It’s probably no surprise that I was somewhat dreading our recent five-hour flight with our ‘threenager’ and just-walking 18 month old. If you’ve ever flown with (or near!) small children, you’ll know what a nightmare travelling with toddlers can be.
What’s more surprising is that both our outward and return flights turned out to be completely melt-down free.
Luck played its part – no teething, no temperatures and no ten-hour delays. But some careful prep helped to make the flight memorable for all the right reasons.
So here’s some tips to help when flying with toddlers.
Reading stories a few days prior to the journey helped our eldest know what to expect. Our boy’s favourite (and, in my opinion, the best for preparing him) was Maisy Goes By Plane closely followed by Topsy and Tim Go On An Aeroplane. One better suited to the younger of our two tots was George Goes On A Plane.
Take a toy plane
Our three-year old son held a little toy jet throughout his airport adventure. It was part of a wooden airport set from Le Toy Van. But a paper one would have been just the ticket too.
Relying on the goodwill of our three-year-old to ‘walk nicely’ (and quickly) around Heathrow was never really an option. We took two separate pushchairs which also meant Dad and daughter could nip off for a nap while Mum and son had a cup of OJ and cake. We kept the buggies until boarding and they were ready and waiting when we disembarked.
Seek out the softplay
Stumbling on the small softplay area was a very welcome surprise, giving the kids the chance to burn off a bucket load of energy pre-flight. So if you find softplay at the airport, use it and abuse it.
Go plane spotting
A big thank you goes to the interior designers at Heathrow for the huge floor to ceiling windows by the departure gates. Our toddlers loved spying planes and became increasingly fascinated with the tarmac goings on.
Board late, not last
Many airlines give preferential boarding to passengers with young kids. We held back to make sure the kids were constrained and confined on board for the shortest amount of time possible.
Pack like a pro
Here’s how we packed our three bags of hand luggage:
Bag one contained all the entertainment (books, a lot of new tat toys from the pound shop, iPad and travel Guess Who?).
Bag two contained stuff we knew we’d need on board – snacks (more on this later), changing paraphernalia, comforters (including one ridiculously large cuddly light-up Thomas the Tank Engine) and jumpers. We placed these two bags under the seats in front for easy access.
Bag three had all the things we thought we might need, but hoped we wouldn’t – asthma inhaler and medicine, spare clothes, extra nappies, etc. We shoved it up high and ignored it.
Once you’re wedged in your seats, there’s no room to rummage through bags searching for the sodding baby wipes. So within each bag, we used see-through, sealable, plastic food bags to group things together. It meant that all the nappy changing kit could be grabbed in one go and everything was super easy to find. Anal? Perhaps. Helpful? Definitely.
Bring a bottle
If your little one still takes a bottle, let them guzzle away at the start and end of the flight to prevent the pain in their ears caused by the change in altitude. And, since an occasional Chupa Chup never hurt anyone, if your child is old enough, give them a lolly to suck. (It’s a great distraction tool too)
Snacks, snacks, snacks
A hungry kid is NEVER a happy kid and grazing keeps boredom at bay. To avoid sugar highs (especially after the aforementioned Chupa Chup), divide portions of pretzels, raisins, crackers, low-sugar biscuits, and yes, Pom Bear crisps, into lots of small snack bags. For us, full tanks meant a tantrum-free flight. (Plus a pack of chocolate buttons for the purpose of bribery is always a winner.)
Carry me, baby
I looked longingly as the other babies slept peacefully in those cosy bulk-head bassinets. Our youngest was deemed too old for such a luxury (jealous, much?) but she still needed her sleep. I popped her in a baby carrier (which is suitable up to age three) and did the shaky-hip thing mums instinctively do until she dozed right off. Miraculously, she stayed asleep while I slowly and skillfully maneuvered myself back into my seat. Go me.
The iPad is your friend
We thanked our lucky CBeebies stars for Charlie and Lola and Topsy and Tim – the best babysitters on board.
The lovely lot over at netmums have lots more advice for travelling with children and, if like me you’re slightly dreading flying with toddlers, you never know, they might just surprise you too.