Flying has never felt like such a fraught experience. From the United drama over teen girls wearing leggings to the latest debacle in which an American Airlines crew member upset a mom with a baby, it seems like there's a different customer-service disaster in the news each week. As if flying wasn't stressful enough — let alone flying with kids!
Even if you're able to get through the airport crowds and stringent security checkpoints, getting kids from point A to point B on an airplane is no easy task. Whether you're breastfeeding a young baby or trying to keep an unruly elementary school kid (or three) tame, sitting quietly for hours in a confined space with tons of other people will always present challenges for parents.
Still, as most experienced moms know, a little preparation can go a long way. We talked to Luisa Gangemi, Service Training Specialist at Emirates Airline, who — along with being a former crew member for Emirates — is the mom of two one-year-old twins. She knows firsthand, both professionally and personally, how important (and challenging) it can be, and that's why she's shared six of her top flying-with-kids tips with us, below.
Choose the right flight
It's not just about entertaining your kids once they're on board. A good flying experience with kids starts by choosing the right flight time, says Gangemi. "My personal advice is to choose a flight that's as close as possible to the child’s bed time. For example, Emirates flies twice daily to Glasgow and on my way back to Dubai recently, I chose the flight departing at 9:35pm. My twin babies slept the entire flight and I even got to watch a movie!" Now that sounds ideal.
Prepare for snack attacks
This one's intuitive, because munchie attacks on board happen for people of all ages. But it's especially important to satiate kids' appetites so their hunger doesn't morph into hanger — and an unwelcome tantrum. If you're lucky (or smart) enough to fly Emirates, your kids will be well taken care of: The airline offers special meals for kids between ages two and 12, who not only get a choice of nutritious, tasty options, but they'll also be served on a colorful tray (followed by a snack box, later).
But you can avoid hanger episodes on any airline by following Gangemi's advice: "I always suggest that parents bring a few of their children’s favorite snacks along for the journey. The crew members on board are happy to put these in a chiller for passengers, too!" Worried those apples and peanut butter or cheese and crackers are going to get too warm? Politely ask if the crew will put them somewhere cold for you; and to play it safe, be sure to bring also some non-perishable snacks, like crackers, popcorn, or nuts.
Plenty of airlines offer pillows and blankets on flights that are more than a couple of hours, but if your kids have extra-soft blankies or small stuffed animals that would bring them comfort on board, try to find space in your carry-on.
"When traveling with my twins, I always bring along their special blankets to make them feel calm and secure," says Gangemi. "On Emirates, you can buy from their selection of special stuffed Fly With Me Animals, which vary from penguins to tigers, and aren't just cuddly, but also represent regions around the world, so they can be a great souvenir."
We all know kids can only sit still in one place for so long, so take advantage of those moments when the fasten seatbelt light is turned off, and you can wander around the cabin for a few minutes. "Taking a stroll and stretching a bit is always a great idea," says Gangemi. "Onboard Emirates flights, crew members will offer to sit and hold children so that mom or dad can have some time to stretch their legs or head to the restroom. Our crew also walks through the cabin and takes Polaroids with children and even offer up our Cabin Crew and pilot hats for photo opportunities.The kids love it!" If your kids are old enough to appreciate it, steal Emirates' idea and have them pose in front of the plane window — adventurous ones will be psyched to have evidence of their globetrotting.
Anticipate worst-case scenarios
Depending on how old your kids are and what stage of life and growing pains they're in, remember to bring anything you might need to deal with kids' discomfort or unplanned allergic reactions or pain. "For babies who are teething, bring teething rings or toys that the crew can keep cold in the chillers. Also, toothy pegs are great for tots as they take a long time to dissolve," says Gangemi. For her one-year-olds, Gangemi also brings infant suspension sachets for pain and fever relief.
"On descent, make sure you have some sweets or a bottle of milk for your child or baby to suck on in the event they have difficulty equalizing their ear pressure," she says. Worst-case scenario, the crew are trained in first aid and should be able to help with any issues that arise.
Keep 'em occupied
Most airlines have modern in-flight entertainment systems that are either included in long flights, or for which you can pay a fee to stream movies and TV. "Emirates offers 25 free, dedicated kids TV channels and 40 classic Disney movies, plus games that children can play with new friends seat-to-seat," says Gangemi. "We also offer Lonely Planet activity bags for kids ages six to 12, which feature fold-out world maps, travel journals, an art kit, activity book, cards with world facts, and more."
Not into using the airline's entertainment? Most streaming services like Netflix and Amazon will allow you to download shows and movies to your tablet that you can later play offline for your kids. And hey, you can always take a cue from Emirates and pack your own travel activity bag, personalized to your own little ones.