Every travel season, I review, copyright and repost our popular blog “Flying with Kids”. I do this as most English-speakers here who read this blog invariably travel with kids at least one travel season and since International School holidays have recently started, it’s time for that bi-annual repost. So without further ado… tips and tricks for flying with kids, especially when leaving from Geneva’s airport.
FLIGHTS & TIMING
Most families find that when they have a child under 4 that they must pick their flight times and connections wisely. It’s also good to book directly with the airline you are travelling with, enabling online seat selection prior to you flight. Personally, I am very frugal, but with flights I’ll spend the extra money to be able to choose good seats, get a flight with the fewest connection(s) and a good departure time. By far the best experience for my family is with a flight that originates with a lunchtime or late morning departure and has max one connection. In this scenario, everyone gets a good night’s sleep, wakes up at a reasonable time and can have a normal breakfast. Then once everyone is ready off to the airport without anything but a bit of travel anxiety (rather than travel anxiety + exhaustion!). At the airport we then have ample time to check-in and go through security. For seat selection, for long flights I tend to avoid bulkhead as the tables are in the armrest, which doesn’t allow you to lift the armrests to give your hips a bit more room. Bulkhead does often have the bassinet option, which is good for babies under 9 months, but it can only be used when there is no turbulence (and of course also not on take-off and landing).
If you have a child under the age of 2 you can book them to share your seat or you can book them their own seat. You’ll have to choose “child over 2” in the booking option or book directly with a travel agent. You can bring a car seat that is approved for travel if you book a seat. If you can afford it, booking a seat on long flights is a great option. If you cannot and are flying with another person, opting for two aisle seats (or one aisle one window) and leaving the middle open might result in three seats for your family — great for lying down to sleep. Children are not allowed to sleep on the floor (no seat belt on the floor) so if you or your child needs space to fall asleep, that extra seat will be well worth the extra.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
In Geneva, Vaud & Neighbouring France, travellers have several options to choose from to get to the airport:
- Ask a friend (in your car or theirs)
- Drive yourself and park in long-term parking and/or use valet service
- Taxi or Shuttle Service (Geneva Taxi Info, Vaud taxi Info)
- Limousine Service (Geneva Premium Services)
- Train (Lausanne, Renens, Morges, Rolle, Gland, Nyon, Coppet, Versoix have best connections)
- Bus (7 different busses service GVA)
In Lausanne & Geneva, you can also take advantage of advance check in at the railway station which lightens your load on travel days (but not all airlines participate), head to the train station with your luggage up to 24 hours before the flight and leave your luggage with them, making your way to the airport later, not needing to worry about fitting luggage in the boot/truck or toting it on the train/bus. If you don’t live in Geneva or Lausanne, you can also check in at the airport a day early. This is a great option if you have a lot of luggage allowing you to opt for public transport on the day of the flight.
AT THE AIRPORT & LOGISTICS
You’re at the airport, now what? How are you going to get around? With an infant, a baby-carrier (sling/wrap) is a must have, especially since not all airports have gate-side pick-up for strollers/pushchairs. Using a carrier means that the parents’ hands are free to do other things, such as pulling a carry-on, minding older children, or if your infant car seat is legal for use where you are going, that infant car seat. Slings/wraps can also double as blankets and black-out curtains on long flights. For toddlers and preschoolers, an Ergo-type carrier, umbrella stroller or pulling seat that doubles as a toddler suitcase (e.g. Trunki) is what I see most mothers using. There are also specially-made items such as the Traveling Toddler, the ride-on-carry-on, or for travel to the USA, items like the Sit-n-Stroll or Go-Go Babyz. From age 5, children can usually get around on their own, though if you want to splurge there are dual carry-on scooters (e.g. Micro’s 3-in-1) now on the market.
No matter the age of the children, once you are at the airport, it’s generally a good idea to find a place where everyone can sit and wait comfortably. With young infants travelling with one or two parents, this can be almost anywhere where the parent(s) is comfortable. As the child gets older, it’s generally easier/better to find a play area or area where the children can be entertained (for toddlers/preschoolers think big windows or dedicated play areas; for older kids a place where they can settle with their gear, e.g. cafe/restaurant/gate). One thing to mention for new parents who are used to airport browsing: don’t count on duty-free shopping unless you are travelling with another adult (who can take care of kids whilst you shop) or with pre-teens or teens who can join you.
In Geneva Airport there is a children’s area for under 5s on the mezzanine overlooking the main waiting area & information desk (to get there take the escalator up to the lounges then follow the signs). It was under reconstruction in November, so if you visit do update us with the current amenities. It used to be possible to stay there for quite awhile as they had a departures screen to monitor flights plus all the rest you need for the kids: a kids bathroom with change table, a baby bath, a sleeping room, baby play mats, structure, toys and many books — in at least 10 languages. When this is closed or if you prefer to be near your gate, there is a small play area between gates A5 & A8. Alternately pay a bit extra and arrange Premium Services/Lounge Access allowing you to bring your family into one of the lounges (even if you do not have frequent flyer status).
Note: In other airports where the play area or lounge is before security or far from your gate, you can obviously stay there only until shortly before departure. Keep on the look-out for comfy places along the route to your gate. As long as you are near the gate and near a departures screen that will tell you when boarding commences, you don’t have to be AT your gate.
THINGS TO HAVE WITH YOU
PASSPORT, ID, CASH & LETTER OF PERMISSION TO TRAVEL
Remember your passport and ID of course. Some cash and coin for buying food in case the credit card machines are out of order and you need to buy something. If you are travelling alone with your child and outside the Schengen area or with someone else’s child, a letter of permission to travel is a good idea (mandatory for flights to Canada and USA). Check out the know-it-all passport story Are you traveling abroad alone with your children this summer? for more info.
FOOD & DRINK
First, an unfilled water bottle (like a SIGG) that you can fill after security is great to have. If you are breastfeeding, security- and customs-friendly snacks for yourself so your blood sugars stay steady whilst you wait to board (who knows if the flight will be delayed or if the food onboard will be gross?!). For older babies, toddlers, preschoolers, children of alll ages really, remember a snack. The least fuss the better: think bananas, apples, pears, carrots (these can be steamed ahead of time for babies and they can finger feed themselves), well-cooked pasta (e.g. fusilli), granola bars, sandwiches, etc. Avoid fast sugars (unrefined sugars/simple carbohydrates) and caffeinated beverages as this will make sitting still a nightmare. For non-breastfed babies, enough formula for the flight plus work in extra for possible delays (the pre-made sealed bottles are great for travelling as you then don’t have to worry about sterilising, heating, mixing in powder, tasting milk at security, etc.).
For babies and toddlers, diapers/nappies and wipes are a must. Too many is better than too few. For kids only “just” starting to be trained, bring pull-ups and put one on your child right before boarding (your child might need to pee during turbulence or on take-off/landing and a trip to the restroom then is not possible). A change of clothes for baby/toddler and adult in case of spillage or blow-outs. If you’re on an overnight flight, pajamas, kids own pillow & doudou (if they have one), bedtime storybook & something to make things dark. Crazy as it may sound, a lot of kids react well by sticking to rhythms or rituals even when on a flight — so for a night flight, after the meal and just before lights are dimmed, you could make a trip to the rest room with your baby/child, change into sleeping clothes/pajamas and then everyone returns to their seat to “sleep/rest” (at that time pulling out the child’s own pillow, bedtime story and then making a cave with a sheet so that it’s dark and the lights don’t disturb sleep).
If travelling with an infant, it’s nice to have a good book to read or movie to watch. Hopefully the noise of the plane will lull baby to sleep and you won’t need much else. Above 5 months you might need a teething toy or other favourite toy & bedtime story. As baby gets older parents need to perfect the art of “distraction”. Special things that are brought out only for travel are good. Books about airports, sticker books, crayons and colouring books, whatever your kid especialy likes, but NEW. An IPOD, IPAD, DVD stocked with movies or games is a good back-up. New short films and new books/toys often work better than old ones — new adventure on a plane might mean that the tried and tested video or toy from home no longer catches your child’s fancy. Walking up and down the aisles works well with toddlers & preschoolers. And many a parent will learn about the shade up, shade down ritual the children often adopt. Once you have a child who can read and do activities, these are also must haves.
BOARDING & ON THE FLIGHT
Should you board early or wait until everyone boards to get on the plane? It depends! Short or long flight? Alone or with another adult? If it’s you alone with your kid(s), and pre-boarding is offered (not always in US airports) take it as then you are most likely to find overhead space for any carry-on luggage near your seat and have time to set up all your “distractions” & snack bags so that everything is easily accessible throughout your flight. If you have another adult, think about having him/her pre-board to get everything set up and the other adult & child(ren) can board later (after they’ve run off energy and done any bathroom breaks/diaper changes in the waiting area, where there is more space).
Once on board, if everything is “to hand” you can use the toys/games when you need them. You can find food and drink easily and with everything organized, you can also get in and out of your seat and move about the cabin when you need to do so (not just for bathroom breaks, as mentioned above, jaunts around the cabin are great for toddlers/preschoolers — walking in circles around and around and around — and around!). You can also easily find your change of clothes, pillow & other night time accessories (mentioned above).
MEDICATIONS AND MILKS
Children’s medications in original containers and powdered milk you can usually take on board without restrictions (check with your airline). Powdered milk that you’ve recently pre-mixed you may have to open and taste before going through security. Pumped milk should be well labelled and in a cooler bag. If you can travel with items under 100ml you won’t be asked to test them. If you need to make milk on the flight, ask for boiled water a bit in advance, which can then be mixed with the powder whilst still hot (safety says try to mix when it’s about 70’C) and then left a bit to cool before being offered to your baby.
ARRIVING AT DESTINATION OR CONNECTIONS
As a family, it’s really easiest if you stay seated and wait to get off the plane until most other passengers have de-planed. This is true even if you have a connecting flight, though in this case get whatever help the airline and flight attendants can give, often the airline can arrange for an escort so you can make your the connection. If you are travelling alone with more than two children, you can also arrange airport assistance in advance (either at departure, connection and/or arrivals!). If you know your connection is tight, you may be able to arrange travel assistance in advance, check with the airport or your airline.
Now why do I say stay seated? You’ve been sitting a long time, so you want to move about, right? If you’ve organized yourself well, you’ve been able to move about so it won’t be so imperative to stretch you legs. Also remember, if you stay seated, you then have ample time to put everything away, get babies/toddlers/preschoolers into a carrier or whatever device you have, ensure older children are ok, etc. etc. etc. Then nothing gets left behind!
More tips & tricks? Post a comment below.