Flying with children need not be a nightmare

This is a guest post by Jade Scully. If you would like to guest post on the AirTreks Travel Blog, click here.

Traveling with children is never easy. Even the best behaved child can’t be trusted to be angel all the time and just because you and your child have traveled well before doesn’t mean you can count on it happening again. It’s debatable which is more difficult: flying with children, driving with them, or loading everyone on a bus or train.

At least if you’re in a car you can stop and take a time out, and you don’t have to worry about disturbing other passengers. On a plane, bus or train you’re pretty much stuck until you reach your destination. Planes have the additional disadvantage of being far more restricted space-wise than any of the other options, so you’re limited to the number of distractions you can bring with you.

The very first tip is to prepare your children for what they can expect. Whether your child is a fearless warrior or of a more cautious nature, boarding a plane for the first time is likely to result in sensory overload.

If children know what to expect, they can properly absorb the experience and, if not enjoy it, at least not be overwhelmed by it.

Your explanation should also include how they will be expected to behave, as well as the consequences for misbehavior. They’ll need to appreciate that there will be other people on the plane and that they can’t run around and scream and shout and play as usual.

That doesn’t mean that you have to dose them up on Valium or rescue remedy and have them sleep through the flight. Flying for the first time is exciting and you should be able to indulge your children a little in this regard.

If you can, get them a window seat so that they can see the world go by.

Ask the flight attendant if it would be possible to show your kids around – some airlines are more amenable to such requests than others, but it doesn’t hurt to find out. Many airlines also have special children’s activity packs. These can include anything from coloring-in books and crayons to books and games. You can find out what your airline’s policy is regarding these packs when you make your reservation, but it’s a good idea not to rely on a complimentary pack to keep your kids entertained. Here’s our guide to what to pack (and what NOT to) for family travel.

Pencils and paper are usually enough to keep children entertained for hours.

Coloring-in and activity books are also a godsend for the traveling parent. If your children like to read then your trip almost takes care of itself. Otherwise quiet toys are perfectly acceptable, such as cars, Lego, a favorite doll or action figure, and a pack of cards. These days many children can’t go anywhere without an electronic or digital toy. Most airlines allow these but it’s best to make sure beforehand. Just set it to silent so no one else is bothered by all the beeps and boops.

Children are notoriously picky eaters and airline food is not good at the best of times.

Some airlines have a special kids’ meal but even if they do, you’ll still want to pack some healthy (and maybe a few special treats) to keep your children happy and fed. Make sure you have enough to see you through unexpected delays or extended stopovers. This is especially true if you’re traveling with an infant and aren’t breastfeeding.

On Mom’s Minivan, Laurel Smith has written a very lengthy and detailed blog on what to do when you have to take your kids on an airplane trip. She believes you should let your children carry their own bags. Help them pack the things they want to take with them on the plane (within reason). This gives them a sense of responsibility and makes them feel a part of the whole process.

You’ll have to explain security procedures to them though, so that they know that their bags will have to go through a scanner and that security guards may have to look through them. Kids are very possessive of what’s theirs and don’t like it when other people touch or rifle through their things. They have to understand that kicking up a fuss at the security checkpoint will not be tolerated.

Other important tips include:

  • Arrange for contiguous seats so the whole family can sit together.
  • Ask for bulkhead seats, which provide a little more playing room and automatically prevent your kids from kicking the seats in front of them (because there are no seats in front of them).
  • Bring gum or chewy snacks for your children to eat during takeoff and landing, this helps with air pressure changes. If you have an infant or small baby a dummy (pacifier) or bottle will do.
  • Pack spare clothes – not just for your kids but for you too. Where small children go accidents follow.

Finally, try to relax as much as possible – trust that you will make the most of this family travel experience.

Truly nightmare flights are few and far between. Most of the time your fellow passengers will more than likely feel sympathy for you rather than annoyance. At worst you can console yourself with the fact that you’re unlikely to encounter any of them again and once you land, things can only get better.

Jade Scully is a copywriter, blogger and online marketing enthusiast who has published her work on a series of online publications and websites including Africadventure, Entertain SA, Technifrique, The Greenery, Youdidit, Firstpage as well as Leeulekker who provide a range of travel and touring resources for Southern Africa travelers.

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