IN A previous life as a carefree young jet-setter, my heart would sink if I got on a plane and there were children seated nearby.
I dreaded the prospect of a screaming child or demanding toddler raining on my pre-holiday parade.
Now that I have countless toddler meltdowns under my belt, I’m a lot more understanding of the challenges parents face when travelling with children.
Getting them on the plane is an achievement in itself, never mind keeping them quiet and content when they’re on it.
According to a recent survey on family travel carried out by www.MummyPages.ie , one in five mothers who responded had never flown with their young children because they believe it’s too hard.
The amount of equipment and organisation required when holidaying with babies and toddlers puts a lot of people off family trips abroad, says Laura Haugh of MummyPages.ie.
“You’re not sure what’s going to be there when you arrive so you have to bring all the paraphernalia — bottles, sterilisers, travel cots and all the rest.
"Then, the different food and the heat can be too much and mums think they won’t enjoy it. When they’re school age, it does tend to make a big difference, they can take instruction and they have a bit of sense.”
Unsurprisingly, the survey of more than 500 mums found that while 80% of couples choose the holiday destination, mum was the one who was responsible for most of the travel arrangements thereafter: Mum books the holiday (56%), jointly (33%) and dad (11%).
Mum organises passports, travel insurance and foreign currency (68%), jointly (22%) and dad (10%); and Mum checks everyone in online (56%), jointly (26%) and dad (18%).
While many a mum has probably wished for an extra pair of hands to make it all a bit easier, for those travelling from Dublin Airport, there is such an option.
For €29 per family, its concierge service will ensure you get fast-tracked through check-in and security and help with your children and carry-on luggage to the gate.
Another helpful option is an evening check-in service available to Aer Lingus passengers travelling from Dublin and Cork airports, ideal for families who can complete their check-in on the night before their flight.
Only one immediate family member needs to check in for a family group, once all tickets, passports and bags are provided together.
To keep them entertained before take-off, Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports all have children’s play areas.
While it may be tempting to be at the top of the queue to get on the plane first, it means extra time in a confined space — children will be happier running around while waiting and you’ll spend less time trying to entertain them onboard.
Many children will experience some discomfort or unease while flying, but there are steps you can take to avoid major meltdowns.
“Make sure they are well-rested before the flight,” says Haugh.
“A lot of parents make the mistake of letting the child get really tired before they get on the plane in the hope they will sleep but the surroundings can be quite noisy, there is cool air, you can’t dim the lights, the seatbelts are awkward, they can’t get comfortable and it’s unlikely they’ll sleep.
"Let them have a snooze in the car on the way to the airport or in the buggy walking around when you get there.”
Another issue is that the build-up of pressure on take-off and landing can cause painful ear popping, especially with babies. The sucking action of a drink or bottle helps clear their ears while you can give older children a lollipop or boiled sweet.
Haugh says distraction is key to keeping kids content.
“Go to the Euro shop or Dealz and buy lots of disposable toys, which you are happy to leave on the plane, so you can introduce something new every half an hour and it keeps them entertained. Also bring lots of snacks that don’t involve cutlery.”
While you may be a stickler for screen time at home, there is no doubt that on a plane, technology is your friend.
“Make sure they have digital devices that are charged up — don’t waste the battery on your iPad or portable DVD player waiting to board the plane, save it for the trip,” recommends Haugh.
Technology can also make the process easier for parents — a top tip from Aer Lingus is to store all your travel details on the notes in your smartphone and take a picture of where you have parked the car if you have driven to the airport.
Scan or take a photo of all passport photo pages and send the jpegs to your email address should they get misplaced during travel.
And let’s not forget the object of the exercise: fun for all the family.
The MummyPages.ie survey found it was all good news for the kids once the family arrived at their destination — with three-quarters of those surveyed letting their children stay up late, 65% allowing more treats, 32% allowing their children to dictate the day’s activities, and 30% letting their child get away with not finishing every meal.
1. Pick your time: Weekends are the busiest time for air travel so if you can, travel on a weekday.
2. Prepare your child: Talk them through the journey from going through security to staying in their seat on the plane.
3. Lighten the load: While it’s great to let kids pack their own wheelie bags or rucksacks, check them before you leave and take out heavy items they will not use.
4. In the frame: Make them feel part of the process by giving them a camera to take pictures or give older kids a notebook where they can write their observations and keep mementoes of the trip.
5. Sitting pretty: A window seat might seem more attractive, but an aisle seat will be better when your child has to go to the toilet or needs something from the overhead bin.
6. Right attire: Dress children in light layers they can discard when they arrive.
7. Be prepared: Keep one or two outfits in your hand luggage in case your bags go astray.
8. Safety first: Pack a small first aid kit with plasters, anti-histamine and antiseptic. Wipes and hand sanitiser will always come in handy.
9. Wash and go: Consider using laundry services on-site or locally so you don’t face a mountain of washing when you get back.
10. Snack savers: On the return journey, stock up on snacks in the local supermarket to avoid paying high prices at airport cafes and onboard.