Air travel can be stressful at the best of times. Delays, queues, approximately five inches of leg room, delays, people with little sense of personal space, £5 for a microwaved panini, more delays – sometimes it can all feel like it’s been designed solely to test us. But above all this, the thing that people fear most on a plane is the screaming child. As a childless traveller, you might scan the queue at the gate, looking for the out-of-control brood that you’re more than likely to end up sat beside for 22 hours to Australia.
But once you’re a parent, your mindset changes considerably. Rather than thinking, “Why won’t that mother control her screaming children?” or glaring at a parent when their children launch in to Let It Go for the fifth time in half an hour, you instead recognise the challenges involved in travelling with children. It’s essentially trying to keep a child constantly entertained while trapped in a small metal tube thousands of feet in the air. Any parent will tell you; once the child decides enough is enough, not even the fiercest glare from a fellow passenger will make the slightest bit of difference.
It may be impossible to avoid dramas and tantrums but we’ve put together some tips to make the whole experience less stressful for your child, your fellow passengers and, most importantly, you!
Going on holidays with a baby is all about accepting that things won’t go to plan. Your child isn’t aware that this is a bad time or place to vomit or soil themselves so make sure you get an aisle seat to ensure the quickest possible route to the bathroom. If this means paying in advance for a seat in a more advantageous position, then it’s money well spent. Also, don’t forget an emergency change of clothes for baby and for you.
Airlines differ with how they accommodate parents travelling with a baby so make sure to check your airline’s policy before travelling. Do you need to buy a separate seat or can they travel on your lap? Do they provide facilities for heating milk or food for your baby? Remember that restrictions on liquids don’t apply to milk for your baby. Also, some airlines offer nappies and wipes but it’s probably better to bring your own.
Most airlines have a minimum age (generally up to two weeks but check before you travel), but outside of these restrictions, it’s never too soon to travel with your child. In that first year, they take a lot less entertaining than when they become toddlers, so if you and your partner yearn to spend time in museums and galleries across Europe, now’s the time to do it.
For toddlers and up, it’s no bad idea to pack a pair of headphones in your carry-on. The noise of a plane can be a little distressing for younger ones and their favourite cartoon on a tablet or iPad is a good distraction throughout the flight. It’s also courteous to your fellow travellers not to subject them to Peppa Pig played at full volume.
Babies and small children don’t travel light so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. The people around you may be caught up in their own worlds while travelling but more often than not will be glad to give you a hand if you ask nicely. And if you’re changing flights or have a long distance to travel to or from the gate, ask the cabin crew if it’s possible to get a courtesy cart.
This is one of the few occasions in life where you have no other pressing concerns so if your child won’t sleep, take advantage of the situation to play some games and make them the sole focus of your attention.
Pack a bag of exciting treats, whether it’s their favourite healthy foods or some games to play, and stagger them over the course of the journey so there’s always something new and distracting to come.