By Cathy Lanigan, Lonely Planet
Flights are never likely to be boring again once you start flying with children. In fact, you'll probably be savoring the quiet moments. It can be hard work flying with kids, particularly young ones, but some good preparation can help make it manageable.
Once children are school-age, it does get easier. The children can amuse themselves with drawing and simple games. They can play with a few well-chosen toys, listening to the children's channel and even the movie will occupy them for a little while. They can feed themselves from their tray and the novelty of being offered drinks will usually keep them in good humor.
Teenagers are much more self-sufficient and can usually be kept amused with in-flight entertainment and their own selection of books and music. Like adults they'll get bored as well but can cope with it much better.
This is important if you are going to have any choice at all in the seat allocation, although airlines often will try to give families more choice than other passengers.
Most children have a toy that must travel with them-a teddy, a doll or some such friend. To avoid having to carry this, tie elastic around its neck so that there is a loop. This loop goes around your child's wrist. It means that even if you have to carry teddy, the elastic loop can go around your wrist and leave your hands free. The tactic prevents the nightmarish possibility that you may inadvertently leave it behind somewhere.
Other methods for coping with small children at airports include attaching a small but loud whistle to your child's jacket. If they get lost or even momentarily separated from you, they can give a good piercing blast. It gives them a sense of security, although you will have to dissuade them from using it at inappropriate moments and hope they remember to use it at the appropriate one!
Comfort is the main consideration in deciding what to wear. Regardless of where you're going or the expected weather, cover all possibilities in case of an unexpected stopover. A layer system of clothing works well.
If you want the children to look relatively clean and tidy when you arrive, carry their good clothes separately, but don't put them on too soon-when you are taxing to the terminal is time enough, as children can often foil their parents' best-laid plans.
Parents need to be comfortable, too, and if you are traveling with small children, remember that it's possible to get spectacularly dirty by the time you arrive. Sticky fingers, spilled food, regurgitated sweets all have fewer places to go in a confined space and you may find yourself the main recipient.
Where you sit can be quite important. Parents with small children are generally placed in the first row of seats facing the bulkhead. This has the advantage of more leg room so your children can play, and you may be seated with other sympathetic parents. The disadvantages are that generally the bulkhead seat row has fixed armrests which the tables fold down into. This means that even if you are lucky enough to score an empty seat beside you, your child can't lie flat because the armrest won't budge. Even if there is a vacant seat, without an armrest that lifts, you can't spread your child across their seat and your knee.
The other disadvantage is that if the plane doesn't have movie screens with each seat, then when the movie is on, you are right beneath it. If you stand up, which you seem to have to do a lot with children, you are in everyone's way. It is also less easy to turn your light on for all those emergencies for which you need illumination, as this affects the picture for everyone behind. Finally, any other parents with babies or young children will be right there next to you. If your children don't usually cry, sitting beside children who do cry might just set them off!
If it is to be a long flight, you could ask for seats in the middle section with the theory that there are more seats in that section than between the aisle and the window. In the middle section, you have more chance of being able to stretch out if there are vacant seats. Also, if you and your family have three seats in a row of four and an individual stranger sits down in the remaining seat, one look at your contingent is usually enough to send them looking for alternative seating, so you may still wind up with an extra seat. If you have two adults and two or more children, you can always go on a scouting trip through the plane. You may find that by splitting up you can get very comfortably organized for sleeping.
Planes are very dry, which can make everyone feel uncomfortable. Take a spray-nozzled container filled with water to spray on children's faces. It feels nice and fresh, and the children usually think it is a lot of fun. If you follow it with a moisturizing cream, it does take the tight, dry feeling away. A chapstick is also useful for dry lips. Toothbrushes and toothpaste are good for when you want to freshen up.
If you find the dry air causes sore noses or sinus discomfort, try putting a scarf or handkerchief around a child's face, like a bandit. Something made of light material, lightly placed across their noses may cause some localized humidity and ease the discomfort.
On an airplane, you may not always be able to get food and drink when you need it. If the children are ready for dinner about the time you'll be in the departure lounge, then bring along some sandwiches, fruit or yogurt and have a picnic dinner or buy them a meal at the airport. Similarly, it's worth keeping snacks in your bag for when your children are hungry between meals and the cabin crew are busy.
Everyone gets dehydrated on planes. Use the water fountains frequently, request glasses of mineral water or bring your own bottle and get it refilled. If you decide to bring snacks, remember they will be spending quite a while in your bag; anything with a tendency to mush, crumble or become soggy is not a good idea.
Time zones can really disorient children. They will usually be tired anyway from the plane trip and their body clock alarm will be going off at odd times. They can become worn out and miserable (when they are not bouncing around in the early hours of the morning, making you feel worn out and miserable). Although you may feel like just falling into bed when you reach your destination, if it is mid-morning on your new time zone, you should try to keep going for the rest of the day. Relax and wind down, but try to make your bed time and appropriate one. The more quickly you can get on to the new time, the faster you will adjust. This doesn't mean that you have to keep your children awake come what may. They will probably nap anyway, but try to keep the going-to-bed rituals (bath, pajamas, stories, etc.) until the time when they will actually be going to bed.
If you arrive when it is early morning on the new time, then aim to have the children sleep before or around midday for an hour or two, then wake them up and keep them awake until a reasonable bed time. They will then hopefully sleep through the night and be on their way to adapting to the time change within a few days.
Older children and teenagers who have traveled before are at least aware of what is happening. Although it is still hard to keep them awake when they really want to sleep, they are more likely to cooperate and they can lie down, reading or listening to a tape.