Before You Fly
If you get the experience right, they will love it!
Start to talk with your children a few weeks before you depart to start to capture their imagination. Play games with them about going to the airport, talking them through the process and what will happen. Look online about what the departure terminal looks like and what they might eat. What shops might be there, what magazine might they like?
Kids, like adults, are entitled to take on board 1 item of hand luggage. Whilst some love the idea of the Trunki, the idea fills some parents with images of their children trapped under the feet of passengers. By getting each child their own flight bag, which doubles as a swim bag, young children can take ownership of their things, which they like, and can carry their own belongings. You will find a full list of what to pack in the bags in our check list.
Arriving at the Airport
Most airports have many options for parking but do take into consideration how much you are carrying and what time your flight is. There is no point looking for park and ride options where your car is 5 miles from the airport and then getting on a bus at 3am in the morning. A 'Meet and Greet' option (whereby you drive up to the front of the terminal and someone takes your car) won't break the bank if you book in advance. www.holidayextras.co.uk will give you the best options. Once you are on the mailing list you will also get great discounts.
This also helps with getting yourself organised, especially if you are taking a car seat/booster with you as it can be loaded straight on to an airport trolley so you’re not lugging it around with you.
We recommend dumping the traditional 'change bag', and opting for something that can be put on your back freeing up your hands.
It’s still ok to talk to an actual person at the airport. If you are checking in additional infant equipment you will need to head to the check-in desk anyway, so don't give yourself additional work to do!
Most airlines, when travelling with an infant, allow you to take free of charge items that can be checked in. These items often have to be loaded by you at the outsize luggage belt, but the airline operators will point you in the right direction. Check with your airline first as to what you can take and ensure it’s the correct weight.
The Security Gate
Some airports have a family lane.
Much like yourself, dress the kids in appropriate comfortable clothes and add an extra jumper to their bags in case the air-conditioning is too much. Try to get them into 'airplane clothes', so no belts, metal zippers or buckles. Even a watch can be put in to the bag when you pack it and when you're comfortable in the departure lounge you can put it on.
Travel with empty water bottles for the kids, so when you get through to the other side you will be able to fill them up and not spend a fortune on drinks on the other side.
A parent or you should go through the scanner first; this will show them that there is nothing to worry about and they will follow you more easily.
You will have to unload electronic items from their bags into a separate tray. This may include iPads or LeapPads. When you load your bag and the kids' bags back up take your time; don't feel the stress of the people around you and be proud of the new world.
The Departure Lounge
It's like the city of the future! Bright lights, giant oversized chocolate bars, huge packets of Haribo, restaurants, bars, shops and people just about everywhere! It’s magical to them, something that they have never seen before, so take your time to explore.
You can start to relax now, but take time to show them the departure board and talk them through it.
Work out your longest possible walk time to the gate and work backwards, to create your plan of action.
If your flight boards at 11:00am
Walk to the gate at 10.35am (15 min walk plus 10 min for little legs)
Toilet stop 10.20am
Leave where ever you are seated 10.10am
Get familiar with the toilets/family facilities are so you’re not hunting around for them before you board your flight. It's worth having a look online before you travel to the airport at the terminal map for both ends of your journey and just making some visual references, for example the toilets are next to the pharmacy.
Most airlines now charge for a meal on-board the flight. So once you are through this is a good time to grab something to eat and pop a snack for the flight in their travel bags. There is lots of choice of what to eat, and many like us have the mantra of ‘holiday starts now’. Whilst most of the restaurants are franchised chains, often the same offers like 'kids eat free' don’t apply as they have a captive audience.
Some of the larger airports have a Kids Zone, with soft play, TVs and seating areas for parents, if you want them to run off some energy before the flight.
The last toilet stop is the critical one when travelling with young children and often the most challenging.
The first challenge is putting a small child on a public toilet, without them putting their hands all over the toilet seat. The Potette® Portable 2-In-1 Potty is a great travel companion. It can convert to a seat that can be placed over the toilet but also folds down to fit in your bag.
The second challenge is controlling the bladder of a small child whilst you sit on the runway waiting to take off. Using a ‘pull up pant’ is an easy solution, just point out that this is an emergency pant just in case. Pack a couple in your hand luggage as you never know what the travel time to your location will be. Let them take it off and put it on, so you’re not making it out to be a nappy and they put it in the bin to indicate that it’s gone and they are back in their big girl/boy pants.
Boarding the Flight
You will be called forward early to board on most flights. If you have booked a budget airline you may have to pay for this. Either way if you are travelling with a buggy you will have this taken from you at this point.
When it comes to buggies, it's simpler and less stress to opt for an umbrella folding buggy and also one that lies flat. We travelled for many years with the iSafe Visual 3. It also has almost 360 degrees sun protection. Don’t think for one minute your £1000 Bugaboo travel system will survive the flight! We also brought a travel strap to go round it to give it extra protection.
When you see your buggy off you may not see it again until the baggage at your destination, so it's key to remember to pack only the minimum you need for the flight. Put the kids’ bags under the seats in front so they can be as independent as possible. You will be up and down like yo-yo if you put them over head.
Make friends with the Cabin Crew as you don’t know when you will need them, especially if you you are flying solo. Whilst they don’t give them out on airlines most do carry a blanket and a pillow in case your little one falls asleep.
Don’t forget about you, the early boarding gives you time to get yourself organised, get out that book or magazine, treats, water or your electronic device. The excitement for them might just give you a couple of hours ‘you’ time if their eyes do shut.
It’s worth popping on that extra jumper out of their bag at this point; in peak season the plane may take a while to load and get a slot for take-off so you don't want them getting cold whilst you wait.
From the moment the aircraft speeds up their faces are full of excitement and anticipation. It’s really important you embrace this with them as they will be looking to you for reassurance. Electronic devices are allowed at take-off as long as they are in flight mode so use them as a distraction. If you are not the most confident of flyers have a plan in place during take-off: grab a sticker book, magazine or something you can do together so any anxiety doesn't rub off.
Once the seat belt sign is switched off get the children down to the toilet before the drinks trolley comes round. At the end of the day you won’t want to miss it and it stops any wiggling past it with kids.
During the Flight
There is plenty to do on a flight with children without having to pack the entire toy box to keep them entertained.
Don’t feel that you are stuck to your seat for the whole flight; show them the parts of the plane, point out the signs and what they mean. And if you're lucky your friendly Cabin Crew might give them a tour.
Something new in their flight bags can work a treat. Think a magazine from the shop or a new toy. Games are a great way to pass the time too. Sticker books, Uno and Dobble are great ways to have some family time without carrying too much with you. And don’t forget the power of the electronic device, there are plenty out there. Load a new movie to an iPad, or educational games on a kid’s device like a LeapPad can give you the respite you need on the journey. DON’T FEEL BAD ABOUT IT. They have the whole holiday to sit and chat with you, play and enjoy that quality family holiday.
Ask the Cabin Crew to give you warning before the seatbelt signs have been switched on so you can have a last toilet run with the kids.
Get the lollipops ready. Sucking on something helps kids regulate their ears. The pressure that builds up can be hard to explain to a child even confusing and painful, so the best thing is you give them a treat, or reward for being good during the flight.
When you have landed, give the kids a high five and celebrate together your first flight as a family. Wait for everyone else to get off and and give yourself space and time to get your bag and theirs repacked. There really is no need to rush.
You may not get your buggy back until baggage so you need to be as mobile as possible.
Unfortunately, you will not be able to use the electronic passport line at passport control. You will need to line up but as a family you can approach the counter together. You will have to lift the kids up so they can see their faces, so try and be as hands free as possible.
If you’re travelling with a buggy this may come off at the outsize luggage, as well as any other items such as car seats. This is airport specific, and it’s worth checking the arrival airport online before you travel. Depending on the age of your child or children, or how long they have had to walk for across arrivals, you may want to get the buggy first, strap the kids in and head to the hold luggage carousel.
Get outside, breathe in the warm air, and enjoy your holiday.