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Happy Family Travel: How to avoid a mid-air meltdown

A sense of unease accompanies any plane journey with children. Here’s how to avoid such a crisis


Posted: 12 August 2011
by Junior

Someone once said that happiness is the journey, not the destination. OK, so perhaps that wise sage wasn’t necessarily making his journey with a screaming baby whose ears are popping from altitude changes or a restless toddler who doesn’t want to be strapped into his seat, but a little philosophical pragmatism can go a long way when flying with young children. Think yourself into a positive can-do frame of mind, get organised as much as possible – forewarned is forearmed and all that – and your holiday really can get off to a flying start.

Of course, it would all be a whole lot easier if all airlines followed the initiative of Gulf Air, which introduced their award-winning free Sky Nanny service in 2005. Led by a dedicated team of Norland-trained nannies, this childcare service (available on all wide-bodied aircraft flying long-haul routes) now provides a range of on-the-ground services to complement the much heralded on-board service where your nanny will arrange convenient dining times for your child, set up the bassinet (baby bed) if you’re travelling with a baby and find lots of interesting things to keep your child occupied throughout the journey. Unfortunately, flying without your own personal nanny does mean that you’re reliant on the cooperation and goodwill of three important factors: your steward, your fellow passengers, and your child. On a good journey, you’ll get compliance from all three. On a bad day, well, isn’t that what earplugs are for?

Take that pragmatic approach, however, and there are measures you can try to give yourself the best chance of a pleasurable flight. Find out what facilities are available, such as priority boarding or children’s food, and ask whether you can take your buggy up to the plane and if it has to be stored in the cargo. You’ll need to reserve a bassinet (and bulkhead seats) if you have a baby when you make your initial booking, but make sure you confirm before boarding. You’ll also need to reserve children’s meals when you book to avoid the wrath of a toddler who spies a fellow tiny traveller tucking into mini Pringles and jelly while he’s subjected to a dreary salad and chicken fricassée.

If you’re travelling on a low-cost airline, it will certainly be very much a no-frills approach, and probably ditto on a packed schedule flight during the peak season (ie, school holidays). On any flight, it’s a good idea to pack your own snacks, drinks (buy them once you’ve been through security – if you have a baby bottle, you’ll be asked to take a sip) and a selection of your child’s favourite toys and games as diversions and to alleviate boredom. Airlines may have a supply of nappies, formula milk and baby food on board, but it’s best not to chance it and pack your bags as you normally would for any long day out.

On long-haul flights, most airlines provide on-board goodie bags with a mix of comics, games, sunglasses and toys, which usually go down well, as well as family movies and children’s channels on the in-flight entertainment. Consider buying a seat for a child under two rather than have her on your lap for the duration. If you can afford to upgrade to business, it can be well worth it: you’ll get more space and quicker attention from the air stewards – all of which equates to everyone feeling more calm and relaxed.

And if the worst happens? Remember that the majority of airline staff are keen to keep everyone happy and will hopefully step in to assist you if your child is having an almighty paddy. And if that doesn’t help, try
a little calming visualisation and remind yourself of the glorious time you’re going to have when you get to your final destination.

See our Tips & advice section for more holiday suggestions.


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airlines, children, flights, toddlers, babies, family, Gulf Air, childcare, family travel, travelling with children
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