Travelling with kids is often a challenge (to put it gently), unless you are lucky enough to be one of those rare parents with constantly well-behaved angels. A quick flight over the ditch can be lots of fun but long-hauls can be a test of patience for everyone. Changes in environment, air pressure, food, lack of sleep, boredom and confined spaces can result in kids playing up and parents looking longingly at the drinks trolley and escape hatches. Here are some tips from parents who travel regularly, on how to make it easier.
1. If it doesn't affect the budget enormously, book a night flight. Run those wee darlings round during the day so they'll be exhausted when they board and, hopefully, go straight to sleep when the cabin lights dim.
2. Take lots of snacks they like with you, especially if your children are fussy on the food front. That packet of rice crackers, muesli bar or banana might just save your backside if they turn their nose up at what's on offer.
3. Take empty drink bottles with you that you fill once you've cleared immigration and security. This could avoid you having to get up regularly to ask flight attendants for - yet another - glass of water.
4. If you're okay with giving your kids sugar, take lollipops with you for landing. They last much longer – hopefully all the way to touchdown – for ear-unblocking purposes on descent.
5. Reduce/eliminate screen time the week before flying so it has an increased appeal on the plane!
6. Buy new reading or activity/sticker books, travel-sized games, felts etc, that they don't see until you’re on the plane; novelty goes a long way in desperate times. Bring these out periodically as surprises through the duration of the flight so they double as incentives for good behaviour.
7. Pack spare clothes and wet wipes, for all of you, in hand luggage. It might not just be themselves they spill their drink, or whatever else, on. It pays to pack some plastic bags too for wet or stained clothes.
8. If you kids like feeling responsible, pre-assign them 'grown up' jobs for when you get to the airport or on the plane (perhaps not looking after passports, but maybe checking the screen for boarding times or something similar). Give them their own wheelie carry-on cases as soon as they are old enough and try to encourage them to pull it themselves all the time – unless a meltdown is on the cards of course. There are some amazing cases that turn into car seats at the other end and if you get one that fits under their seat, they won't be asking you for things every five minutes.
9. If you're going to be roaming on your mobile, write your number on their arm just in case they get separated from you at the airport.
10. When you book, ask to be seated down the back of the plane as you'll be closer to the toilets and the kids will be able to get up and stretch their legs without being in the aisle blocking the carts.
11. Order them (and maybe even you) special or kids meals so you get served first and they don't have to wait for the trolley to reach them. Just bear in mind these do take longer to be cleared.
12. Smile lots and be super friendly to all flight attendants and the people around you - who knows what you may have to apologise for later!
13. Make sure they have enough warm clothes and covered shoes on, or at least available. Planes are often colder than you think and incessant whingeing about how 'freeeeeezing' they are could make you regret not bringing that sweatshirt, long pants or pair of socks when you had the chance.
14. Buy a travel book about your destination that you can read together on the plane, and plan what you'd like to do on your trip. Ones with lots of pictures are even better.
15. Stay calm and pick your battles. Remember they are not in their usual environment and may misbehave from being tired, or even over wired. Sometimes turning a blind eye to less-than-perfect behaviour will avoid further friction or raised voices between you, something the passengers around you will be very glad of.