My children have been lucky enough to have started flying since they were very young. Thus, even though I’m not an expert on the subject, I have a number of tips to share with you that will help you survive that first flight — and other succeeding flights — with your little one.
• Ear pressure. This has got to be the most important thing that you have to address because even adults without prior flying experience might have difficulty dealing with the change in air pressure. For infants, give them something to drink. The act of swallowing will prevent pain in the ears from the change in cabin pressure. For small children, the easiest would be to give them sweets, something that is less likely to be turned down as compared to drinks. For bigger children, you can ask them to yawn their widest yawns repeatedly.
Despite airline limitations on bringing liquids on board the aircraft, generally, parents of small children can bring along small drinking bottles pre-filled with water or drinks in reasonable quantities.
If your child has a cold, a blocked nose might cause problems. I remember how I once flew from Manila to Kuala Lumpur with a blocked nose and ended up suffering the worst ear ache ever, coupled with a nosebleed. Hence, prior to your flight, consult with your doctor on possible decongestant options — nasal sprays, nose drops and the like.
• Food. Children get cranky when they are hungry. Thus, before leaving your house, pack an arsenal of goodies in your handbag — small packets of nuts, crackers, raisins, as well as the occasional packets of sweets. Before I had children, I swore not to give my children any sweets. After 5 children, I can tell you straight in the eye that sweets are a necessary evil that can save your sanity when all else fails.
If you have a baby, it’s always a good idea to bring along some baby food, be it home-cooked –the healthier option, but may spoil quickly — or those that are pre-packed in those tiny jars. Oh and make sure you bring a feeding spoon, too!
Again, certain airlines — especially budget airlines that sell food onboard, such as AirAsia — generally don’t allow outside food to be brought into the aircraft. But they do allow baby bottles (pre-filled with water for baby’s milk), as well as reasonable quantities of mini snacks that are obviously meant for children. Just please be considerate enough not to bring food with strong smells.
• Activities. Given how short children’s attention span can be, prepare some activities for them days before the flight. Pre-pack small toys in ziplock bags. Choose the type that will occupy them for longer periods, such as Lego or jigsaw puzzles. Prepare several packs so that, once they get bored of one toy, you can put it away and give them something else to play with. The number of packs will depend on the length of the flight, how long you think they can get engrossed with certain toy selections, and your child’s age. You might want to bring the more inexpensive toys in order to minimise the heartache and headache just in case some of it gets lost or left behind.
I normally print out colouring pages, word puzzles, soduko puzzles, mazes and even Maths exercises — stuff you can find for free on the internet, such as NickJr’s site — and assemble personalized activity books for each child, ‘binding’ them by stapling them along the left side. Prepare individual packs of pencils, erasers, sharpeners and coloured pencils alongside. Again, it’s best to have one pack for each child to avoid fights during the flight.
Certain airlines provide small activity packs for children but I find that they’re not adequate for long flights.
Inflight entertainment with personal screens — a norm with airlines such as KLM, Air Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines — is always a boon!
• Stuffy-wuffs and blankies. Certain children insist on bringing along their favourite stuffed toy, pillow and other objects of great affection everywhere they go. Hence, be prepared to bring along that old smelly thing with you to the flight to avoid tantrums. Keep a close eye on it to avoid misplacing it or leaving it behind. From my experience, I believe it would be easier to convince an Eskimo to buy ice rather than convince a whining toddler to leave his stinky little blankie at home.
• Spills & Messes. Spills and messes are unavoidable when children are involved. Hence, be prepared with spare clothes, extra diapers, wet wipes, tissues, a plastic bag for dirty clothes and another one for trash.
• Strollers & Slings. Since you only have two hands, you need all the help you can get — from your spouse, from your older children (the magic words are: “You’re in charge. Please hold your little brother/sister while we board the plane.”), and from strollers and/or slings.
I prefer slings for babies because they will fold up easily into your bag when you don’t need them, they will give you the privacy you need to breastfeed your child in private anytime, anywhere, and they leave your hands free to take care of the bigger children. (I used Hotslings for the twins. And wished to God to have known about babywearing way back when MyEldest was a baby!).
I have also used strollers with my children. I find them quite handy because they can accommodate a wide range of ages, i.e. you can use them for your 8-month old baby, your 3-year old toddler or even for an exhausted 6-year old in case of an emergency (i.e. the child being soooo sleepy, he’s no longer able to continue walking without throwing a major tantrum).
• Passports. Keep a list of your children’s passports’ particulars — passport number, date of issuance, and date of expiry — for easy reference when filling up immigration forms. (Fill them up while the children are busy with their activity books.) It’s also good to put stickers with your children’s respective names at the back of each passport, for easy identification.
• Time Allowance. With children, all sorts of things can cause delays — temper tantrums, frequent toilet stops, and so on and so forth. So you need to give some time allowance for all the just-in-cases. Pack early. Load your bags into the car the night before your flight. Leave early for the airport. Check in early so that you can get good seats. Or better yet, check in online as early as possible.
• Mental Preparation. Days before the flight, start talking about the flight. Discuss with your children on what to expect (immigration procedures, waiting at the predeparture lounge, how long the flight will take, not everyone will get to sit beside Mama, meals served on board, airplane lavatories), what’s expected of them (the basics being putting on seatbelts and keeping the windows open during takeoff and landing) and how you expect them to behave (no fighting, keeping their voices low). Do this briefing several times, especially with smaller children.
These tips, tricks and techniques have always worked with my kids, not just for air travel but for long road trips, as well (except for the part about ear pressure).
What about you? If you have other tips to share — especially about long-haul flights! — I’d love to hear from you.