Friday, 30 October 2015

Flying made easy with a toddler

This weekend is the Family Travel show at London Olympia, the UK’s first exhibition completely dedicated to family travel adventures.  I’m going to be heading along to see what the specialist operators and family holiday providers have to offer for a family with an energetic and inquisitive 3 year old.  I’m always on the lookout for fun and interesting things for us to do/places to visit and plus I want to travel like I used to before my little one arrived. It’s a quandary faced by parents up and down the country I think.  Plus for us there isn’t huge amount of time before he reaches school age and we’re legally bound to take our holidays in the peak season of school holidays.

My son went on his first flight aged 12 months, to New York, of all the cosmopolitan starts to have.  At 15 months he took his second flight, a major long haul one. In fact the flight was very nearly 32 hours from London Heathrow to Palmerston North in New Zealand. And guess what? We’ll be doing it again next year. Since then he has clocked up a further 10 flights.

As a new Mum I had the “fear” about both of those initial flights. I think it’s actually every parent’s fear, the crying child who just won’t settle. Flying with a child is hardly the world’s most relaxing experience after all. Through trial and error (!) I have however been fine-tuning my approach and I have 5 top tips on how to make your journey as stress-free as possible.
1. Plan ahead
So bloomin’ obvious I know, but getting organised before even booking really helps. Firstly try wherever possible to book a direct flight. OK, this is isn’t going be possible if you’re flying to New Zealand but flying direct to your destination and preferably overnight gives you the best chance of getting your little ones to sleep. Our flight to Dubai early this year was over night and our two year old not only slept all the way there but nearly the whole way through the transfer to the hotel too. Long stopovers aren’t good for anyone, especially not troublesome toddlers. I’m of the mind now that if it has to be more than a 5 hour stopover it’s worth breaking the trip and having a couple of days in a convenient (and fun) location.  That’s my plan for the next NZ trip when my little one will just have turned 4.

2. Think about those tummies
No one wants to have a grumpy toddler who doesn’t like the airline food or the scarier sugar-crazed child on a flight whether it’s short or long haul. After all it is drilled into us that full tummies are happy tummies. When we travelled to New Zealand I had a fully stocked cool bag of snacks ready to hand, as well as having ordered the toddler special inflight meal plan. I also had plenty of heavenly sugar laden bribes on hand, in small quantities (5 smarties for example) it's a must! I use these as purely distraction when the tears are threatening. I prefer to pack slightly more healthy snacks for our snack box such as raisins, dried mango, carrot sticks, popcorn and Soreen. Before you head to the airport DO CHECK restrictions on food and liquids. We all know that the amount of liquids you can take in your hand luggage is limited but some destinations (and stopovers) have restriction on products like nuts and honey. A handy hint I discovered was that you can pre-order baby milk at Heathrow Airport here and via Boots order & collect service here. You can also order smoothies and Ella’s food pouches too all collected after you have been through security so are “airside”.

3. Gadgets and Screen Time
Where would I be without my ipad? It has been a lifeline to quiet time on many an occasion.  It’s common sense to have your gadgets all charged and ready for your journey but also think about investing in a portable battery charger. Many flight operators now have in-seat charging for phones but not all. Plus what happens if you’re on a layover when your essential ipad, phone etc. runs out of juice? Most flights with inflight entertainment have a kids channel but if your little one is obsessed with Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol probably best to have them downloaded just incase they aren’t the cartoon of choice on the in-flight kids channel. My son watched Peppa Pig for 3 hours on the way to New York.  I do not worry or feel guilty about my child spending more time glued to his screen on a flight; the benefit outweighs my concerns. However it isn’t the only of entertainment I bring – see bribes below - but if your kids love reading and colouring then absolutely bring it along and have fun. I have a friend who always brings play-doh, if I allowed my little one to do this would be guaranteed to end up in my hair and stuck to our clothes.

4. No place like home
Does your little one have a favourite blanket? A favourite toy? A bedtime ritual? Don’t just ditch these things because you’re on a flight. Plan ahead and consider how you can make your little ones as comfortable as possible. For us what that means is that on a evening/night flight we go to the toilets change him into his PJ’s, brush his teeth etc and head back to our seats for a favourite book. He then gets tucked into his blanket (when he was smaller his sleepbag) with his favourite teddy.  I know people who bring full size regular pillows and find it’s a blessing. We indulged ourselves on our New Zealand flight and bought him his own seat, I know not everyone can afford to do this but boy it made the hugest difference. 

5. When all else fails - Bribes
The best tip I was ever given (by a friend who flies long haul with her two little boys twice a year) was “presents”. You’d be hard pushed to find a kid who doesn’t enjoy unwrapping a toy or gift.  So I stash my carryon with wrapped small gifts like cars, crayons or those surprise bags from the supermarket (the Thomas the Tank Engine ones are a fav in our house). It makes a mess around your seat, but it’s at least 3 mins of focused distraction just to open it! I think bending the rules, aka bribery, on a long flight is absolutely fine. If that means buying them something little in the airport like their favourite magazine or a packet of fun stickers it’s a worthwhile exercise in sanity.  

I'm a believer that it’s is likely to keep them happy and occupied it’s worth a shot, especially if you have child who isn’t a fan of “quiet time”, who wants to run around and speak with all the other people on the plane (yup, that’s mine). I’m all for saving those tears and tantrums wherever possible but realistically you’ll never be able to sit back, drink in hand, for the full duration of the flight with a toddler in tow.

Family Travel Show takes place in London’s Olympia on 31st October – 1st November 2015. Tickets cost £8 in advance or £10 on the door, under 16s are free. For full details and to book tickets please visit



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  2. This is a rally useful article thank you. How did you make up the seat to look this comfy in the photo it looks amazing!

    1. The seat was the new Air New Zealand couch seat where the foot rest comes completely horizontal. the blanket and pillow came from and was packed in my hand luggage


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