10 tips to reduce stress when flying with children

Flying with children - reducing stress

Picture originally by Cristian Ghe.

If you’re moving abroad with a family then there’s a good chance you’ll be flying regularly with your children. Whether it’s to stay at Nanny and Grandad’s house for a week or for the Christmas break, you’re going to need to get your game plan together to keep you sane from start to finish.



So does flying with children have to be stressful?

If I’m completely honest travel will always be stressful and that will always increase when you’ve got little ones to keep an eye on. We flew back and forth from the UK to Barcelona on numerous occasions and, although it gets a bit easier with experience, it’s still tiring and a bit frustrating. In some ways it can be worse when you travel a lot as you know what to expect. When you do it once a year for holidays you forget how annoying it can be.

But, if you can keep the children happy when your travelling then that’s one other thing that you don’t have to worry about on top of tickets, gates, check-in, luggage and answering every traveler’s favourite questions – Did you pack this yourself sir/madam?

Here are a few hints and tips from our experience of traveling with our 3 (at the time) year old that we evolved over time to improve our flight experience greatly.

1. Don’t expect miracles

This may seem like an odd thing to start with but in my experience if you expect/hope too much then you’ll just end up disappointed. Head into your journey with a realistic head on your shoulders and remember that kids get bored easily, they don’t like sitting still for too long and they get tired and frustrated. If you set yourself some sensible expectations then you can build from there.

2. Plan for a short attention span

Think about when your child is at home and how long they play with certain toys. Our daughter generally moves from one thing to another every 20 to 30 minutes (unless it’s time for babies and prams – with me involved). With that in mind, take enough entertainment to ‘mix-it-up’ for the length of flight you’re on. Our flight from Barcelona to the UK was roughly 2 hours so we made sure we had around 6 different things to focus on. These don’t all have to be big things. For example, one of our trips might have included the following:

  • A colouring book and crayons
  • Some happy land characters (small plastic people)
  • Charlie Bear – my daughter’s favourite teddy
  • A little bag with odds and ends in it that she would take out and re-organise
  • A basic children’s card game (snap for example)
  • Some toy cars

There needs to be a balance here of course and if you’re flying from Australia to the UK then you can’t really carry on three cases of toys to play with. I’m sure there will be an opportunity for some re-use on long haul flights and there’s always the in-flight film to break up the time.

3. Don’t be afraid of technology

I know some parents have a view that putting technology in front of your children isn’t a good thing. I agree with part of this statement, however I would change it to ‘putting technology in front of your children all the time and when they don’t need isn’t a good thing’.

When we returned from Barcelona after my interview I had my laptop with me. So we took one of our Pepper Pig DVDs in our hand luggage and stuck that on for 20 minutes to kill some time. It was a bit of a novelty for my daughter so she enjoyed it and it kept her attention for a reasonable amount of time.

The Innotab 2 is a great learning tool for childrenOne step on from that was the innotab 2 we bought my daughter as a present. The innotab 2 is great as it’s a bit like an iPad for children. Among many other features, it let’s them draw, play games (mostly learning related) and also watch videos. Unfortunately not everything comes with it so you either have to download games and videos or you can buy them on cartridges. To put this into perspective though, the games are around £3 and 8 episodes of Pepper Pig was about £2.50 so it won’t break the bank.

We got ours on Amazon as that’s where the best price was at the time. This could have changed though.

One other thing you can do is download some apps onto your phone or tablet. My wife has a separate folder on her iPhone with all the apps for our daughter. They definitely come in handy every now and again and during flights is one of those times.

4. Embellish the role of the stewardess a little…

There’s nothing wrong with expanding the role of the stewardess a little before travelling to encourage your children to be well behaved. For example, did you know the stewardess has to take toys away from any children that climb on the seats? Apparently it’s in the rule book.

This actually works in a whole heap of situations. When we’re in a shop we talk about the shop assistants keeping an eye out for children that touch the flats screen TVs and there’s the classic that’s been used to death the world over – Santa will know if you’re naughty, which could have an impact on your present count…

For children, sometimes the thought of someone that’s not their parents telling them off is enough to discourage them for messing around.

5. Take snugly things

Yep, I used the word ‘snugly’ and it wasn’t even a dare. One year before we relocated we went to Portugal on holiday. The flight back took off at about 8:30pm and our daughter’s bed time was normally about 7pm. We managed to stuff her pillow and her duvet (we had taken them with us to Portugal) into our hand luggage and when we were in the air we made her a little bed across two seats for her to get comfy.

We were lucky as we were on a British Airways flight that was reasonably empty. You may not always be able to go down the ‘bed’ route but just having snugly things with smells your children recognise could help them settle into the flight.

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