My friend Sarah has worked as a Flight Attendant for the last five years. She has seen some great parenting onboard the flights she has served in that time and some pretty hopeless parenting too! She has kindly put together some useful tips for flying with babies and children for us to share with our readers.
As Sarah sent me pages and pages of tips I have spilt them up into three handy guides! Flying comfortably with children, flying safely with children and preventing travel sickness. I hope these three articles will be a valuable source of information for families planning on flying for the first time…. although I can guarantee that expert family flyers will pick up some great tips too!
When first reading through Sarah’s tips I hung my head shamefully a couple of times knowing that my family have caused extra work for flight attendants during past flights… hands up any parents who have given their kids crisps to eat onboard a flight? Have you ever let your child play with the safety card? Sarah may make you think twice during your next family flight.
I will now hand you over to Sarah for the first article in the series…
I will start by saying I do not have kids of my own so please excuse my ignorance of some of these tips which you may find impossible to enforce lol! Some of my tips may seem like a lecture and other tips may just make you think a little differently. Either way, they are all from the perspective of a childless and yet experienced Flight Attendant, I hope parents will feel more confident when taking their child onboard a plane by following some of my tips:)
Factor in lots of extra time – If you are flying with your child for the first time, give yourself lots of time to check in, to go through security, shop for last-minute items, walk to your gate and board the flight. If you do not give yourself enough time you will become stressed and children sense stress. It is better to arrive early and browse the shops or find a soft play area in the airport than arrive late, stressed or worse miss the flight.
Families with young children are normally allowed to board planes first, along with passengers who have paid extra for the benefit and passengers needing extra assistance. Take advantage of it, you do not want to turn up halfway through boarding and have the pressure of having to sit down quickly and unprepared whilst trying to settling your children.
Minimising the contact with germs onboard – Never let your child chew on or bite things on the aircraft. The tray tables are dirty, the arm rests are dirty, everything is dirty! The first thing your little one might want to grab and chew on is the safety card or magazines… These are stay onboard items they are never cleaned and rarely replaced…
“An aircraft with low-cost airlines tend to fly at least 6 times a day, that is at least 6 people each day that touch those things…. 42 people a week and since the last time you flew with that airline last summer that is 2184 people minimum that could have touched it! YUCK! ”
I would recommend wiping down your seating area with anti bacterial wipes as soon as you board the plane to minimise the germs your child will come into contact with.
Have you ever put your hand under a table in a restaurant or park and found lumps of used chewing gum underneath? Where do you think people stick it when they are on a plane? Yup between the safety cards and pages of magazines… Gross!
I recently heard a story of a woman who allowed her child to chew on a safety card, at some point through the flight, the child started choking, the child was given back slaps before dislodging a dried up piece of chewing gum which had been stuck to the safety card. Needless to say the mother was angry… The safety cards are not chew toys, so please pack a suitable chew toy for your child (and a couple of spares for when any fall on the dirty floor!)
Tips for travelling alone with a young child/children – If you are travelling alone with small children you are technically classed as a “person with reduced mobility” or a PRM… you can request the free service at most airports. Ask for “special assistance”. They can help you with bags whilst you look after your children or vice versa, they can help you from car to plane and then off the plane to your car/transport. (I recommend that you check the rules at each airport as these service differ, for instance an airport within the EU will have a slightly different service to the one provided outside of the EU).
At some airports you will be provided with assistance at check in and whilst picking up hold bags too. Do not be afraid to ask for this service as it is free. Most airports have contact details on their website or the airlines can direct you to their contacts and more information on the service they offer. This service needs to be pre booked, you should not expect it to be offered automatically at your departure/arrival.
Tip for flying with a baby – Most cabin crew that I have worked with are absolutely thrilled to be given a baby to cuddle whilst you sort your bags/other children out. The cabin crew are not able to put bags in the lockers for you as they are not insured if they injure themselves whilst placing bags into the overhead lockers, however they will look after your baby/child whilst you settling into your seat. Just ask, flight attendants are onboard to help and we do not like to see people struggling with children who are too embarrassed or shy to ask.
Keeping your child entertained – Colouring books and sticker books are great for entertaining young children during a flight. I would recommend giving kids some money to spend in the WH Smiths or similar store in the airport. They will love the novelty of selecting their own magazines, puzzle books and sweets to entertain them on the flight.
Make sure upon leaving the shop that your purchases are hidden away until you are all settled on the plane. (There are lots of things to keep a child entertained whilst at an airport, do not waste the novelty of the new books until you need them!) Hopefully, the promise of being given the new books when onboard the plane can be used as bribery for good behaviour in the airport. Alternatively, buy colouring books and toys before getting to the airport and wrap them up to be opened on the plane.
Images – Our various experiences of flying as a family
Goody bag – If you have space in your hand luggage, (you can use your childs baggage allowance) pack a ‘goody bag’ to be used to keep your child entertained throughout the flight. Fill the goody bag with age appropriate goodies i.e. loom bands, crayons, stickers, trains and other favourite small toys. I have seen many parents using the magic water books which can be used again and again. Flight attendants would rather peel off stickers from every surface than listen (helplessly) to your child crying or tripping over them in the aisle because they are bored.
You may even consider packing a small wrapped present for every hour of a journey, so that when the novelty wears off you can hand out the next one! If you are worried about space in your hand luggage wrap up items that will be useful on holiday and yet entertaining for your child e.g. a pair of sunglasses, a sun hat, funky drink bottle with a straw etc.
Please remember that flight attendants do not get annoyed that your child is making a fuss or generally causing havoc during a flight… they will however become increasingly frustrated when they see parents who are completely unprepared and look at a loss as to how to channel their child’s energy. Flight attendants/cabin crew are onboard your flight to ensure passengers safety. We are not baby sitters or child minders and unfortunately we do not have a supply of toys to entertain your child.
Keeping your child comfortable during descent – Ask your flight attendant for the estimated time of landing and have a drink/bottle for your child handy. About 30 – 45 minutes before landing the plane will start to descend. Unfortunately little heads cannot handle the pressure changes. Babies and toddlers also cannot clear their ears so they will be in pain and they will be uncomfortable. It is heartbreaking to see babies and children crying in discomfort and usually once a child is upset they do not want drinks or dummies and will keep pushing them away despite them being the best thing to help.
Older children can be encouraged to talk to help with ear discomfort. Ask your child to describe what they see out of the window, or what they are most looking forward to doing on holiday to keep them swallowing and clearing their ears. Yawning also helps so encourage them to do their best impression of someone tired and for older children the most reliable method (and most enjoyed by kids!) is to provide some sweets to chew or suck. Due to health and safety policies most airlines no longer hand out sweets for passengers so I would recommend to carry some with you.
It is also advisable to know the approximate landing time so that you can take your child to the toilet to avoid them needing to go when the seatbelt sign comes on, or worse during taxi or just before touch down.
Food to avoid giving children on a plane! Children and crumbly food should never mix on a plane. On low-cost airlines, your flight attendants have the unfortunate pleasure of tidying/cleaning the plane with normally 6-8 rows to deal with per crew member, within a 7 minute time slot! Melted chocolate and the crumbs from crisps and pastry are the worst foods to attempt to clean with only a dust pan and brush (we do not have vacuum cleaners for use in between flights). If the crew take longer than planned for cleaning up after messy children the next set of passengers may be delayed getting onboard. Remember that could be you on your return flight!
Use the sick bags – Sick bags which you will find in your seat pocket are great for collecting left over food, sweet wrappers etc too. One of the many pet peeves for cabin crew is to find sweet wrappers, etc in seat pockets, when they went through the cabin several times collecting rubbish! Always take the opportunity to throw rubbish away when the crew come through asking for it, it means there is less chance of getting a treasured toy mixed in and left behind at the end of the day.
Changing a nappy onboard – Please never change a nappy whilst sat in your seat, baby changing facilities are available on all flights, normally located in the toilets. Yes the changing station may be small, but imagine you have just been served your dinner and the next thing you see, looking at the row beside you, is the contents of a pungent, and horrifying nappy, or worse still you wake up to the sight from a mid-flight nap! It is unpleasant and unhygienic.
It always amazes me when I see parents changing their child’s nappy from their seat as you would not expect someone to do it whilst on a bus or in a cinema or the middle of a restaurant and yet a plane is all of these places combined! There are bins in all toilets to dispose of the nappy discreetly, NEVER EVER hand a nappy to a member of your Cabin Crew or put it in the bin as it comes past, as it is not hygienic or pleasant to waft it through the rest of the cabin.
Before leaving the plane – Take all the time you need to make sure you have everything! You do not want to get home and realise you have left your child’s only comfort toy on the plane. It can take weeks to get lost items back and will cost you to have it sent/processed. If you require assistance ask the cabin crew if they could have a thorough check of the row you were sat in, while you gather your belongings and children, crew know where to look and the most likely places to find lost items.
Check out your aircraft in advance – One final thing, check out Seat Guru, type in your flight number or airline and route and it will show you the type of aircraft you will be flying on. You can easily see the restricted seats and also which seats are close to toilets etc. This is a very useful tool when planning where to best sit on the plane when travelling with children.
Thanks for reading Sarah’s tips for flying comfortably with children. If you have any other tips please do comment below. If you would like to read more tips from Sarah please check out… Flying safely with children and preventing travel sickness.
Copyright – Main image Sarah. All other images copyright Travel Loving Family