Flying with children: a stress-free guide
A recent survey found that 75pc of people would be in support of child-free flights. Here are some tips for beleaguered parents.
It is the looks from your fellow passengers that are the hardest to bear. Walking down the aisle with our young son jabbering away, a 21-hour flight to Sydney ahead, I think they would have preferred to sit beside a leper holding a copy of Mein Kampf than myself, my wife and Stanley.
Eighteen months earlier I would have felt the same – no parent really wants to fly with a baby. But you can't put them in the hold (I did enquire).
This was not our first long-haul flight, but on the previous one Stanley had been so young he was essentially hand luggage. Airlines are well set-up for very young babies, and parents of older children tell me that they're not so bad for four years plus – plug them in to the in-flight movies and grab that Champagne. But for the twilight zone in between, you're on your own.
We knew as much when we booked our flight. Stanley would be too big for the bassinet, which meant our options were to buy him his own seat (around £800) or have him on our lap.
We made a call to my elder sister, who has three girls under five and frequently flies to Australia. She offered one abiding rule: whatever Stanley wants, Stanley gets. Any stress regarding sleep times, feed times and play times should be left at the gate. So if it's to be dire telly, 25 packets of salt-soused crisps or anything else that would shock the mums at nursery, so be it.
With this libertarian philosophy in mind we took our seats. As always on a flight, some seats are more equal than others, and with a toddling aviator, a spare seat is worth the price of an upgrade.
That's because if your child is to sleep - the ideal state of affairs for all concerned – they will want to lie flat. You could, of course, fly in first-class, but by that point you're talking the cost of a small family car to go on holiday, and your wealthy fellow passengers are likely to unveil a special type of loathing usually reserved for people who steal from charity boxes.
In premium economy, and in the bulkheads, the arms don't go up, meaning that your child cannot lie down. Go economy and then fight for those spare seats.
Our flight was not full, and the cabin crew were good enough to move us to an empty row before allowing other passengers to switch seats.
My wife had all manner of diversionary tactics: lollys for ear-popping at take off; pre-rolled balls of Play Doh; stickers (sorry, cabin crew); post it notes; (ditto); a much-loved old book; a couple of colouring pens and a note pad; a small Russian doll. Plus an iPad – a combination of episodes of videos, photos, interactive books - or just bashing the screen repeatedly - killed hours.
The first leg of our journey was a night flight, and hence a doddle - Stanley slept a good six hours. We stopped briefly in Hong Kong, grabbed – a tip - some warmed milk from Starbucks and set off again. This time round there was less sleep, more shouts of 'eyepah' (we swiftly gave him the eyepah – see rule 2, above) and more parental desperation as we all grew tired.
If all else fails, the galley is your friend. I found bananas to peel, plastic cups to stack, there was just enough floor space for a bit of playtime, and the stairs to the upper deck provided countless climbing expeditions. Best of all, the crew, also trying to get some rest, were stationed there – making them the only people on the plane who had to pretend they were just delighted to have our little boy on board.