Founder of suitcases&strollers, Aimee Chan, took her eldest child on his first flight when he was 3 weeks old. This year he has already been to 7 countries, some of these more than once and many travelling with only his mother. She shares her secrets for successful air travel with kids.
There are lots of small tips and tricks that will help make the journey bearable – even if it’s long haul and with a newborn – but only two really critical ones to ensuring you and your sanity survive. Firstly, be organised. Second, be prepared for anything.
When I say be organised, I mean right down to the counting the last formula ounce, the last nappy, the exact number of dinosaurs, every single pencil. Think about what you’re packing and where you’ve packed it, so that you can reach everything quickly and easily when it’s needed. And if you know the numbers, you’ll know when you’re running low and need to replenish. [For ideas on what you should be packing to take onboard, read the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Organising means planning for every contingency. I’ll never forget the story friends told me of running late to a flight with their small child who was unwell. Right at the sky bridge, bubba vomited everywhere. Mum, dad and baby were soaked through and smelly – with no spare change of clothes. As a result, I always make sure to pack spare clothes for me and my kids and plastic bags to carry the wet ones home in.
Because the second thing you need to know is that no matter how organised you are, kids and travel are completely unpredictable. My toddler was super easy to toilet train and almost never has accidents. Except for every single time we get on a plane. Even with double nappies, we always use that spare set of clothes and the plastic bags whenever we fly.
So despite all the contingency planning, you need to be able to go with the flow to survive. On one of my first significant international flights with a newborn on my own, I struggled just to juggle luggage, stroller, baby and myself on to the plane. Collapsed in my seat, I was congratulating myself on getting this far when my neighbour came up the aisle. When he saw he’d been seated next to a baby, he started acting like one. His tantrum involved shouting, waving of arms and finished with him deliberately overturning the tray the air hostess was holding, sending wet towels into the air. I was mortified and furious and had some choice words I had to hold back. But luckily I did. He was moved to the back of the plane and I found myself happily next to a spare empty seat.
Once you accept that circumstances are basically out of your control – flights get delayed, hosties are unfriendly, children (and adults) will throw tantrums – it makes it so much easier to cope. Once my son had a complete meltdown and screamed for the entire first hour of our flight. He could not be calmed and I could feel the evil glares all around. An elderly man and complete stranger came up to me and offered to walk the baby up and down the aisles until he quieted down. At the time I was so flustered I wasn’t able to acknowledge the gesture adequately. But that moment of kindness has always stayed with me and the gesture of solidarity meant so much in that difficult moment. (And, yes, the moment did eventually pass.)
[For more travel tips on avoiding tantrums when flying with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story by an expert behavioural therapist here.]
Because ultimately, it’s these kinds of human interactions that are the reason why I travel. This is what motivates me to deal with the inevitable juvenile television addiction post long haul flight, to lug 10 kilograms of milk, snacks and toys around airports and to drag reluctant, jet lagged toddlers through long immigration queues. It’s the moments of connection, interaction and learning how other people do things that give me (and my kids) memorable experiences.
Just like backpacking or taking a gap year, the pleasure of travel is always in the unexpected, the unpredictable and those little things you never planned for. So if you organise and set yourself up to succeed, but then be open minded about what may come, flying with kids is not quite as daunting or difficult as it might seem. (But you might want to pack some ear plugs.)
To find out about which airlines are the most-kid friendly read the suitcases&strollers story here.
For more advice on travelling with children check out suitcases&strollers' helpful Travelling Tips
By Aimee Chan; Image: Alex Tan Photography