When the children are happy, so are Mom and Dad (and everyone else on the airplane).
It's hard enough keeping yourself entertained and comfortable on a long-haul flight (though it definitely helps to fly in a premium cabin with a full-service bar and shower spa). And for travelers with small children, the task can feel nearly impossible.
We asked some of Emirates Airline’s most experienced flight attendants and service specialists to spill their professional (and personal) secrets for keeping kids calm and happy on flights. Even globetrotting families might be surprised by some of the advice.
After all, the airline is known for being one of the most family-friendly airlines in the skies. Planes are packed with complimentary in-flight diversions for children and teens, including collectible plush animals with blankets, coloring books, travel journals, and a compendium of free movies and television channels.
But for times when special kids meals and activity packs just don’t cut it, there are a number of other ways flight attendants can swoop in to save the day — or at least the cabin — from a jet-lagged tantrum.
Be Super Prepared
Luisa Gangemi, Emirates’ training specialist for the service department, doesn’t just have plenty of experience in the air and on the ground: she’s also a mom of young twin girls.
She told Travel + Leisure that travelers should immediately “ask crew for a waste bag — it makes [keeping] your area clean so much easier.”
Gangemi also suggested visiting the airline’s website, or calling ahead, to find out what food is being served. “If it’s something they’ll eat, good.”
But if there’s no way your little one is scarfing down Arabic mezze, you won’t be blind-sided. On certain airlines, like Emirates, you can select a children’s meal in advance. But you may need to pack an additional meal. Either way, keep your carry-on filled with travel-friendly snacks.
According to Julianne Melder — an Emirates flight attendant and senior purser for 15 years — parents should find out if bags can be dropped off early. It will be way easier to get the family moving the day of your trip if you brought your bags to the airline 24 hours in advance.
Don’t leave home without a favorite blanket or pillow, which can calm stressed out kids. “[Bring] something that makes them comfortable, like their own pillow,” explained Melder.
And even if the airline has child-approved in-flight entertainment or gratis toys, another of Gangemi’s tips is to purchase new toys the kids have never seen before prior to a long flight. They’re more likely to be excited and entertained for longer.
“Have a change of clothes for you. And your kids," Gangemi adds.
She even packs a change of clothes for her husband. Just be sure to tell your significant other exactly where everything is before you scoot off to the bathroom (or the bar).
Take Advantage of Free Help
Regardless of where you’re traveling, never forget to scope out airport amenities in advance. In Dubai Airport, for example, Terminal 3 offers complimentary strollers. Closer to home, in San Francisco, there are family lanes at the security checkpoint and car seat rentals available directly at the airport.
Melder told T+L that parents shouldn’t hesitate to ask for assistance. Upon request, a flight attendant can sit with children and keep them occupied (and supervised) while parents stretch their legs or take a bathroom break.
Melder (who also has a 4-year-old daughter and a second child on the way) suggested booking seats at the front of the plane, or the bulkhead, where there’s typically more space and sometimes even an option to attach bassinets provided by the airline (many, including Emirates, offer this amenity to new parents). And everyone in the family will also appreciate being closer to the lavatories in emergency bathroom situations.
With few exceptions, airlines allow early boarding for families with young children. You won’t regret having extra time to get situated before the cabin fills with other passengers.
If, despite your best efforts, your kid is starting to lose his or her cool, ask a flight attendant if they have time to show your kids the galley. “Sometimes just taking them on a walk [can] distract them,” Melder said.
Don’t Be Shy
Emirates flight attendants have an extra trick up their sleeves, too. Little girls, in particular, love to wear those iconic red hats with the veil — and a kid will jump at the chance to walk down the aisle sporting the uniform. Let your kid ask if they can play flight attendant for a minute. (We’ve even heard of cabin crew letting eager tots help deliver a tray of food.)
And while visiting the cockpit is rarely permitted in an era of heightened security, hopeful young aviators (and their parents) should still ask a flight attendant if they can say hello to the pilots — and take a peek at the cockpit — before a flight takes off or after it has landed.
Like asking for a hand with children, parents should also remember to ask cabin crew for, well, just about everything. Most airlines have a surprising number of crucial items (sanitizing wipes, diapers, formula, baby food) stowed away. So if you’re in need, just put in the request. You never know what flight attendants keep tucked away in the galley.