• Charlotte Brenner

    Heading off on holiday with a young child who can’t sit still? Take a look at these handy tips for keeping them busy on the plane…

    Let’s be honest. Most of us approach the idea of a flight with an under-two with a mild-to-moderate sense of dread. And I fell into the latter category a couple of weeks back, ahead of a trip to the Algarve with my one-and-a-half year old, who still fell into the age bracket where he could sit on my lap for the flight.

    We’d crossed the ‘first flight’ milestone a year previously, but at that point he couldn’t walk, and was fairly happy to sit on my knee and fiddle with an ornate necklace I’d put on especially for the occasion. This time around, there was no chance a bit of jewellery was going to do the trick. This boy can walk. Why on earth would he want to sit?

    So, a couple of weeks before our trip, I began quizzing fellow parents and scouring the net in an attempt to find some ways to keep him occupied for the 2-hour flight, plus a 1-hour car journey and an airport traipse either side. Some of the tips I gleaned worked better than others, and some things I figured out the hard way. Several weeks later, and back on home turf, here’s what I’ve learnt…

    Child drawing plane

    1. Pens and pencils fall on the floor.

    Over, and over, again. This gets fairly annoying when you’re trying to retrieve the red and blue from somewhere beneath your feet for the fifth time in a row. Thankfully though, one mum had let me in on a secret – the travel-sized etch-a-sketch. The ‘pen’ is attached to the board itself by a bit of string, so it can’t get lost in your footwell. And there’s no need for endless sheets of paper – you just ‘wipe’ it clean each time.

    2. Buckles are fascinating when you’re small.

    The highchair. The buggy. The Bumbo. If it’s got buckles, zips or fastners, small people seem to want to play with it. Which is why buckle toys like this one are ideal for plane journeys, not to mention car journeys or long walks. Just make sure you save it for the plane so it has the ‘new’ factor, and hide it while you’re on holiday to be unveiled again for the return leg.

    3. Sticker books are a godsend.

    I took several, but Usborne’s ‘Holiday’ sticker book was streets ahead. It’s jam-packed with holiday scenes and stickers. And when you’ve run out of pages there’s plenty of fun to be had by sticking them anywhere else you can think of – I didn’t have the heart to tell the nice man next to us that he had a cat in sunglasses stuck to his shoulder.

    4. Sugary snacks are the enemy.

    On the way out, I stocked up on ‘treats’ to present as bribery for good behaviour. Unfortunately I didn’t pre-empt the ensuing sugar-rush that followed each dose, and the snack-bag on the way back looked a little different. Think fruits, crackers, and generally anything that won’t induce a sugar-high in a confined space. Food pouches are ideal if your child will still eat them, as you don’t even need a spoon. And if you’re worried about making a mess, pack some disposable bibs.

    Sleeping child on plane

    5. The seatbelt sign will come on just as your toddler drifts off.

    This will happen. If, at any point, your toddler stops fidgeting and sits still for a prolonged period of time (in my son’s case in front of a particularly riveting episode of Mister Maker), put their seatbelt on before they fall asleep so you don’t have to disturb them. No amount of pleading with the cabin crew to just let them sleep will get you out of having to wake them. Trust me on this one.

    6. Drinks help little ears on take-off and landing.

    If you’re travelling with a baby it’s definitely worth taking a bottle of milk for the flight, or breastfeeding on take-off and landing. The sucking motion can help to stop their ears from popping and alleviate excess pressure build-up. You can carry more than 100ml through security – you may just be asked to taste it – and the cabin crew can heat it up for you on the plane. If your child is older, try giving them a drink or something to eat instead – chewy fruit ‘sweets’ worked for us.

    7. A baby carrier at the other end will save your sanity.

    In my case, there was a fairly long period of time between getting off the plane in our destination and picking up our stroller from oversized baggage. If you’ve got luggage to pick up from the carousel – especially if you’re travelling alone with a child – it’s worth packing something like an Ergobaby that can fit into your hand luggage and will leave your hands free.

    Baby with headphones

    8. Toddler headphones will save your fellow passengers’ sanity.

    Because, unlike your toddler, they probably don’t want to listen to Peppa Pig on repeat. I took these headphones by Groove-e – they’re adjustable so they should last a good few years, and they meant my son could watch kids’ DVDs on the laptop without everyone else around us having to.

    9. Your hand luggage is no longer your own.

    What with the toys, the books, the snacks, drinks and nappies, there probably won’t be anything that’s actually yours in your hand luggage, apart from your passport. And considering you’ll be reaching for things out of your bag every 2 minutes, it’s worth making sure it’s fit for purpose – I took PacaPod’s Hastings bag, which has been specially designed for travel. The top-loading design meant I could reach straight in, and the pods made finding everything really easy.

    10. The other passengers will be surprisingly understanding.

    At least, they were on our flight. Chances are, if yours is the toddler who’s fed up, the other passengers are just glad it’s you having to deal with it, and not them. Of course, ordering a G&T and pretending nothing’s happening probably won’t garner the same response. Unless you’re going to follow this family’s lead and dish out ear plugs to the entire flight beforehand…

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