8 things a parent should bring on a plane to keep their children quiet
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A frequent question asked to members of the TPG UK team is “What’s in your carry on?” As a parent travelling with children, you can’t just roll on board with a dinky Rimowa carry-on, face mask and headphones to drink wine and relax for eight hours. The top question I get is “How do you keep your children quiet on flights?”
We have compiled a checklist for what every parent with young children should bring on board to keep everyone occupied and comfortable.
Hungry kids are noisy kids. Children also need to eat more regularly than most flight meal services. So unless you’ve saved your points for your family to fly first class with on-demand dining, you need to bring plenty of food. Many food options can be reserved and purchased from Boots after security. The post-security Boots has lots of child-friendly snacks, including Organix and Ella’s pouches. At some terminals, including Heathrow Terminal 5, you can pre-order baby items from four weeks to 48 hours before departure using Boots’ Reserve and Collect service. You may find it easy to use a designated tote as a snack bag that sits at your childrens’ feet once they are old enough.
Insider tip: A good rule of thumb is two to three snacks per hour awake on the flight per child.
Children don’t always recognise thirst and can moan as a result. We all know to stay hydrated during a flight, but it is doubly important for children who get dehydrated quickly. Water also helps combat their jet lag.
Insider tip: Fill a large sports bottle in the airport water fountains after security to bring on board with you. Then use your abundant water to decant into smaller spill-proof cups for your children to prevent inevitable spills and save everyone (and the seats) from uncomfortable wetness.
While personal devices and inflight entertainment can entertain children, on long flights, you will need more. When kids become bored, they start misbehaving. Travel puzzles, reusable water-based colouring books and age-appropriate activity books can keep boredom at bay. Keep ’em Quiet is an aptly-named brand that creates “lucky dip” style rucksacks filled with activities for kids based on age and length of the flight. If your child is a budding AvGeek, reserving a window seat can provide a lot of entertainment, particularly in the long wait before takeoff.
Insider tip: Avoid things with small parts that can be lost easily on a plane. For example, we bring Playmobile figurines rather than Lego ones. We also avoid bringing a ball or anything hard that would hurt another passenger if thrown or accidentally dropped. The goal is preventing the screech that comes when you rip a toy away from an upset child because it turned out to be the wrong choice.
Make up a little first-aid kit with sweets or gum to help tiny ears with changing altitude, as well as Calpol, plasters, antiseptic wipes and napkins. Try to keep your onboard medical kit small — ours is in a BA premium economy amenity kit bag. Of course, many families must travel with more medications and supplies to meet their family’s health.
Insider tip: Put any liquid medications into a plastic bag to prevent leaks and for it to go through security.
Read more: How to plan an enjoyable child-free trip
A sleeping child is a quiet child. Children asleep on the plane is every parent’s goal, so you may need to bring a few extra things to make them more comfortable. Taking a seat extender, pyjamas, kid ear defenders or headphones and a light blanket can help children sleep. Some parents swear by bringing toothbrushes and recreating the entire bedtime routine on the plane.
Insider tip: Virgin Atlantic and British Airways policies state that they do not allow the use of seat extenders. In my experience, it is ultimately up to the crew on board, so you can ask kindly to use one as long as your child would not be blocking anyone.
Kids like being wet most of the time, from splashing in puddles and swimming, but on a plane, it can make them scream. Use see-through packing cubes, and pack an extra set of clothes, including underpants and socks for your whole family. The packing cubes can stay stuffed in the bottom of your bag or in your carry-on roller if not needed.
Insider tip: Bring an extra plastic bag stuffed in the packing cube, and if clothes become wet or soiled, they can stay separated.
If your children have a device, on a flight is a great time to use it. Make sure to download everything ahead of time, bring USB chargers and a travel charger in case your seat does not have a USB outlet. Important for young children are child-specific headphones that cap the volume and protect their small eardrums. Investing in Bluetooth, noise-cancelling or reducing headphones for kids can help control the wires and keep the volume down. Discuss with them beforehand that they need to remove their headphones to speak to you, or else they will talk inadvertently loudly with headphones on.
Insider tip: If you plan on handing over your device, make sure that it has a kid-friendly cover to protect it.
This tip is to prevent you from crying. While concentrating on all of the extra kid stuff, parents sometimes forget some of the essentials, including the proper travel documentation. Other essentials are whatever you would include in your day-to-day outings with your children, such as nappies, hand sanitiser and wipes. Pack a travel-size pack of sanitising wipes to quickly clean off your tray table, remote and armrest and prevent your family from getting ill.
Insider tip: Keep all travel documents in a clear bag in case there’s a spill and wholly separate from the kid items during the flight.
The key to family travel is figuring out what works for your family, but this list is an excellent place to start. With your arsenal in tow, you, too, could be the parents who are complimented when you depart a flight with your quiet children. If not, at least you survived and have a family holiday waiting to make memories.
Featured image by Peter Muller/Getty Images