Sarah Harden was flying home alone from Los Angeles with her two-year-old daughter Lulu. Four hours away from Sydney, Lulu woke up and had no intention of returning to sleep.
It had been a long flight, with a delay in Hawaii, and Sarah hadn’t slept in 24 hours. She had to entertain Lulu until the flight landed, and then they had to survive a new day in Australia.
Belinda Tweedale flew from Johannesburg to Sydney with 10-month-old Olivia. She and her husband had flown around the world a number of times but, she says, this was the worst flight ever. “It was a nightmare. They didn’t have the bassinet we requested and they had no food for Olivia, even though they said they would. The flight attendant handled it really badly and Olivia was unsettled. It was such a long flight.” These are the stories travelling parents dread, but flying with kids doesn’t have to be a frightful experience.
Peta Tenson travelled from Melbourne to Darwin with her son Cohen when he was four months old. “I had heard horror stories about babies’ eardrums bursting during the flight, especially at take-off and landing. I booked a night flight and Cohen sat up quietly for the departure and, half an hour later, he fell asleep and he slept through the landing. There was absolutely no problem.”
There are as many different stories as there are families who take to the skies, and while the horror story makes for a better travel tale, you can avoid most of the dramas with a little preparation and lots of patience.
For domestic flights, children under 2yrs travel free. For international flights, a ticket for a child from 2-12yrs costs about 10% of the adult fare, but this doesn’t buy you a seat or any luggage allowance. Always ask if there’s a spare seat next to yours when you check in.
A ticket for a child over 2yrs costs 75% of the adult fare and guarantees a seat. Some parents bring a car seat and strap it to the plane seat, but this is optional.
Cots and sleeping
There are bassinets available in some planes which are attached to the bulkhead in each cabin. Request this when you book, and they are generally available for babies weighing less than about 10kg. If these are already booked, you may be offered a portable bassinet to place at your feet, but in most economy-class rows, this is impractical.
The best thing to do is take a pillow and let your baby sleep on this on your knees.
When it comes to encouraging sleep, maternal-health nurse Rajes Gomez says you should try to stick to the child’s routine wherever possible. “A night flight is usually best, as most children will sleep. But remember, they are kids and if they want to walk up and down the aisles, it’s probably better to let them do this than scream.”
It is believed about 15% of young children experience earache at take off and landing. Rajes says you should bottle or breast-feed a young baby at these times and encourage children to drink, eat or suck a dummy.
The use of medication to sedate children is out of favour but remains an option. Antihistamines such as Phenergan are available from chemists, but should only be used for children over 2yrs and on doctor’s advice. They can cause hyperactivity in some children, so do a test before your flight.
On the plane
Pack a couple of favourite toys – nothing too precious, as you inevitably lose something – and a few new toys.
Take lots of nappies, water bottles and finger food. If you pack any fresh fruit, remember to throw it in the bin before disembarking.
Taking a pram
You can’t take your pram on board, but you can check it free of charge as part of your checked luggage allocation. You should be able to keep it until you board the plane, wheeling the pram to the plane door, where it will be folded up and placed in the cargo hold. On arrival, your pram will be brought to the plane door.