Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tips for Flying with Young Children - make it bearable

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Photo by StubbyFingers

I had a chat with a pal when he visited London early. He flies rather frequently for work but because of company's cost cutting measures, have been relegated to the economy section of the plane. "I hate children," he snorted before tucking into his phad thai. I shot him a look. "No, I mean I really hate flying with children, especially if they aren't mine," he corrected himself. He then went on and on about how parents should make sure that their children would not end up screaming the entire flight.

I was quite like him back then, always dreading and expecting the worse whenever I noticed young children seating nearby on my flights. Ever since LO came along, switching camps is inevitable - we are now officially those people. I have since mastered the apologetic yet resigned look, which is probably the only reason why I'm not dismembered by the mob after each disastrous flight. Granted that flying with young children isn't easy but there are some ways to ease it and here are 5 tips when flying with children.

1. Book early and choose your seats

Needless to say, having a kid with you means that you would want to minimise uncertainty. No more flying on impulse. Most airlines accept online check-in only 48hrs prior to the flight while some allows selection of seats the moment you pay for your tickets.

As far as possible, go for somewhere that's near the front entrance so that you'll be the first to leave the plane when it landed (mainly to avoid the murderous stares of your fellow passengers who were kept awake the entire flight by your child's screams).

While most parents with very young children would prefer the seat with bassinet, which most full service flights would provide, avoid them if your baby doesn't even sleep in cots. These bassinet seats are usually placed in pairs - another baby will be sleeping right next to yours. Woe betide if their sleeping patterns aren't synchronise; they will end up not sleeping at all and fussing throughout the flight.


2. Packing tidbits, books, toys

As a parent, you know what would placate your child. An odd treat might just keep the tantrums at bay. Yes, you might be rewarding bad behaviour but really, young children's ability to manipulate is overrated. Remember that it's not them who wants to fly - they would rather not. Just note that sugary tidbits would end up energising the child instead. The last thing you want is to have a Tasmanian monster pottering up and down the aisle. Go for savoury ones instead.

Activity books and toys would come in handy too. Some airlines have special child packs, I know Singapore Airlines has them. Avoid bringing toys or books with sounds - substituting a child's fussing with repetitive tunes or sounds is not a good idea at all.

One thing to note, regardless of what you end up bringing, just have them in your hand carry luggage and don't stow them in the overhead compartments. Have them within easy reach for obvious reasons.

3. Drive to the airport

Really, public transport to the airport, especially London's is overrated. If it can be avoided, all the better. Delays attributed to a variety of reasons (person on track is a popular one - read Quirks of London Underground) and extra planning required for train scheduling (a missed train may very well mean a missed flight) is inevitable. If possible, drive to the airport.

With quite a number of airport parking services available at competitive prices, you don't have to fork out a small fortune to leave your car in the airport's carpark. Some of them include BCP, which offers Heathrow Airport parking and Manchester Airport parking, and Holiday Extras that offers Stansted Airport parking as well as Stansted Airport hotel if you would like a rest for an early flight.

While most airport parking located a distance away from the airport (thus cheaper) operate shuttle services to and fro the airport, you can definitely go for the meet and greet option with a reasonable surcharge. Essentially a valet will collect your car from you at the airport and bring it back to you at the airport when you return. Perfect way to start and end a vacation, eh?

4. Strap your child on

Heathrow airport is looking at requiring all strollers over 5kg to be checked in at the check-in counter itself - no more strapping your child to it till the gate. The weight restriction effectively ruled out all strollers on the market right now. Unless you plan to remove the stroller's canvas itself, you would need to carry your little one all the way to the flight gate.

For very young children, I recommend using a baby carrier (I use Bjorn's). It frees up both my hands and give my arms a rest. The only catch to this is that you would have to remove your child from the baby carrier at the security checks. If you think that it would hurt your back, what makes you think that carrying your child on your arms wouldn't? At least using a reliable baby carrier would distribute the weight more evenly.

5. Earn goodwill early and rely on fellow passengers

Once you are on the plane, get your child acquainted with the passengers around your seat. Having your child flash them a smile when she is still fresh might just gain her some cookie points that will certainly come in handy when she starts fussing later on. For the same reason, say hi to the air stewardess serving your area.

You should never belittle the power of the flight's toilet. There are enough gadgets and accessories in the plane's toilet to amuse your child for quite awhile. Disposable cups, running taps, air vents and even flushes can easily occupy them. Just make sure that there isn't a queue forming outside while you are placating your child. Personally, I find just hanging out with LO around the toilet helpful. There are bound to be fellow passengers hanging out there stretching their legs and what not. Strike a conversation with one and they will be fussing over your child in no time, which is a useful distraction.

***

Gone are the days when you could squeeze in as many inflight movies as possible for the flight time. Just make sure you catch a wink whenever your child is sleeping - that gives you the energy to deal with her when she's awake later on. How do you cope with flying with a young child?

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