As we are preparing to fly again in just a couple of days, I've been thinking through my top tips for managing the journey.
1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!A couple of weeks before our trip, we start talking about planes, getting out the toy planes and setting up plane-style seating for role-play. We've all been on a flight with children whose behaviour has made us crazy, but if we don't let our children know what behaviour we expect from them, then we're setting them up for failure and asking for a stressful trip for ourselves! We talk through the major aspects of getting on the plane in story-style - first we go up the steps, then we find our special seats, then we put our straps on . . . etc. etc. My two-year-old is quite capable of telling me how to behave on a plane! We have also placed the dining chairs in a row like plane seats and practised sitting on them without kicking the chair in front! A preparatory day-trip to the airport is also useful if it's not too far away, as are plane-themed books.
2. Seat SelectionChildren over 2 have to have their own seat, and sit on it for take off and landing. Some airlines allow you to take a car seat for children under 2, in which case you'll need to buy a seat for them anyway. I've never done this, so I can't comment on how easy/difficult it is, but for long-haul flights I can see that it might be better than having a baby on your knee all the way. If you are travelling with a budget airline, you might find it actually works out cheaper to buy a seat for your under-2 so that they get their own baggage allowance, as paying for extra baggage can be very costly.
There are restrictions on where toddlers can sit (not near the emergency exit, etc.) so you won't get a free choice of where to sit, but if you sit nearer the back, you'll be nearer the toilets, and you can use the extra aisle space around there for standing and rocking your baby if you need to.
If there are two of you travelling with a baby on your knee, consider choosing seats A and C in a row. It's unlikely that anybody will want to sit in B if they can possibly help it, so if the flight's not busy you might get a row to yourselves. If not, the person in B will surely have no problem swapping seats so that you can sit together. As I travel alone, I prefer to put the active toddler in the window seat with myself in the middle, and some poor, unsuspecting person on the aisle. That way the little one can 'roam around' the seat without annoying a stranger but I'm not worried that he'll be continually trying to escape up the aisle.
3. New ToysI always buy a few special new toys and books before we travel, ready to produce them from my bag with a big 'Ta-daaa' when the little ones are getting restless. Avoid anything that has small parts that could get repeatedly dropped on the floor - it's hard work bending down to get your toddler's dropped items when you have a baby strapped onto your knee! One of our new toys for next week's flight is a small doodle pad that is attached to a plastic board with crayons that clip onto the side.
4. SnacksThese can be another great distraction when things are getting fraught. Again, mess-free items are best, as are things that are fiddly and take a long time to eat. One of my favourites are little boxes of raisins as it takes quite a while to eat them one by one and my toddlers have always enjoyed the challenge of getting them out of the box. Remember that you won't be able to take their drinks through security, so bring empty drinks cups to fill up on the other side. I'm always pretty generous with snacks as buying food on budget flights can be expensive, and if the flight is delayed then you don't want to find yourself with no food at mealtime. If you're spoon-feeding, bring a plastic spoon, and remember that containers of pureed food count as liquids - you can bring just enough for the flight, but you may be asked to open it and taste it.
5. The BuggyI find the buggy an incredibly useful item at the airport, even if my toddler wouldn't normally need it. My old system pram was hard work travelling because it was hard to put up and down while holding a baby, and bulky and heavy to lift onto the security conveyor. A lightweight buggy is ideal and much easier to handle. If you normally use a sling, take it anyway, but there are advantages to having a pram as well. On all the airlines I've travelled with, the buggy or pram comes in addition to your baggage allowance, so there's no weight disadvantage in bringing it.
Our local airport fast-tracks prams and buggies through security, saving a lot of queuing time and, when there's a long time to wait in departures, putting a toddler in the buggy reduces the stress considerably as you can go browse the shops or watch the planes without worrying about them running off somewhere.
You can usually take it right up to the aircraft on boarding, and depending on the airport and the gate you are using for arrivals, you may be able to get it delivered to the aircraft when you land. It's worth checking this though - it can't always be done, and I have had the experience of landing at 10pm, no buggy waiting, and having to drag two half-sleeping two-year-olds a considerable distance across the airport to baggage reclaim. But despite this experience, I'd still always take a lightweight buggy.
6. Milk and BottlesYou can take bottles of prepared baby formula through security. You may be asked to drink a little to prove what it is. I prefer to take bottles of sterilised water and carry the formula powder separately - I don't drink formula if I can possibly avoid it! I've never been asked to drink the water. Alternatively, you can just take enough milk to get you through security and then buy the ready-made cartons from Boots on the other side for the rest of the trip. Personally, I always get my babies used to room temperature milk as soon as possible after they are placed with me - if you can do this, it makes feeding on the go so much easier. I take a bottle or a cup with a teat-like top filled with water for my toddlers as sucking up the drink helps them with ear pressure problems. Lollipops also work for this!
7. Nappies, Pull-ups and Toilet TripsI know everybody's opinion varies on this, but when I'm travelling with barely-trained toddlers, I put them in pull-ups. I simply can't contemplate dealing with an accident in the confined space of an aircraft (or sitting on a wet seat for two hours!), and carrying a couple of spare pull-ups is easier than carrying spare sets of clothes (for your child and yourself!). Having said that, I usually plan at least one toilet trip during our flight simply because it kills a little time, gives us all chance to stretch our legs, and gives the people seating near us a welcome break from my little ones for a few minutes! Change nappies just prior to getting on the plane. If you have to change your baby on the plane, you might find it easier to strip them down to their nappy before you go to the toilet as the space is incredibly limited. If it's just a wet nappy, consider staying in your seat and changing on your knee.
8. SafetyThere are a few aspects of airplane travel that can be somewhat unsafe for wobbly toddlers. My worst area is baggage reclaim where toddlers are infinitely fascinated by the carousel and all the luggage going round on it and it's all I can do to stop them going on for a ride! If we haven't got the buggy at the aircraft, then we're unlikely to get it before I have to start handling the baggage, so I have used reins when travelling with more than one toddler. I'm not keen on them as a rule, but I only have one pair of hands and sometimes the principle of 'staying safe' trumps all other concerns!
9. Handling BaggageWhen travelling alone with a pram, especially a double buggy that needs two hands for pushing, handling baggage as well can be quite a challenge. When I need to take two pieces of hold baggage, I take one large backpack that I can wear on my back hands-free, and one large suitcase that is on four wheels. The four-wheeled ones are extremely easy to manoeuvre, and I tend to hook the pull handle over the pram handle and let it drag along behind us. We manage quite well like this.
Budget airlines are quite strict on baggage and hand luggage, but remember that if you are paying for your child's seat then they get an allowance too - I always take 'their' hand luggage as well as my own, but I fill both bags with things I will need for the journey (or things that can't be packed in the baggage) rather than wasting their bag allowance on a little child-sized bag with a few toys in it.
Remember to pack your passports and paperwork into a place where you can access them very easily - it isn't easy juggling babies, toddlers, bags and paperwork at passport control! Also, wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, just in case you are asked to remove them at security.
10. Allow for the UnexpectedWhen you pack your carry-on bag, make sure that you have more than you need of everything. Although you can buy most things in airport shops, a delayed flight can be costly if you have to buy full packs of nappies, etc. Much easier to just slip an extra couple into your bag. It's also best to bring a few emergency supplies, such as sachets of Calpol that can be carried through security. And pack plenty of wipes - eating on the plane is messy, and you never know when your little one will treat you to an explosive poo!
And finally . . . .
ASK FOR HELP! There are lots and lots of people working at the airport, and I'm not shy about asking any of them for help. The gate we use regularly at our local airport has loads of stairs and no lift. I've watched others lifting and carrying prams up and down these steps, and it's not for me! I pick up the 'Assistance' phone nearby and ask for assistance, at which point they just take me round a different way. It's always worth asking. On the flight, I've always found that attendants can't do enough for you if you're travelling with little ones, so don't be afraid to make your needs known.
Enjoy your holidays!