Flying with young children, especially long-distance, is never going to be easy.
By planning ahead, you raise the odds of a smooth journey for you and your children. Your fellow travellers will thank you for it too!
Before the Flight
If there’s a choice, try to choose flights that span the time your children are usually asleep. As the flight progresses, and it is bedtime back home, they should drop off.
On most airlines, you must pay for a seat for a child over two years old. If your child is near the age of two, getting them their own seat costs more but can make a long trip much more bearable.
Plan your carry-on luggage and be realistic about what you can manage (backpacks are a convenient, hands-free option for parents). Pack as much baby food and formula as you need, and bring snacks for older children. Many budget-priced flights (even lengthy ones) no longer offer in-flight food service. Pack a child’s drinking cup for in-flight beverage service and if you have a toddler who is recently toilet trained, include pull-ups and wipes. That will take the stress out of last minute dashes to busy toilets.
Prepare a bag for the children too, but don’t let them see it before the flight. Buy cheap items they haven’t seen before; like small toys, games, stickers and colouring books. Once on board, don't whip everything out at once - take items out one at a time and let your children play with each one until they’re ready to move on to the next distraction. And, don’t forget to take their favourite cuddly toys (and leave the toys that make noise at home!).
At the Airport
Ask about available seats if you didn't purchase a seat for your toddler (kids under 2 years old can sit on your lap), expect a full flight and know your chances of getting a free seat are slim. But ask anyway.
If your children will be flying for the first time, tell them in advance what to expect during the security screening process. In many airports, the children may be asked to remove their shoes - Velcro closures are a clever choice. Your stroller or car seat will have to go through the x-ray machine so take kids (and all their stuff) out in advance.
Make regular toilet stops at the airport, and make sure they go to the toilet immediately before getting on the plane. Don't give them too many fluids either.
Take advantage of early boarding. When they make the call for travellers who need extra time to board, go for it. Use the time to stash bags where you want them before the overhead bins fill up. Get everyone situated and happy.
On the Plane
iPads or tablets loaded with games, songs, TV shows and films will keep children entertained for extended periods - even tiny babies can be distracted by a cartoon with a catchy song long enough for you to enjoy your in-flight meal. Invest in some kiddie-headphones so you don’t annoy your fellow passengers.
Dress your children for the flight in soft, roomy clothes that you can take on and off as the plane's air conditioning demands - pyjamas are probably your best option.
Take-offs and landings can be very painful to tiny ears, so have some ear-drops with you or encourage eating and drinking as these events take place. And, carry an emergency supply of Pamol just in case.
Enjoy your flight!