As research finds a quarter of parents don’t like taking young children on flights, Jaine Blackman asks what they can do to ensure a stress-free journey for the family... and other passengers
There can be nothing nicer than a family holiday abroad, splashing with the kids in the pool, enjoying the sunshine, making memories for life.
The only trouble is, generally, you have to fly to your destination and for the parents of babies and very young children, that can be a memory you don’t want to keep.
Some parents in Oxford are actually considering skipping an overseas break rather than face a flight.
A recent survey by online travel agency sunshine.co.uk found that nearly a quarter of parents with children aged under five said they felt “too scared” to take their children on a flight; with the majority of these (77 per cent) having had a previous bad experience and claiming it had put them off trying again.
Nearly half (45 per cent) feared criticism from other passengers, 16 per cent were frightened of being told off by airline staff, and 31 per cent simply found it too stressful to entertain their children on a flight.
Chris Clarkson, managing director of sunshine.co.uk, says: “As a parent with young children, I can definitely relate to some of these parents’ concerns.
“It’s never easy travelling with kids, but as long as you do all you can to keep your children entertained and stop them throwing their in-flight meal at another passenger, then all is usually fine.”
However, more than half (56 per cent) of the parents questioned admitted they’d become annoyed by other children on a flight, such as babies crying or children being loud, and other research by the booking website LateDeals.co.uk found that almost seven in 10 Britons would like to see child-free areas introduced on planes and 39 per cent think no-child-zones should be installed as compulsory compartments on long-haul flights.
More than a third would even pay extra to travel on a childless service.
“Family sections on flights are a really good idea and many airlines have already introduced child-free zones, so it seems to be something that’s on the rise,” says Clarkson.
“Parents should never sacrifice a holiday just because they’re worried how their children will behave on a flight or how other people will react if their kids play up. As long as you do all you can to keep your children in check, most passengers should be happy.”
Debi Green, who runs the travelling with children website babygoes2, says she can completely understand the trepidation many parents feel about travelling on planes with their children.
“We know, however, from 17 years of arranging family holidays, that it’s definitely possible to minimise the potential stress and relax and enjoy the whole process of travelling with little ones in tow,” she promises.
“Preparation and distraction are key.”
For this, she recommends getting to the airport early to avoid queues and to be allocated bassinets if necessary, taking the pushchair right up to the gate, and either breastfeeding or giving babies or children drinks on take off and landing to minimise earache.
For the crucial in-flight entertainment, she suggests a “bag within a bag” system by filling a series of little bags with simple tiny toys, games and treats.
“These will keep babies and small children amused for hours,” she says.
Older children can be encouraged to pack their own travel bag including books, games, devices, a colouring book and crayons and might enjoy starting a holiday journal as soon as they get to the airport.
As for the possibility of some children being scared of flying, she says: “In our experience, children are rarely scared of flying and, on the contrary, find it an exciting adventure.”
Mother-of-two Becky Wiggins, who writes the parenting blog EnglishMum.com, has been working with Gatwick Airport to offer passengers advice to combat the stress of travelling with kids.
Firstly, she says, leave plenty of time to get to the airport... then add an hour.
“Airports are great places to explore and an extra hour at the airport is preferable to a meltdown in a traffic jam worrying about missing your flight.”
She says that while most airlines load children first, it’s not always best to be first on board, and sometimes taking an extra few minutes of freedom before being cooped up on a plane journey can be a bonus.
She suggests distributing essentials between bags, in case the one with all the important baby or children’s items in it goes missing, and says that when travelling with younger children, it’s a good idea to pack an emergency bag containing wet wipes, tissues, a change of clothes and a sealable plastic bag in which to dispose of “accidents”.
Like Green, she also suggests packing children’s rucksacks with things that will keep them entertained.
“Check if they want to help,” she says, “although my son once packed scissors and a spud gun. Save a couple of surprises to be whipped out when things are getting stressful, and go with the flow: treat the journey as an adventure.
“If you don’t get stressed, then the kids won’t pick up on it.”