Tips for air travel with kids

We recently got back from a long trip Melbourne Singapore India – Melbourne. This was the first long air travel for our daughter after the one she did at 9 months (she’s 3+ years now). So naturally I was a nervous wreck, googling for tips and tricks to be used during the travel. She is a good road traveller, as long as we have music and stop every 2-3 hours. But since air travel is completely different, I had to up my game (or create a new one).

Air travel with kids made easy with these tips.

Things to pack in your child’s carry on

  • Water bottle

Aircraft is an enclosed space without enough air. It is dehydrating and we get thirsty. Keep a water bottle from which your kid can sip whenever he/she likes. Especially useful for night travel when everyone is asleep and you have to ring for the stewardess for water. You can request them to fill it up once it is empty or before the child/ren sleep/s. For easy access it can be kept it in the space used to store books and catalogues in front of the child’s seat.

Tip: You child needs water for the commute to the airport and during your time at the airport. Empty the water bottle before security check and fill it up after. Empty it again for security at the transit.

  • Jacket+Blanket

Airplanes can be unpredictable; sometimes warm and sometimes cold. And when its cold, its very cold.  It is best to pack a jacket that the child can wear and you can sleep peacefully knowing that the child will be warm even though they don’t have a blanket up to their chin.

Tip: Carry a throw instead of a blanket for smaller children.

  • Kid’s travel pillow/neck support

This was helpful when she was sleeping in her own seat. We were worried we (I) would have to carry her through the night because it wasn’t a bed. She did sleep horizontally on the both of our laps but she wasn’t comfortable. And she slept really well in her own seat, with a pillow around her neck. The one in the picture is what she uses. And it is available at Kmart.

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  • Snacks, lots of them and hand wipes

If your child is anything like mine, then they like to eat. A lot. So carry a variety of small(in size) non-perishable snacks. Things that the child can eat by themselves without making too much of a mess. You can buy from your usual store instead to buying the overpriced ones at the airport. Also think of snacks that can double up as food if needed (in case of delays). Call up the airlines and confirm how much food you can carry in your carry on. Make sure you don’t get them on a sugar high before sleep time though J

Eg: Dry fruits (for energy), wafers, biscuits, pretzels, mini cakes or cupcakes, candies/lollies, lollipops (to suck on for blocked ears during take-off and landing)

Tip: Hand wipes are different from the regular baby wipes. It is gross to use the ones from the same pack that is used to clean dirt/poo/puke, to wipe her/my hands. So I use Heinz sticky fingers for the purpose.

  • Things to play with

This is a no-brainer. Bring some things that the child enjoys playing with. Nothing huge though. I bought some less expensive new toys that she would be excited to spend some time with. I wanted to pack the magnetic board that she loves writing on at home, but it was simply too big. So buy a travel size magnetic board if you like. Also get colouring books. You can also make a DIY version by buying plain sheets in bulk , stapling them together, putting cellotape so that staple pins don’t hurt the child and make big drawings on the sheets with sharpies/markers. Let them choose some things but have a few as a surprise.

Eg: Miniature animals, small toy cars, wind up things, erasable boards/book and wipe-able markers, colouring book and washable crayons

Tip: Carry washable crayons that can be wiped with baby wipes if it gets on the tray or seat.

  • iPad/tablet and kid friendly headphones

Most people swear by this. We don’t have a tablet or iPad so I just loaded my mobile phone with songs that she likes and new ones that I thought she would be thrilled to watch (she doesn’t get much screen time at home). But we didn’t really get to use it much. The headphones that we bough for her, didn’t work (I forgot to check at home). And I was wary of letting her use our earphones. Thankfully she was content watching soundless cartoon video on the screen in front of her (I didn’t want her to use the earphones they provided and she wasn’t comfortable plugging them in her ears).

Tip: Check the headphones right after you buy them.

  • Extra pair or two of clothes +bibs + cloth napkins

I always carry two pairs because I’m paranoid that way. I like to be prepared for the worst case scenario. But it is pretty obvious why you might need clothes. Younger the child, more the clothes you need. Including the vest and socks (according to the weather).

I also like to be as sustainable as I can, by bringing two bibs and two cloth napkins for mealtimes. So I can avoid throwing away the disposable ones. Just bring a plastic carry bag that you can throw them in after use and wash them at your destination.

  • Enough diapers + extra and baby wipes

My child is out of the diapers during day but she wears them for bed. And I didn’t want to take a chance during our first air travel as a family, so I promptly put her in diapers when we left home. Saves a lot of headache, if you ask me. I suggest the same for older kids as well, especially if you have even a speck of doubt that they’ll wet their pants. Get them in a diaper before boarding and tell them they still have to pee in the toilet. It’s just for emergencies.

Pee before boarding, pee before take-off, pee before the meal and pee before the landing. Be sure to use the toilet beforehand to see its usability. Trust me, you want to do this. I took the child in without checking and the toilet was so gross I was worried she’ll catch a bug right on the plane. I used a ton of sanitizer afterwards and still couldn’t put my mind to ease.

Tip: Pack more diapers than you think you might need.  Face the delays like a boss.

  • Hand sanitizer

Keep it handy but don’t take it to the toilet (you still have to touch the door). Use it immediately after you are back in your seat – both you and the child. No matter how much you try and educate the child, they are just themselves and when you are in an extremely confined space that isn’t stable (aka plane bathroom), it is inevitable that they touch something in there.

  • Travel size baby lotion (optional)

For times when you or the child smells of poop/puke. Or when you are nauseous from the stale air inside the aircraft.

  • Medicines

Kids can get pain in their ears due to the pressure change inside the aircraft. Keep travel size kids paracetemol handy. I also keep a saline nose spray for her in case her nose gets blocked. But really just think of what your child might need medicine for: air sickness, diarrhoea or just band-aids for small wounds. If they are already on prescribed medicines, carry the prescription with you.

Tip: Incase you forgot to bring the paracetamol and you need some, ask the cabin crew. I was suggested to do so by my doctor.

  • Garbage bags

Bring small garbage bags that you can put garbage like soiled clothes etc in to carry back with you. I use nappy disposal bags for the purpose. They are scented and will keep the smell away.

On the plane, use the wrappers that the blankets are packed in as garbage bags. I carefully remove the wrapper so it can be used, tuck it in the pouch in the seat in front of me and use it to collect any trash that I don’t want to carry back with me.

Important things to do when you are flying with children

  • Prepare them for the travel

Start prepping the kid a week or so before the travel. Especially important for first timers. If they know what to expect they won’t be taken by surprise. Involve them in packing. Talk to them about security checks and the behaviour expected from them. Show them videos of planes, take-offs and landings and explain how it would be. Tell them about the new places you are going to see and how much fun you all will have.

  • Confirming meals on board

We travelled through Singapore Airlines. A few days before our travel, I logged in to their website using our ticket details and double checked our booking. I noticed that the meal information was missing. So I called them up to confirm the meals. I was informed that kid’s meals are available on board. But since I wasn’t sure about the contents or the quantity, I booked the same meal as ours for our daughter as well. So choose according to your preference. If your ticket doesn’t include meals, it is best to feed the child something before boarding, even if it is a short flight. This prevents their need to incessantly snack on the plane.

Tip: If it is a late flight and you are going to be served dinner, get your child fed before boarding. They might be tired and want to sleep right after they are buckled in. Ours did on one flight and missed her meal.

  • Use a stroller

If your child can be seated in a stroller, bring it for the airport. The fold-able umbrella kinds that are allowed by the airlines. Even if you don’t use it elsewhere in your destination. Airports can be big, little feet get tired of walking and the result might be a tantrum to be carried. If they want to walk, let them but when you need to move fast (late check-in?), just put them in and run. I’m assuming you have help with the trolley filled with check-in luggage.

Tip: Confirm with the airlines before you bring one (it should not be included in your allowed cabin baggage weight) and that it can be checked-in at the gate.

  • Tire them out

If you arrived early (which I suggest you do), let them run around and play at the kid’s play area after you have been checked-in. If they are tired before boarding, they are more likely to doze off without much trouble.

Tip: Be prepared for the tired, half-sleep tantrum, if they are over tired and not able sleep as well as you thought they would.

  • Ask for priority boarding

Most airlines provide this facility for families with children. Ask for it during your check-in or after you arrive at your gate. Stay near the gate so you don’t miss it when they call for boarding. It helps avoiding the crowd and getting your child settled before everyone else boards.

  • Get the child settled first

Once you board, get your little one comfortable by taking off their shoes and spreading blanket on their lap. The bag with all the child’s necessities goes under the seat in front of the child, for easy access. Store the water bottle in pouch of the seat in front of the child. Give them lollipop if you are worried about their ears popping during take-off.

  • Let it go

Travel is exciting as it is overwhelming. More so when you have little people for company who are just having too much fun to be worried about appropriateness. Airport or the airplane is not the place to re-inforce good behaviour. Though the basic decency is expected out of everybody, kids are just kids and you can’t do much when you are all in a confined enclosed metallic container. But to keep them relatively happy, you will have to break some of your own rules. Let them watch more TV or tablet than they would at home. Let them eat more candies than they are usually allowed. Rules don’t apply during travel. You just want them contained, entertained and happy. Try by all means to limit everything, but when it gets to the verge of a meltdown, you know you have to let go.

  • Ignore your co-passengers

I might sound like an anti-social parent, but hear me out. Sure you need to make friends, sure you need to be on good terms with people sitting next to you, be courteous and all that. But when things go downhill and you are already feeling guilty for being the cause of the mayhem (it’s your kid after all), you don’t need to worry about the stern glances from people all around you to make it worse.

It did happen to us during our late flight. After 30 minutes of sleep, she woke up screaming her lungs out. We didn’t know what to do. She isn’t young enough to be carried and pacified. I was desperately trying to find out what the problem was while hoping that she would go back to sleep. Many people around us woke up because of the noise and I couldn’t do anything until she fully woke up and didn’t want to sleep any more. I refused to look at anyone around me, not wanting either the pity or the reprimand.

Know that you are doing your best under the circumstance you are in and try not to care about how much the next person is judging your parenting abilities.

Extra tips:

If your child is asleep at meal times, check with the crew if they can bring the meal later. We didn’t and the croissant was gone by the time she woke up. If you are not sure they will bring it back, store some things like crackers/cheese/buns/croissants/yogurt tub with you for when they wake up.

Keep asking the child if he/she want to pee. All the time. Kids simply get excited or overwhelmed and might forget that they need to use the toilet.

Keep them hydrated. They can get cranky when they are tired and you don’t want to get dehydration to add to the chaos. Carrying a bottle is not hydrating. Remind them to drink up.

Here are some more air travel tips from Mara, who I regularly read.

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