Keep meltdowns to a minimum - how to survive the airport when travelling with young children
With airline strikes threatening to add to the chaos of family travel, Sheena McGinley advises on how to keep sane while travelling
It's peak summer holiday season and you're likely prepping the family for the annual airport assault course. Throwing together children, in-laws and grandparents can be a recipe for disaster - especially given Ryanair's 24-hour strike.
The airline has been notifying customers of any flight changes via email and text, and are reportedly intent on "pulling out all the stops" to ensure passengers experience minimal disruption during the industrial action proposed by the Irish Air Line Pilots Association. During last year's strike in Germany, the airline tackled the issue by redistributing staff to cover scheduled flights. As a result, there were no cancellations, but some routes were impacted by lengthy delays.
In this event, we have a few suggestions for keeping your brood occupied, but first…
Prepare for departure
This is where the checklists commence. If you're not frantically making lists a few weeks before departure, you're flying too close to the sun. So what should be on your list?
• Passports: Have you checked that all passports are in date? Have you, though? Check them again; if you've stumbled across any news bulletins of late, you'll be aware of the passport office delays. For the quickest turnaround, apply online.
• Parking: How are you getting to the airport? If you're driving, remember to book long-term parking in advance. Also, if you're flying from Dublin Airport, might I suggest the Red Car Park? The difference between five minutes away and 15 minutes away is a chasm when you're short on time. And when you arrive in your chosen car park, don't forget to note the zone you're parked in - no one wants to delay the homecoming trying to track down a silver Ford Focus in a field of silver Ford Focuses...
• Predicting: We've all heard about the recent flight delays. Is there anything you could buy in advance to make any potential hold-ups bearable? What would be cheaper to buy at your destination? Is there anything you can't live without? PACK TEABAGS. And the child's sleep toy.
• Purchasing: Once you've completed your list, don't get sidetracked by 'special buys'. Set a budget and stick to it. Travelling with toddlers? Consider purchasing a lightweight buggy that opens and closes single-handedly. And forget fiddling about with buggy parasols - it's fine if you're staying stationary, but it's a buggy… What you need is entire coverage, especially if you want your child to sleep while you're out. Keeping with handy sacks - get yourself a car seat bag if travelling with a young baby. At this point, you may be thinking, "This holiday is costing enough as it is, can I not just fling it in a bin bag and stick it through?". Consider the bigger picture: you can spend approximately €20 each way for an extra suitcase, or stuff your car seat bag with bulky necessities for just a tenner.
• Packing: Dump everything you want to bring into the suitcases. That's usually a leveller. There's no way everything you want will fit. Therefore, divide by half, and bear in mind everyone will invariably wear the same thing repeatedly before it needs to be washed in a kitchen sink, so whites are probably out.
• Prepping: We made rolls the night before we took off and kept them in a cool bag; saved a fortune.
Now that you've managed to bundle bodies and bags from the long-term car park to the baggage drop, what next? The dreaded security queue. If you happen to have any baby foods or milk stowed away, you will have to wait for it to be tested to make sure it's not drugs or combustible. There is something that may hurry the process along, however: Airport Genie, available in Dublin Airport under the title of Fast Track.
If you're flying with Ryanair, check to see if any last minute changes have been made to your flight. Given delays are expected, here are a couple of hints regarding how to keep a herd of kids occupied.
• Find out the WiFi code.
• Depending on the delay, find out if you're entitled to refreshment vouchers. You'll find more details regarding your rights when it comes to flight cancellation and delays at aviationreg.ie.
• Take a tour of the eateries available. If you have younger kids, make a trip to the toilet an adventure or an impromptu scavenger hunt.
• If you're facing long delays, set up camp. Locate a quieter part of the airport and use your bags to make a fort. Nestle down and break out some snacks.
• Assuming you don't want to weld the child's hands to a device for the foreseeable, consider bringing a travel-size sketcher pad (Etch A Sketch to you) and reintroduce the family to such classics as Hangman, Noughts & Crosses, and Pictionary. A small colouring pad and a multicoloured pen works too.
• DON'T FORGET THE TREATS. And did we mention the WiFi code?
• Boarding: What have you got to look forward to after managing to haul your kids and your collective bags, all while carrying the family's passports and boarding passes in your teeth (open on the photo page) up a flight of rickety steps? Just hours of entertaining your offspring while under the watchful gaze of your judgy neighbours.
• Getting seated: To ensure you're not beside anyone unsympathetic to your plight, try to board early. Once you're seated, let the kids run wild. Within reason, of course. Running up and down the aisle is not reasonable, but let them jump around their seats and bang the seats surrounding them (assuming there's nobody in those seats as yet), so they can exorcise the crazy. The benefits of this are twofold: with any bit of luck they'll sleep as soon as the plane takes off and no one will want to sit near you. Bonus.
• Settling in: At this point, you're probably trying to figure out how to use the infant seat belt along with your own, or you have older kids. In which case, you just whip out the tablet and stick on a film. Easy, right? Not when you've accidentally checked in your device… Don't worry, ice in a cup with the in-flight snacks provides a bit of free entertainment.
• Airborne: After hours of story time, rock-paper-scissors, colouring, ice in a cup, rock-paper-scissors, several picnics, and rock-paper-scissors (yes, you could engage in eye spy, but bear in mind that children literally say what they see...), you start your descent - and that's when the fun really starts.
The howling. Their little ears are popping and you scoffed all the sucky sweets during picnic number three. Never fear: have a yawning competition, followed by a face-pulling fest - anything to get those jaws going in the absence of sweets. If you're travelling with a baby, try giving them a drink or use a soother to help sore ears.
• Rejoice! You've done it! The plane has landed. Before celebrating, remember how to get yourself and the baby out of the dual seat belt, lug yourself, the kids, infirmed in-laws and your bags down those scary steps and then carry the baby the entire way to baggage claim because "they don't leave the buggies by the plane in this airport".
All you need to do now is look forward to doing it all again on the way home. Yaaaay... Sangria, anyone?