I just flew 15 hours on a budget airline with my three children. I journeyed from Barcelona to Santiago with my children aged one, three and five. Thank god I had my mum to help me. It was still very, very tough and I learnt a lot. Here are my tips for flying with toddlers and children.
No one really has a clue about parenting, and anyone who claims to is a dickhead
A friend once told me that no one really has a clue about parenting, and anyone who claims to is a ‘dickhead’. With this in mind, these tips are from previous mistakes I’ve made over many, many flights. I still find travelling with children of any age really hard. Anyone who claims otherwise is wrong (or a dickhead).
1. Break the journey
If you have a very long journey in store, it can be easier to split the journey. I travelled from the UK to Spain and then on to Chile and chose to spend a couple of days in between in Barcelona. I used these ‘two sleeps’ to let my kids have a good run about in the park and get as much rest as possible.
2. Consider an airport hotel
If your flight leaves early in the morning, it can be worthwhile to stay in an airport hotel the night previous. I’m not a fan of bland hotel airports, but they do exactly what they say on the tin.
I like the Premier Inn as it’s great value (about £40 per family room if you book in advance), the beds are comfortable and everything works.
I’ve also stayed in Sofitel and Double Tree Hilton airport hotels which are a little more pricey and great too.
3. Pack entertainment
Be sure to pack non messy activities and toys to keep your little one(s) entertained. I took magic painting books (which use only water instead of paint to colour), a thin colouring book with crayons and few toy cars, as well as a Where’s Wally book for my older kids. I also took child headphones.
While my children love books I overdid it last time and took too many and this really weighed my hand luggage down. In future I reckon one kid’s magazine is enough.
4. Don’t forget spare clothes
Within five minutes of taking off my toddler was covered in apple juice and my second child had spilled water over himself. I now pack two spare changes for every child – underwear, lightweight pyjamas and slipper socks.
Slipper socks (or any socks) are vital. My kids always insist on going to the toilet without shoes on and trust me, aeroplane toilet floors aren’t always the cleanest.
I also realised it’s a good idea to pack an extra comfortable, lightweight outfit for me too. My white T shirt was caked in apple compote before we’d even taken off.
I don’t like plastic, but ziplock bags are a god send on a long haul flight with children. For the times when my kid eats one crisp and leaves the rest of the pack, when the crayons spill everywhere or when I need a rubbish bag.
I now pack my carry on liquids in to a ziplock bag ready for security screening. Baby and toddler food including milk and pouches is generally allowed and I keep these my liquids in a side compartment of my bag.
I also take a full pack of wet wipes and plenty of nappies.
Even more importantly than wet wipes is medicine. My child has severe allergies so I always have two EpiPen on me, as well as other medication. I also keep a printed prescription for every medication as security staff can get very suspicious.
Sadly I also learnt that it’s really important to inform the airline of any medical issues before the flight every step of the way. If possible get a written confirmation. I emailed, tweeted and called the airline to explain my son’s allergies. It’s also important to prepare for the worst – despite all my efforts the cabin still served a granola bar with pumpkin seeds to the other passengers.
I also pack child and adult paracetamol in my hand luggage. I opt for sachets of calpol (sachets are lighter than bottles and ready measured). I keep it in a ziplock bag in case they burst (this has happened way too many times).
7. Slings, buggies and car seats
I’ve heard great things about the YoYo carry on stroller, but personally I prefer to carry my toddler in my Ergobaby. Annabelle is 18 months old and still fits easily into my Ergobaby (I now carry her on my back). Slings allow you to have both hands free for all the hassle that comes with travel by air.
If your budget will stretch to it, it’s great to have a separate seat for your infant. Not only does this make travel easier, but a lot safer. I hate flying with my toddler on my lap, but I have done it. I much prefer keeping her in a car seat restraint system.
8. Ask for help
My mother was a superstar and accompanied me on our epic journey from rural England to Chile. It was especially useful having her for the many times I needed to be with one child and couldn’t leave my other child unattended. (‘Mummy, I need the loo, AGAIN!’)
I flew from Spain to the UK on my own however, and quite often I was at the mercy of strangers. People were really helpful in assisting me with luggage and my kids. (Special mention to the lady in row 23 who helped my kid wash his hands).
If you’re pregnant or travelling with more than one child, it might be worth requesting assistance at the airport in advance. This is especially important if you’re flying with a budget airline such as Ryanair or EasyJet. Often the terminal is located very far from the baggage reclaim. When we landed in Santiago I had no idea there would be such a long walk. It felt like miles! I asked for help but was denied any assistance as we hadn’t booked in advance. Charming.
When travelling, I relax any rules we have at home. However I learnt the hard way about sugar. My kids had a fizzy soda on a short haul flight and my toddler tried some too. Sugar high, followed by a sugar low. Never, ever again.
I take a maximum of one small pack of biscuits on a long haul flight. If I’m flying with my toddler only I restrict this to sugar free, baby biscuits only.
My go to snacks are sandwiches, fruit and vegetable pouches, baby crisps, raisins and mini breadsticks. For my older children I took carrot sticks too.
I’ve run out of water on flights and it wasn’t possible to buy any on the flight due to turbulence or busy staff. I now always buy more water after passing through security clearance. And don’t forget the sippy cup. (My second T shirt got soaked as I’d forgotten the sippy cup).
10. And breathe
I was counting down the final hours on our Santiago flight. There’s no denying it, it was a horrible, horrible flight. Flying with a toddler or child is never fun, but it doesn’t last forever.
Don’t stress about angry fellow passengers, after all we were all children once.
Don’t stress about your kids watching too much TV or behaving badly. Flying with toddlers is stressful enough already.
I won’t wish you a happy flight. I’ll wish you a safe flight.
Did I forget anything? Leave me a comment below and download my flying with children checklist