Family travel: Long-haul travel tips

2012-10-01 09:47
There’s something magical about flying when you’re a child; being awed by the size of the aircraft, the anticipation as you fasten your seat-belt, the excitement of takeoff and the wonder of looking down on the clouds.

But usually it’s an experience not shared by parents. Airports are stressful at the best of times and particularly so when escorting one or more children while juggling bags, passports and urgent appeals to use the bathroom.

On board the aircraft there’s the inevitable debate about who sits where and the need to keep an eye on an insatiably curious child intent on heading off to do some exploring while you wrestle your bag into the overhead locker.

Even when you’ve settled in your seat and answered a seemingly endless barrage of excited questions you sometimes aren’t able to relax. Your duties as maître d’ and entertainment officer usually preclude anything other than snatching more than a bite or two of an inevitably cold meal and pretty much rule out following the plot of anything longer than a cartoon.

But Sue Botes, British Airways Commercial Manager for Southern Africa, who’s been flying her children since they were babies, says that by being pro-active you can limit some of the stress of travelling with tiny tearaways.

Try these tips:


- Arrive early, if possible factor in an additional 30 minutes per child to the minimum departure or connection time. This will go a long way to reducing the stress.

- Book the entire trip on one airline or use its alliance partners as this makes life much easier if there are any delays or connection problems.

- Book your baby seat or bassinet when you make your reservation as these are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

-If the airline allows, pre-empt queues at the airport by requesting your seats online. The Manage My Booking function on ba.com allows you to check-in using this feature 24 hours before the flight departs. 

- If you're unable to pre-seat online beforehand, arrive at the airport a little earlier so the check-in staff can try to seat everyone together.

- Airports are busy places - keep a watchful eye on your children at all times. If you do get separated from your children, make sure whoever finds them can get in touch with you by writing your mobile number on their hand or arm in indelible ink, or write your contact details and flight number on a sticker and stick it to the back of their shirt. Alternatively write the details on as small card and hang it around their neck on a lanyard.

- Take advantage of the priority boarding procedures for parents with children. This means you aren’t juggling the luggage and children while other passengers are trying to board and you have some time to get settled and relax. If you’re using a small folding pushchair you can take it right to the door of the aircraft at most airports.

- Improve their on board experience by pre-booking children’s meals. These meals are served first, giving you enough time to get the children fed and settled before enjoying your own meal - they're also specially packed with the things kids love to eat.

- Most airlines offer on board entertainment and packs for children but it’s a good idea to pack some familiar, small, lightweight toys or books in their hand baggage.

- Double check your luggage allocation before hand to avoid any nasty surprises. British Airways allows babies and children one item of hand baggage each, as long as these comply with rules applied at many international airports, including Heathrow. These restrict the maximum size of hand baggage to 56cm x 45cm x 25cm, Mothers with small children can take baby food and bottles on board, but will be asked to taste the contents at security.

- If you are concerned about a particularly energetic child, get advice from a medical professional. Do not try to self-medicate your child to avoid any stressful situations.

- On arrival, if you need help disembarking the aircraft, wait until the other passengers have left and the crew will assist you. This is where allowing more time for connections can really pay off.

- Check if there are any fast-track immigration options for families travelling with young children.


Family holidays can be magic, shared experiences, helping to expand children’s minds and imaginations. With a little planning and consideration to account for the needs of tiny travellers, you can ensure that getting there is part of the fun,” says Sue
Read more on:    travel international

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