How to improve holidays with children

Hey mum, keep us entertained on the plane
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The Independent Travel

The first time I flew long-haul with my children was a nightmare. The injustice of this still piques me, because I'd planned the whole thing with military precision. And yet pretty much everything went wrong. I'd gathered enough "top tips" from friends, books and the internet to make me the world expert on flying with children. I chose a daytime flight, paid extra to pre-book seats and kids' meals, and packed enough toys, reading material and snacks to keep a small shop going for a week. I followed every piece of advice to the letter.

The trick, I was told by just about everyone, was to come up with cunning ways to prevent my little darlings from being bored. Read, sing, play noughts-and-crosses, dance naked - anything to stop them screaming.

One magazine advised packing a "bag of surprises" to stop them from throwing tantrums. It suggested digging out bits and bobs from the bottom of the toy chest that hadn't been played with for a while, and wrapping them, and presenting them when things got tricky (it was beyond me how a mouldy sock and a half-eaten cheese string could impress them, but anything is worth a try).

Within minutes of boarding, my younger son had spilt juice all over his brother and they then managed to start a fight that would have made Mike Tyson swoon.

Determined to stay in control, I produced my "magic bag"of goodies. Amazingly, it worked - they loved opening their little "presents". But the novelty wore thin, especially when they started recognising their own toys. It wasn't long before the bag was devoid of its contents and they had reverted to bashing the hell out of each other. And the plane hadn't even taken off.

Generally, the only sensible advice to anyone planning to fly long-haul with kids is simple: don't. But if you insist, do find an airline that has a good track record for looking after children: in other words, one with lots of TV channels. Before you go for the main carriers, it is worth checking some of the well-established package-tour operators, which offer flight-only options to many long-haul destinations. They are a very good bet when it comes to in-flight services for children, and offer excellent value, too.

Pick of the crop is First Choice Airways (0870-850 3999; firstchoice. co.uk), which has destinations including Brazil and the Caribbean. It has recently stripped more than 50 seats out of each of its long-haul planes, giving more legroom in economy than most airlines do - 33 inches as opposed to 31 with British Airways and Virgin. Thomas Cook Airways (0870-750 5711; flythomas cook.com), which offers destinations including Mexico and the Maldives, is also worth a look.

If you're using a scheduled carrier, British Airways (0870 850 9850; ba.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0870 3802007; virgin-atlantic.com) have very good reputations for child-friendliness. Virgin is particularly popular with my children because of its plethora of TV channels and video games. But for a real treat check out Gulf Air (0870 7771717; gulfair.com) whose "sky nannies" cater for your little ones' every whim.

Katy's top tip

Order your children's meals when you book. A reader who emailed me spent a 10-hour flight to Denver with nothing but a cheese roll to feed her four-year-old daughter.

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