes on, it might be more than simple cabin fever. The general discomfort associated with mild dehydration could make almost anybody start to wail. So always make sure that your child has a juice box within reach, and ask passing employees for water whenever necessary. It’s a small thing, but it can make all the difference.
Tech tech tech
Planes these days are packed with technology. Most seats have a screen built right into the back, along with personalized audio stations for everything from classical to stand-up comedy. Even if you normally limit your child’s screen time, or perhaps especially, you might want to consider loosening your regulations for the duration of your flight. You can keep an eye on what they’re watching, and the selection is usually quite limited, regardless. And if the airplane’s built in tech isn’t enough, feel free to bring your own; most electronics bans are only in effect during take-off and landing, so there’s no issue with having them turned on.
Carry-on diaper kit
When disaster strikes, you do not want to be rooting around through overhead. Always keep an emergency kit, just one or two extra diapers along with any pins, cloths, or powders you might need. You might also want to go in with your child wearing easy diaper-changing clothes, even one-piece pyjamas if you think it’s necessary. Though this tip might only save you a few minutes overall, those slight time savings will feel like a lifetime in a hot, crowded airplane. Make sure you know where your closest baby changing station is, since not every airplane has one in every washroom.
Make friends with your neighbours
When travelling with kids, your neighbour flyers can be your best friends or your worst enemies. A poor neighbour, someone bad with kids and or resentful of every tiny noise, can agitate a young one and make the problem far worse. On the other hand, a friendly neighbour, someone willing to have a chat with your child, someone who doesn’t begrudge every peep, can help immensely. Some will be willing to play games with kids around them, even help you keep them under control. If you’re travelling alone, it’s almost a requirement to introduce yourself to nearby passengers, since you can’t leave your child totally unsupervised if you have to go to the bathroom yourself. Getting off on the right foot with those around you can turn 8 hours of torture into a fun, friend-filled hangout session.
Kids require a lot of stuff, often in the form of bars, powders – and liquids. Make sure you know your airline’s regulations, what they will allow on, and how to package it so you meet the least possible resistance on your way through security. If you’re not going to be at your destination for long, consider taking smaller bottles of your various substances, so you can be sure you won’t exceed any of your airline’s volume limits. Also keep advised of any restrictions on electronics in the cabin, both during takeoff and landing and when at altitude. Airlines often have finicky rules that aren’t really all that hard to work around, assuming you know about them in advance. It’s much more difficult to adjust to the rules when you’re already standing at security, and the contents of your bags are strewn across three different conveyor belts.
Meet and assist
Many airlines, and even some airports, offer Meet and Assist programs, or something similar. These involve having customer representatives meet you when you arrive at the airport and – wait for it – assist you. Some impose restrictions on what they’ll do, for instance many refuse to carry your bags for you, but within these guidelines their job is to get you onto your flight with as little hassle as possible. Often these programs are billed for children flying alone, so you can rest assured your older child will be safe from gate to gate, but many offer allowances for parents flying with smaller children, as well.