Flying with kids need not to be a stressful experience

ByMichael Otieno

Flying with kids need not to be a stressful experience

I have never seen a child on a leash. So you can imagine what crossed my mind when I saw this kid, hardly three years old, on a “child leash” aboard an aircraft.

The kid on the leash was dishing out terror in the aisle with ease, only limited by the restraint.

At the other end of the leash was a bloodshot-eyed middle aged male who appeared beat. He looked like he was about to give up on life itself.

Next to him was a woman who I will assume was his wife — with an infant on her lap. She was out cold — snoring and drooling away. The body posture suggested exhaustion.

The infant on her lap was using its brand-new set of grinders to shred and gnaw away at a copy of the inflight magazine, already soaked in baby saliva.

As I settled into my seat across the aisle from this couple, I had mixed feelings of relief for not being in their situation and elation for having a set of seats to myself.

This feeling was not to last for long as an inquisitive seven-year-old boy with dorky glasses who I later learnt was their oldest son joined me as my seat-mate.

He was restless, unsettled and kept peeking at my computer. I probably shouldn’t have answered his first question but I did — then he kept me engaged and sweating for answers three hours into the flight.

The lad wanted to know what I did for a living, if I had kids, if he could play games on my Tablet, if I could sneak him some candy without his parents seeing… the requests were endless.

Let’s just say by the time his parents woke up, I knew more about that family than any immigration officer they were to interact with that day.

The whole while as we chatted, the younger kid on the leash had taken advantage of the sleeping father and strolled off to the galley where he kept the cabin crew busy with his demands.

That is after waking up a passenger or two on his way.

If you have been on a flight with a child, I am sure you can identify with the above scenario. Worst case is going on a long-haul flight with two or three of them, all under the age of nine.

Travelling with kids, even if not always interesting and fun, should certainly be easier than the experience many parents go through.

Just how supportive are airlines to those travelling with minors?

From a ticketing perspective, airlines are usually quick to differentiate between infants and children based on their age.

Hence the former pays approximately 10 per cent of the adult fare while the latter — those above two years old — pay as much as 75 per cent of the adult fare and in some cases the equivalent.

But such segmentation should go beyond fares charged for the different age sets of children and into service areas like boarding, meals and other inflight amenities.

Parents travelling with children need to carefully review airline policy on such travel as progressive airlines will have special provisions for baggage, strollers, seating and even special children, toddler or baby meals.

For instance, the couple on my flight should have been assigned a first-row seat to allow for the use of a bassinet for their infant.

One way of ensuring that you sit together and at the appropriate row is to pre-select your seats at the time of ticketing. It is worthy to note that not all airlines in the region allow for advanced seat selection.

In such cases it helps to have the reservations agent enter a comment on your booking for their counterparts at check-in. The other alternative is showing up at the check-in at least three hours before the flight.

Where one intends to use a child seat for their infant, it is important to check with the airline particularly in the region if this is allowed by policy as this will require that one purchases an extra seat.

Those travelling with infants must know that not all airlines in this region will provide differentiated meals for children let alone infants.

Should the airline of your choice provide for baby meals, be sure to inform the airline of special dietary requirements or any allergies your infant may have.

Keep in mind only a few of the international carriers provide baby bottles, baby food and milk.

If food must be carried for the infant, it is vital to carry a reasonable amount of liquid foods as airport security and customs officials hold discretionary say on what goes on board.

Unfortunately, only a handful of airlines will serve infants and children food first before attending to the entire cabin.

While it is hard to keep older children locked down during a flight, be sure to check what they eat and drink onboard.

Most cabin crew are very generous with sugar loaded food stuff and drinks when it comes to children. You can expect foods such as sugar loaded juices, soda, wafers and chocolates to have adverse effects once the sugar rush kicks in.

Be sure to carry some toys, word games, painting books and other entertaining stuff for the young ones as I am yet to find an airline in the region that provides these onboard.

All said and done, sitting with little O’Brien was a pleasure though i never quite convinced him how those seemingly small engines could keep the airliner in the air for so long.

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About the Author

Michael Otieno author

Michael Otieno is Managing Partner at SADIM Airline Management Solutions, an airline management consultancy practice with a focus on African airlines and airports.