LONG HAUL WITH KIDS
I have included this section because it is my guess that most of you will be travelling long haul in order to get to Thailand; long haul with children can seem a daunting prospect, I hope these notes help you prepare for a comfortable journey. I will start with some general information and then work through specific issues that you need to consider.
The very thought of twelve or more hours on an aircraft can and I believe often does put families off travelling to Thailand and I am sure other places too. Let me reassure you, it is not as bad as it might seem, especially with a bit of preparation for your flight. I can honestly tell you after a few journeys ‘Long Haul’ becomes something of a bus ride, only more comfortable.
Observation: Flying from London to Paris is 95% as much trouble as flying London to Bangkok; the vast majority of the difficulty is lugging bags, getting to and from the airport and queuing. You do this twice, once at the beginning of your journey and once at the end, regardless of how long the actual flight is.
Direct ‘Single Hop’ or Indirect ‘Stop Flight’
The choice here is usually, but not always one of cost.
If you are travelling from North America you will have no option other than to break your journey as the aircraft will need to refuel, this is usually at Narita or perhaps Hong Kong; on past personal experience avoid a stop over at Narita if it means spending time in the airport.
Refuelling is one reason to break the journey, the other, as suggested above, is cost. I can’t cover all the options here in this guide as pricing structures are continually changing so you will need to discuss the options with your travel agent.
The final reason is simply to get more travelling out of your holiday and perhaps visit Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.
If you decide to take the ‘Stop Flight’ option, then do ask how long your stop over will be, four hours in an airport can be a welcome break but much more than that can be extremely tedious.
Tip: If you are planning an independent holiday get your travel agent to quote you both the independent flight booking and the cheapest package, sometimes the prices can be cheaper for the package. There is nothing to stop you booking the package and not using the hotel.
Tip: When booking a ‘stop flight’ ask if you will you remain on the same aircraft or will you have to disembark and board a second aircraft? The latter usually comes with a delay.
This is important. When you book an indirect ‘stop flight’ make absolutely sure that if you have to change aircraft at you stop over, you are already confirmed on your onward flight, that you do not have to confirm your seat at the transfer desk.
Confirm this again when you check-in on the day of your flight.
If you do have to confirm your transfer at your stop over, go straight to the transfer desk and make the confirmation before you get distracted with shopping in the duty free or the hunt for food.
If you can afford it, and provided you don’t want a two centre holiday, direct flights are by far the best way to travel, not only that but they may not be that more expensive if you book well in advance.
Seating onboard the aircraft
I am quite sure the airline will make every effort to seat you together as a family, we have never been seated separately and I can’t recall ever having seen a family split up on the aircraft but it is far less likely to happen if you arrive at the airport for an early check-in when the ground staff have more seating options available for you. If you do get seated apart then wait until you get onboard and politely ask around those seated next to you if they don’t mind moving. Remember here that your fellow passengers may not want to give up their aisle or window seat and may not want to be seated next to your little darlings.
Rest assured, the airline is never going to seat small children away from their parents but may not make that commitment with teenagers.
Tip: You can ask to be seated together when you book the seats but again this is only a preference not a condition of your booking.
Tip: The seats at the rear of the aircraft are subjected to more vibration and jostling than those in the closer to the wings. On a 747, request seating forward of row 40.
Be aware that seats over doors are reserved for people who are fit and able to operate the doors. Children will almost never be seated over doors.
A Seat for Baby?
This is perhaps the number one question I get regarding flying with very young children, it is also one of he big comfort issues, ‘should baby have a seat of their own?’
Airlines allow children under the age of two years old to travel on the lap of an adult; I am not convinced they had long haul travel in mind when they made this rule up.
I think if your child is over a year old then having them on your lap for ten or more hours will be almost unbearable, and this without considering meal times. My advice is, if you can afford it, get even very small infants a seat, you might then make use of your car safety seat as a child restraint on the aircraft. I have included more information on the subject of using car safety seats onboard aircraft later in this chapter.
If you are constrained by your budget and you want to carry your child on your lap, then do be aware that it can be extremely uncomfortable. You will undoubtedly have to take turns and swap baby between you.
What ever your choice, if you are flying with a baby try to get a bulkhead seat, I personally think this is essential if you are travelling with an infant who does not have their own seat.
Bulkhead seats come with the option to use a ‘Bassinette’, a small folding baby’s cot that attaches to the bulkhead in front of your seat. Bassinettes are only suitable for very small infants, but they are safe and they do allow you to get your baby off your lap while he or she sleeps. We have used them in the past and found them to be very good but do be aware that if the flight is bumpy you will be required to take the child out of the bassinette and hold him/her on your lap again.
All passengers are required to wear seat belts during take off, landing and at other times as instructed by the aircrew, infants are of course included in this requirement. Airlines provide special child safety belts that attach to that of one of the parents. They are a bit of a fiddle to use but are a requirement under airline regulations. I have heard that a new harness type safety belt is soon to come on the market but I haven’t been able to find any information on this in time for my publishing date. Alternatively you may be allowed to use your own child carrying harness check this with the ground crew before you board the aircraft. (Not the kind of thing you can confirm by phone because they will need to see the harness).
And do remember, the aircrew have absolute control over all safety related matters during the flight, if the ground crew tell you that you can use your harness but the aircrew say you cannot, it is the aircrew’s instruction that must be followed, Checking things out with the ground crew will let you know what is definitely not allowed.
Tip. If you are flying with small children request a bulkhead seat when you make your flight booking, if you have booked already but didn’t request a particular seat, call the airline and ask if its possible to make a late request for a bulkhead seat.
Tip. Airlines allow the old, the infirm and people travelling with children to board first. When you are in the waiting lounge hover by the entrance to the aircraft so that you get noticed and you don’t miss the boarding announcement.
Tip. Take your children to the toilet before you board the aircraft, it’s not uncommon for aircraft to get stuck in a queue on the runway, sitting there waiting for them to switch off the seat belt sign so you can go to the toilet can be misery.
Car safety seats on aircraft
You may be allowed to take a car safety seat on board in which to seat your child. However, there are some rules that apply. The seat must be approved by the airline and they have the absolute right to disallow the car seat into the cabin - even if they have previously agreed to you using the seat. The other disadvantage is cost, your child will have to have their own seat, that seat will be charged at the adult fare rate. Finally the car seat must be secured within the aircraft seat, to the satisfaction of the aircrew, if they are not satisfied with the seat or its fastenings they can and they will refuse you permission to use it.
You are allowed to take child car seats and pushchairs on the aircraft with your hold luggage, free of charge (over and above your baggage allowance). Its always best to call the airline first to confirm this; if there are any problems remind the airline that this is a child safety issue and you are looking for their support. If there are still problems remind the airline that golf bags fly free and ask them what are their priorities with respect to child safety and golf.
Tip. If you are travelling with very young children you will be allowed to take a folding pushchair into the waiting lounge, this will be taken off you as you board the aircraft but it can make waiting in the lounge a lot more comfortable. If you are not told this at the check-in desk, then ask.
In Flight Travel Bag
You will each be allowed to take on board one piece of hand luggage typically that weighs no more than 7Kg Check the dimensions and weight with the airline.
Do remember though that you have to carry this bag across the airport between the arrival gate and baggage hall at the other end of your journey, if your children can’t carry their bag, you will have to.
There are two main groups of items that you should pack in these bags, things you can’t afford to loose and things you need during the flight, a typical packing list might include:
Contact Names and Addresses Especially your destination address
Baby changing kit
One adult change of clothes
One child’s change of clothes
A warm cardigan or pullover for each person travelling
Food that you are carrying
Pens for filling in immigration paperwork
Camera’s and any expensive shiny objects
Why have is Camera Film in the list of carry on luggage? The reason is X-Rays, your hand luggage will be subjected to far weaker X-rays than your hold luggage. X-rays can ruin film (especially if you have already taken the photographs), keeping your film in your hand (carry-on) luggage will greatly reduce the damage to your precious photographs.
I know, there is a sign on the X-ray machine that says film safe don’t believe it, all X-rays will cause some damage to your film.
Tip: Wrap all bottles containing liquids in a plastic bag and then tie the top of the bag, bottles will almost always leak during the flight due to the pressure drop at altitude.
Carrying Liquids onto the aircraft
I think we all know the story we are being told now, we are not allowed to carry liquids exceeding 100ml onto the aircraft for reasons relating to security.
The actual rule is liquids that were brought from outside the security cleared area in the airport. So you cannot bring liquids from home and carry them into the aircraft cabin (you can put those in your Hold Luggage) but you are allowed to buy liquids in excess of 100ml in the airport and carry these onto the aircraft.
Tip: If you want to buy liquids for the trip, buy them in the airport after the security check point and keep them in the sealed bag they are wrapped in until you board the aircraft. - Also keep the receipts for inspection, these will usually be stapled or taped to the sealed bag.
You need to check what your baggage allowance is and then see if there are any extra allowances that you are entitled to, for example if you have a frequent flier membership you may get an extra weight allowance. A word of caution, be very careful not to exceed the allowance because the airline will charge you 1% of the full first class ticket price for every Kilogramme over the baggage limit, if you are flying long haul and have only a few Kilograms over the limit this can cost a huge amount of money.
Pack your hold luggage with the assumption that one bag is going to go missing for a few days, this is unlikely but it does happen. It is always a good idea to distribute your clothes and things around all the bags so that if one bag does go missing, there will be enough clothes in the remaining bags to get by.
Do not pack any expensive or fragile items in your hold luggage; money, cameras, jewellery, medicines or anything that you can’t afford to loose should be packed in your hand luggage.
Unfortunately bags do go missing from time to time but you can improve the chances of getting your bag back.
Do not attach anything to the outside of your hold luggage, for example to rucksacks, and if there are any loose straps or loops, either tuck them into the bag or tape them to the bag with strong adhesive tape. Doing so will reduce the risk of your bags getting torn or broken in the baggage handling machinery.
Tip: Fit baggage labels with your destination address and telephone number. Repeat this information on a large piece of paper right on top of all your packing inside your case, just in case your labels get torn off.
I have included a chapter “About that Packing” that covers what to take, it’s not meant to be the last word in packing but it does answer some of the most common questions I have asked regarding clothing and other things to take along. It also include my own experience of what is or is not available in Thailand, or perhaps, cheaper in Thailand than at home.
While wonderful it does present some problems. The Club section of most aircraft is very segregated and impersonal; this might be a problem if you are travelling with very young children. There is also an uncomfortable air of ‘Kids in Club!'
From personal experience I would go as far as to say, that airlines really don’t want families with young children in club.
The airlines will never admit to this, but look at their advertisements for their club service, it is always some tedious bloke called Dave, with his lap top computer, wearing an expensive watch and a smarmy smile for the airhostess.
Advertisements with children always have them travelling in economy.
Many airlines are offering an intermediate option of Economy+, a kind of halfway house between Economy and Club class. I have used this service with British Airways, Quantas and EVA Air, I think it’s a very good compromise if you are able to pay the extra, the food and movie choices are the same as Economy class but you get far more leg and seat room. You will also make a considerable saving over the price of club tickets.
Free Upgrades when travelling with Children
You can ask, but to be honest I don’t hold out much hope for your chances, as I say above, the airlines don’t really like children in club.
Feeding children on aircraft
Airlines provide children’s meals but these are aimed at ‘average children’, vegetarian meals are available but again these are aimed at ‘average vegetarians’. If you or your children have any special dietary needs (diabetes, allergies or other health needs) contact the airline well in advance of the date of your flight they can usually provide special meals for medical conditions. But don’t expect the airline to cater for children who are fussy eaters. If your children are fussy about what they eat you may need to consider taking a packed lunch onboard.
Breastfeeding children on aircraft is of course acceptable and a great way of calming a baby down during landing but please be aware that if you have a stopover breast feeding in a public place at your stopover, even in the airport, may not be acceptable. It may be wise to find a quiet corner. See notes on feeding children in Thailand below.
Be careful to watch sugar intake during the flight, both that of your children and your own, and go easy on the coffee and that tempting free alcohol.
Nuts: Many airlines give out snacks with the early flight refreshments, these very often contain nuts, be aware of this if you or your child suffer with nut allergies.
Tip: If, like me, you or your children suffer from any allergies, consider carrying anti-histamines with you in your hand luggage.
Tip: I always carry a spare change of clothing with me in my carry-on luggage, a T-shirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms. I have done so ever since the occasion when a child on a seat behind me threw up over me, what made matters worse was the child was not mine. Take a spare change of clothes suitable for each adult to share and likewise for your children.
I might add, being thrown up on by someone else’s three year old was not quite as annoying as some of the adults I've met travelling in Club.
Tip: Take a couple of medium (500ml) bottles of water with you on the aircraft. They make getting drinks for your children a lot easier than decanting the cups of water passed around by the aircrew. If you can get the type with the pop up drinking nipple they are a great improvement on the screw-top type as you will not have a top to loose down between the seats.
Clothing On Board the Aircraft
The trick here is to dress for comfort; you will undoubtedly see people dressed up very nicely for the journey but it is not necessary, I would go as far as to say it is not advised to overdress for a long haul flight.
Wear loose clothes and layers, so that you can take off a layer if it gets too warm during the flight or put an extra layer on if it gets too cold. I have often been on flights that are either too warm or freezing cold during the night and that is why I have suggested packing a warm pullover or top to keep you warm if the air-conditioning is turned up too high.
Shoes need to be comfortable, if they pinch your feet when you get on the aircraft, you will not be able to wear them at the end of the flight. The reason for this is that the combination of being seated for a long period and the drop in air pressure during the flight, this will cause your feet and possibly your ankles to swell; this is not likely to happen to young children but it almost certainly will be a happened to most adults.
There is one good reason to dress reasonably smartly and that is, clearing immigration in Thailand; so if your teenage son or daughter has a favourite T-shirt sporting a Cannabis leaf or some other symbol/text that might be offensive to Thais, now is not the time to wear it. I make no apology for adding this because last year I saw a young man being questioned by immigration while his parents fretted and waited for him to be cleared for entry.
If you send a message, don’t be surprised if someone picks it up.
Tip: You will all be very much more comfortable if you take your shoes off during the flight, I usually wait until the aircraft is in the air and the seat belt sign is switched off. The problem with this is that shoes tend to get lost under the seat in front. One solution to this is, gather them all in a bag and stow them in the lockers above. We have had some frantic searches for shoes under seats on arrival. You don’t need a special bag for this, a bin liner or a large supermarket plastic bag will do, just so long as you can keep all your shoes together.
Tip: I take a plastic shopping bag and a clothes peg on board with me to keep rubbish in, it just makes life a lot more comfortable if food wrappers and bits of paper can be kept in one place rather than gathering in the seats.
Toilets on Aircraft
A couple of things to be careful with here, the door and lock mechanism on aircraft toilets can be difficult for children to operate, I have seen children get locked in a toilet and become quite distraught. Also, the flushing mechanism of aircraft toilets are driven by vacuum, they are very noisy and might frighten a young child.
I once saw a child who had operated the toilet flush while seated, the vacuum sucked her onto the seat and she was unable to free herself. While unhurt she was distraught. With these things in mind I suggest that, depending on the age of your children, it might be a good idea to accompany them to the toilet, at least on the first occasion.
There are two rush periods of the toilets, “immediately after all the dinner trays are collected” and “immediately after all the breakfast trays are collected”.
There’s your cue. Take your children to the toilet as soon as the seat belt sign has been switched off (Soon after take off). Take your children to the toilet as soon as the lights are switched on before breakfast. By doing so you’ll avoid a long wait in the queue for the toilets.
Changing Facilities for Babies
At least one toilet in each aircraft cabin will be provided with baby changing facilities.
All airlines select and edit films to remove offensive language and scenes, however this may still not meet your own standards. You can check the content of films in the aircraft’s entertainment guide and request parental-lock on any films you find unsuitable.
Child Safety Onboard the Aircraft
Many of us are afraid of flying but our fears are actually ill founded, you and your children are safer on the aircraft than you are at any other time during your holiday.
The airline and the aircraft manufactures have gone to extreme lengths to ensure that you have a safe journey but you can help too and the best way to help yourself is to pay attention to the safety demonstration, no matter how many times you have seen it.
Tip: You are required to wear your seat belts during takeoff, landing and when instructed to do so by the aircrew. However, leaving seatbelts loosely fastened at all other times during the flight greatly reduces the chances of being hurt in the unlikely event of the aircraft entering turbulence.
Tip: It is very common for passengers to suffer with earache during landing, this is particularly distressful for babies since they do not know what is happening to them. This landing-earache is caused by the difference in air pressure between your inner ear and the cabin pressure. To relieve the pain you must equalise the pressure. There are several ways to achieve this, I find yawning to be the most affective. - Yawn as widely as you can and rotate your lower jaw left to right while yawning. If you are travelling with a baby then give him/her a baby’s bottle to drink from during landing.
DO NOT equalise the pressure by pinching your nose and blowing or sucking, this could severely damage your eardrums.
Tip: Gentlely massaging the Eustachian tubes can also help (running your fingers gently up and down from below the ear following close to the back of the jaw bone)
Because a blockage to the Eustachian tube can cause real pain during a flight its best to get a doctor to look at anyone in your family if they have a heavy cold in the days before a flight.
I don’t know the actual figures but I suspect that the two most dangerous things on an aircraft for children are the trolleys that the cabin crew use to ferry food and drink down the aisles and the galley. Keeping your children seated away from the aisles will remove the chance that they will get their fingers trapped by a passing trolley and also prevent them from nipping out of their seat while you are asleep. A well trained crew should keep children out of the galley but I know from past experience three year olds are almost impossible to keep in their seats. Do be aware of these risks.
Your Children and Other Passengers
Having had someone else’s child throw up all over me from the seat behind me, I believe that I can speak with some authority on the behaviour of other people’s children on aircraft.
Actually to tell you the truth I did not nor would not have blamed the parents, it was just one of those things. But there are times when children can become more than a small annoyance on aircraft, I know they are only children but other passengers are tired, and almost always under stress.
The top annoyance for other passengers is not babies crying, they don’t usually cry that much and then usually when landing and taking off. No, the top annoyance is children kicking the seat in front of them. Followed by playing with the blinds when people are sleeping and running up and down the aisles.
These are not common problems, but do keep these things in mind and be aware that we are all tired and frustrated on the journey; small annoyances that under normal circumstances would go unnoticed can get blown out of all proportion.
A Word of Caution
A significant number of people travelling to South East Asia do so for sex tourism, most but not all of these will be male. A disturbing number are paedophiles. I do not want to alarm you but be aware of the risks. We never sit our children next to another adult who is travelling alone.
That said, my colleagues and I regularly travel alone on business between London and Bangkok. Not every single male on a flight to or from Thailand is travelling for sex and only a very few people are in the ‘danger to children category’, not all sex tourists are male! Just consider these things and be aware of the risks.