Tips For Flying With Under 5s

child plane

Within the opening paragraph of M. Scott Peck’s famous self help book, The Road Less Travelled, are the words “once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult”. This I believe applies perfectly to the concept of flying with small children.

After having my first child it was about a year before I dared to try even a train ride. Then, in year 3 I found myself pregnant with number 2 and on a 14-hour flight en route to live in Kuala Lumpur for 3 years. Since then I have flown more times than I care to count at all stages along the age continuum up to 3 and 5. Do I have it sussed? I refer you to paragraph 1. I have, however, learned a few things along the way:

  1. Forget flying as you once knew it.

Browsing for a nice magazine? A glass of fizz? A scoot around Clinique, a squirt of Chanel followed by enforced sitting with great films and food service? Flying with kids under 5 is not like that. Force yourself to suspend those memories (for now, see point 10). Approach it simply as managing small children through an experience not conducive to their current state of cerebral development and dig in.

  1. 6+ hours + flight time = your actual ordeal

Don’t make the mistake of aligning the magnitude of this job to the length of your flight. Think door to door, think transfers, think security queues; think delays and make adequate mental and physical preparation.

  1. Suspend routines

If you happen to be a Gina Ford routine parent as I am, you are going to have to put it on hold. Three years ago that would’ve given me a nervous twitch, but it’s a fact. The times your children do things on a flight are for the most part out of your control. I once toiled for 45 minutes to get my exhausted son to take a nap. Eventually he dropped off. Within 5 seconds the entire cabin lights came back on and a stewardess appeared asking me if I wanted a croissant. I nervously attempted a shush gesture to which the stewardess shouted – WOULD YOU LIKE A CROISSANT, to which Ben sat bolt upright and I very much did not want a croissant.

The key thing to learn is that whatever happens it all works out.

  1. Lower your expectations of toys

I once read a great advertorial from BA in an expat magazine, which listed the 10 best toys for kids on a flight. These were things like Loom bands, Play Doh, Lego, Top Trumps and Uno. The truth of it in my experience is that for 4s and under, most of these will be more fiddly than engaging. I’d say go for quantity and potluck. Take as many different distractions as your cabin baggage will allow and….

  1. Lower your expectations of distraction time

Expect 10 minutes out of each thing you offer and if it’s more, then that’s a big old bonus. I got a maximum of 10 minutes out of anything other than, dare I say it (the IPAD, which is the real answer – did I say that out loud?).

  1. Find sneaky ways to exercise your mobile offspring.

If you go to the loo, take ‘em. If any adult in your party goes to the loo, get them to take ‘em. Go to the loo many more times than you need to. Return to your seat a different route if number of aisles permits so people can’t log your trips. If there’s an excuse to move and they’re not asleep – grab it.

  1. Suspend healthy eating – food is a tool

Forget 3 meals and 2 healthy snacks. The thing with food is that it is an omnipotent silencer of children, which can be used to great ends on long flights. Plan for the most possible eating occasions, with the longest eating times. Graze them like a boss. You can undo it all with broccoli later.

  1. Assess your neighbours and if hostile, avoid eye contact

My experience is that most fellow flyers are kind and sympathetic to travelling children. The odd person however will not be and however cute your kids are, you will not convert them. The best thing you can do is pretend they are not there. Failing that ask them to help you find your toddler’s off switch.

  1. Make a special effort to understand exactly what is going to happen to your buggy

Something magical happens to buggies on planes and it’s different every time. Locating it can add about 20 minutes to your arrival schedule. Consider a legal, flight friendly homing device or be vigilant.

  1. This too shall pass

Know that air travel, as you knew it will happen again one day, just for now, that flight you’re going on with under 5’s probably isn’t going to be it.

Enjoy your flight (sniggers).

Jackie Wilson

Jackie is recently back from 3 years living the expat dream in Kuala Lumpur where she had her second child and felt compelled to write about it – a lot! Formerly a Marketing Manager of British institutions such as Cathedral City Cheddar and Twinings Tea, she wrote columns in KL for several local and expat magazines, web content, a blog and was a contributing author for the book Knocked Up Abroad. She now lives in Hampshire and desperately seeks family experiences to replace those weekend trips to Langkawi and breakfasts to better Nasi Lemak with Roti Canai. Suggestions welcome.

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