Why flying isn't child's play

ALISON GODFREY
Last updated 05:00 29/07/2014
Kids on planes
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FLYING WITH KIDS: Some kids are peaches, quietly drawing away and watching movies, hardly making a peep.

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Flying with children is not fun. Not for kids, not for parents, not for other passengers.

But it could be made easier on everyone if airlines were to think about how small people interact with their service.

The key to flying with children is distraction. And that's exactly where airlines are getting it wrong.

Here are five airline fails when it comes to kids - and ways you can work around them.

1. HEADPHONES. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

Small children have small heads. When you put adult headphones on a child's head, the earpieces reach down to their neck. Sound and television are the most important elements for keeping kids quiet and entertained on a flight. If this fails, kids complain and everyone gets upset.

Surely there must be a way for airlines to include child-size headphones since they already know the number of children on board?

Until then, the way around this issue is to take the plastic from the blanket packaging and wrap it around the top of the headphones until it fills the gap left at the top of the child's head. It looks silly but trust me, it works.       

2: SMALL CHILDREN CAN'T SEE THE TV

Imagine you are looking at a laptop screen from the wrong angle - all you see is black. That's what it is like for small children.

Now imagine how cranky you get when your television on an eight-hour flight doesn't work. That is what happens to small children.

Often the television screens on the backs of plane seats don't bend down far enough. A child who cannot watch television on an eight-hour flight is going to annoy everyone on board - especially their parents.

If only there was some way airlines could allow a little bit more tilt downwards.

Until then, bring a pillow for the kids to sit on to elevate them - or ask the airline staff to give you an extra one. Or bring your own tablet loaded with your child's favourite films.        

3. SEATING FAMILIES IN THE MIDDLE

Why do airlines assume that a family of four all want to sit together in the middle?

Online check-in processes make it near impossible to sit anywhere else. But the middle of the plane is the most distracting place for children. The passengers in the aisle seats are shining their lights in their faces, there are people walking down each side, at times bumping them.

And that trusty distraction technique - "What can you see out the window?" - is removed. It also means you can't separate squabbling siblings.

Airlines should allow passengers to have a seating preference - aisle, window or middle - and allocate seating according to that preference rather than by the number in a group.

On one particular flight the privilege is only available for the price of $50 per passenger. For a family of four that's $200 extra. No wonder so many families end up in the middle annoying everyone on board.

Surely the $50 charge could be left to just the seat number and not the type of seat? Until then there's not much that can be done, apart from seating the kids apart, swapping seats if anyone gets cranky and bringing eye masks and ear plugs to help children sleep.         

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4. KIDS DON'T NEED FANCY FOOD

Airlines often try to be fancy with kid's meals, offer them no choice and add far too much sugar.

Plain is better. Why serve "malted Milo" when you could have plain Milo? A Vegemite sandwich is far better than strange cheese and ham. Sugar makes kids crazy in a confined space and when it is placed in front of them it causes issues for parents trying to take it away.

Adults get a choice for their main meals - why don't kids? One way to avoid this would be to pack healthy snacks in your child's bag. Talk to your children about the food before they get on the plane and make sure they know the rules.          

5. SLEEPING CHILDREN SHOULD STILL GET FED

A sleeping child's parents should still be offered food for the child to eat once they wake up.

A hungry child is a cranky child. And a cranky child can annoy a whole flight. Flight attendants too often pass sleeping children without offering food. When that child wakes up, they need something to eat.

Until flight attendants get this one right, it's best to pack extra healthy food such as sandwiches for kids in their carry-on bag.

What are your tips for easing the pain of a long-haul flight with kids? Share your wisdom in the comments.

- AAP

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