When people heard we were taking our two-year-old on a 16-hour journey to Bali, they thought we were mad. We survived and decided to brave long-haul again when our second son arrived. This time we flew 12 hours to the Maldives, with a four-year-old and an 18-month-old baby.
When baby number three arrived we decided to stay closer to home, choosing Cyprus, a mere five hours away. With night flights it seemed sensible, and we thought we'd pass with, ahem, flying colours. An early evening flight on the way over was manageable but our return journey proved to be the hardest ever.
The baby slept for the whole thing and was a perfect angel. But our five-year-old woke up mid-flight in total confusion and cried hysterically at the top of his voice. He eventually fell back to sleep only for the two-year-old to wake up screaming a while later. The boys are usually deep sleepers so nothing had prepared us for this, and it very nearly undid all the benefits of our relaxing week away.
Here we were, seasoned travellers watching our kids have loud meltdowns mid-air. The crux of the problem was the 1am departure time, which meant our sleep-deprived boys never got to bed pre-check-in. Hence my first tip comes with very important small-print.
1>Choose night flights,
but only if they overlap with children's normal bedtimes. Kids are good at staying up late, especially when they are excited, but it's unfair to expect a young child to stay up until midnight without getting cranky. If you are flying long-haul, night flights are recommended.
2>Take a favourite soft toy
or a blanket that conjures up bedtime at home. Airline seats aren't very comfortable but teddy or blankie can make children feel content and inclined to doze off, even during daytime flights.
3>Take a bag of tricks to entertain your kids all through the flight. Pack a bag full of small toys and books that can be produced at a moment's notice. Sticker books, puzzle books, colouring books and crayons are all cheap, and will help pass the time. Avoid games with small pieces or toy cars, which seem to roll down the aisle on take-off or landing! Produce each toy one at a time for maximum value.
4>Don't let them eat cake.
Snacks have a wonderful ability to silence restless children -- temporarily. They are energy boosters too. Avoid sweets and chocolate, as these lead to sugar highs. Instead pack freezer bags or mini lunch boxes with grapes, carrot sticks, raisins, crackers and rice cakes. If you have a baby ask for bottles and meals to be heated before you need them. The crew are always busy and it can take time to get a warm bottle back.
5>Kids spill things on planes. Parents spill things supervising kids on planes. Nappies leak. Kids have accidents when the Fasten Your Seatbelt sign is on. All reasons to pack extra clothes for the whole family.