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Preparation is key
These days there are severe restrictions as to what you can and can't take in your hand luggage but having everything you need nearby is essential when you have little ones. Prepare your baggage well in advance, to ensure that everything from nappies to snacks are within easy reach. Remember that you're not allowed to take containers of liquids greater than 100 ml through security. Though baby milk and baby food is allowed you might be asked to taste it.
A long wait at the airport may sound like a recipe for disaster but arriving early is far less stressful than a rush to check-in. Arriving early will also mean you have a better chance of sitting the whole family together on the plane and, without the run to the gate, you'll be less stressed by the time you board.
If possible, try to get seats at the front of the plane, where you will have more room and fewer passengers to bother. A window seat will help keep the children entertained both before takeoff (watching the airport goings-on) and during the flight when they can marvel at the world below. Of course, we don't need to tell you that the inevitable 'do you need the loo?' should be asked prior to boarding the plane!
If you are flying long-haul with a small baby, request a bulkhead seat and bassinet. These are used for children up to 18 months old but are most suitable for babies under eight months.
What to take
When all the excitement of boarding and take-off is over, children are all too easily bored by the flight itself (and who can blame them?) Keeping the kids occupied helps to pass the time and prevent them from becoming unruly and upsetting fellow passengers. Books, toys, pencils and paper are small enough to fit into your hand luggage while snacks will also keep them quiet for a while.
Some airlines provide special services for children, such as puzzles or games, so it is worth asking as these will be new and exciting for your little ones (at least for a short time!).
Be sure that you take plenty of water - it is easy to become dehydrated while flying and children will feel this quicker than adults. If you run out, ask the stewards for more.
And don't forget that other essential flying item... sweets. Many adults will have experienced ear discomfort when the cabin pressure changes at take-off and landing but little ones often feel the pain more. A sweet to suck or chew during these times will help while if you have a young baby, it's a good time to feed them their milk or give them a dummy.
During the flight
Never be afraid to ask. There may be times when you need to take one child to the bathroom and flight attendants are (almost) always happy to watch the others while you do so.
Don't be afraid to smile (and if necessary, apologise) to your fellow passengers. If they can see that you are making the effort to keep the children amused, you may find they have more sympathy if the tears start.
If you are on a long-haul flight, encourage the children to stretch their legs regularly. You may find it easier to take them one at a time to avoid them running or getting unruly. Stop by a fire exit for a while and let them look out of the window - a change of scene can be all they need to settle again.
When it comes to the end of the flight, don't rush to gather your belongings and disembark like the child-free passengers - you'll find it much easier to keep track of everything (and everyone) when the plane is emptier.
Do you have any tips for stress-free air travel with children? Let us know below...