Ask any parent what their experiences flying with young children are like, and I'm sure they'll have plenty of war stories to tell. Whether you're travelling with a 3-year-old baby or toddlers (or both!), it's not an easy feat, and often requires preparations akin to that of a major logistical operation. But we're here to help you with some tips and tricks to make travelling with young children a less stressful event!
Full disclaimer: I don't have kids yet. But! I have friends who do. And I'm lucky enough to be close friends with two amazing mums (shoutout to Diyana and Aliaa!) who have young kids AND who have braved multiple adventures taking flights (including long-haul ones!) with their adorable offspring. They've graciously shared some of the wisdom gained through their travels with me, which will hopefully, in turn, help some of you out too!
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Before you fly
1. Check the requirements/conditions applicable to infants and children for your flight
If you're a parent travelling for the first time with your baby or young child, it's important to be aware of the conditions that pertain to your airline travel. Different airlines may have different fares for infants (usually categorised as children below the age of 2) and different allowances in terms of on-board baggage (including dimensions for strollers, or other items such as car seats, travel cot, etc.). In addition, some airlines allow for priority boarding for families, while others do not, so even if you're used to flying on a particular airline, always remember to double check when taking other airlines.
2. Research the logistics for your stroller
While I've mentioned the need to check for conditions for strollers in the first point, I feel that strollers warrant another point on their own. Much like cars, strollers are a complicated field to navigate. All kinds of strollers are available (at various price points), and it can sometimes be overwhelming to choose which one to buy for your child. Throw air travel into the mix, and it can become another ballgame.
While some airlines allow for strollers within specific size and weight dimensions to be stored as hand-carry luggage in the overhead compartment (these are known as in-cabin strollers which are lightweight and foldable, allowing for easy storage), other airlines will require you to gate check your stroller, meaning that you leave the stroller at the gate when boarding your flight, following which airline crew will store them and later deliver them to you at the aeroplane door when you reach your destination. Please do note that if your stroller or pram is large, bulky, or not collapsible, you may be required to check-in the stroller along with your baggage. With that in mind, you'll need to plan accordingly to make sure that the distance between the check-in counter and the gate is tolerable for you to juggle with your child and carry-on luggage.
3. Check the weight limit of the bassinet
For your kids who require a bassinet on the flight, it's best to check beforehand if there is a weight limit for bassinets! Different flights and airlines may have different requirements. For example, our colleague, Suzana, recently encountered an issue with the weight limit of the bassinet. For her flight to Japan, the weight limit is 11 kilograms but for the flight back to Singapore, the weight limit was 10.5 kilograms! So, it's good to check with the airlines or research on your own.
4. If possible, choose a flight that can align with your child's bedtime
Where possible, you may want to choose flight timings that best align with your child's sleep patterns (i.e. a flight that takes off immediately prior to your child's normal bedtime, as this hopefully means they'll be asleep for a large portion of the flight). However, a disclaimer is probably warranted here: in some cases, kids may get too excited to fall asleep - if so, the plan could backfire and you could end up with a tired and cranky child upon arrival. It'll have to be a case of going through the experience and figuring out what works best for your child!
5. If you're going to a long haul destination, consider whether it may be preferable to opt for layovers
If you're planning to travel somewhere far (say, Europe, or the Americas) that requires a long-haul flight, it may be a good idea to consider breaking up your journey. So for example, if you're travelling to London, while there are direct routes from Singapore and KL which typically take about 14 hours (via airlines such as Singapore Airlines or Malaysia Airlines), it may make sense to opt for a connecting flight with a layover (for example, Emirates has flights to London which transit in Dubai, with anywhere from 1 hour to 8 hours of gap time before your connecting on to London).
Credit: @joie.de.viv on Instagram
This way, your child (and you!) get a chance to stretch, run around, and have some freedom of movement halfway through the journey. Even for the best of us, being cooped up in an aeroplane gets taxing after several hours, so it's understandable how kids would become fidgety or cranky.
P.S. Check out these 6 Useful Tips To Travel Internationally With Kids!
Packing for the trip
6. Make sure to pack a lot of snacks
This one is pretty much a no-brainer. Both Diyana and Aliaa firmly reiterated that it's important to have (a lot!) snacks on hand, not just for when their kids get peckish or hungry, but also as a form of distraction. Aliaa sometimes has yummy titbits on hand (such as Kinder Eggs!), which she uses as special treats once in a while for her 3-year-old daughter Sofia - because the Kinder Egg is seen as a special event or reward, it's a great way to keep Sofia focused or well-behaved for a duration of time!
7. Don't forget to bring extra milk powder (or alternatively, be ready to breastfeed more often) on longer flights
Planes, which tend to be a dry environment, can potentially result in your child being more thirsty. This can sometimes result in them asking for more milk than usual. It's also handy to have extra, just in case there are delays or for the transit between the airport and your destination.
8. If you have a baby that's weaned, it's probably best to pack your own food
Most airlines have children's meals as part of their food onboard, and a large number also offer baby meals (usually for infants under 2 years). However, baby meals typically tend to be pureed baby food in jars, with limited airlines offering meals for post-weaning babies (i.e. babies that don't solely rely on milk and consume food that's more substantial than just purees in jars, typically within 1 - 2 years old). Where this is the case, it's vital that you pack your own supplies of food to feed your baby onboard.
P.S. Check out these 9 Tips To Help Prevent You From Losing Your Luggage During Your Travels
9. Bring a change of clothes (for them AND for you!)
A must-have for anyone travelling with young kids is a change of clothes (Aliaa goes so far as to championing TWO sets per child). It goes without saying that the chances of kids getting their clothes soiled (be it spilt food or any other mishaps/accidents) are pretty up there, so having a backup change of clothes is crucial. Aliaa also made a couple of super useful points: having two sets of clothes is a good idea, especially if you're travelling to a much colder country and need to change into warmer attire. She also pointed out that it's a good idea for the clothes to be in separate pieces (as opposed to onesies or bodysuits).
Credit: @toddler_learnandplay on Instagram
This way, it allows for flexibility not just in terms of changing out clothes if they get soiled but also layering or taking off layers depending on whether the child gets cold or warm. Diyana, on the other hand, shared a great reminder that parents themselves should have a change of clothes! This makes perfect sense, given that whatever accident happens on the flight will just as likely be one where the parent becomes the recipient.
10. Pack any necessary items you may need to keep your child comfortable
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A comfortable child is a much happier child, and a much happier child often means much happier parents! It's important to try and make your child as comfortable as possible, so it's good to pack items they may require, such as a blanket, a small pillow, a favourite stuffed animal they can't do without, or anything else.
P.S. Check out these 7 Travel Essentials For Parents With Young Kids!
At the airport
11. Get to the airport early
While some of us may have played the dangerous game with airport check-ins when travelling without dependents (and by this I mean rocking up to the airport an hour or less before departure and strolling to the gate last minute), that may not be the best approach when travelling with a young one (especially if there's more than one child!).
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Getting to the airport early is crucial in a number of ways - not only does it ensure ample time to check in, get yourselves settled, and be at the gate on time, but it can also be helpful to use the extra time to let your kids play at the airport playground or even run around open space (which airports usually tend to have a good amount of). This can help the kids get their energy out, making them more likely to rest or sleep during the flight.
12. Ask if the flight is full, if it's not, try to ask for an extra seat for your child (below 2 years old
Some kids need more space than others, so sharing a seat or putting them in a bassinet may not be ideal! To make it comfier for your kids, you can try to ask if there are extra seats on the flight. If there are seats available, you can try to ask for an extra seat for your child! Additionally, you can get a Bed Box for your children so that they can stretch out to rest or sleep comfortably.
13. Check if it's possible to check in the stroller at the gate
If your kids are feeling lazy to walk and require a stroller, you can check with the staff if you're able to check in your stroller at the departure or arrival gate! This makes it easier for you to move around the airport with the stroller while waiting for your flight.
14. Tire your kids out before the flight
Another tip to make your trip more bearable is to tire your little ones out before the flight! Whether it's to make them run around or make use of their creative juices, tiring them out might make it easier for them to fall asleep during the flight. That means less worry for parents! But do note that it might not work on some kids as they might get excited when boarding.
15. Make baby formula before going through security
While many of us are familiar with the liquid restrictions for carry-on luggage (usually capped at 100ml per container, with a total allowance of liquids not more than 1 litre), many airports and airlines waive this restriction in terms of milk or formula meant for your child. Suppose your child consumes baby formula and you prefer bringing your own water to mix with the powder to make milk, be sure to make it before going through security - this way, despite exceeding the liquid limit. In that case, there shouldn't be an issue with bringing it onboard (though security will likely want to inspect the milk bottles). The waiver on the liquid restriction also applies to expressed breast milk.
16. Encase your stroller in a stroller bag before handing it to airline staff at the gate
Aliaa flagged this one from experience - before checking your stroller at the gate (or even if you are checking in your stroller as part of checked luggage), take the time to fold and store the stroller in a stroller bag. While airline staff exercises necessary precautions, sometimes strollers can get dinged up or dirty while it's stored during your flight, so it's worth the time to keep the stroller in its bag.
Credit: Mimosa Mena om Facebook
That way, it acts as a layer of protection and keeps the stroller clean and ready for your usage when you arrive. If your stroller didn't come with its own bag, you can easily purchase one-off sites like Lazada for reasonable prices.
During the flight
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For this category, both Aliaa and Diyana made it overwhelmingly clear: have toys, puzzles, snacks, and other activities on-hand to keep your children occupied
17. Keep supplies and surprises on hand
Be a real-life Mary Poppins and have a kit of supplies handy to keep your children entertained. Popular items include colouring books and colour pencils, stickers, toys and puzzles. Aliaa bumps up the fun-factor by including a reward element - she sometimes brings a series of presents that are wrapped up, which her daughter can get surprised with at intervals and unwrap (much like a birthday gift!).
The presents don't have to be extravagant items - Aliaa used small treats (Daiso's a great resource) such as keychains, flashlights, notepads, etc. Diyana, on the other hand, finds that interactive books (such as those that are battery-operated and can make sounds or light up) work a treat with her two-year-old son Aaqil.
Credit: @leighann.novielli on Instagram
It's also worth noting the usefulness of having an Ipad or in-flight entertainment. While some parents may be wary of using digital devices to keep their kids occupied for long periods of time, at some points during air travel, it can be an undeniable relief to pull out the big guns and let them watch cartoons or other suitable programs. If you travel often, it may be worth getting children's sized headphones that they can wear comfortably while watching their shows.
18. Distract them during take-off/landing
During take-off, infants and pre-toddlers (meaning those that don't have their own seats) would have their seatbelts attached to their parents. Some of them, they may get fidgety and struggle against the bonds, so to speak. Diyana has a neat trick to handle this - she often gives her son his milk at this time, because not only does this help him stay put, but it can also help to make sure that air pressure doesn't build up in his ears (thanks to the swallowing motions from drinking his milk). Giving him sips of water in place of milk can also help.
19. Don't pull out all your tricks at once!
While you may amass what you think is a decent-sized bag of tricks to entertain your children with during the flight, don't make the mistake of overestimating how long it'll be able to keep them engaged. And when you're taking a long-haul flight, that bag of tricks can empty pretty quickly.
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Diyana's method of handling this? To make sure to pull out only one toy/treat/activity at a time, so her son can fully exhaust the entertainment time derived from each item. She also makes use of items that are already in the plane, especially during take-off and landing - her son can be kept occupied with things such as the seatbelt buckle, window shutter, and the in-flight magazine).
20. Taking breaks to walk around
At some point or another, kids (especially those in pre-toddler or toddler age) will get fidgety and restless during the flight (let's face it, we do too! We just don't make it known to the world.). If that's the case, you can try taking breaks to get up and let your child walk around and get some movement in.
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But please do be wary of any other traffic in the aisle - it might be a good idea to walk to the back of the plane where there fewer people are going up or down the aisle. Alternatively, you can let your toddler stand on the chair (with your supervision), so they can stretch their legs.
And that rounds out our list of tips for flying with young children! While this is not an exhaustive list and there are heaps of other tips to cover many more detailed aspects of flying, I hope this proves useful to some of you, be it those embarking on their first trip with a baby in tow, or even those that have flown multiple times with their children. To mums and dads out there, do share your tips that can InsyaAllah benefit the community!