As an Aussie expat living in the UK with two children under six, the London to Sydney long-haul flight is now about as familiar to me as a manky old pair of slippers. So with the school holidays upon us, I thought I'd pass on a few survival tips for those new to long-haul flying with kids. Here are my top 10 tips:
1. Take your buggy right up to the aircraft door
Pretty much all airlines let you do this these days, and some will also let you have your buggy back as soon as you step off the plane at the other end. But if yours doesn't, many airports offer courtesy strollers that can be picked up a short walk from the plane door. This'll make all the difference if you've gone a bit over-the-top buying too much Duty Free Baileys beforehand.
2. Take a night flight
This might not make much difference for a baby, but it will for a toddler. In theory, they'll sleep for a large proportion of the flight because they'll be tired. If you catch a day flight instead, they'll almost certainly be up for the entire goddamn flight (especially if they've given up their daytime naps). Believe me, this works!
3. Arrange a stopover
If you're flying for more than 12 hours with kids, I'd recommend stopping over for at least a few days at the refuelling stop. Not only does it alleviate boredom (i.e. one 24-hour flight is much more horrific than two 12 hours flights), it also helps break up jet lag into easier-to-handle segments. It also means you can arrange another night flight for your second leg where they'll hopefully sleep for the majority of the journey (see point 2 above).
4. Ask for a bulkhead seat
Do this at the point of booking so you can get a bassinet cot for your baby. Otherwise they'll need to sit on your lap at all times, which can make eating meals a right palava, especially if you're on your own. Even if you have a toddler, bulkhead seats offer more room for the inevitable bags of kiddy cr*p you'll need to place near you, and you don't have to worry about the little troublemakers kicking the seats of the people in front.
5. Pack lots of food
Don't just rely on the airline's food. There'll be loads of times during the trip when a snack like a handful of dried apricots or raisins will distract and defuse a meltdown of megalithic proportions. And if you can't trick your toddler anymore with the old 'raisins are treats' line, just fill your bag with actual treats - they are on holidays after all!
6. Have milk at your fingertips
Whether breast or formula fed, take loads of the white stuff for both babies and toddlers, especially to give them during take-off and landing when their ears can be affected by the air pressure. A drink of milk before 'bed' can calm toddlers down too when mixed with the rest of their bedtime routine (PJs, teeth, story). At most airports you'll be fine taking milk, formula or baby food through security, but they might ask you to taste them first.
7. Travel with an iPad or mobile phone
Don't give yourself grief about bringing an iNanny with you. If you've got one, use it, and load it to the brim with your kids' favourite games, apps, TV episodes, songs and films. BBC iPlayer allows you to download episodes to your phone or iPad and keep them for seven days, so visit the CBeebies section the day before you fly and stock up big time.
8. 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.
9. Rely on the kindness of strangers
I've flown many different airlines now, but have yet to experience a cabin crew member offering to hold one of my children (I think due to health and safety/insurance), so if you're in need of help, you're going to have to rely on the kindness of strangers. Flying can bring out the worst in people, but it can bring out the best in them too - I have so many examples where my faith in humanity has been restored, I could set up my own awards night.
10. Lower your expectations
The most effective survival technique is to prepare yourself mentally before you go. The flight will be horrendous; it'll be long and tiring, your kids won't sleep like they do back home, they won't want to eat when meals are being served, and you definitely won't get to watch an entire Benedict Cumberbatch movie all the way through. But drop your expectations as far down as they will go, and you might just be pleasantly surprised. After all, flying with kids is just like labour - it'll definitely be over eventually, and by the time you've arrived at your destination, you'll have forgotten all about the pain.
Maddie blogs about life in the UK with her two children, Gammon and Chips at Gammon & Chips.