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I promised some mummy friends to pen down a few things about how to entertain babies/toddlers on flights to hopefully maintain some semblance of sanity by the end of the flight. And I’ll have to say that I’m no expert – there are hits and misses, some flights/ some kids are better in the air than others, somethings work sometimes, somethings don’t work in others… But… over the years there are a few tricks I’ve come to practice for most of our flights… and here they are!
First off – what you do is very much dependent on:
- How long is your flight?
- What time is your flight?
- How old are your kids?
- How many kids you have as a ratio to how many (reliable and useful) child carers you have?
To answer the last question first – of course a 1 to 1 adult to child ratio would be great. We though, rarely have that luxury these days ’cause we don’t always bring our domestic helper with us for holidays. When you don’t have the 1 to 1 ratio though, you need to treat your kids as a collective whole – activities should appeal somewhat to all of them, and it would be ideal if an older kid can help a younger kid with doing something. Examples include sticker books and colouring etc where the older kid can guide the younger kid along, or if you have a particular type of toy/game/thing, you always need multiples to make sure everyone has one so there’s no need to fight over one object. (They will fight anyway, brace yourself, you can live through these). Fighting and playing together all takes up time though, so it is quite useful in passing time in a long flight. Haha.
How long your flight is and what time your flight is are related questions – for older kids that can nod off to sleep easily and sleep through chaos and do not go absolutely crazy when they do not sleep/nap enough, I do quite like night flights. In a recent trip to Korea, my 6 year old got on the plane, watched 2 episodes of Pororo, dozed off, and slept the rest of the way through the 7 hour flight. Easy peasy. But, if your child is a light sleeper, or if you have a baby/toddler that still hasn’t attained sleeping through the night skills, I actually think day flights are better. Although you need to be prepared to walk around the plane a whole lot.
For long long haul flights, go into battle mode and slowly roll out your tricks one at a time (I will list some of my favourites later). If you can afford it, I always always recommend buying a seat for the baby (even though you don’t need to do so for babies below 2 years old). Then, bring up a car seat that is approved for flight use, and strap them in. I can’t begin to explain how grateful I was to take quick naps myself during 15 hour flights and know that my baby is safe and not going to fall off my arms or climb out of the bassinet. Make sure to also check with the individual airline when you are making your reservations to ensure that you are able to bring up a car seat – some airlines have refused my car seats before.
For shorter flights, you still roll out your tricks one at a time (I kind of see it as playing poker and not revealing your trump card till the end), but you can usually make do with less tricks. In flights 3 hours or less, I wouldn’t even bother with trying to get a seat with bassinet, or having the bassinet set up. You can’t use the bassinet for take off, landing and turbulence, which means there’s barely any time to use the bassinet in a short flight.
In all flights with babies below 18 months – a good soft-structured baby carrier is VITAL! You need your hands around you to hold luggage and passports and tickets in your travels, and babies do calm down very quickly when you baby wear them. Also, if your baby was fussy for hours and you had to carry them for hours, a carrier is much much kinder to your back and arms! You do, however need to unstrap the carrier and strap on the infant lap seat belt during take off, landing, and turbulence though. I’ve somehow managed to learn to do that even with a sleeping baby koala-ed on me. Don’t really know how to describe how it’s done here, so all I can say is it comes with practice!
In terms of tricks to entertain the kids/babies, I’ll split them up according to age range:
To be honest this is the easy age range, contrary to what many parents think about wanting their babies to be older and hence “easier” for flights. At this age, you do exactly as you would at home/anywhere. Milk, cuddle, coo, sleep, change diaper, repeat. There is really no need to prepare anything special for flights. Just be prepared to have the baby in your arms/baby wear through the ENTIRE flight.
6-12 months (i.e. baby that cannot yet walk):
Simple things to fiddle with are very useful in this stage. So:
- stickers (try to get foam ones rather than paper ones so they don’t tear so easily, and can withstand being stuck to seats and pulled off and stuck on and pulled off incessantly).
- straws (I don’t usually use this though ’cause I still think straws can poke eyes)
- Bendy fluffy wires (I just found out that they are called pipe cleaners or fuzzy wires!)
- rubber bands that we use to tie long hair
- any any velcro stuff
- the airplane seat buckle (seriously that was every of my kid’s first loves and they can fiddle with it for half an hour at one go!)
- the airplane seat table (better yet if they are the sort that folds into half or has the mirror thing)
- whatever moveable part in the airplane seat. Just try not to press the call attendant button toooooooo many times in one flight
- finger food for babies. E.g. puffs, dried fruit bites, crackers. All those things that baby can spend a looonnnggg time pincer-gripping small bites are great.
12-18 months (i.e. baby that can walk):
The above usually works too, but you need to add some more stuff are are slightly more sophisticated. E.g.:
- Baby activity books – I like those cloth books that lets you buckle things or shoelace stuff. But they tend to be bulky too.
- Melissa and Doug’s water wow books. I love these. it’s basically a board book and a brush pen that you fill up with water, and when you water brush the pages the colours show up. When they dry the colours fade off. You can use them again and again, and you don’t end up with a toddler that has green and blue all over his hands and face by the end of the flight!
- little hot wheels cars – you can let the toddler drive them all over the plane seat (and you).
- colour paper to fold (and crush and toss around)
- board books that have pages that flip up and so on, e.g. where’s spot? or those puppet ones that lets you stick your finger in the middle of the book (don’t bring too many though, board books are bulky!)
- some people see this as the first line of defence, while others only use it when desperate – digital devices: the inflight entertainment system, your phone or iPad. If you intend to use these, you can download a bunch of music videos (I like super simple songs), or episodes of stuff like pocoyo. Remember that you don’t have online access to youtube inflight! So download the stuff before hand.
- Puffs still work wonders. Close both eyes and let them have all the puffs they ever wanted!
18 months – 36 months:
Again, most of the above for younger kids would work too, but here you can become more reliant on:
- digital devices – let’s face it. It’s a war zone and full battle ground on flights, no-digital rules can be on hold when desperate! Other than videos, there are also a whole lot of simple games suitable for kids this age. Again, download beforehand.
- colouring books, find the object books, paste the sticker books and so on.
Above 3 years old:
Treat them like normal people on flights and entertain as you would yourself!
Other things to note:
- Somehow, babies/toddlers have the knack of having poonamis on flights. I’m not sure if it’s the pressure or what, but my son poos nonstop on flights. So. pack more diapers than what you would usually use, and at least 2-3 sets of change. Especially pants.
- Pack a tshirt for yourself. Babies/toddlers also have a knack for spitting up milk on you or peeing on you inflight.
- diapers in wet bags are fantastic pillows!
- I usually pack my bags into 2 sections – one is the hand carry suitcase that’s my “reserve pack” – all the extra extra clothes/diapers etc – this goes up into the overhead compartment and can be a bitch to retrieve when you need them. The other things I need to magic out as and when (e.g. water bottle, puffs, diaper changing bag) would be in my backpack that is put under the seat in front of you for easy access throughout the flight. Things that you need during take off and landing (e.g. nursing cover or milk bottles n formula) should also be in the backpack.
- Babies need to drink milk/water during take off and landing to help them equalise their ear pressure. Don’t nurse/give the bottle until you are literally on the tarmac and accelerating for the take off – else baby would be done nursing/bottle feeding looonnnggg before the flight really takes off! At landing, you can nurse/give the bottle once the in-flight announcement for landing is given, the change in pressure seems to be greatest at that point.
I’m sure there are loads I missed out – feel free to add on and comment!
And last thing…. it was tough but all always always worth the holidays in the end!
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