Flying with children is never plain sailing. Little people lack social awareness, are over-excited and rich in impatience. Simply put, they are not suited to a small, confined space, surrounded by (judgemental) strangers.
Happy honeymooners, we smugly settled in for a child-free 11 hours. The Bridezilla in me lingered: I was exhausted and, selfishly, could only focus on the fact that our journey would include a further leg in a 12-seater plane, a bumpy minibus ride, and a half-hour boat trip before we would reach our week of paradise. Clearly, I deserved this spacious stroke of luck …
A family boarded the plane, each parent carrying one of their twin boys. They had two seats between the four of them; the bulkheads had already been taken.
As the plane took off, the overtired and uncomfortable twins (who were fast approaching the age where they would have to have their own seat) struggled to settle down. Despite their parents’ best attempts, they proved to be a disruption for most of the flight.
When one calmed down, the other would start fidgeting and disturb the other. If one wanted a drink, snack or walk up the aisle, then the other did too; whoever was with Mummy suddenly wanted Daddy, and vice versa.
As the tears and overtired tantrums began, the parents struggled to contain themselves, the twins and the emotional fallout within the small two-seat area of the crowded night-flight.
“ It can’t be that hard”, I found myself thinking, as my new husband and I reclined our seats and selected another film to block out the disturbance. Ignoring and enduring the situation – and avoiding any embarrassment – seemed the easiest thing to do.
How little I understood back then that a quick seat swap, and some consideration and kindness from us, would have made all the difference to everyone and cost us little.
Family flying is a process that needs to be carefully managed by parents, and treated with some polite and patient consideration by fellow passengers. With time clocks and routines out of sync, just getting to the departure gate can be an epic journey.
Children are unpredictable; there will be irrational behaviour. Forethought, planning and controlling what you can are the ticket to reducing the stress for yourself and for fellow passengers.
The Rules Of Etiquette
1. Families: board last
Ignore the airline’s advice and avoid the competitive queuing to board the plane first. Showing your boarding pass before everyone else often results in bored children before take-off, anyway. Allow children more time at the departure gate, where at least they are free to move about, then board after the main crush.
Similarly, keep hold of the buggy until reaching the plane door, so there is somewhere to secure children in the case of unexpected delays.
2. Bring entertainment
The most bearable on-board families are the ones who come prepared. They are armed with treats and snacks, exciting activities, fully-charged iPads and a medley of new (and noiseless) little toys.
They have packed for every outcome and ordered, where possible, the children’s meals. They realise that it will be a tiring few hours and that they will need to work in shifts in order to each have some rest.
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3. Be quiet! No, really. You too, Mum
Disruptive passengers are the bane of any flight: dramatically nervous fliers, serial service-button pushers and frequent loo-visitors. The same goes for families.
There should be no sense of entitlement to extreme noise levels, moving about in an unnecessarily disruptive manner or excessive attention-seeking just because you are travelling with children.
Remember, nobody loves your children like you do, no matter how sweet they are.
4. Chair seatbacks are a danger zone
It is essential that, beyond keeping them entertained, parents also keep a constant eye on their children. I once sat in front of what seemed like a perfectly well-behaved child, except for the fact he pulled my hair when his parents weren’t watching.
Seat-kickers are an obvious no-no, but so, too, are those who use the seat in front as a support when standing up (though it's not just children who are guilty of this).
Child-safe headphones should always be used at a volume that is not audible to the rest of the cabin.
5. Stewardess is not a synonym for babysitter
The cabin crew are there to help you, but they have a job to do. They are not there to sort out tricky situations with your child, or provide childcare.
6. Your role as a child-free traveller
Fellow passengers should be patient with those who are doing their best. Parents who are trying to rein in their tired children, and who are working their way through every trick in the book, should be cut some slack.
Don’t say: “Haven’t they heard of Calpol?” FYI, it doesn’t work like that.
Do say: “You’ve done well,” to parents and children who have made an effort. It’s not easy.
Never will a parent feel more calmed by a kind smile or a knowing nod than at 30,000 feet. Good neighbours are understanding, patient and non-judgemental.
In extreme circumstances, offer a seat change. I wish I had; it would have made all the difference to everyone’s 11 hours over the Pacific.
7. And for everyone ...
Try to pre-empt crisis point but, if it all goes wrong, stay calm. Confined spaces can cause panic in even the most laid-back people. Remember: it is just a few (gruelling) hours and it is unlikely that you will see your fellow passengers again.
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This article was written by Jo Bryant from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.