Thursday, November 20, 2014

Flying with kids

As a former Flight Attendant and someone that travelled extensively as a child (my Father was a Diplomat) I feel more than qualified to write a blog post about airline travel with kids.  Plus  I seriously get asked all the time by people what my top tips for travelling with kids are, so I thought that I would collate them all in a blog post for anyone who is interested.  Please keep in mind though that this is just what has worked for me and my two rascals and is based upon my flying experiences.


Firstly check what the airline provides.

Many budget carriers these days don't include food as part of the inflight service.  They often sell food onboard, (check if you need to pre-order it) and keep in mind that popular items sell out quickly. A copy of the menu (for want of a better word) should be available online.   If you have picky eaters pack your own or if you want your kids eating something semi-nutritious, pack your own.  If in doubt, pack your own!  Make sure that it is not something that needs to be heated up.  For hygiene and safety reasons the Cabin Crew are not permitted to heat up food belonging to passengers.  No, there is not a microwave in the galley (if I had a dollar....) Nor is there room in the galley to keep things cold.  Use an ice pack and esky style lunch box if you want to keep anything on ice.

If the airline includes food as part of the service:  Buying a child's airfare does not automatically mean the airline provides a special child's meal.  This is something that you need to organise and be mindful that some airlines require you to book any special meals at the time of reservation.  Most though only require 24 hours notice, it is worth checking this out before you book your tickets just in case.  There are a huge variety of special meals available catering for almost every dietary need you can think of.  One of my favourites is a fruit platter (FPML).  The codes for a kids meal are CHML and for a babies meal,  BBML.  Never assume that your travel agent has ordered for you either.

Eating food on board: If you are travelling with a small child or an infant I highly recommend one of the adults ordering a special meal as well.  The special meals tend to be handed out first, this means that one of you can eat undisturbed whilst the other tends to the needs of the kids.  It is also handy to only have one tray down for food at a time, especially if you have an infant sitting on your lap! If you are travelling solo with a couple of kids this is when you need to ask for help.  Feed the kids first and then ask one of the cabin crew to sit and hold the baby for you so that you can eat.  

What do we do?  I pack a lot of snacks.  Mainly sliced fresh fruit, crackers, dried fruit, sandwiches, biscuits, veggie sticks, cheese sticks, sushi, tortellini (ricotta/spinach) mine will happily eat it plain and cold. I store it all in little zip lock baggies and then put it all together in my carry on in one big zip lock.   That way if there are any questions at security about content it can be seen easily without needing to be handled.  The bags can be re-used later if you are worried about waste.   I always end up using them for a bunch of different stuff on holiday.

Keep in mind:  LAG's: Liquids Aerosols and Gels on an International Flight

 Flying internationally means that any liquids or gels need to be stored in a container no greater in size than 100mls and must be presented at security in a clear zip lock bag.  This also applies to yoghourt and any drinks for children.  You can take empty bottles though security and have them filled once on the other side and it is also possible to purchase bottles of water and other drinks once you have passed through security.  Babies however are exempt from this rule so if you are travelling with an infant you are permitted to carry on board the 140ml sachets of pureed food and bottles of water larger than 100ml.


I pack both boys a backpack and load them up with a variety of stuff.  

Craft items:  The best ones are self-contained.  You can pick lots of different ones up at cheap $2 shop type places.  The Crayola "on the go" packs are great and at $3 (Kmart) are an affordable item.  Invisible Ink books are always good.  Mosaic kits, the Djeco ones are fantastic but I have seen cheap ones at KMart that look good as well.  Sticker books and colouring-in are usually good for an hours entertainment.   I  always pack a set of textas in one of the bags as well as a couple of Pacer style mechanical pencils, no need for a sharpener or eraser that way.

Books:  As I have two voracious readers I pack them both 2 or 3 books each to read for a long-haul flight.  Go for paperbacks! 

IPods: Both boys have iPods loaded up with hours of audiobooks.  The 9 year old is currently listening to the William books by Richmal Crompton, The Just So Stories,  The Jungle Book and The Railway Children.  The 6 year old has on his The Magic Tree House stories (Mary Pope Osbourne), The Magic Faraway series and so on.  The headphones we use are the Griffin ones.  We like them mainly because they are over the head style and are volume limited.  You can buy an airline adapter for them if you want to plug them into the airline entertainment system. They are compatible with iPads as well.

Balloons:  Balloons are one of my top travel items.  In the airport they make a quick, safe ball.  Fantastic for unexpected delays or for a transit when you want to run them around a bit.  Find a quiet spot and let them go for it.  We have ended up with a bunch of other kids playing as well.  Balloons are also an excellent way of helping kids clear their ears on descent. Hand them a balloon and have them try and inflate it.  This is way more effective than a lollipop I promise you! We have the Tiger Tribe balloon balls, little canvas covers that go over the balloons for rough play but any old balloons will do and they seriously take up no room.  Great in hotel rooms, hotel swimming pools and parks while you are away from home.  Pack balloons.

Other random things that work well on planes to entertain children:
  • A box of bandaids has been a life saver a number of times for me when the boys were little.  
  • Bubbles, I recommend the touchable ones.  The little container is under 100mls so meets the Liquid and Gel requirements for International flying and are great for airport transits and for hotel rooms.  

  • Jeliku Puzzles.  These are one of the best purchases I have ever made, they both played with them for hours on our last trip to Canada and the States, plus they are tiny, flat and super cheap.


Everything takes a lot longer with kids.  Don't book connecting flights too close together, especially if there is a terminal change.  They like to stop and look at stuff.  You know, you are a parent, everything takes longer!

If you have a couple of hours (or more) between flights check to see if the airport has a playground.  The one at Changi Airport in Singapore is well worth a visit if you have a transit stop.  If there isn't a playground pull out the balloons and bubbles.  If you have a long layover, more than 6 hours I would definitely consider checking into an airport hotel.   You can have a sleep, go for a swim, have a shower, get outside.


I still change my boys (yes, even the 9 year old) into pyjamas and follow the whole bedtime routine as much as we can. With little ones I would put them into a sleeping bag if you use one.

I always get asked this so I will answer the inevitable question, yes everyone in business and first class change into pjs.  Most passengers change straight after take off.  In Economy and Premium Economy though it is pretty rare, so wear something comfy.  For the kids though I would still change them into pjs.


Keep all the passports and boarding passes together, either in a travel document wallet or a zip lock bag would do the trick.  If you can, obtain copies of all the immigration cards/incoming passenger cards and fill them out at home beforehand.

If you are travelling alone with kids and you have a different last name to the children, you will also need a document from the other parent giving you permission to take the children out of the country.  It does not matter if you are married to the other parent you will still need the paperwork.  This happened to me in Singapore and a very good friend got pulled up in Sydney.  Neither of us were permitted to travel until we provided the necessary documentation.  You will need a notarized letter from the absent parent with all their details on it and all the relevant travel details (length of stay, destination etc).  If the child had only one parent at birth you will need a copy of the birth certificate.

Photocopy all of your travel documents, your travel insurance, credit cards and passport, carry a copy with you (separately to the originals) and leave a copy with someone you trust at home.  If something does go wrong or they go missing it means that the person at home will be able to assist you in replacing the originals.


If you are travelling within Australia and plan to drive at your destination I highly recommend travelling with your child's car seat.  Just ring ahead to the airline to advise them that you will be travelling with a car seat and as long as the car seat meets Australian Standard 1754 (a red and white sticker usually stuck under or on the back of the car seat) it should not be a problem.  Not all airlines do permit car seats on board though so definitely ring ahead to check that it is permitted.

I would be hesitant to consider travelling internationally with a car seat.  Mainly because different countries have different car seat regulations and an Australian car seat might not be approved for use at your holiday destination.  It would be a pain lugging around a car seat that you might not even be permitted to use.


Breast Feeding: If you are breast feeding, definitely try and feed on descent as this will help baby with any ear trouble. Just try and position the infant seatbelt into a comfortable position for both of you!  

Bottle feeding:  As there isn't a microwave on board the Cabin Crew can only warm a bottle up for you by placing it into a pot of hot water.  Do not fill any bottles up with aircraft tank water.  Carry on a bottle of filtered water or you can buy one once you pass through customs if you are flying long haul.  

As far as when is the best time to start nursing or giving the baby the bottle.  Wait until the seat belt sign is switched on.  The descent PA happens fairly early on in the actual descent of the aircraft and it is probably best to wait a while before you begin feeding.  Otherwise you might find that baby finishes feeding well before the true descent starts.

Older kids:  If they complain that their ears are hurting get them to try and blow up a balloon.  It is without a doubt the most effective way of clearing troublesome ears.  Lollipops work well too but I think more because the kid is distracted by the thought of getting a lollipop!


Having flown as an Unaccompanied Minor a number of times (albeit a very long time ago!) and looked after probably hundreds of them over the years I can reassure any panicky parents that your little ones are well cared for.  There is always one Flight Attendant who is assigned to caring for the "UMs" and they will keep an eye on them for the duration of the flight.  If there is a connecting flight involved the UMs are not free to wander the airport but instead are taken to a designated room in the airport that has toys and craft  to keep kids of all ages occupied until the next leg of their journey.

 Two things though:  pack your child a jumper or a cardigan as they often complain of being cold in the chilly cabin and often those that are stuck in airports due to transit delays have no money or food in their bags.  The ground staff are not permitted to feed your child anything and a delay can often be significant.  Either pack some snacks or else give them a little money if they are old enough.  The ground staff will escort the UM to the food court in order to purchase some food if the UM requests it.


A change of clothes:  Both boys get a complete change of clothes in their bags.  I put them inside a large zip lock bag.  The bag helps keep things together and flat in their backpacks and means that in the dark of the night on a plane you are not ferreting around in a backpack full of stickers, crayons and matchbox cars for a sock.  Just pull the entire bag out and then re-use the same bag to store away the wet clothes or their day clothes.   Keeping clothes in the bag also means that if they spill their drink, into their backpack whilst they are trying to get something out, the clothes inside are still dry. (Trust me on this one....).  A change of clothes is also super handy if your bags go missing.  In the bag on the left I have a pair of long pants, a t-shirt, undies and socks.  I then squash the bag flat to squeeze out the excess air and zip lock shut.  In the bag on the right I have a pair of pjs.  These then slide into the back of their backpacks upright and take up next to no room!  

Planes and airports are cold:  Pack at least a cardigan or a jumper.  For a long haul flight even if you are going to Bali consider packing a few extra layers in your cabin bag and especially for any children or infants.  There are a limited amount of blankets on board an aircraft and you can always ask for one but it is best to be prepared for a chilly aircraft cabin by packing a few layers.  A pashmina can double as blanket as well and takes up very little room in a cabin bag.  For my boys I usually throw in an extra jumper or cardigan.  Again I pop it into a zip lock bag and slide it into their backpacks at the back.  In my bag I usually store a pashmina to use as a blanket if needed.

Asking the Cabin Crew for something:  One of the main complaints that I used to hear as a flight attendant was that the cabin crew were unhelpful.  Upon further questioning I would often find that the person complaining had at no stage pressed the call bell and actually asked for the drink, aspirin, snack (insert appropriate request here...).  Don't be scared to press the call bell and ask for something.  Even if the cabin lights are switched off and everyone is asleep.  A Flight Attendant is always on duty and there is always someone on duty that is responsible for answering call bells.  

Flagging down a Flight Attendant:  As a former hostie I do not recommend that you wait for someone to walk past in the cabin and then hail them down.  The Flight Attendant walking past could be on their way to a rest break, in the middle of dealing with an on board medical emergency, indeed they could be on their way to doing any number of things and have almost certainly been flagged down half a dozen times already by the time you attract their attention.  They will endeavour to remember to pass on all the requests that they receive on their way but a number of requests will of course be forgotten.  Press the call bell.

If anyone reads this and has any further suggestions or even any questions please add them to the comments. We have a few flights coming up including our annual trip to Canada so I would welcome any travel tips.

Happy and safe travels to all.


  1. Hi Emma. great catching up last night. What an timely post for readers as the holidays loom only too close for us. Great tips, while I'm not planning a long haul flight in the early part of the year, Fin & I are discussing a trip to the French ski fields next Dec/Jan holidays. I'll give you a call by the end of the week to arrange a catch up in the early weeks of December.

  2. Hi Engracia! A ski trip to France sounds fabulous! Love to catch up soon. Emma xx

  3. Traveling with the whole family is always fun, until of course the kids start to get bored and you're left trying to comfort their boredom. Hahaha! That can especially be hard during flights, so I make sure to bring a form of entertainment to keep them busy. Whether it's their favorite portable game console or their favorite show downloaded on our iPad, then we're good to go. Anyway, thanks for the tips, Emma! All the best to you and your family!

    Lillian Walker @ Taylor Works



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