How to improve holidays with children

Take a tip from me, you can survive a long-haul flight

Fleeing the British winter for warm and distant shores may sound like a good idea, but there's one drawback if you've got small children: the rather scary matter of sitting cooped up with them on a long-haul flight.

In our hearts, we parents know there's only one way to fly, and that's without kids. Travelling with a baby is hard enough, but once your little treasure has a mind ­ and legs ­ of his own, it's a whole new ball game.

Kids are notoriously unpopular flying companions, but the real reason adults get so irritated is that they're secretly rather envious. How come they get to do all the fun stuff?

Imagine the satisfaction of relieving your boredom by hurling yoghurt at your neighbour, or crying inconsolably for 40 minutes because you don't like the "brown bits" on your in-flight chicken nuggets. And ­ be honest ­ who wouldn't jump up and down on their seat chanting the tune from Batman given half the chance? It certainly beats sitting still in a cramped space doing nothing.

At 11 months, my younger son chose the precise moment we took off on a nine-hour flight to learn to walk. He swaggered up and down the aircraft for the entire duration ­ he tells pals he walked all the way to Florida ­ and guess who had to hold his hand all the way?Keeping kids occupied and quiet is one of the hardest jobs on long flights.

But there is hope. As the number of children taking to the skies increases ­ a 5 per cent rise in the past year, according to British Airways ­ airlines are coming round to the idea that making mini-flyers happy may be the key to preserving sanity all round.

Carriers that won't treat you as though you have a contagious disease just because you've got kids include Virgin Atlantic (0870 3802007; virgin-atlantic.com), and British Airways (0870- 850 9850; ba.com). Seatback TVs, with their vast array of children's channels, are a godsend, as are the 35 Nintendo games Virgin offers, and the rucksacks full of puzzles and crayons. And the stakes are now being raised in the battle for child-friendliness. This year saw Gulf Air's introduction of "Sky Nannies", trained to cater to your tot's every whim (0870 7771717; gulfairco.com). Your own Mary Poppins will even baby-sit while you take a loo break; the only problem is that you have to leave her behind at the end of the flight

But all the flying nannies and Nintendo games in the world won't prevent the odd mid-air tantrum. If your little darling behaves badly on board, the best thing to do, according to a stewardess I spoke to, is apologise to anyone within earshot. According to her, the biggest complaint about children is the seeming indifference of their parents toward the discomfort of other passengers.

If you say sorry, at least you'll get some sympathy ­ if only from fellow parents who've been there, done that and bought the yoghurt-stained t-shirt.

KATY'S TOP TIP

* Think carefully before booking a bulkhead seat. Although they offer more legroom, there's less storage space and they often have fixed armrests, making it impossible for your child to spread out on your lap for a snooze.

Katy Holland is deputy editor of 'Mother and Baby' and motherand babymagazine.com. She has written several books on childcare.

k.holland@independent.co.uk

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