Mama Holiday: flying with kids can be fresh hell

Minimise the pain: Plan ahead when flying with small children.
Minimise the pain: Plan ahead when flying with small children. Photo: Getty Images

It was like a scene from The Exorcist. Two-year-old Taj was spinning on his back in the middle of the airport, screaming in tongues. We'd survived our first overseas flight with a cunning combination of carrots and sticks, but the three-hour queue at customs in Port Vila was too much.

Flying with kids can be fresh hell. You think you've packed enough toys, books, colouring-in, nappies, bottles and Valium*, but you always forget something. Like underwear for yourself. Just me?

Fortunately, I was wearing a mustard-coloured jacket the day I forgot to bring extra nappies. It was The Day Taj's Bum Went Psycho, to paraphrase the title of the Andy Griffiths book.

"What a lovely little boy," a flight attendant exclaimed. "Can I give him a cuddle?"

"No!" I snapped. "He's, I mean, I'm, er, not well, and, ah, I don't want to pass it on to you." Which was kind of true.

I wish I knew Wendy Buckley back then. The boss at Travel with Kidz is blunt: "We recommend not flying long haul with a crawling baby. It's a nightmare."

She says make all requests at the time of booking, including pre-seating the family together, booking bassinet seats, and ordering infant/child meals.

Singapore Airlines is still the best, with four age-appropriate meal categories, smaller headsets, and spare bibs, bottles, baby wipes and nappies on board.

"We serve the kids first, so the adults can enjoy their meals in peace while the little ones are watching a movie," says Bryony Duncan-Smith, the head PR manager for Singapore Airlines.

Air New Zealand's new Skycouch allows two children to sleep together on a mini-bed, and Qantas Club lounges have family zones filled with Lego, PlayStations and iMacs.

Passengers on Virgin Australia - with its award-winning Red entertainment system - will soon be able to stream up to 300 hours of content on their own devices.

Often the difference between a good and bad flight comes down to staff. One friend, a single mum, raves about Qantas for helping her juggle a baby, toddler, pram, car seat and luggage from Sydney to London. "They even got one of those golf carts to take me from the gate to the transit lounge at Singapore airport," she says.

However, last year her seven-year-old became air sick and "the flight attendant couldn't care less".

It's also aircraft-dependent. If you're on an A380, try to book seats in the small area upstairs, but beware: some airlines ban babies from these sought-after sections. Malaysia Airlines was one of the first to declare it a kid-free zone, and on AirAsia X the first seven economy rows are a "quiet zone".

A survey by flight comparison website Skyscanner found nearly 60 per cent of travellers wanted children confined to a families-only section. Which sounds like a zoo. Frankly, kids aren't monkeys.

* I'm kidding. Well, maybe just the once ...

DEAL

FREE AND EASY
Children aged 14 and under ski free on the weekends of July 20-21, August 24-25 and September 14-15 at Thredbo when they are with a paying adult on a two-day lift pass. Also, the Learn to Ride week, September 16-20, throws in free lessons and gear hire on all lift passes. (02) 6459 4100, thredbo.com.au.

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