For the best advice on flying with tots, teens, tweens and in-betweens, we've asked the experts – parents! Here's how we reckon you can ace an overseas or interstate flight with the whole family in tow.
1. Bring a compact stroller on board
A small, compact stroller you take on board is a great investment. It saves time at the luggage carousel, and means you can hit the ground running when you land.
2. To car seat, or not to car seat?
Parental opinion is divided on whether bringing your tot's car seat with you onboard is a good idea. Pros include: having your wee one fly in their car seat makes things more comfortable for all of you especially on long hauls; and it being a safer way for your child to travel. Cons include: paying for the extra ticket; your car seat model might not be approved for air travel; it being a lot to lug with your child and carry-on all the way to and from your gate; and car seats checked in with luggage often get damaged.
The deciding factor will depend on how much you'll be needing the car seat for taxis or rental cars once you land.
3. Consider your baggage
Be aware that checked and carry-on baggage allowances vary depending on the airline. Some prohibited inflight devices might be prohibited, such as inflatable cubes, "BedBoxes", and leg hammocks.
4. Pre-flight pep talk
Your child may have lots of questions. Talking to them about what to expect when going on a plane will help them feel settled when the time comes. Explain some of the limitations such as needing to sit for a long time like they're in a big car with lots of other people, and having to wait for the toilet. But don't forget to explain the exciting stuff like in-flight entertainment and meals, and soaring through the sky to new places.
5. Dress them in PJs
Put kids in their PJs for night flights to reinforce that it's sleep time.
6. BYO headphones
The generic airline-supplied headphones are too big for little heads, so bring your own child-size, child-safe, volume-limiting headphones (plus an airline headphone socket adapter) to avoid mid-air meltdowns.
7. Priority boarding can go two ways
Most airlines offer early boarding for travellers with children. This can allow you extra time and space to settle the kids into their seats. It also lengthens the amount of time in cabin confinement. The choice is yours.
8. BYO snacks
Prepare some favourite snacks before you board the plane just in case your child doesn't like the inflight food. Have snaplock bags filled with different kinds of snacks (i.e. nuts, crackers, dried fruit and popcorn) that don't make a mess but take time to eat.
9. Keep the sleep routine
Make sure their sleeping routine doesn't change with PJs and books on hand.
10. Responding to "I'm scared"
As with adults, some kids are nervous fliers while others find it an unparalled thrill. Also as with adults, reasoning and reassurances about the statistical safety of flying offers less comfort than a hand to hold, a timely cuddle, or cheerful distraction with jokes, songs and stories. Your nonchalance and courage can be infectious.
11. Have a nappy kit handy
Don’t get caught tearing your carry-on luggage apart in search of the nappy-change necessities — nappies; wipes; and disposable baggies. Have the whole kit ready in a zip-top bag you can remove easily.
12. Pack a thin, foldable changing pad or liner.
This is a key item for air travel, because not every airline offers changing tables for bubs in their lavatories — you might have to get creative with where to change your baby. Avoid surprises by asking a flight attendant about the arrangements when you board or early in the flight.
13. Pack lollipops to pop ears
Have chewing gum or lollipops on hand for take-off and landing to help children with the ear pressure on board.
14. Use bottles or dummies for babies
Give babies a dummy, breast milk or bottle upon take-off and landing to help with ear pressure. The sucking motion helps pop their ears.
15. Pre-book kids' meals
Most airlines offer onboard children’s meals and baby food, but you'll need to book ahead. Ensure your consultant has requested and confirmed any children’s or special meals with the airline before you board the plane.
16. Feed 'em first
Make it a pre boarding routine to ensure kids are well fed before your flight as meal service can take forever.
17. Book the newest aircraft
New aircraft, such as the Dreamliner and A380, are much quieter than older aircraft such as Boeing 747s, making it easier for children to sleep.
18. Fly direct
Always fly as direct as you can. We've all done the mad dash from terminal to terminal to make a connecting flight. Adding bored, tired and/or irritable kids, all their blankies and carry-on is not ideal. Avoid the stress — fly direct if you can, otherwise think of including a stopover to your trip. Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Etihad Airways all have great stopover deals that are perfect for a refresher and a new experience.
19. Fly with a family-friendly airline
Air Canada has great seatback entertainment for children. The flight attendants will fill up drink bottles with water, juice or milk, including before descent to help with pressure to children's ears.
20. The best family-friendly airlines (and staff!)
Fiji Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Air New Zealand and Qantas are the best with kids. Hawaiian Airlines and Fiji Airways staff are always so lovely with the kids and listen to their endless questions. Qantas and Air New Zealand offer activity packs that give them something to do. Air New Zealand has the yummiest in-flight meal options for kids.
21. Sky-high nanny
Etihad Airways offers families a helping hand with Flying Nannies on all long-haul services. While they won’t take your offspring off your hands completely, these sky-high nannies are equipped with games and activities to keep kids occupied while seated.
22. Fly with a full-service airline
Etihad Airways international flights to Europe not only have flight entertainment for young kids, they also feed them and have a nanny service. You’d be surprised how great it is for both you and the children to have that extra person to interact with.
23. Choose your airline wisely
Emirates is great for flying with kids. The seats are spacious, and they offer amazing children’s meals and age-specific activity packs.
24. Generous luggage allowance
Emirates offers parents who are travelling with babies an additional infant luggage allowance of up to 10kg for checked baggage and one 5kg carry-on handbag for baby food and necessities.
25. Love the layover!
Don’t be afraid to take a break with an overnight stay. Keeping your child's routine means they won’t run out of stamina for your "adventure days", and will sleep well and adjust more easily to the time difference. Taking time to stop along the way won’t make those long-haul flights seem so long.
26. Pre-allocated seats
Where possible, book with an airline that has pre-seating requests so you can choose where to sit as a group.
27. Fronts seats give a smoother ride
28. Get them their own seat
If your children are under 23 months and big bundles of energy, don’t try and fly with them sitting on your lap on flights over five hours. Pay extra to get their own seat.
29. Book your seats strategically
For a family of four, try to block out the window seat and the aisle seat, leaving the middle seat empty, or both aisle seats if it's a row of four and do the same for the row behind. The middle seats on a plane are generally the last seats to be filled and you can usually luck out with some space for the kids to sprawl out. If people are seated there, they are generally willing to move away into one of your aisle seats in the row behind.
30. Let someone else tell them to stay seated
When you get on a flight, kids are often so excited they can't sit still. Trying to get them to keep a seatbelt on is a futile effort. Suggest that they "Go explore, check out the plane" while everyone is boarding. Eventually a cabin crew member will tell them to sit down and put their seatbelt on. Kids always do whatever someone else tells them!
31. Make friends with other parents
There'll invariably be other parents travelling with kids on your flight. Strike up conversations with them in the departure lounge or while boarding. Whatever hardships you endure on your flight may be eased simply by knowing you have onboard allies, or someone you can exchange knowing glances with.
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32. Where to sit
With multiple kids try booking seats at the back of the plane in the last two rows, with the kids in front so they can move their chairs up and down without interrupting other people.
33. Bassinet 101
Be aware - with bassinets you have to pick up the baby every time the seatbelt sign goes on. There will also be other children in these rows.
34. Check seat allocation with the airline
For two parents travelling with little ones, call the airline and ask if it's possible to block the seat between you if the flight isn't too busy so you have three seats with room to spread out and make more mess.
35. Window or aisle?
If your baby or child is still sleeping a lot, the window seat is great to lean on. If your child is quite active, an aisle seat may be easier to get in and out, especially for bathroom breaks.
36. Pre-load your personal device
Be prepared. Bring your own device, and load it up with new movies or TV shows and games to keep them occupied. Don't rely on the airline’s flight entertainment.
37. Hack their toys!
Wrap a whole bunch of little toys up with lots of sticky tape. It takes them ages to unwrap and they sit still.
38. Pack sticker activity books
When flying with toddlers, pack sticker books. This activity keeps toddlers busy for ages.
39. Create a travel journal
Put together a fun journal and have stickers, postcards and maps for your children to plot their journey. Kids love adventure but feel settled knowing what is going to happen. The journal helps prevent meltdowns from being overwhelmed in new surroundings and overstimulated by all the excitement and keeps them busy at the same time.
40. Make busy bags
For younger toddlers, "busy bags" will save the day. Busy bags contain a reusable, age-appropriate activity that your child can use on their own. They're easy to pull out of your bag and throw back in when done. A laminated road map and toy car, and an empty pepper shaker with pipe cleaners to poke through the holes is ideal.
41. New toys for the plane
A few months before departure, start buying toys or activities that your child enjoys and will keep them entertained. Wrap them up and pack in a bag to give out one at a time throughout the flight or when they start getting bored.
42. Change of scene
Use your wee ones' trips down the aisles to the toilet as an excuse for you both to stretch and detour. Exploring other parts of the plane can serve no better purpose than to distract, interact and provide a temporary change of scene to break the monotony.
43. Cheap and cheerful toys
Save your water bottles from the flight - they make great toys for toddlers! Filling the bottles with rice and pasta from the supermarket make sensory toys and saves you luggage space by not having to pack too many toys.
44. Time your flights just right
It’s all about timing – pick the best arrival time for international flights. It’s better to arrive in London at 3pm so the kids only have a few hours until bed rather than a 6am arrival where you have to keep them going for hours and hours.
45. Know the pram policy
Travel with airlines that allow you to take prams to the gate. Low-cost carriers generally don't allow you to take the pram to the gate and you'll need to check-in prams on arrival.
46. Track your flight status
Check that your flight is on time before leaving home. Sitting around airports just waiting is no fun (and expensive).
47. Check-in early
Arrive at the airport a couple of hours before you fly out and enjoy the luxury of extra time. A bit of boredom far outweighs the stress of rushing with a bewildered family in tow.
48. Airport activities
At the airport, handmade fabric travel mats with small cars are a great way to keep kids entertained while transiting and waiting for boarding, and are easy to roll up and pack away.
49. Family-friendly airports
If you do have an extended layover in Singapore, Changi Airport is well equipped with kid-friendly facilities including a slide, butterfly garden and cinemas. Other family-friendly airports for transit travellers include Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, San Francisco Airport and Hong Kong International Airport.
50. Lounging around
If you have access to an airline lounge, make sure you take advantage of the facilities. Older kids love being able to help themselves to drinks and snacks, and it’s a great way for the family to relax in a contained area before your flight.
51. Pack a change of clothes for two
Remember to pack a change of clothes for yourself as well as the baby – a long-haul flight with baby mess all down yourself is the stuff of nightmares.
52. Pack an onboard kit
Pack snacks, spare clothes (including lots of spare underwear for toddlers), wipes, hand sanitiser, pain relief for children (and you!), toothbrushes and pyjamas.
53. Pack a surprise
If things start to seriously fall apart before or during the flight, wouldn't it be great if you could simply pull something completely new out of your carry-on as the perfect antidote to whatever bored, tetchy or melted-down state your offspring has got themselves in? It could be a cool toy, activity book or device game. The choice is yours, you know them best.
54. More onboard essentials
When packing your carry-on, don’t forget eardrops, books, iPads with chargers and a comfy travel pillow.
55. Pack for comfort
Pack a little blanket or cardigan and their favourite toy for comfort.
56. Pack light, pack smart
Travelling successfully with a baby or toddler means having what you need without being overwhelmed by bulging bags. Be practical with your carry-on. Extra clothes are key, bring a few infant outfits (they’re tiny, after all!) or an extra toddler outfit. Try taking the bulk out of clothing: pack each set of clean clothes in a zip-top bag and suck all the air out. If there is a big spill or an accident, you can use the bag to keep the messy clothes contained.
57. Get older kids to pack and carry their own stuff
With a bit of gentle encouragement most school-aged kids are quite happy to pack and carry their own stuff, especially when they're provided with their own mini-sized roll-around luggage. You can then admire the judicious packing decisions made as they weigh up the modest space allocated for their effects, and the fact that they'll be carrying it around everywhere themselves.
When to fly
58. Take flight at night
Overnight long-haul flights are ideal so kids will sleep while on board.
59. Daytime is best!
Fly through the day! There is nothing worse than going through the check-in process with tired children at 9pm, with the hope they will sleep through the red-eye flight and wake up happy on arrival. It doesn't happen! Older kids wake up with sore backs and achy necks with attitude to boot, and zero patience for the immigration process at the other end.
60. Pack your "inner" suitcase
Take some time before you leave to boost your inner stores of flexibility, patience and calm. Make your trip a judgment-free zone, and go with the flow. If your baby is fussy, look around at all the passengers you think you might be disturbing and remember that many are mums, dads, and grandparents. The businessman in a shiny suit might be missing his toddler at home. The elderly couple might be reminiscing about their days of baby travel. A huge part of the crowd knows exactly how you feel and they’re rooting for you. So, take a deep breath and assume the best about your fellow travellers…and about yourself.