There’s something magical about flying when you are a child – being awed by the size of the aircraft, the anticipation as you fasten your seatbelt, the thrill of takeoff and the wonder of looking down at the clouds.
Usually it’s not quite as fun an experience for parents. Airports can be stressful places at the best of times and particularly so when escorting one or more easily distracted children, while juggling bags and passports and negotiating urgent appeals to use the bathroom.
Onboard the aircraft there’s the inevitable debate about who sits where and the need to keep an eye on an insatiably curious child intent on heading off for some exploring while you wrestle your bag into the overhead compartment.
Even when you’ve settled in your seat and answered a seemingly endless barrage of excited questions you sometimes aren’t able to relax. Your duties as maître d’ and entertainments officer usually preclude anything other than snatching a bite or two of an inevitably cold meal and pretty much rule out following the plot of anything longer than a cartoon.
But Kola Olayinka, British Airways regional commercial manager West Africa, who has being flying with his family and children since they were babies, says that by being pro-active you can reduce a lot of the stress that can accompany longhaul family travel.
“You need to consider the children even before you make your reservations, even if they are a bit older because everyone can act up when they’re out of their comfort zone. For example when you’re booking connecting flights, factor in an additional 30 minutes per child to the minimum connection time.”
He also suggests trying to book the entire trip on one airline or its alliance partners as this makes life much easier if there are any delays or connection problems. If you need a baby seat or bassinet book it when you make your reservation as these are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Make sure all your paperwork is in order. If you travel frequently your passport will be up to date, but it’s worth checking the children’s are too. Also find out if the country you’re leaving or visiting require any additional paperwork for children.
To take some of the stress out of the airport experience, do as much as you can before you arrive at the check-in desk. You can pre-empt some queuing and any arguments about who sits where by requesting your seats using the Manage My Booking function on ba.com 24 hours before the flight departs. If you want to be absolutely sure of getting the seats you want, you can secure these earlier for a small charge.
You can also check-in on ba.com and print your boarding pass out at home. If you’re travelling with teenagers and they really want to be cool they can get a mobile boarding pass sent to their smartphone using the ba app.
Even if you have checked in online and already have your boarding passes, Olayinka suggests that it’s wise to leave more time than you normally would if you’re flying with the family.
“Rushing through an airport is not conducive to a stress-free journey for anyone.”
Above all keep a careful eye on your children in the airport so they don’t wander off. Make sure that if you do get separated from young children, whoever finds them can get in touch with you. You can write your mobile number on their boarding cards etc.
When the flight starts boarding, take advantage of the priority boarding procedures for parents with children. This means you aren’t juggling the luggage and children while other passengers are trying to board and you have some time to get settled and relax. If you’re using a small folding pushchair you can take it right to the door of the aircraft at most airports.
Another hint is to ask your travel agent or use Manage my Booking to pre-book children’s meals. These are specially prepared to be interesting and filling, but importantly are packed with the things children love to eat. These meals are served fist, giving you enough time to get the children fed and settled before enjoying your own meal.
Boredom is, of course, one of the biggest threats to a fantastic family flight. Onboard British Airways offers dedicated in-flight entertainment channels for children and teens, but remember you’ll also be spending time at airports. It’s a good idea to download their favourite game to your phone or mobile device or to pack some familiar, small, lightweight toys or books in their hand baggage. The trick is, in an unfamiliar environment, to provide them with something they know and like.
British Airways allows babies and children one item of hand baggage each, as long as these comply with the rules applied at many international airports including Heathrow. These restrict the maximum size of hand baggage to 56cm x 45cm x 25cm.
On arrival, if you need help disembarking the aircraft, wait until everyone else has left and the crew will assist you. This is where allowing more time for connections can really pay off. It’s also worth asking if there are any fast-track immigration options for families travelling with young children.
“Family holidays can be magic, shared experiences, helping to expand children’s minds and imaginations. With a little planning and consideration to account for their needs you can ensure that getting there is part of the fun,” says Olayinka.