As I write this I am on a London – Sydney flight with a flight time of 22 hours. This is our family’s sixth long haul flight in five weeks. It has been busy! And fun!
Whilst standing with my three year old, a fellow passenger remarked “It is a LONG flight…” Indeed he was right; however it occurred to me that I don’t actually say that to myself. Instead I say “It is what is.” I began thinking about what else I think, feel, say and do to allow me to enjoy these journeys and have fun in the sky…
When I woke up in London in the morning I had slept very little, had a migraine and my period. It was not an ideal start on the morning of a flight with two children, one preschooler and one school age. Acceptance was the key here so I accepted that “it was what it was” and off we went.
Preparation the day before:
When preparing for a flight I remind myself that it is my choice to go, and that it always involves packing and organising. This allows me to accept that the preparation is not pushed onto me. I know I made a choice and that makes me feel empowered and less resentful about everything we need to do.
Organising hand luggage:
For long haul flights we use three bags. My husband and I have back packs that we wear and place under the seat in front of us on the plane. We have a wheelie bag for the kids to take turns with and which goes in the overhead lockers.
1) Snack bag (back pack) – Pack plenty of healthy snacks and a few treats! Into this bag I also pack medications for the family. All liquids are placed into a small clear food bag. Our water beakers are emptied just before entering security and refilled on the other side in departure lounge.
2) Entertainment bag (back pack) – Pack the iPad, lap top, kids DVDs, kids headphones, books (adult and kids) and colouring activities for kids.
3) Clothes bag (wheelie bag) – Pack a change of clothes for each of us in case of accidents or spillage and any other things that are not required frequently during the flight
In between flights:
Running and playing games – Find a quiet section in the airport where they can burn some energy. Look for places to see all the planes and watch vehicles preparing and supporting the aircraft. We sat on a bridge which kept the boys occupied for 45 minutes..
Water beakers – Empty them just before security and refill after or on the plane. We flew with Virgin Atlantic and they had several conveniently located water fountains on board.
Frequent wee stops (every two hours if awake) – Helps reduce the likelihood of a desperate situation where there’s a newly potty trained preschooler and a long queue!
On the plane:
Feeding the family. Choose a “go with the flow” mentality. If the kids aren’t hungry when a meal arrives ask the stewardesses to keep it warm for them. Check how long the meal can be safely kept warm, and then ask them to bring it out as required or just before the time is up.
Coping with kids questions. Use calm and even tone and answer clearly. Transfer authority when appropriate, such as when the fasten seat belt light comes on. “The air stewardess has asked that you take your headphones off for take–off. You can put them back on when the “fasten seat belt light” goes off.”
In-flight entertainment – Find out when it is, where and how much it costs so you are ready should you need it.
Coping with demands – do it within reason. Changing channels for them especially when they are tired will help to avoid outbursts. Teach older children how to change volume and channels. My 5 year did this easily and my 3 year old knew how to pause and play.
When the tears come which they inevitably will, look at the big picture. Long flights, messed up routines and a lack of sleep will affect them. Remember that children cannot rationalise or express feelings like adults. Understanding that will keep you in control of your emotions while you deal with theirs.
For me the key to surviving and enjoying air travel with my children is to manage my own expectations.
I have no expectations of time or what I can achieve, whether it’s reading a book or writing this article. If it happens it happens but if it doesn’t that’s ok. It’s all about being realistic.
Have you had experience flying with kids what were your coping strategies?