I have already written a philosophical post about our recent holiday and how the children grew up in that one week and all the stuff we learned.
This one is where I give you some Extremely Useful Tips about travelling on a plane with small people. Brace yourselves.
On the plane on the way over, we were sitting opposite a mum travelling solo with four children, ranging in age from 18 months to 7 or 8. Having some experience of taking my two children on an aeroplane by myself, first of all I need to say: my hat off to you, you are one brave lady. Her kids behaved atrociously during the whole flight: bickering, arguing, screaming, crying, kicking against seats, making outrageous demands, not staying in their seat at safety-critical moments etc. Their rather stressed and worn out mother, trapped with the youngest on her lap, made empty threats from across the aisle at her three older kids who were seated together by themselves.
I felt great. My daughter was sitting on my lap munching on some raisins, my son was calmly studying a book about multiplication tables. Suddenly, by comparison, we were doing great and our kids were a credit to us.
I had plenty of time, while my kids were so well-behaved, to study what was going on with the “neighbours from hell” as one cranky old man sitting in front of the unruly threenager called them, and to think of some Points for Improvement to put on their feedback sheet. Combined with some exciting craft ideas, I present to you my:
Tips for travelling with under 5s
1. Do not under any circumstances let them sit by themselves
Keep your small people within easy reach. You need to be able to grab them if they work out how to undo their seatbelts and stage a break out. Also, you want to be able to hiss dire threats into their ear without the whole plane listening in and judging your parenting techniques. Disciplining your child in a foreign language is definitely a bonus here, but beware: people on aeroplanes are 56.7% more likely to speak your language than the average stranger in a soft play place. The best place for parents to sit is so that the children have to get through you to get to each other. Another good option is to flank them, one parent on each side.
2. Pack snacks. Healthy snacks. Without E-numbers.
The rowdy kids on the plane devoured their body weight in Haribo, chomping through their entire supply within the first ten minutes. We hadn’t even taken off yet. The rest of the journey they were high as kites. Whereas food is an excellent way to entertain your small people in flight, make sure the food helps rather than hinders. Good snacks take a long time for your 3 year old to unwrap and an even longer time to eat. They are exciting enough to act as a bribe for sitting quietly during take off, but not so exciting that they prompt tantrums when they are all gone. If you have a child that still naps, good snacks also have plenty of sleepy making carbohydrates in them so that they will nod off for the latter half of the journey. I’d packed brioche (sweet, filling, takes a while to eat, not too crumbly), raisins (take ages, fun to get out of the box), bread sticks (appealingly crunchy) and flavoured rice cakes. Fruit is great but often doesn’t survive long enough.
3. Bring entertainment that doesn’t annoy other passengers and if possible, can’t get lost too easily
The latter is almost impossible, but mostly I bring sticker books and magazines with activities. Also colouring pencils (not felt tips, or they will decorate you and the plane as well), sticker sheets and little books to read/look at. On our last trip I brought pencils but no paper, so we invented a lovely activity that I named “Decorate your own Sick Bag”:
4. Use what is available
If you run out of snacks or your carefully chosen activities are spurned, look in the seat pocket in front of you or the arm rest beside you for inspiration. Besides sick bag decorating, we have played “pull the safety card from where Daddy wedged it under the catch that holds the tray table up while giggling insanely”, we have studied the in-flight magazine with interested and named everything in it, we have looked out of the window and, as my son is completely obsessed with numbers, he spent a happy fifteen minutes changing channels on the armrest radio.
5. Stay calm and engage with your children
Nothing makes a potentially explosive child more likely to explode than you losing your cool. You are stuck in a seat together for a while, so it is best to keep the tone light, the mood up-beat and the snack and hugs coming. If your child finds something that amuses them and wants to do it again and again and again, for goodness sake keep doing it. If you have to read Topsy and Tim have a Birthday Party eight times in a row, do it with feeling. It might even see you through until the plane lands. This is not a time to strike up deep and meaningful conversations with the person next to you (yes, I’m looking at you, solo-travelling-mum-of-four), you are needed to be entertainer, referee, play facilitator, snack provider and conversation partner. This is a time to give your child all the attention s/he asks for.
Finally, if your kids do end up crying inconsolably and all you can do is grin and bear it, just keep in mind that it is in no way my fault and you probably did something wrong by not following my advice to the letter.
Note: if anyone reading this was on a flight to Spain last autumn and thinks they saw me walk up and down the aisle with a screaming baby for an hour, that absolutely categorically was not me.
Note 2: Got any great tips of your own that you’d like to share? Put them in the comments!