How to cope with small babies on long haul flights this summer
Advise from the parenting expert on the consequences of friends being separated in a mixed class and on how to cope with children on a long flight.
Question: We have a three-year-old and a seven-month-old. They are great children and we don't have any problems with them. I have a brother in America who has just offered to fly us all oput there in the summer to visit him. We'd love to go but I dread the thought of having them cooped up on the plane. While they are great kids, it is still a drama trying to get us all out to the shops, never mind get us to America. Some people are suggesting antihistamine medicines as it might make them drowsy, but even they won't keep asleep for the whole trip.
David Coleman's Answer: How lucky for you to have a generous brother! It is great that you have this opportunity to travel but you are right to anticipate that travelling with small children can be stressful.
I think you need to accept that you will have to work during the flights. You need to be prepared to actively engage with your children. You may find that if you are mentally and psychologically ready (or resigned!) to play, sing, doodle and read to your children that in fact you will end up doing less than you expect. Make sure you book with enough time to be able to select seats altogether. Also, if there isn't automatic priority boarding for families with your airline, then book this ahead as the quicker boarding and less time queuing is a godsend with children.
Hopefully both of your children are equally happy to be minded by each of you. That way you can pass the baby over and back rather than one person being stuck under the baby and the other feeling exhausted trying to occupy and entertain a pre-schooler.
Bring a regular-sized cabin bag as hand luggage for your pre-schooler, even if she or he can't manage to carry or wheel it alone. That way you can fit in more toys, books and games to amuse them in the air. Remember to pack a favoured soft toy, comforter or blankie if something like that is relied upon for sleep.
If your children do sleep on the flight, then use this as an opportunity to get some rest for yourself. Write your name and your seat number on a piece of paper and pin it to your pre-schooler in case they wake up and wander around the plane while you are still snoozing.
Do ensure you pack enough nappies into your hand luggage to last not just the flight but the first night too.
We once arrived in France on a Sunday but our extra nappies, in the main luggage, got lost and didn't arrive for two days. Trying to find an open shop, in France, on a Sunday to buy nappies was more traumatic than the flight!
Bring more baby wipes than you think you might need. They are great for children and adults alike. Bring at least one full change of clothes for each child in your hand luggage. Remember too to pack some Ziploc or other sealable plastic bags to contain any wet or soiled clothes.
Read more: Do you dare to holiday without the children?
If you are not breastfeeding, then make sure you have enough formula and other food for the baby. Never assume that your pre-schooler will like, or eat, the food on the plane so bring things like cheese or carrot sticks, crackers, dried fruit, fresh fruit and yoghurts.
Pack an empty 'sippy-cup' so that you can put water or juice in it during the flight without having to worry about spills. Sucking and chewing actions can also help small children with the effect of the cabin-pressure on their ears.
The air on long flights can get very dry and you might find that the little fresh water misting sprays (make sure they are small enough size to get past airport security) are very refreshing on the face and the back of the hands. Something like that can really reduce that flushed, over-heated state that pre-schoolers especially can get into.
You also need to be prepared to amuse and entertain them while waiting for luggage and also while queuing for a hire car or your onward transfers. These are often the bits that really catch us out because we have invested all our energy in getting through the flight.
After all of that, just enjoy your holiday before doing it all in reverse!