This week Emily reminds us of the chaos of flying with children and offers up some handy tips for helping you get to the other end in one piece with your sanity (just about) intact…
I love flying. I love everything about it; people-watching at the airport, shopping for duty-free, running to the gate in response to the last call for boarding. As with so many things, however, there is a fine line between heaven and hell, and this line is crossed as soon as one introduces children into the equation. Flying with children is a whole different ballgame; a descent into a hell involving the exact antithesis of all that I love about my solo flying experience.
First you negotiate the snaking check-in queue, with your over-sized buggy, over-stuffed baggage and over-tired children, snatched from their beds because someone once told you it was easier to fly overnight with small children. Next comes the hurdle of security; folding buggies and stripping coats from reluctant arms. Your bag is pulled aside, you shuffle across, a child on each hip, to retrieve your belongings, take a sip of baby milk to prove you’re not a terrorist, and explain away the hundred-weight of raisins, cheerios and cheese triangles necessary to placate the children during the flight.
Forget the perfume counter, the next hour is taken up with toilet trips, feeding and distraction tactics. All this before you’ve even reached Gate 27, where the airline invokes their policy to board families first. Far from being helpful, all this serves to do is to use up not only your children’s (already limited) attention span, but also your diversionary toys, your aforementioned stache of snacks, and your sanity, while you wait for the remaining passengers to board.
The actual flight is three and a half hours of purgatory. A nappy filled just as the seat-belt sign lights; a tantrum over your refusal to allow them to jump on the seats; an air-sick child who won’t use a bag… You daren’t accept a hot coffee with a child bouncing on your lap; you’d kill for a gin, but you already have ‘unfit mother’ stamped on your hand luggage. The in-flight meal comes and goes; your tray is already in use as a colouring desk.
The air around your neighbouring passengers is thick with disapproval. You’re torn between bribing the children into submission, and your desire to demonstrate some redeeming parenting skills. Forget the latter; bribery will win out. Finally, when you think it will never end, and you have long since exhausted your reserves of chocolate, nursery rhymes and self-respect, the plane will land. They say it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive; perhaps just occasionally it is better never to set off. Or better still, to leave the children with Grandma, and travel alone.
For anyone still considering taking their children abroad, there are a few things worth considering:
• Buy a cheap umbrella-fold buggy and make sure you have a sling as although you can generally take the pram right up to the plane, you won’t get it back till baggage reclaim. Don’t take your expensive Smugaboo unless you don’t mind it getting scratched and battered.
• Be extremely wary of car seats provided by hire companies, but at the same time consider whether you want your carefully selected, side-impact-protection infant carrier bashed around the hold of a plane. We acquired two baby seats from Freecycle to take on holiday, and ‘donated’ them to the car hire company when we’d finished with them.
• Don’t rule out flying with a newborn; babies under six months are surprisingly easy to travel with, compared to a toddler who wants to be on the move!
• Take more food than you could possibly imagine your child eating. Raisins, fruit puree pots, breadsticks, chocolate buttons… Now is not the time to worry about creating bad eating habits; if it distracts them, feed it to them. Added to which, swallowing on take-off and landing will help prevent earache.
• Pack a special bag filled with things your children have never seen before. They don’t have to be toys in the conventional sense; spoons, a purse, a sponge… anything that will hold their attention for a bit. Don’t show all your cards straight away though – bring out a new item every 15 minutes. Don’t let them play with them whilst you’re away, and they’ll be fresh and exciting again for the journey home.
We flew to Portugal when the babies were three months old and the toddler 18 months. It was pure hell and we swore never to do it again. A few months later, when our son turned two and could have his own seat, we took a short flight to Scotland, where an Easyjet angel restored our faith in cabin crew.
I can’t help but give a wry smile when friends panic over a forthcoming trip away with a single baby; it’s a doddle, really. But travelling with several children, whilst certainly achievable, isn’t my idea of fun. From now on we’ll be going places by car, and saving trips abroad for when it’s just the two of us. That is, just as soon as we can convince someone to look after the children…
Emily Carlisle is a freelance writer living in the Cotswolds with her husband and three small children. You can read her take on extreme parenting at More Than Just a Mother.