Travelling with children comes with its perils. The younger they are, the more challenging the holiday. As much as travel expands your child’s mind, it can greatly contract your self-confidence as a parent, because it isn’t until you’ve let those tiny missiles loose inside a plane that your child-rearing skills become apparent.
Most people I know dread being seated within the hearing range of an Indian child (I specify Indian because our children are a class apart from any other race as far as decibel levels go.) The experience of many memorable journeys, however, has taught me a thing or two about navigating airports, boarding flights and avoiding public embarrassment while travelling with children.
1. Reserve seats in the first row, regardless of your class of travel: When I travel with my kids, I prefer day flights and call ahead to book the front row so that my younger one can get over her fascination for public toilets by being seated right next to one. Earlier, I often asked for the bassinet in the hope that they could sleep in it. But my children were jumbo-sized even as infants and I ended up using the bassinet to hold my handbag instead. However, if you have produced babies that are not the size of toddlers at birth, it is always a good idea to call the airline ahead and reserve a bassinet.
2. Choose an airline that offers good in-flight entertainment: This is especially important for long flights, on which you should also carry some novel items that might hold your children’s attention for more than 10 minutes. Do carry enough dry snacks for them to munch on as well. They will mess up the plane with these snacks, yes, but the entertainment of it all will help them hold their peace, thereby earning you the gratitude of your co-passengers instead of their dirty looks. If your child is the restless, when-are-we-reaching kind, prone to tantrums, carry industrial-strength Benadryl like my mum did when we were kids. I am not suggesting you drug your kids, but should they want to make a cricket pitch on the aisle and run amok, you can use it to sedate yourself to numb the shame. I have often had to give my children Bach’s Rescue Remedy to calm them down on flights. In case, your children are easily excitable, like mine, I suggest you seriously consider it—for your own and your co-passengers’ sanity.
3. Choose your seat as far away from your children as possible: Another suggestion—one that may be perceived by some of you as selfish—is to book your children in a different class of travel from you, if they are old enough, with strict instructions to the flight attendants that you are to be bothered only in case of an emergency. Specify that ‘emergency’ means events in the nature of hijacks or extreme air turbulence. This will mitigate the chances of public embarrassment greatly, and you will arrive at your destination looking well rested and not like a refugee from a war-torn state.
4. Carry extra clothes and a plastic bag: In case your kids throw up, it’s a good idea to keep an extra set of clothes, for both them and yourself. And carry a plastic bag to hold the soiled clothes.
5. Know your airport: Given that airports are mini-universes in themselves, navigating them safely—without missing a flight or losing a child—is crucial. I usually like to know the distance of the departure gates from immigration in walking minutes, as this helps me plan my time better. The children invariably want to buy chocolates, and I do get drawn to the myriad make-up kiosks. This has often led to us hearing our family name being announced at airports the world over. Not counting the international fame, sprinting towards your plane with flying handbags and stumbling children is no one’s idea of elegant travel, so reach the gate before everybody else if you want to board your flight with dignity.
6. Don’t lose your kids: I realise this is stating the obvious but I think it’s an important point to make. Now, I have seen parents leash up their toddlers to ensure they don’t run off at airports. While this may work very well with certain kids, my two-year-old felt highly belittled when I attempted it. “I am not a bow wow, why are you tying me up?” she asked me through bitter tears.
The stroller is the best contraption in the world to keep kids in check at airports and something that should be retained till the child becomes a teenager. The advantage of taking a stroller, or what the Brits call a buggy, is that you can take it all the way up to the plane.