1. Take a night flight This way, in theory, your kids will sleep for a large proportion of the flight because they will be tired. If you catch a day flight, then you will almost certainly be up for the entire flight.
2. Rely on the kindness of strangers Introduce yourself to nearby passengers and jokingly apologise in advance – a good icebreaker to use is ‘bet you were looking around the check in queue hoping that you were not going to sit next to any children’. During a long flight you may need to rely on the kindness of these strangers!
3. Pack lots of food Although you can pre-order childrens meals, you can’t be sure your children will like them, therefore don’t just rely on the airline’s food for your child. Pack more snacks than you think you'll need. Hungry children are cranky children. Avoid too many sugary treats and opt for low-mess snacks such as sandwiches, dried fruit, or savoury biscuits. Carry a small bag of lollies to use as rewards or bribes as needed.
4. Take your buggy right up to the aircraft door Most airlines will let you do this, so don’t be tempted to check it in early. That way, if there is any delay, then your baby or toddler can have a really comfortable sleep. Many airlines will also let you have your buggy back as soon as you step off the plane at the other end. This is an absolute godsend and makes all the difference if you’ve gone a little over-the-top with buying too much Duty Free beforehand. But if your airline doesn’t do this, don’t worry – many airports (such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Copenhagen, etc.) offer courtesy buggies for families that you can pick up a short walk from the plane door. Some even do twin models!
5. Arrange a stopover If you are flying for more than 12 hours with children, I would strongly recommend stopping over for at least a few days at the refuelling stop. Not only does it make travel boredom more bearable (i.e. one 24 hour flight is much more horrific than two 12 hours flights!), it also helps to break up the jet lag, so that you can cope with it in easier-to-handle segments. And hopefully by the time you get to your second destination, it will nearly have gone. It also means that you can try to arrange another night flight for your final leg too, which wouldn’t be possible if you were doing it all in one go. That way, after a few days in the stopover country, the kids should be pretty much in their time zone, and (touch wood) should sleep the majority of the second night flight too.
6. Ask for a bulkhead seat. Do this when booking so you can get a bassinet cot for your baby. Otherwise they will need to sit on your lap at all times, which can make eating meals difficult, especially if you’re travelling on your own (you may need to rely on the kindness of strangers – see point number 2 above). Even if you don’t have a baby, bulkhead seats offer more room for bags of children essentials, and you don’t have to worry about your toddler kicking the seats of the people in front of you. Whatever you do, it’s probably best NOT to ask for the bulkhead seats if you don’t have children.
7. Have milk at your fingertips Take loads of milk with you for both babies and toddlers, especially to give to them during take-off and landing, when babies’ ears can be affected by the air pressure. Being breastfed, or sucking on a bottle, can really help. And a drink of milk before ‘bed’ can really calm toddlers down too, and when mixed with changing into their pyjamas, cleaning their teeth, and having a bedtime story read to them, can help them to somewhat stick to their normal routine, which will be comforting. Just make sure it is all easily accessible, as when a child wants milk, they want milk NOW! Don’t worry about taking milk, formula or baby food through airport security – you’ll be allowed to take them through no problems, but you might just be asked to taste some. Check out which chemist are available airside at your airport so once you’ve gone through security you can always pick some up. Highly recommend you order it in advance.
8. Travel with an iPad or mobile phone Don’t give yourself grief about bringing an electronic babysitter with you. If you’ve got one, use it, and load it up to the brim with your kids’ favourite games, Apps, TV episodes, and films. And don’t not do it because you think there will be a seat-back TV on the plane for them to use. There will be long periods of waiting in airports, and travelling in cars and other forms of transport, when your iNanny will come in handy. BBC iPlayer now allows you to download episodes onto your phone or iPad and keep them for 7 days, so visit the CBeebies section the day before you fly and stock up big time.
9. Take 100ml Calpol and Nurofen It’s always good to have these on hand in case of temperatures, headaches, ear aches, teething pains, general meltdowns, or if the cabin staff have run out of Bloody Marys. And if in 100ml bottles, you’ll definitely get them through airport security no questions asked or again pre order them from the airside chemist.