Travelling with little ones can be stressful.
The unfamiliar settings and disturbed routines can lead to tantrums, tiredness and tears – but being smart about how you fly can make a big difference.
So, if you’re jetting off with your family this year – and will have kids in tow – there are some clever hacks you can try to make sure your journey is as smooth as possible.
Cabin crew Laura Hannah, who has been working with Emirates for over six years, has shared her top top tips if you’re planning to travel with babies or young children this year.
And with the spring half term holiday just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to start planning ahead:
When booking your flights
Look to time your flights with your child’s daily routine
Where possible, try to time your flight times to suit their daily routine. For instance:
‘Don’t opt for a late-night departure or overnight flight thinking your kids will sleep through. They may not with all the excitement and noise, and you’ll be doubly exhausted,’ says Laura.
‘Do try to plan a flight departure to fit in between mealtimes or naps as this can help reduce the chance of public tantrums.
‘Do try to make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep for morning flights, to avoid sleep-deprived meltdowns occurring.’
Choose your seats wisely
If you can, Laura says you should always book your baby a bassinette or choose bulkhead seats. ‘These have no seat in front of them so that no one can recline into your space, enabling your children to have more room to play,’ Laura explains.
‘Consider the advantages of sitting closer to the bathrooms.
‘This makes toilet trips with kids a lot more convenient and the back third of the plane tends to be less populated on flights that aren’t full.’
Select children’s meals
Don’t forget to opt for children’s meals when booking your tickets.
‘Emirates offers both baby and children (between the ages of 2 and 12 years) meal options, including a range of organic Ella’s Kitchen baby meals. A selection of prepared baby meals are available on board as well as classic kids’ favourites.’
Try to have your accommodation transfer arranged in advance, particularly, Laura says, if you require car seats.
‘It will be a relief to avoid waiting in taxi queues and not needing to worry about the safety element at the end of a long trip,’ she adds.
Explain the security process
Laura says the security screening can be confusing for children.
‘With having to load their special things onto the conveyor belt and be separated (albeit very briefly) from their parents to go through the scanner,’ she says. ‘Try to explain ahead of time what they should expect and offer plenty of praise on the other side for doing such a great job.’
Be buggy clever
‘If you want to take your pram through the airport consider investing in a folding variety that can be taken on board the plane as carry on, this will help at the other end when you need to be able to put your tired youngster straight into their pram.’
Go sugar-free with your children’s travel snacks
Laura says it’s a good idea to always carry healthy, protein-filled snacks with you in case of unexpected delays, or where moving between time zones.
‘Your little one’s body clock and appetite may be affected, and they may not be hungry when meals are served – avoiding a “hangry” meltdown in the line at customs is in everyone’s interest.
‘Do encourage them to take little sips of water as often as possible, too as dehydration can exacerbate jetlag.
‘Do carry fruit gums or other sweets as they are great for take-off and landing for older children, to help reduce the pressure on their ears.’
Allow your children to bring their own carry-on bag and couple of toys
Laura says this makes your child feel more grown up and adds to the excitement of the travel experience.
‘It is a good idea to ensure these toys don’t contain small parts and are brightly coloured in case they are dropped or lost,’ she suggests.
Comfort is key
‘Make sure your little ones are as comfortable as possible to minimise the risk of any mid-air tantrums,’ says Laura.
‘So, planning the outfit they wear carefully and packing a mini travel pillow for them is a good place to start.
‘It’s a good idea to have a spare change of clothes and a spare shirt for yourself in case of accidents or unexpected spills.’
Bonus tip: ‘Let them shop with you so they can pick one they’re most comfortable with.’
Board the plane first or last
‘While many airlines offer families priority boarding, some parents in fact prefer to board last to minimise the amount of time their baby or child spends on the plane,’ says Laura.
‘Many parents want their small child to burn up as much energy as possible in the airport or airport lounge so that when they are strapped in their seat, they are ready to sleep.
‘Alternatively, if you have multiple children or have lots of carry-on, boarding first and taking your time to settle into your seats can reduce stress of trying to sort through lots of bags and little ones with everyone watching on.’
‘Airports and airlines have responded to the safety requirements of travelling post-pandemic incredibly effectively, however you may like to carry extra hand sanitiser (including child-friendly versions) with you as well,’ says Laura.
‘As much as you ask your little ones to avoid touching surfaces unnecessarily, their curious hands will want to touch everything.’
Laura suggests allowing your children to indulge in all the in-flight entertainment they want.
‘By giving your children license to watch more television/films than usual, it will seem like a treat and will give you time to relax and unwind too,’ she says.
‘For instance, with the Emirates ice entertainment system children can say hello to all their favourite characters on board – choosing from over 50 Disney classic films and from over 130 kids’ TV channels, plus music, games and there are special headsets for them too – just ask our cabin crew.’
No matter how old your child is, you should never underestimate the power of a new toy.
‘A new distraction presented at the right moment can work wonders,’ says Laura.
Utilise the cabin crew
Laura knows that the cabin crew are on hand to make your flight as enjoyable as possible – that includes helping keep your kids happy.
‘They can help with warming bottles, keeping baby food refrigerated, offering kids activities, holding meals until a convenient time and maybe even sneaking a glass of wine to you after your child finally falls asleep,’ she says.
Unless you have a connecting flight or are in a hurry, Laura says it’s a good idea to take your time getting off the plane.
‘You won’t overlook a precious toy if you’re not rushed packing everything up, and both you and your children may be tired so not be operating at your best,’ she says.
Look for family lanes
‘Most airports will have family lanes for those travelling with children. Do seek them out, they can save you a very long wait.’
Managing jet lag
‘This can be slow, frustrating, and exhausting, but adjusting to the local time zone can be helped by exposing your children to as much sunlight during the day as possible to help regulate melatonin production in the brain and cutting screen time during ‘sleep hours’,’ says Laura.
‘Try to avoid naptime too late in the day and ensure their mealtimes are as regular as possible’
Finally, lower your expectations
Flying is great fun, but it can be overwhelming for parents and confusing for young children. They may not respond well to the noise, crowds, the waiting or the rules.
Laura says you should try to explain as much as you can in advance about what to expect and be extra patient with them – while being kind to yourself.
‘If they watched more TV than you’d usually like, be thankful for the quiet time,’ she says. ‘If they cleaned you out of snacks, be glad they’re not hungry.
‘It can be tricky flying with children, but it can also be joyful and it’s always worth it when you get there.’
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing [email protected].