Flying with kids is up there with giving birth when it comes to events that we dread. If only there was a generous supply of gas and air in those masks that drop down but at least the trolley is stocked with small bottles of gin.
You’ve had months to get in the right frame of mind and equip yourself with the essentials to make the experience as pain-free as possible. Now with days to go there’s an overwhelming sense of queasy panic that you’re not ready. You feel anxious, trying to keep calm after hearing another horror story. Deep breaths now, it’s time to push. Just keep the buggy moving forwards through the automatic doors and into the airport.
Do your homework
So how do you prepare for a flight with a baby who may bawl or a toddler who might throw a tantrum? Fear not, the Motherloaders have been there, done that and got the air miles.
Our first flight as a family of four was far better than I dared to expect due to a little bit of planning ahead and taking advantage of services on offer to make life easier.
Treating myself at the airport used to mean wandering care-free through duty-free, drinking a frappuccino and indulging in some new perfume or make-up. This time round my little luxury was splashing out on Meet and Greet valet parking for a stress-free start to the journey. Rather than choosing the cheapest option of turning up at a scruffy site on an industrial estate miles from the airport and waiting for a minibus, we drove straight into the short stay carpark at Heathrow Terminal 5.
I opened the car door and before even opening my mouth, a smiling lady with a clipboard appeared and greeted me by name. It was one of those ‘how the other half live’ moments. After a swift handover, I sauntered into the airport feeling smug and serene. Even the fancy face creams never made me feel that good. When we returned after our holiday a week later, our car was parked outside ready to jump into. Worth every penny.
Enjoy the experience
It is easy to feel more jaded than elated and forget what an adventure travelling can be when you’re small and easily impressed. Our 3 year old daughter was amazed by everything, “Look Mummy, it’s another escalator, can we go on it?” The ground staff gave her some ‘Enjoy Your Flight’ stickers and she eagerly dished them out and insisted we all wear one. There was even a soft play area in the departure lounge. Next time I’ll treat her to a Richard Scarry book I’ve been tipped off about called A Day at the Airport.
Buy before you fly
After security, we headed to the airside branch of Boots to pick up a stash of formula and snacks, all ready and waiting thanks to Reserve and Collect. Most airports offer a similar service where you order online in advance. It was our first experience but seems like a no-brainer especially if you need to buy in bulk or don’t want to risk an unfamiliar brand of milk or nappies abroad.
Get on board
The time has come to board the plane and find your seats; you are now trapped in this confined space for several hours, surrounded by strangers. There is no way of knowing whether your little angels will go with the flow and behave impeccably or whether they will resolutely refuse to sit still or scream from take-off to touch-down. You also can’t predict the patience levels of your fellow passengers.
Promise me though you won’t go on Pinterest and create your own little gift bags to hand out with a twee ditty apologising for your cherub who may cry if their tiny ears hurt. Put the effort and expense into goodies for your own offspring or buy yourself some chocolate.
Buckle up and take on board 10 tips from the MOLO crew…
1. You can usually push your buggy right up to the door of the plane then fold it down to go in the hold. It should be delivered back to the steps but sometimes you don’t get it back until the baggage reclaim carousel which can be a long walk so stuff a carrier in your cabin bag or sling in your sling.
2. Take a rucksack with lots of pockets that fits under the seat in front. You want it in easy reach not stuck in the overhead locker while you’re stuck in your seat with a child strapped to your lap. Pack a smaller bag inside with just nappies and wipes that you can grab to take to the loo on board; there is a change table in the tiny toilet but it’s pretty cramped in there.
3. Remember that any liquids you take through security have to be less than 100ml so you might want to buy some travel-size nappy cream or sachets of Calpol. The rule doesn’t apply to baby food, milk or sterilised water that you need for the journey but you might be asked to open it or even taste it! Ordering supplies to collect airside is a great idea and most airports offer the service.
4. Your child only gets their own seat after their 2nd birthday when you start paying for their ticket. Before that they will be sitting/jumping/wriggling on your lap with an extender belt. Bassinets are available for smaller babies to sleep in and some long-haul flights have a bigger bouncer seat. You can only take a carseat on board if you have paid for a separate seat otherwise it goes in the hold.
5. Give them something to suck on when the plane is taking off or landing; a boob, a bottle, a dummy or a fruit pouch will stop the pain of their ears popping.
6. This is no time to limit screen-time. Take a portable DVD player with a decent battery life or a tablet full of favourite programmes downloaded from the likes of iPlayer Kids or Amazon Prime. Don’t forget the headphones. Here are some of our suggestions:
7. This is no time to limit snacks. Take plenty of tempting titbits. Cut stuff up into small pieces and wrap in foil or divide into portions in pots to reach for at regular intervals. Check with your airline if they provide meals for babies or young children; you may need to order in advance.
8. Go wild in the pound shop so you can pull out a new toy or bit of tat every half an hour or so. Don’t go for games with lots of little pieces to get lost on the floor. Other activities in the MOLO arsenal of amusement are sticker books, a magnetic drawing board and Crayola Color Wonder sets.
9. You can stretch your legs on board and take them for a walk up and down the aisle if they’re getting fidgety. If you’ve got a toddler who’s likely to run off towards the cockpit, you might want to take reins.
10. Encourage your child to ramp up the cute factor and play peekaboo with any friendly-looking passengers in the row behind. If the kid wins them over they might even take a turn and give you a break from bouncing a bored baby.
Here’s the truth; the flight probably won’t be half as bad as you think but setting the bar low forces you to plan for the worst case scenario and at least then you get to look like a parenting pro. Now sit back and relax and when you’re offered a drink from the trolley, smile and nod and knock it back.
About Jill Misson
Mum of two girls who fortunately likes the colour pink. Jill works in radio, producing and presenting programmes which basically means she gets paid to talk. Loves baking and eating cakes but no longer gets to lick the spoon now she has little helpers.
Image credit: Jill Misson