Air travel with kids

Claire Calvey takes to the skies with her brood

Someone once said there are two classes of travel – first class, and with children. Personally I liken travelling with children to childbirth because once it’s started, there’s nothing you can do but keep going, regardless of how agonising it is.

On a recent trip home I had decided in my wisdom that a three-hour stopover in Turkey would be a wonderful experience, particularly when I saw the (low) cost of the flights. This was a mistake; three hours spent in the departure lounge at Istanbul airport, begging and hissing at the children to please stop running the wrong way down the travelator, while an audience of head-shakers and tutters looked on, is not a wonderful experience at all, and in fact I’m pretty sure the amount of money I spent buying snacks, drinks and colouring books to pacify them cancelled out any savings I’d made. I’ll know for next time.

The flight itself wasn’t too bad, although a restless four-year-old wouldn’t be my travelling companion of choice, not least because of his insistence on repeatedly flipping up and down the table on the back of the seat in front of him. After the 89th time, my patience was wearing thin, as I’m sure was the poor unfortunate’s who occupied the seat; there’s only so many times you can apologise to someone before they start to question your sincerity. This tedium was only relieved by the appearance of a ‘gift’ from the airline to all the children on the flight. This featured a plastic bag containing a mini Turkish Airways plane with stickers and an inflatable Turkish Airways plane. The boys fell on these gifts enthusiastically, although I had to clamp my hand over my six-year-old’s mouth as he held up the as-yet deflated plane and announced, loudly, ‘Mummy, I know how to blow up this plane!’

Mercifully nobody in authority heard him or we could have found ourselves responsible for an emergency stopover in Athens.

Of course, many parents believe that medicating their children is the only way to survive a long journey, and I must admit to having fantasised about slipping them a shot of Benadryl, a fantasy no doubt shared by whoever is unfortunate enough to be seated beside us. Googling ‘travelling with children’, throws up a dazzling array of websites devoted to the topic, packed with advice and tips for a successful journey. Although the suggestion to ‘Put a balloon in your pocket for inflation in transit lounges – pop it before you re-board’ (I’m not making this up) must have been made by someone who had either not actually tried this out, or who thought the idea of boarding a plane with a traumatised toddler wailing for his balloon was a good idea.

It gets better, one website I clicked on ran an article entitled ’50 ways to entertain kids on a plane’, with suggestion number five being ‘since you can’t see rainbows from 40,000 feet up, you should consider creating your own with a kaleidoscope to keep the little ’uns entertained’. Another suggestion to ‘dress up’ with scarves, bags, beads and sunglasses as a fun way to spend a long-haul flight (suggestion number 13) might work if you’re Donald Trump and have your own private jet, but on most flights I’ve taken there is usually hardly enough space to read a magazine.

Even more bizarrely was the suggestion to ‘give your toddler a roll of sellotape at the start of the flight, he’ll have hours of fun’. Last time I checked, most decent planes these days come equipped with individual TV screens, ear-plugs and a wide variety of movies; surely a far saner way to amuse them. Besides, sipping a glass of wine while watching The King’s Speech, as the children sit transfixed in front of Kung Fu Panda 2 is certainly preferable to re-telling fairy tales using finger puppets (suggestion number 8).

Yes, travelling with children can be tough, but the solution is in fact very simple and doesn’t require a ball of string or bubble wrap: Several hours in a soft play area to wear them out followed by an overnight, direct flight – Benadryl optional. Bon voyage!

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