Taking a flight to a well-deserved family vacay? Arm yourself with these helpful tips for flying with kids...
Travel season is upon us! We’re so excited that our families can jet off to many exotic destinations for their long-awaited family vacation. But, before we can hit the beaches or frolic in the snow, there’s one thing we gotta face: flying with kids. It’s an experience that’s filled with equal parts excitement and dread. For first-time parents, it can also be pretty scary. Because of that, we’ve rounded up a whopping list of 30 survival tips for flying with kids. You can also use some of these ideas for road trips! Read on to see how it’s done…
And psst – if you’re thinking of taking your helper on holiday for some backup, don’t miss our guide to getting her a vacation visa.
30 tips on how to ace flying with kids
1. Take advantage of airport amenities
Use the airport as your playground and encourage your kids to run wild before boarding. Yes, people may look at you as if your parenting skills are lax, but they will thank you later if they’re on the same flight as you. The idea here is to avoid sitting in the lounge in front of a screen (which they’ll have plenty of opportunity to do mid-flight!) and tire them out instead. Then you’re in with a chance for a mid-flight nap. It does mean giving up some quiet time before boarding, but for greater potential gain later on!
2. Download lots of kid-friendly apps. And Disney movies, of course
Yes, we know the dangers of too much screen time, but we’re willing to make an exception on a long haul flight! Download your kiddos’ favourite movies and TV series to your iPad mini, pronto (we love Sing, Frozen, Boss Baby, Moana, and episodes of Charlie and Lola or The Wiggles). It will probably buy you an hour of peace. For apps, check out these faves that focus on arts, crafts and building. We’ve rounded up our favourite fun and educational apps for preschoolers.
3. Pack some healthy snacks
It doesn’t matter whether you’re on a one-hour flight to our friendly neighbours, or a long overnight flight across the globe – always pack some snacks. Kids love to snack, especially younger ones as snacking is essential to their growth. While most full service airlines provide meals and snacks for kids, the options may be limited or not to your little one’s liking. So pack some easy-to-handle and individual portion-sized snacks (eg. puffs and biscuits) into your cabin luggage. This is so that you can avoid mess and play peacemaker in sharing negotiations if you’re travelling with more than one child.
You may also want to go for snacks that are healthy, as high-sugar and greasy food may cause bloating mid-flight – and that’s super uncomfortable for the kids! Gerber has a wide range of yummy and nutritious treats that are travel-friendly. We like its individually packed Teethers crackers, whole grain Puffs and Yogurt Melts for the little ones, as well as the Arrowroot Biscuits for the tots. They’re all free from artificial flavours and sweeteners; and are fortified with vitamins as well as minerals that support your kid’s growth and development!
4. Strap on a carrier
An Ergo Baby or a Baby Bjorn baby carrier can be a lifesaver when you’re juggling more than one child, a child that you need to contain or just a child who struggles to get to sleep. It will save your back if you need to pace the aisles while your baby or toddler drifts off. If you don’t want to risk waking them when they do pass out, simply sit back down and let them sleep on you with support. This is the best time to order wine. A carrier also comes in handy if you’re travelling on your own and nature calls. We’re not saying it’s ideal to visit the bathroom with a child strapped to you, but if you don’t want to leave your child alone or with the cabin crew, then a momma’s gotta do what a momma’s gotta do.
5. Bring sleep enhancers
The 1st Class Kid Travel Pillow is a godsend for parents desperate for their kids to sleep inflight as it turns an uncomfortable squishy seat into a cosy mini-bed. It’s small enough to fit in your bag and inflates easily onboarding (our tip: use the overhead plane air vent). Kids as old as eight won’t be able to resist its sleep-inducing charms. Also, check out the fabulous Jet Kids BedBox. Designed by a former aircraft engineer, this nifty device doubles as a ride-on suitcase and inflight bed and leg-rest. Taxi Baby has its own inflatable and collapsible solutions for tiny travellers including Plane Pal. We’ve also got some other great ideas for plane gadgets and games.
6. They can smell your fear
Infants, and even toddlers, have this innate way of detecting when you’re stressed and will take on your vibes. If they cry and you get anxious, it will probably only start a vicious cycle of wailing. Give yourself a pep talk to stay positive, stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and try to chill while you calm your little one. Easier said than done when it turns into hours on end of constant soothing. Pop some Rescue Remedy under your tongue routinely to fortify your resolve and keep anxiety at bay. It also comes in pastille form and there’s even a version for kids.
7. Drawing and colouring
Take a break from the screen and let their imaginations get a workout with some drawing. You can find some very funky silicone placemats by Modern Twist and Drawnby:Jessica that have line drawings kids can colour and embellish with special markers. Obviously, these are handy at mealtimes on the plane, plus when you reach your destination they roll up to next to nothing. If your kids prefer paper, the colouring books by Melissa and Doug contain line drawings that are fun and not too complicated – also check out the Water Wow selection! These are magical paint-with-water colouring books that can be reused again and again – environmentally friendly for the win.
8. Tag team and take turns
If you’re travelling with your partner, parent, friend or helper, work out a rough schedule of shifts for the duration of the flight so that you can all take a turn for some meals and downtime. Being up in the air with kids on a long-haul flight is an endurance sport and breaking it down into blocks of time makes the physical and psychological demands more manageable. It also goes a long way in reducing bickering. No one wants to be arguing about whose turn it is to change a nappy or watch a movie. If you’re flying solo, rope in the airline staff; in our experience, they are usually happy to help watch a sleeping bub while you nip to the bathroom, or offer a plethora of snacks from the trolley!
9. Normal rules no longer apply when 33,000ft in the air!
Apply an armistice around eating, sleeping and digital device use while you’re up in the air and you and the kids will be more relaxed during the flight. If they want to eat copious amounts of carbs (see tip below) and watch movies for hours on end, then this is probably the place to let it happen. Just keep on the lookout for sleep resistance turning into grumpiness – tire them out with tickles while they watch TV before the tantrum stage sets in.
10. Put a sock in it
Socks are much easier to deal with than taking shoes on and off for toilet trips, and a bit more hygienic than bare feet. Bring old ones that you can toss away if you don’t want to store them dirty and wash them at the other end. Some airlines provide a set in adult and kid sizes, but if you want to be sure, pack a few pairs so you can keep feet dry and relatively clean – they may need changing after toilet trips.
11. Time your toilet trips
Get there before the food and drink trolleys start to block the aisle. We all know peak time at the toilets occurs after meal service, so obviously, try to avoid this so you don’t have to stand and wait. And while hydration is key on a plane, in a bid to cap toilet trips, it’s worth hiding the call button after one or two lemonades.
12. Bring the right bag
This is vital for agitation reduction. We find ourselves bending over a lot during flights to reach inside the sack at our feet and retrieve multiple items every time one child or another demands a snack, toy or distraction. You need a tote that allows you to access what you need as easily as Mary Poppins. Short of a carpet bag, we suggest something shallow, wide, soft and with lots of pockets and fewer zips. It’s an investment to go for a Kate Spade, but see it as an investment in your sanity. We love the convenience of magnetic closures on Skip Hop bags, not to mention that dads will happily sport them too (no pink flowers here, if they’re not into it!), and LeSportSac has waterproof, ripstop and foldable bags suitable for all occasions.
13. Plane and seat selection
You don’t always have the luxury to pick and choose your aircraft due to time, cost and route. But if there is the chance to go for an A380 flight, take it! The stairs on these aircraft come in handy for toddlers who want to practise their walking skills. It’s a bit boring for you, but at least they’ll be smiling and not crying. The flip side is, if there is another aircraft running on the same route at a similar time, you may want to opt for that instead as it’s likely it will be less popular than the A380 flight and you may have the chance to stretch out on a few more seats. Decisions…
14. Gift wrap some toys
The mere act of having something to unwrap adds instant appeal to humdrum items. Cover colouring books, sticker pads and trinkets with cute wrapping paper and ribbons and issue these tokens throughout the flight when food, movies and familiar toys just don’t cut it anymore. Instant smiles and excitement! If you get the chance before the flight, pop into our easy guide to making quiet and busy books, and whip one up for the journey.
15. Diapers: pull ’em up
There is no mile-high club for us. Plane toilets are the scene of our aviation nightmares. We are gripped by the fear every time we enter with our kids and spend the whole time swatting hands from touching what we imagine to be germ-covered surfaces. Yes, a bit of undiagnosed OCD here, but we have a system now and it involves using pull-ups. So much easier to deal with than trying to get our kids to lie on the pokey, hard and uncomfortable change table in the toilets (and hence the socks). The downside is you do have to take off their trousers to put them on but you can get some that you can tear on the sides and stick back together, too.
16. Put your hands to good use
Hand and finger puppets are great distractions, especially when kids are mid-meltdown. Animating a soft animal or character with your hands and fingers can stop tears in their tracks and bring a smile to your child’s face. Yes, you will have to call on some vocal skills but kids love to hear characters come to life. Crikey the Koala has turned up on a few of our flights and is always a hit. We love the selection of hand puppets and finger puppets at IKEA.
17. Map your journey
Use the information section on seat back screens to show your child the flight route, your progress along with it and other nifty facts. It helps to give them a sense of control, time and routine, which in turn makes it easier to manage their expectations and avert tantrums.
18. Get comfortable with sticky situations
Popular stocks a good range of sticker books sure to keep little fingers busy for at least an hour or two. Art Friend also has big packs of brightly coloured paper-backed foam stickers. Word of warning: from past experience, we have managed to redecorate entire rows of seat backs so remember to pack some paper or other surfaces that the kids can go sticker crazy on.
19. Wipes and hand sanitiser
You’re a mum. This really needs no explanation. You probably have shares in companies that produce these products by now. We’re fans of Purell for its moisturising properties (it can get pretty dry in the air).
20. Fidget spinners
Here’s one tween trend on your side: fidget spinners will keep little hands busy even when their bodies are relegated to economy seats. You’ll find them for next to nothing at all good toy stores in Singapore or on Lazada for under $10.
21. Don’t give your kids any ‘medicine’ to help them sleep without reading this:
We’re not advocating drugging your children, but if you are considering dosing your kids with Phenergan, valerian, Benadryl, melatonin or any other medications or herbs, always speak to your doctor first – children with respiratory issues are particularly at risk in the oxygen-reduced environment of a plane cabin and should not be dosed. If you do want to go ahead, trial it on the ground: in some kids, antihistamines can have the opposite effect and you may wind up with hyperactive tots in a tin can. If this does happen, go with it and take turns with your partner to walk up and down the aisle. Breathe.
22. Fresh books
There’s nothing like opening a new book and it might be enough to pull them away from the TV screen momentarily. Purchase a slim picture book, reader or volume of their favourite series and give that reading light a workout. We like the Complete Book of Dragons by the author who inspired How To Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell. Kids can pore over an encyclopaedic collection on all there is to know about this mythical creature.
23. Spare change
Again, you’re practised at being a mum, but it would be remiss of us not to mention packing a spare set of clothes. Leggings, long-sleeve cotton tops, hoodies and fleece pants from Cotton On Kids or H&M always do the trick. Pack a spare set for yourself too – a lesson learned when a smoothie was squeezed all over us within the first hour of a long-haul flight.
24. Buy them a seat
If you have a baby, remember one word: BASSINET. Secure one with your airline when you book as it will be a lifesaver (but keep in mind there are age and weight limits, so check if your bubba will still fit). If your child is under two but too big for a bassinet, it’s a good idea to purchase a seat for them, if you don’t mind the extra expense. It gives them and you more space and comfort, especially for sleeping.
25. Polly had a dolly
Pack a doctor’s kit and a doll or teddy and your little one can play MD for a little while. We’re not talking about a toy doctor’s kit. Make your own medical kit and it will keep them occupied for a bit longer. You can include a roll of bandage, band-aids/plaster, a plastic syringe, medicine cup, cool gel pack, cotton wool and a notebook and pen. The soft teddies from IKEA make good patients as they’re economical enough for you not to mind food getting spilt on them, have a good surface area for applying medical treatment, and can be squashed in bags.
26. Pack photo albums
If you’ve got the time, put together a slim scrapbook or photo album with lots of pics of family, places you’ve been and places you’re going to. Most children are really intrigued by their own history and it provides lots of talking points to pass the time on a flight.
27. Wired for sound
That Encanto movie you downloaded is no good if you don’t have a good quality headset for listening pleasure. Smiggle stocks good quality, brightly decorated fold-up headphones for kids for $35 and under, as do a bunch of other reliable tech brands.
28. Choose an airline with a track record of offering families assistance
This is more important if you’re travelling on your own with the kids. If you think you’ll need help when you’re up in the air, pick an airline where flight staff are known for offering assistance. Have multiple young children? You may want to call on stewards and stewardesses to oversee your brood while you go to the loo or take a sanity break to look out the window at clouds. Taking a budget airline? You’ll need to limit your expectations and contain food and entertainment in your bag. This is where you really become Mary Poppins.
29. Junk in their trunk
The fad on Trunki cases has not abated. To be honest, they don’t fit in that much but kids love having their own luggage and it may as well be this – they roll easily, can be pulled along, come in bright colours and even provide transport/entertainment at the airport. Pick one up online at Pupsik studio.
28. Play games
Old-fashioned travel games that we used to play as kids can easily be resurrected for plane rides with your kids. While we admit that Eye Spy may not last too many rounds, it will help pass the time and stimulate some conversation and observation. Simon Says is another good one, as is Hang Man and tickle tattoos, where you have to guess the number, picture or letter being drawn on your back with a tickle. Worth a try!
30. Don’t forget the Lovey!
Last but not least, make sure you pack their favourite cuddle toy, blanket or whatever their comfort item is. Hell, bring two. If you’re anything like us, you’ve lost a Jellycat soft animal and you could lose one again. They are back in stock at various retailers around Singapore. The ensuing drama is not worth it. Call for backup.
Now, we’re keeping fingers crossed you’ll get to crack open that holiday read and relax, you’ll be there in no time.