Taking a flight with kids can make one question whether to take a vacation far away at all. Here are some tips on managing kids across the ages; Sara took her first flight at 6 weeks to Varanasi and longest one of around 12 hours en route LatAm.
1. For kids under one, the biggest worry is the take off and landing. The standard advice is to ensure the child is swallowing at both times. So delay feeding time to match take off/landing. This has the additional advantage of putting the younger children to sleep and giving you some peace in flight. The alternates that work, depending on age, are the baby soother (0-3m, 6m if you’re OK with the habit), candy or water. Do stuff the ears with cotton for under 1 yo. If the years are already blocked, swallowing will help a bit. For older kids, get them to blow air out with nose and mouth (puffed up) closed. It blows the air out of the ears and helps release pressure. The technique is used often when dealing with pressure in scuba diving.
2. Choice of seats – for the under 6m olds, opt for the baby bassinet seats. One needs to tell the airline staff while checking in and then while boarding. In case there is a shortage, they give seats to the younger ones going by passport age. The downside to this is they disallow use during take off and landing which means you might need to wake up baby. For older kids, the best case scenario is to have 2 vacant seats next you you on which the child can lie down, so choose the 2 aisle seats (plus 1 middle for over 2 yo) at the back. Chances are the middle seats will be empty (make a request that they be given out last, at the check in counter). For shorter flights, window seats provide better entertainment; or pick aisle seats if you are likely to move out often. Oh! and don’t pick the last row, the armrest doesn’t go up and the vacant seats are a total waste, as we discovered once.
3. Board in the end. While they all invite families with kids to board first, children tend to get restless quickly and its difficult to settle them down for takeoff after 20 mins of ‘sit down quietly’, ‘don’t walk around now, people are boarding’ and ‘no, let the plane take off then i will give it to you’. In any case you will need to keep the bags under the seat in front of you, since they need to be pulled out every 10 mins for something or the other.
4. in-flight entertainment is most important, as much for you as for the co-passengers’ sanity :). Do keep an assortment of ‘doing things’ – sticker books, crayons (though monitoring is required to preserve the plane), story books, hot-wheels, puzzles, card games, magic slate work for us. Allow the crawlers and toddlers to roam around and explore the plane after take off. Sara is frequently sent off to count how many children/people with mustache/sleepers are there. Do plan some calm activity that the child enjoys for meal time, you need her to sit while the cart moves around.
5. The hand-baggage holds diapers for 2 days(as per age), an extra set of clothes for the kiddo and self including a warm layer, a stole/shawl which can double up as a sheet and some biscuits and fruits in case the airline food is rejected. Wipes, lots of them, and some tissues. We usually carry an in-flight bag for S, which she puts together and has her socks, eye patch and some of the smaller toys she would like to play with.
6. Do request for the stroller to given to you at the gate and NOT with the baggage. Also, if there is likely to be rain in either city – departure or arrival, ask for the stroller to be wrapped in plastic. We landed in Paris with a stroller dripping water and completely non-usable for the day that we were there 🙁
7. For long haul/international flights, night flights work best for both, baby management and jet lag, since all of us sleep through. Return to India, though, always is worse in terms of jet lag and it takes about a week to recover especially for 12 hr differences. If you figure out a way to deal with that, do share – an awesome treat in return :). also, M will roll his eyes, but the homeopathic medicine Arnica 30 is good for a tired kid refusing to sleep. But of course, consult you doctor before giving any medicines. (yes yes, you can now tell i have worked too long for GSK)
8. Things NOT TO CARRY
* noisy toys – rattles, musical stuff, drums (don’t carry those even if they don’t make a noise!). They will turn out to be a bigger nuisance for you
* a separate drag able barbie/ben-ten suitcase the child will insist be carried as handbag since she will ‘manage’ it. Such cases are great for overnight stays or when checked in. As handbags, they are nightmares as the child will hardly drag it and you will have to carry it all along.
* tubes – of creams, edibles, tooth-paste. Bottles work better. Tubes leak more.
* bottles that leak even a teeny tiny bit. The pressure makes the leaks worse and everything in the bag is rendered useless.
9. Check for a play area at the airport if you have time to pass. The physical activity before allows for more peacetime in flight.
10. Talk junior through the whole process before-hand. They understand more than they let on. So telling them in advance about the flight, what will be allowed, what won’t, can sometime help more than you imagined.
11. For bottle feeding, pre load the appropriate scoops of formula in the bottles to avoid having to take out the box etc etc while the baby cries loudly for milk. Also, since water in the thermos also cools off during long flights; carry 1 thermos of boiling hot water and 1 of normal water. Mix the two in the beginning, and used the warm water later (it will get to warm soon from the flight AC).
12. Carry no spill sippy cups for yourself and the kids, so you can all enjoy hot and cold beverages in peace.