Family journeys through airports

Worried about keeping track of children and chattels in busy airports, filling the time before the flight, and avoiding travel-related tantrums? Mumsnetters' have some excellent advice for you


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Setting off for the airport

So, first things first...

  • Leave home earlier than you think you need to - there's nothing worse than getting stuck in a trafffic jam and panicking about missing your flight. As dull as airports are, it's better to be early and bored than to be dragging small children at Usain-Bolt-speed through the terminal.
  • Pre-book your parking - then you'll know what it's going to cost and that you've got a space.
  • Find out in advance if the airport has a children's play area; if not, is the lounge child-friendly?


Bags and baggage

Child dragging suitcase

Travelling light? Not bloomin' likely with children in tow - but you can still travel smart.

  • Make your child take responsibility for their own toys and tat by carrying it in a rucksack. Trunkis are also popular - kids can sit on them and be pulled along (though do watch out for other travellers' toes if they're pulling it themselves).
  • Bear in mind you may well end up carrying both bag and child, so try to keep things light.
  • "Take only what you can carry yourselves in case you have to walk to the airport, take a train or bus, or something unexpected happens."
  • For yourself, use a backpack as your carry-on instead of a little wheely case - it's one less thing to carry.
  • If you're planning to go hand-luggage-only, check out our guide to travelling light.


Clothing and clobber

Woman at airport window

Mumsnetters won't leave home without:

  • Small blankets (to sit on or wrap around)
  • Twice as many nappies as you think you'll need
  • Calpol sachets
  • Spare clothes for the DC, kept in a ziplock bag; any soiled/vomited on clothes can go straight into the bag
  • Dress all your children in a similar colour - easy to spot 'em all in the crowd (bright peach is unusual and therefore 'spottable')
  • "Shove a tutu, princess shoes and a fairy wand in the outside pocket of your suitcase - invaluable when you're stuck for eight hours at an airport because of a hurricane, and they've lost your other bags. NB: Might not work if you have teenage boys."


Pushchairs and slings

Mother with baby at airport

Distances inside terminals can seem interminable, so Mumsnetters say...

  • Airlines will now either let you take your pram to the gate and then unload it again at the arrival gate, or lend you an airport pram. Do check and take advantage of this, as babies get heavy being carried with so much walking around.
  • Alternatively, take baby in a baby carrier rather than a buggy. This will allow them to sleep (with luck), as well as allowing you to negotiate obstacles more easily. You can take it on the plane, and won't have to worry about whether the buggy will be at the gate at the other end.

Food and drink

Hungry, thirsty (or bored) little travellers? Mumsnetters recommend...

  • Taking a picnic, and yet more snacks for the plane.
  • "Small, fiddly snacks will keep 'em occupied longer."
  • Remember, you can't take much in the way of drinks through security. Take bottles to drink before security, then empty them and buy fluids airside if you need refills.
  • You can reserve cartons of formula for the flight beforehand at the airside Boots, if there is one. Just check on the relevant airport website and call in advance. Pack sterile bottles, and collect milk once past security.


Distractions and letting off steam

Boy using tablet at airport

The waiting-for-your-gate part of the airport experience can drag on (and on, if your flight is delayed) so be prepared.

  • If you have one, a tablet pre-loaded with films and games will be invaluable. Don't forget the charger.
  • Have a stack of pound coins for the 'machines' in the airport - the ones that sell bouncy balls and Barbie tat, and so on.
  • Pack Crayola Colour Wonder pens and pads; they don't work on clothes, just paper - a brilliant invention.
  • Spend more on sticker books than you did on your entire holiday - it will make your journey easier!
  • Wrap any bribery-type stuff in wrapping paper with loads of sellotape to make it more exciting - and the whole fix last longer.
  • "Beach ball: invaluable for tiring out kids at airport departure lounges so they'll sleep on long-haul flights. If everyone waiting to board your flight sees you exercising your kids they'll appreciate your efforts even if they don't sleep. But best not to use at crowded departure gates or in quiet corners where people are sleeping."
  • Don't peak too soon – airlines often announce delays at the last minute, so make sure you stagger your distractions.
  • Being willing to walk around for as long as their little legs will let them works well - hopefully, they'll be tired out when they get on the plane and sleep.


At last! Your gate is called

Departure gate sign

Cue mad scramble, but seasoned travellers advise:

  • Don't head for your departure gate too early - there's naff-all to do and they can be quite a distance from toilets. Conversely, don't leave it till they're calling for you by name to board - you won't be overly popular with the flight crew.
  • "Remember some airports are massive. We stayed in the main departure area until the final call, only to find we were miles from the gate and ended up being driven out to the plane. Cue planeload of not-very-impressed passengers."
  • Board the plane last. There are no prizes for getting on first; all that happens is you are stuck in a confined space for an extra 30 minutes, when you could be at the gate letting them have that final run round.
  • Make a loo stop the last thing you do before boarding.


And if that all seems too much, one Mumsnetter suggests:

"Pack the children into the suitcases and just wear eight changes of clothes. It's a bit uncomfortable, but you don't notice so much after your fifth G&T. The rest of your stuff can fit into your hand luggage."

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Last updated: over 1 year ago