Just getting through the airport with all the family in tow can be difficult says Áilín Quinlan.
AIRPORTS are stressful and boring — a miserable combination when you’re travelling with kids.
But it’s a nightmare faced by the thousands of well-meaning parents who struggle through Irish airports en route to an eagerly awaited family holiday in the sun.
According to the CSO, some 26.5m people pass through Irish airports annually and while it’s difficult to extrapolate exactly how many of those are families, it’s estimated that between 20% and 25% of these passengers are children.
Whether you’re travelling with babies and toddlers, or tweens and teens, it’s crucial to come prepared, says Paul Hackett, chief executive of the Irish-owned travel company www.Clickandgo.com
And those preparations begin long before you get to the departures terminal.
If you’re travelling with young children, it can be helpful to contact the airport beforehand and find out what facilities are available that might be of help to you, such as a security fast-track service.
Hackett suggests availing of a selection of airport concierge services if you are feeling a bit stressed.
“You can avail of a ‘fast track’ through security, for example — it costs about €6 per person,” he advises.
“If you’re travelling with babies and young children it’s worth availing of the ‘evening before’ check-in service if it’s available — Aer Lingus, for example, has a service for passengers on early-morning flights from Dublin Airport that allows them to check in the evening before from 4pm to 8pm.
“Although this is obviously more useful for families who live closer to the airport, it allows you to check-in and drop off all the bulky and often heavy paraphernalia associated with travelling with babies and toddlers, leaving you free to arrive at the airport the morning of your flight and go straight through security.”
When travelling with children from toddlers to school-goers, the cardinal rule is “distraction, distraction, distraction”.
“Bring whatever favourite toys, colouring books, games, etc that will keep children distracted long enough.
"Portable DVD players, tablets loaded with games, and LeapFrog or Innotab tablets could also come in handy,” says Hackett.
And let’s not forget that your little ’uns will need to eat while waiting around through the check-in, security, and boarding processes — so lots of little pre-prepared bags with small snacks will not only fill nagging tummies but also serve as useful distractions and great time-fillers.
Once you know you’ll be travelling with children your first priority is to plan properly, says child and adolescent psychologist and Kate Byrne.
She should know.
Byrne once travelled — pregnant, and unaccompanied by another adult — from Dublin to California with six children aged from 18 months to 14 years.
“Each child had its own backpack with stuff to keep them busy on the plane — it was a long flight so they had puzzles, colouring books, crayons, and travel games.
“They also had their favourite snacks in their backpack,” she says, adding that she shared out the caring responsibilities through a buddy system.
“I put older children with younger ones so each child had a buddy — the older child was tasked with looking after the younger one.”
And don’t forget to bring a change of clothes for younger children, she advises — you may be very glad you did, because ‘accidents’ can and do happen.
Do your research beforehand so you know what is ahead of you when you get to your destination.
Will you be met at arrivals, or will you take public transport or splash out on a taxi?
“Last year I took four children, aged from 7 to 14 to Denmark for a holiday,” recalls Byrne.
“It’s important to make things as easy for yourself as possible so before taking the flight I had done my research and had decided to get a taxi to our destination because we weren’t familiar with the public transport system.
“However, on the way back we got the public transport system because we knew how it worked.”
Basically, she advises, it’s a case of thinking ahead and mentally predicting what might happen: “If you’re prepared, you can deal with eventualities — just don’t leave yourself open to problems.”
With tweens and teens, lay down the rules of engagement for travelling, particularly for wandering around the duty-free shops in big, busy terminals away from adult supervision — often an attractive prospect for teenagers.
And with older children who have mobile phones, always check to ensure their phones will work abroad.
“Make definite arrangements to hook up at an agreed place,” says Hackett.
It’s also worth planning ahead in terms of homemade snacks and sandwiches not just for the airport, but for the plane, he advises.
“Have food prepared for the airport and for the plane,” he says, pointing out that sometimes the food on sale onboard a plane may not be suitable for children.
Bringing your own food could save you a fortune.
Airport or airplane food can set you back a lot if you’re travelling with the family.
Travelling with teenagers can be tricky and sometimes it’s worth offering to let them bring a friend if the friend’s parents are willing to pay the cost of the flight, says Hackett.
It creates a more friendly environment both en route to your holiday destination, as the teenager has someone to travel with — and once you get there.
“Very often you cannot leave them at home and, if the friend’s parents are prepared to pay, it could make your holiday a lot easier when your teen has someone to go to the shops/pool/disco with.”
Last, but not least, talk to children of all ages about what they can expect in the airport and on holiday so that they know what to expect.
And, warns Byrne, “If you’re travelling through a busy airport with more than one child, be sure to carry out regular head checks.”
* Travel bag: Your hands will be full when travelling with children so before you start out on your journey, make sure you carry all the necessary travel documents in one easily reached place
* Give each child a backpack with toys, books, colours, games, etc
* Pack pre-filled bags of healthy snacks
* Include a change of clothes in case of accidents
* Think of a travelling medicine kit — Nurofen, Dioralyte
* Bring food for the plane — pre-filled bottles of water and sandwiches your children will like.
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