Thursday, 13 November 2014

15 airplane tips for travelling with kids

This post is written by Lyn who blogs at LilBlueBottle. Her little ones have been taking flights since 11 months old, so these are tips that have worked for her. Before parenthood, she once suffered a 15 hour flight with 20 infants under the age of 2 on board (yes, so said the air stewardess), who took turns to wail up a storm.

Does your kid love to travel? So much so that she can't wait to pack herself into a suitcase? Good for you!

Travel out of Singapore usually entails flights though. No matter how long or short our flight is, we usually hope that our kids do not become a public nuisance. Just 10 minutes of continuous screaming in a cramped, enclosed space can be really horrific.

So here are some tried and tested tips, ranging from those for newborns, to those around 5-6 years old (thereafter the in-flight entertainment system takes over totally).

Newborns – age 1

1. Usually, newborns travel well because they still sleep quite a lot. Schedule a good feed right before the flight, or at the start of the flight, and you might score the dream scenario of having your baby sleep throughout!

2. A new toy. Sometimes, infants are alarmed with the change in environment, and they cry incessantly. Pat, pat (that’s for you, not your newborn). At that age, they might be able to be distracted with a new toy (a blanket with tactile tags sewn on? Or a toy that makes a nice crinkly rustling noise).

3. Breastfeeding. If you are still breastfeeding, then nursing a fussy baby usually does the trick. Immediate peace for all. That’s a superpower, if there ever was one. I really hate it when there’s turbulence, and they force us to take a sleeping baby out from their bassinet (I wish we could sign some airline disclaimer to keep the baby belted inside there). But if the baby cries as you move him/her out, I found that nursing works wonders.

Ages 1-2

4. Start with short flights. I started flying with each kid at the age of around 11 months. Their first trips were 2 hour flights to nearby countries. Since the flights were short, they did really well on them, and slept most of the way.

5. Baby snacks. Some low-sugar baby puffs, rusks, fruits (such as cut papaya, strawberries, watermelon), raisins will go a long way towards keeping them occupied.

6. Progress to longer flights once they do well in short ones. Our first long haul flight with K was the 13 hour trip to the UK when she was 18 months old. She did admirably well, sleeping 6-8 hours each way, albeit in my arms for 2-4 hours each way. She also adjusted to the time difference better than we did!

7. Get bulkhead seats. This is a given if you are travelling with infants under 2 years, since you are entitled to a bassinet (unless the flight you simply had to take had no more bassinet seats by the time you booked). 18 month old K was happy to potter around the bulkhead space when she was awake, sit on the floor and play with her toys there. If you are travelling with kids above age 2, then you could put in a request for this, since the extra space would do them good too.

A tad underaged for her own seat, but fiddling with the handset for a while was irresistable.

Ages 2-plus to 6

All belted up once she got in her seat!
8. Activity books and games. I love activity books, especially those that come with stickers. A new book for each child, per leg of the flight, goes a long way towards entertaining them. Do you know that there are some books with hundreds of stickers?! My elder child sticks them into a note book, then writes a story around the stickers she chose. Super cute.
As for games, a simple card game that is light and easy to pack along can be fun and absorbing. Whether it is a simple memory card game, a matching one (like "Snap") or player turn-taking games like "Gopher it!" which can be found here.
It helps if the airline is child-friendly and doles out cool and entertaining stuff!

9. Simple crafts. Pack a few crafts in ziplock bags, or create a little activity folder. Some pasting is always fun and time-consuming to the kids. Bring crayons, colouring pencils, glue. Remember, no scissors or penknives on planes, so pre-cut stuff if you must.

Sticker books, colouring books, writing notebooks...

10. Story books. Purchase a few acclaimed age-appropriate books (or borrow books from the library – with renewal, the total of 6 weeks should be more than enough for any trip), better if they pertain to the travel destination, or simply on travel. Whip them out when any of the previous activities have lost their lustre. It might just be their new favourite book to read over and over again.

Entertaining themselves with making the puppets talk at length to each other!

11. Sweet treats. When desperate, produce some candy from the stash you keep close to you. Don’t let them see the full range you have. *wink* I try very hard to restrict the sweets my kids get on a normal day, so just offering them a lollipop makes them feel like Christmas came early. I make myself feel better by giving them organic treats like this.

12. DVD player. When very desperate, bring a DVD player along. So even if it’s a short flight or on a carrier with no personal entertainment system, you have the telly for them to fixate on, with programmes you know they will like.

For all ages

13. Choose a day or night flight as best suits your child. Timing matters, especially for long-haul flights. There is no one-best option for this. A lot depends on your child(ren)’s sleep habits, and their age. For those who have a clockwork-like sleep schedule (lucky, lucky you), take a night flight by all means. They will probably sleep through it all, and wake up smelling like roses when it’s time to disembark. For those who can’t sleep well when the environment changes, probably a day flight is better, so they can be entertained with food and toys, and some crying in the day will probably be dealt with better by the others in the plane, then a few hours of crying when everyone’s trying to catch some shut-eye.

14. Walk around the plane. From infants to toddlers and pre-schoolers, a walk around the plane might do them some good, once the seat-belt sign is off. They get to stretch their legs, and have a change of scenery, so to speak.

15. Toilet refuge. When they are bawling uncontrollably, and you’re beginning to hear audible sighs from fellow passengers, and/or if you feel sorry enough for them, take your crying kid and escape to the toilet. It’s not soundproof, but should provide momentary respite to all. Other parents would understand, but we’ve all had our pre-parent moments of flying with crying babies, so we know how painful it can be!

There you have it! Feel free to share your favourite tips with us too!

Holiday season is upon us, so all the best for your travels - journey mercies and (cue air stewardess voice...) have a pleasant flight.

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