About to embark on a holiday flight with small ‘uns? Here’s my top tips…
A couple of months ago I wrote a post about travelling with kids in the car. I am notoriously RUBBISH at preparing for car journeys. I take the “just take everything and then nothing can possibly go wrong” approach which invariably results in us not being able to move for the duration of the trip. Flying is a slightly different story… I fly most weeks with work and as a result I’ve had no choice but to get pretty good at chucking my stuff in a carry-on bag and learning how to optimise check in (I can bore you for hours with my various airport / airline strategies, just let me know…).
Flying with kids, however, is a bit of a different ball game. There is no quick or easy way. As far as I can work out it’s impossible to travel with less than a couple of 10 ton bags with you. There are no cheeky glasses of fizz before boarding, and no G&T on board (the one time i did that, just as the can went “pssst” the baby simultaneously posed and projectile vomited – i think they call it karma). You spend the flight tense as anything, waiting for the meltdown that you’re sure will come, apologising for nothing to everyone in a very British way. That said, it hasn’t put me off. We’ve not managed a long haul yet but we’ve done a few European trips and I’ve even done a handful of day trips to London (not recommended unless you have wine on drip on your return). Here’s my top tips of how to have as smooth a flight as possible…
1. Booking your flight
If (like us) you were the sort of people pre-kids who basically looked for where you could go to most cheaply (hello Gdansk, northern Poland) and winded up on flights at 1030pm, arriving just in time to hit the town, then I’m afraid things are about to change. Whilst I’m not a stickler for routine, kids do tend to go a bit mental if their rough day / night pattern is messed up too much. An early start or a late landing is absolutely part of the true holiday experience, but an extreme one is going to lead to tears and tantrums and probably have an impact that lasts into your holiday. And we don’t want that!
Likeiwse, we have always been the sort that would automatically tick ‘NO’ to alllll the budget airlines’ add ons (to be fair, I would always campaign for a check in bag but my husband ALWAYS won dammit). With kids, paying a few quid to get seats altogether is probably a wise investment, unless one of you has a LOT of parenting credit in the bank. And if anyone is able to manage even a weekend away with kids without having to check a bag in, do let me know how you manage it as i don’t seem to be able to get the bus to town without taking about 15kg with me. These days we opt for a 20kg and a 15kg, put all the clothes in the 20kg and the paraphanalia (latin for “kid crap”) in the 15kg one.
2. Getting packed
It’s hilarious that I would even attempt to offer advice on this given i am up there with the world’s worst packers, but I’m going to try… Did you know that there are these things in foreign places called washing machines, which means, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to take 3 outfits for each day. And OK, you don’t want to spend your holiday ‘washin’ like Dot Cotton’ but it does mean you can free up a bit of space. There are also shops which sell food, and milk (SHOCKER), though you might want to take a few bits to get you through the first couple of days.
Take a few favourite toys and if your child is old enough let them pick because then you can blame them when they’re bored 2 hours in (ha!). Whatever you think, and however much your precious child loves it, you do NOT need to take the jumperoo.
3. You can take more than you think!
Make sure you check your airline’s policy, but most will let you take 2 bulky items per child / baby in addition to your carry on allowance. This could be a travel cot, carseat or buggy. We almost always hire cars and it genuinely saves you a fortune if you can take your own car seat and obviously you then can also be 100% certain it’s a safe one. Plus it allows you to make the most of the greatest tip of all time (see point 4, you’re welcome). If you’ve paid for a seat for a child then they also get baggage allowance, and if you’ve got a baby on you, some kindly airlines let you take a baby bag AND your hand baggage. OK, so you can’t get down the aisle of the plane due to the amount of things (including a baby) hanging from you, but hey – you could squeeze in 1 extra pair of pom pom sandals…
You can also take milk / sterilised water / food pouches etc through security without having to stick to the 100ml rule, and there’s no real limits though officially it’s meant to be just enough for the fight – this is pretty handy: https://www.gov.uk/hand-luggage-restrictions/baby-food-and-baby-milk
4. The greatest tip of all time,
This is a life-changer and can probably be credited with saving me and my husband a few holiday-cancelling-level arguments at the airport when I’m 50% over weight limit AGAIN. Please don’t snitch to airlines because if they stop this then I’m basically never going abroad again. If you are checking in a car seat, buy a car seat bag for a tenner on Amazon and strap a few things into the seat. I know, genius! They NEVER check (she says, cursing herself…). We always use this as a spot for towels and jackets which are pretty easy to strap in. The maxicosi car seat also has a little cubby hole in the back which is just perfect to store a few food pouches – almost like that’s what it was made for, maybe. And therefore you’ve got more space and weight in your check in luggage for pom pom sandals. You’re welcome.
5. At the airport
We used to be those people that always nearly missed the flight, but never actually did. Winging it (scuse the hilarious pun) was our middle name.
DO NOT I REPEAT DO NOT DO THIS WITH KIDS. YOU WILL HATE, AND BE HATED BY, EVERYONE BEFORE YOU GET ON BOARD.
You WILL have to queue for check in, because the automatic machines can’t tag buggies etc. And you WILL get stopped at security, because chances are you’ll have milk / water with you. Get there at least 2 hours before you take off so that it’s just not stressful. Trust me. Some airports have mini soft play areas now, and the site of the aeroplanes will be sufficient entertainment if you do happen to whizz through.
Most airports now have a family lane at security, the best have family check in (and you can often skip the queue if you’ve got little people with you). Some airlines (not the budget ones) let you board first with small kids, though to be honest I think it’s a trade off with being in a confined space for even longer so unless you have loads of hand baggage to stow then wait till the end.
6. All aboard
My ‘how to entertain a child on board a flight’ can be largely summed up by one word: stickers. Buy a massive book and you will NOT regret it. I also go to Poundland and buy a few toys that will probably last as long as the flight – last time it was an etch-a-sketch and a Thomas colouring book + crayons – £2 well spent.
And even though I’m sure we all had the best intentions pre-parenthood at not becoming those GHASTLY people who let their children play with phones / tablets, we all know that they’re a 1 way ticket to parental sanity. THERE IS NO 4G IN THE SKY – so download a few things from iplayer / Netflix / Prime before you go. It might just save your life.
Finally, snacks. Loads of them. The trolley on board is loaded with shiny purple packets that your kids will eye up so unless you want to encounter an insane sugar crash while in an extremely confined space, take an alternative.
7. Best travel items
Along with a healthy supply of pom pom sandals, here’s a few bits that you’d finf put in my holiday bag.
- Babyzen YoYo buggy – a total investment but SO worth it. Probably my best purchase ever (even the husband agrees which means it must be good). It folds up small enough to be taken on board a flight, and can be carried over your shoulder – and it’s a good buggy too.
- Lindam Flexiguard travel stair gate – because other countries love a concrete staircase just outside the kids’ bedroom…
- Gro Anywhere black-out blind – it might just get you a few extra minutes sleep…
- Koo-di Seat Me Safe travel seat – a magical thing that means your baby can sit in any chair
- Travel cot – which hopefully you won’t have to take with you, but which double up as a brilliant playpen next to the pool…