How to survive a long haul flight with small children.
12 years ago I met an Aussie backpacker in a pub in Edinburgh, and so began my lifelong commitment to long haul travel! Before kids, long flights between the UK and Australia were a bore – now, they make the whole thing more 'interesting'.
I’ve lost count of the number of long haul trips my eldest (now aged 5) has made (about 5 maybe?), but along the way we’ve picked up a few tips and gems of advice about surviving long haul trips with small children:
1. Pack spare clothes for everyone! On our first family long-haul flight, Master B (aged about 9 months) vomited all over me and himself. I was eternally grateful to my wise cousin who had suggested I pack myself some spare clothes in my hand luggage. Sitting in stinky, soggy gear with a little one on your lap for hours is not nice.
2. Chat to the check-in staff and the cabin crew as they are broadly pretty amenable and will go out of their way to help you if they can. Whilst airlines increasingly charge for advance seat reservations, there’s still some wiggle room left at the discretion of the airline staff. We’ve been pretty successful at making special requests for seats in the bassinet row even if the online booking system didn’t show them as available, or getting a spare seat for an infant even though we didn’t book (pay for) one.
On our most recent trip with kids aged 2 and 5, we managed to select three (separate) seats in the bassinet row online, and negotiate a fourth once boarded. A polite request to a passenger seated between us resulted in all four of us seated together and with extra legroom for the kids to move about a bit more freely.
3. We’ve travelled with a number of different airlines (Qantas, Emirates, Thai, Singapore Airlines all spring to mind) and the service is generally good. They all serve kids meals ahead of the main service, assist with requests to warm milk (be prepared for a bit of a wait) and have given away free toys. Emirates have my vote for the best toys and on-board kids entertainment channel.
4. Transiting through an airport adds an extra element of ‘fun’ to the trip and a chance for a leg stretch between planes. Kids never seem to tire of riding up and down on travelators or hitching a lift on airport trolleys. A couple of hours is enough, but anything more than that and everyone gets grumpy! We stopped overnight in Dubai once which gave everyone the chance for some sleep but beware of hidden costs that soon rack up for taxis and hotel refreshments.
Singapore (Changi) is probably our favourite airport for transit as there’s a cute koi pond and a little outdoor butterfly garden to explore. We even tried to visit the popular airport swimming pool but it was closed for maintenance at the time.
5. Aside from the increasingly comprehensive screen-based entertainment, there’s plenty of simple activities you can pack for the journey. We always take playdoh and colouring books etc. Gift wrapping a few new pocket money toys (or even some old ones!) adds an extra layer of excitement.
This time Master B also tested a craft box from PeekyMe which are mail-ordered kits designed to be super light, which means they are easy to add to your hand luggage too. The kits come with all the craft pieces you need and comprehensive instructions. We made a loo roll princess and a king which kept him happy for close to an hour. Be aware that airlines have restrictions on scissors so they need to be the sort of kids scissors that are pretty blunt, and also glue needs to be under 100ml and packed separately with your liquids.
6. Airport security is pretty flexible when it comes to baby foods and milk. The quantity is not generally limited (fine print usually says a ‘reasonable’ amount) and you may be asked to taste liquids in front of security staff. Sampling a pouch of sweet potato pureed baby food was a particular highlight of one trip for me! I always pack a cool bag of food and snacks as the onboard baby foods available can be pretty limited. I was once offered a pouch of pureed pear and a carton of banana milk as the only options for an 18-month-old! Worth noting that if you are flying with an older infant (under 2) on your lap you can pre-order a child's meal for them which is useful if they are well into weaning and eating family foods.
Despite our fears, we’ve always found other passengers to be amenable and friendly despite the inevitable disruption caused by containing small kids in a flying pencil for hours on end! So don’t hold back and start exploring this wonderful world with your family.