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Flying long-haul with children - Part 1 April 29, 2014

The Jarratt family are lucky enough to be travelling to Mexico in the next couple of weeks. We're all really looking forward to the break, none more so than my 4 year sold son Oliver. However, once I'd got over the initial excitement that accompanies the booking of any holiday it dawned on me that the flight to Mexico is 11 hours... 11 hours that will have to be spent in a confined space with a 4 year old. A 4 year old who, on car journeys, normally starts asking plaintively  “Are we there yet?” before we reach the end of our road.

My initial reaction was that I had coped perfectly well as a child on our annual jaunts to the south coast in the back of my dad's Rover with nothing more than endless games of ‘I Spy’ and a tin of Smith Kendon travel sweets for entertainment, so why should he be any different. Then I remembered that those journeys only lasted a few hours, were punctuated with frequent stops for a cup of tea, a sticky bun and a leg stretch and that ‘I Spy’ is a little more tricky when the only thing to be seen out of the window are clouds.

Now, removing my prescription issue parental rose tinted specs for a second, my son is an average, garden variety, four year old... i.e. he has the attention span of a goldfish, a complete inability to keep still for more than a few seconds, no volume control and the overwhelming need to question everything about his surroundings. Constantly and at great length. And whilst I'm sure the good people at Virgin Atlantic will do their upmost to keep us all well fed, watered and entertained there must be a limit to even their patience. For both our sanity and for the sake of our fellow passengers, clearly something has to be done.

So, I did what I always do when faced with a problem of this type, I fired up Google to see what the Interweb advises in this instance. As I'm sure I'm not alone in dreading being the parent of 'that' child on a flight this summer, I thought it wise to share the results of my searches. To reiterate these are by no means personal recommendations and certainly not endorsed in any way by Caribtours Ltd. However, in part 2 of this article I'll report back on what we tried and if peace reigned in the skies:

  • The advice seems to be to stick you your child's set routine as far as possible, rather than keeping them awake in the hope that they'll sleep more during the flight as you'll just as likely end up with an over tired, grizzly little monster.

  • Conversely, you're advised to be as active as possible before getting on the plane to tire out your little ones so that they can get some rest on the plane... which is helpful. Given that Ollie will probably treat Gatwick as one giant adventure playground, and will be massively overexcited about the whole experience, this will probably be a given.

  • You're advised to investigate the children's facilities at your departure airport before you travel to avoid the frustration of discovering the perfect play area just in time to be called to your gate. Gatwick has soft play areas for ages 2-6 in both terminals so we will no doubt be heading there.

  • Book a children's meal with your airline as you'll get served first and are more likely to get something that your kids will enjoy.

  • Stock up on fruit juice cartons (I guess the monotony of the flight will at least be broken by the inevitable numerous trips to the bathroom) to stave off dehydration due to the dry atmosphere found on aircraft.

  • You're also advised to stock up on favoured snacks and small toys that you can produce conjurer-like through out the flight to stave off boredom. Some very organised parents even wrap them up to create a kind of faux-birthday atmosphere... looks like we won't be travelling light this time.

  • Lots of talk about entertainment options and use of the iNanny to keep the little ones entertained. A recent survey by Disney of 5000 British parents found that 80% reach for a tablet or smartphone to keep their offspring entertained during long journeys. The consensus of advice is that loading your iPad with favourite apps, games and programmes is a good thing and that you mustn't feel bad that by doing it you are retarding your kid's development and turning them into some king of glassy-eyed couch jockey... so that's good.

    Having said that, friends of ours recently spent over £100 in the Apple store to make sure they were fully prepared for a flight to Mauritius only for their daughter to ignore the proffered tablet in favour of the back-of-seat entertainment options. Despite knowing that Virgin's in-flight entertainment is excellent, given the potential for hanging around in airports etc., the Jarratt family iPad will definitely be loaded and ready to go with Cbeebies finest.

  • Turning to a different kind of tablets, there's also plenty of discussion about the desirability and effectiveness of sedation (for the children, not the parents), but the general consensus amongst the mummy bloggers is that this is a bad thing only to be tried in dire emergency. Personally, I think I would have to be pretty desperate to do this but if you do feel compelled to make busy with the infant Piriton you're advised to try it before you go as stories of the drugs having the opposite effect as intended are legion.

  • Finally while we're talking drugs, take 100ml of Calpol or infant Ibuprofen as this is great in case of altitude induced head and ear aches and will be small enough to make it through customs. Also, having something to suck on during take off can reduce the effect of pressure changes, to which small children are more sensitive, so pack a few boiled sweets... that tin of Smith Kendon at the back of the cupboard might come in useful after all.

So there you have it... I'll report back in a couple of weeks as to how we got on. Please comment if you've got some suggestions that we haven't covered or experiences you'd like to share.

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