This coming weekend sees the start of ‘Vacances Scolaire Printemps’ on the French Riviera – two weeks of school holidays which coincidentally precedes the month of May which also has four bank holidays.
So, to alleviate the stress of holiday travel for families, here’s Access Riviera’s 15 Tips for Flying with Kids:
1. Extra seat
When checking in, ask if you it’s possible to get a spare seat next to you if the flight is not full (it will be free of charge). This is really helpful to have this extra space for toys, blankets and stretching out at sleep time.
2. Blankets and pillows
Take your own small blanket and/or pillow. Airplane blankets (even the ones they use for the baby bassinets) are often scratchy and aircraft cabins can be cold.
3. Board last, not first
Most airlines allow families to board after first and business class passengers so it gives you ample time to settle in but I actually prefer being the last one on the plane.
It doesn’t take too long to stow your bags and the less time on the plane the less chance of restless children sitting there waiting for everyone else to stow their luggage
4. Location is everything
My preference when flying with a baby/toddler is to sit near the back of the plane, and in an aisle seat.
If you’re lucky enough to have spare seats next to you, then it can pay off to put your toddler in the window seat so they can look out at the ground crew, baggage handlers, scenery etc.
Being near the back gives you better access to the toilets and baby change table, and cabin crew are usually closer.
5. Cabin crew are there if you need them
Many parents feel intimidated about bothering cabin crew. If you need a toilet break or to stretch your legs, don’t be afraid to ask cabin crew.
They’re not babysitters, but they can watch your sleeping child for a few minutes or entertain your toddler while you have a quick break.
6. Strollers, car seats, cots
Double check with your airline about baby strollers, car seats and travel cots as you may have to check these in. Many airlines offer loan strollers for use inside the airport, and you should be aware that you usually have to check your own stroller at the departure gate.
I have lost 2 strollers that have been gate checked and never arrived at my transit destination – if you have particularly expensive baby equipment, always put it in checked luggage.
If you have a baby, consider a baby wrap or front pack carrier so you have free hands.
7. Take-off and Landing
Little ears can’t equalize the difference in air pressure on take-off or landing, so when you’re flying and hear kids cry at these times this is why – their ears are hurting.
For babies, breast or bottle feed on take-off or landing or offer a pacifier.
For toddlers, sucking on squeezy compotes or drinking water can help.
I’ve been naughty in the past and even given my son lollipops to suck on descent.
One thing I will mention is that if you use a pacifier, invest in a pacifier clip – I have seen countless babies drop their pacifier under seats mid-takeoff and parents left unable to scramble to find it.
Most babies sleep on flights, but for older kids don’t rely on inflight entertainment.
Many airlines hand out kid-sized headphones but I purchased my son his own pair so I know they are padded adequately and he is excited about them.
Be considerate to other passengers and try to take some noise-less fun toys. There is nothing worse than settling in for a long-haul flight and hearing nursery rhymes playing over and over again.
Many airlines offer kids activity packs with colouring pages and small pencils.
I also like to buy a few cheap new toys and wrap them in lots of layers so my son can unwrap them. It keeps him busy, and when he was a baby he played with the curling ribbon, coloured paper etc.
My top suggestions for tried-and-tested toys for long-haul flights for toddlers are:
– Sticker books and small reading books with educational aspects
– Small extendabe mini rulers (the type you can buy at €1 shops). My son spent a long time measuring everything within his seat reach, and it also kept him occupied in airport terminals.
– Mini padlocks with different keys to try and unlock
– Crayola Color Wonder markers
– Finger puppets
Toys that haven’t been successful on flights: Lego (the pieces drop and get lost under seats), magnetic games (if you lose a piece it’s game over), toy cars (too noisy!)
Some toys I wouldn’t even consider: Playdoh, dice games, anything battery-operated
9. Quick change bag
If you’re travelling with a baby, have a ‘grab bag’ that contains baby wipes, nappy cream, a couple of nappies and hand sanitiser.
If you need to change your child’s nappy, grab this small pack and go.
Aircraft toilets are small and you don’t really want to put things down.
Don’t change your baby’s nappy on the seats – it’s gross and makes other passengers uncomfortable.
Airplane temperatures can be chilly so dress your little one in layers so if your destination is warm you can adjust their temperature quickly.
If you have a baby or toddler, dress them in their pyjamas at ‘night time’ on long-haul flights so you are creating an environment as close to sleep conditions as possible.
In your cabin bag, take a few changes of clothes for your bub and at least a change of top for yourself in case of any vomiting or other accidents – it does happen! I’ll never forget a man who had his baby vomit on him half an hour into a 12-hour flight and he spent the entire flight trying to get rid of the smell from his clothes.
11. Food and drinks
Make sure you keep everyone hydrated as flying can be dehydrating. Pay particular attention to this if you’re breastfeeding.
Take lots of snacks for your toddlers (especially in the case of delays) but avoid lollies or sweet-laden treats.
Raisins and dried fruit may seem great but they do drop on the floor, and they tend to have a laxative effect.
I like to take apples, bananas, vege sticks, popcorn, mini muesli bars, bread sticks, crackers, small sandwiches.
Bear in mind the 100ml liquid rule.
If you have to ask cabin crew to heat bottles specify how hot you need it.
Also, be aware of customs regulations for different countries as some foods that seem normal to you aren’t permitted, for example, fresh fruit is not permitted into Australia without an import permit.
12. Airport facilities
Make the most of burning off your child’s energy by letting them walk as much as possible and play at airport play areas.
This article has great information about global airports: http://www.parenting.com/article/fun-things-to-do-at-the-major-airports
For Nice Airport, read my post here
13. Flying is overwhelming for little ones
Avoid travelling when you have just started toilet training your toddler!
Travelling can be overwhelming to a toddler, and combined with the big stages of toilet training as well as lengthy waiting periods in security and immigration lines it’s an accident (excuse the pun) waiting to happen.
Also, my son found airplane toilets quite scary when flushing as they are super-loud – explain to your child what is about to happen, little imaginations create scenarios that they might get sucked away!
Visiting an airport for the first time is an assault on the senses so explain to your child each step of travelling – going through security they have to put their favourite taggy/cuddly through the security scanning machine but they will get it back, lights being turned off inside the cabin for take-off, waiting for luggage at the baggage carousel etc
14. Book optimum flight times for your child’s routine
My personal preference for short-haul flights is to depart in the morning because my son is rested and usually excited about a plane trip. For long-haul flights, we try and book the first sector to coincide with late evening flights so it syncs with his natural sleep pattern.
Many parents ask me about using sleep-inducing medication on small children for long flights.
I’m personally not a fan myself as I believe you should be able to manage sleep and routines enough for a maximum of one day’s travelling on an airplane, however I don’t begrudge anyone who uses medication.
There are plenty of prescribed and homeopathic options.
If you do choose to medicate your child, consult your physician and PRE-TEST the medication prior to any flights – you don’t want a nasty reaction to a new medication inflight.