Welcome aboard Flight @anderkinsfamily to Australia!
There’s only one thing worse than flying long haul in economy and that’s flying long haul in economy with kids. No matter how you look at it, you know it’s going to be the longest 24 hours of your life.
With an Australian husband, we are no strangers to flying long haul and have visited Australia three times in six years. Each trip saw an extra passenger with us and, surprise surprise, it got a lot harder as our family grew.
We’ve made our fair share of mistakes along the way, so here’s my tips for a smooth journey.
Booking the flight
Pick an airline which is child friendly
We have flown with three different airlines to Oz and the services provided for children are very different. Ensure they have plenty of kids movies/gaming facilities, children’s meals and lots of additional goodies on the flight.
Arrive at your destination in the evening
Forget about departure time from the UK, the only thing to worry about is what time the flight lands in your destination. You want to land as late as possible and then go straight to bed once you have reached your accommodation.
On our second trip to Oz, with a 3 year old and 19 month year old, I booked a 1pm departure from Heathrow. What a mistake! We landed at 4am and by the time we got to Grandma and Grandpa’s house it was 7am.
After a quick catch up we then went for our ‘little naps’ and promptly woke up at 1pm with our body clocks completely out of whack. The kids were grumpy, we were grumpy and it completely spoilt the first week of the holiday.
Fast forward 2 years, now with 3 kids in tow (including a 5 month old), we landed at 10pm and went straight to bed once we reached the Grandparents’ house. A great night’s sleep was had by all and we all woke up about 10am ready to start the day. Hooray!
Ensure there are no surprise stopovers. The hassle of getting on and off the plane with sleeping/grumpy children and walking from one departure gate to another is something you want to limit as much as you can. Of course, one stopover is guaranteed, but you would be surprised how easily airlines can hide a second one.
Imagine our surprise when we landed in Dubai only to discover that our plane wasn’t going directly to Melbourne but having a little stopover in Kuala F*ing Lumpar. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against this country. I am sure it is a beautiful place, but explaining to 2 small children that “No, we are not in Australia sweetie, we just have to get off this plane to go and get on another one…again” was awful.
By far, the best spot to book is the bulkhead which will have a bassinet/baby seat for infants up to 2 years old or who weigh up to approximately 27lbs. This varies from airline to airline so double check. There is usually some extra leg room here too. Book early to ensure you get one as this is not guaranteed for all families travelling with infants.
Please note, with most airlines, children under 2 do not have to pay for a seat. Therefore, if your child doesn’t fit into the bassinet the reality is they will be on your lap for the duration of the flight. This makes eating, watching a film and sleeping extremely difficult. Not to mention the toll a heavy child takes on your legs!
Also, you may not all be able to sit together. Some planes have smaller rows so on our last trip we had to split up (ask your Travel Agent to check the seating configuration). This worked well as the older kids didn’t sit next to each other so there wasn’t any fighting. This also increases your chances of getting a spare seat as you won’t be taking up an entire row.
Packing for the flight
Pack clothes in advance
If you are flying long haul, the likelihood is that you will be going from winter to summer. This makes life easier as you can pack in advance because nobody will be wearing their summer clothes. Just make sure you have everything you need as it is impossible to buy summer shoes and nice beach wear in England over the winter. The end of summer sales are perfect for stocking up.
There are two options available here. Either buy a cheap holiday buggy which you don’t mind getting damaged or take your own. If you take your own, I would recommend buying the buggy cover so it doesn’t get too scratched when being placed on the plane by the baggage handlers. Most airlines will let you keep your buggy right up until you board the plane.
Pre-order all your bottle feeding and weaning essentials
When travelling with kids, you are allowed to take unlimited baby milk and baby food through security. However, you will have to open and taste a percentage of your items, therefore making them unsterile. I even had to sip hot water from a Thermos once and burnt my tongue.
Boots offer a fantastic ‘Reserve from Home’ service which means you can order all your baby essentials online (2 weeks prior to departure) and then collect them airside from most major airports. This is an absolute life saver as you are guaranteed to get everything you need without having to open anything.
Managing bottle feeds/weaning on board
Bottle feeds: For bottle feeding I always pack a Thermos and a milk powder dispenser or two (each one will give you 3 feeds) to ensure I can manage bottle feeding quickly and easily. The cabin crew will be more than happy to provide you with hot water and clean your bottles. I always take a few back up cartons of formula too.
Weaning: I have flown with a 9 and 5 month old so I recommend pre-ordering baby food and/or using the powdered baby food options which only require hot water. My favourites are the ‘Heinz dinners’ as there are a variety of flavours which my kids loved.
Minimal carry on luggage
I cannot emphasise this enough. Check in the majority of your luggage and have minimal carry on. Whilst this may seem impossible with small children, it will save you a lot of stress in the long run. There is nothing worse than having to carry a sleeping child off a plane, while you simultaneously chuck a bag over your shoulder and drag luggage down a tiny aisle.
Trunki: One for each child full of sticker and colouring books, favourite toys, security blanket/toy. My kids love packing them and whizzing across the airport never gets boring.
Handbag: Lots of treats and medicine for the kids. The sachets of Calpol are perfect as they only contain 5ml of liquid and it means you aren’t carrying around a sticky bottle in your bag.
Surprises: A fantastic idea is to buy some small toys from charity shops, wrap them up and hand them out periodically. Who doesn’t love a new toy to play with?!
Ipad/Tablet/Electronic games device with chargers and multi-region adaptors to charge at stopovers.
Travel wallet: Put all the passports and documents in one place and designate responsibility of this to one person.
Change bag : Feeding essentials, nappies, wipes, change mat and clothes. Layers are a good option.
Overhead bag: Kids pyjamas, toothbrushes, toothpaste, change of clothes for everyone and spare nappies and wipes.
Carrier bags: Just in case clothes get, how shall I put this…soiled!
Brief the kids that they will have to be in their seat with the seatbelt on for the majority of the flight. Explain that they will be eating and sleeping in their seat. Walking around the plane is fine if they want to go to the toilet or stretch their legs, but otherwise they will have to sit down. If they are young enough the threat of the cabin crew telling them off works like a charm!
For me, I decide upon the absolute minimum I want to achieve out of the flight. If I can watch a whole movie, uninterrupted, with a glass of wine I am happy.
You’ve booked your seats, packed, briefed the kids on what to expect and now it’s time for take off……and breathe!
Check in early
I like to get to the airport as early as possible to avoid parking problems, stressful queues at check-in, have a meal and do any last minute shopping. Oh, and get my last proper coffee or two. Okay three!
Take off and landing
Ensure you have a dummy (if your child uses one) or a bottle ready for babies and some lollies for kids and give it to them at take off. This will reduce the possibility of their ears hurting when the cabin pressure changes.
Try and establish some kind of routine
Kids thrive on routine so try to replicate your usual bedtime rituals as much as possible. Pyjamas, teeth, story and bedtime. Ensure they have their special blanket and/or special toy to help them feel comfortable.
Throw the rulebook out of the window
The last time we flew my 3 year old daughter watched Big Hero 6 about five times. My 5 year old son spent the entire flight playing on the games console as we don’t have one at home. Basically, if they are sitting nicely and not whining then let them do whatever keeps them happy. Watching movies or gaming for hours on end is a one-off and is a small price to pay for a bit of peace and quiet.
The same applies to treats. Have a steady supply of goodies in your bag and hand them out when the kids are getting bored and frustrated. They don’t all have to contain sugar. My kids love boxes of raisins, fruit bars and packets of cereal.
Release your inner Taylor Swift and Shake it off!
Whether it be a screaming baby or a toddler having a tantrum, try not to worry about what the other passengers are thinking. Ignore any raised eyebrows and staring because it is much easier to soothe an upset child if you are calm yourself. Just remember, you are doing your best and your child is your main concern.
It’s like having a newborn again. Sleep when they sleep and if you have a partner travelling with you, share responsibilities. If you are tired and grumpy, this is not a good start to the holiday.
You’ve made it!
Enjoy your holiday! Travelling with kids is an amazing opportunity to broaden their horizons and make some magical, life long memories together. I feel very lucky to be able to take my kids to Australia and meet the wildlife!
Get back on the plane and do it all again!
There may be some resistance to getting back on the plane as they know what to expect, so take a deep breath, load yourself up with bribes and keep reminding them that they are going home and you probably won’t be doing this again for a long time!
Thank you for flying with @anderkinsfamily!