Expert post: Kids and airports can mix
Going on holiday is always exciting but many parents see the airport as one big hassle.
There's no getting away from it, airports can be stressful. But with a bit of planning, it's possible to see your time at the airport as part of your holiday rather than just as something to be endured before the fun starts (honestly!)
And the airports are trying to help, really, even if sometimes it doesn't seem that way. Both Gatwick and Heathrow Airports have introduced family lanes specifically for those with children going through security and border control as well as play areas for children and family-friendly restaurants. Heathrow Airport representatives recently met with mummy bloggers Sian, Claire, Ready for Ten writer Jen and Sally to ask them how they felt the airport could help parents:
Some airports are more family-friendly than others as Tots to Travel reports on their website. Julia at KidsTravel2 has written about how child-friendly (or not) various UK airports are.
My children have always really enjoyed being at the airport - there are lots of planes and other exciting things to look at and they get to buy a comic which they are not usually allowed. For me, making it a stress-free experience is all about planning. These are my top tips.
- Check your airline's baggage restrictions carefully on their website and weigh your luggage. Luggage scales are very inexpensive and much easier than trying to use the bathroom scales. In particular make sure you have followed the rules to do with liquids in hand-luggage. If you are flying Ryanair, print your boarding passes off at home or you will be charged.
- Plan. Take books, Nintendo DSs, simple games or simply pen and paper. There is almost always some waiting around at airports - think about how you are going to fill the time.
- Arrive early. Try to be at the airport at least two hours in advance and allow extra for traffic snarl-ups, trains being cancelled etc. (I don't remember why but in our family this is called "kitten time.") There is nothing more stressful than having to run through the airport dragging children and luggage and missing your flight can be an extremely expensive start to your holiday.
- If you are arriving by car, consider valet parking. It's not as expensive as it sounds and it means you be dropped and picked up at the terminal door rather than having the hassle of waiting for and taking shuttle buses.
- Before you go through security, ask if there are restaurants and shops airside. In most large airports there are, but in some smaller ones there will be very little once you are through security. Generally though, I'd recommend going through security as soon as you arrive.
- Stay calm through security. The rules may seem annoying but they are just doing their job. Getting wound up about it is not going to help or make things easier. If you take care when you pack your hand luggage not to inlcude any forbidden items you should have no problems.
- Most airports have staff specifically for customer liason. Use them. Ask if there is a play area. Ask which restaurants have children's menus.
- Bribery is not always a bad thing. Promise your child a comic or other treat if they behave going through security. It will also help keep them quiet while you wait. If your plan gets delayed, promise them a small treat in return for good behaviour at suitable intervals (perhaps every few hours). You can take things with you for this - sweets or small toys - so it doesn't need to cost a fortune.
- If you are travelling with a friend or partner, consider taking turns to look after the children while the other browses the shops or simply gets a quiet coffee and reads the paper.
- If your children need to let off steam, an empty gate can be a good place for them to run about without getting in anyone's way.
- Remember that you are not going to see most of these people ever again, so even if your children aren't behaving as well as they might, try not to worry too much about it.
Catherine Cooper is author or Travelling with Children: A Parent's Guide
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