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How to cope with flight delays when you have kids

Airport delays with children

Delayed flights are one of my worst travel nightmares. Luckily the most I’ve ever been stuck is a few hours, but it’s not unknown to be delayed for many hours, such as during spells of very bad weather, or when airlines get glitches in their computer systems.

Once you’ve gone through security you are in effect trapped. Food and drink are overpriced, and potentially the airport could be extremely busy. The whole situation can become very stressful very quickly, and it’s a zillion times worse when you have young children with you. I’ve been in this position more than a few times with my son, who in fairness usually takes delays in his stride most of the time. Over the years I’ve developed a few handy tips for coping with flight delays when you have kids…

Staying Calm

When you learn your flight is going to be significantly delayed, it’s very easy to lose your temper but very important to stay relaxed, so that your children follow your lead. This is a great time to start practising family meditation!

There is pretty much nothing you can do except wait it out. Assuming there are two parents there, one can take charge of the kids while the other deals with keeping an eye on the flight situation. You can rotate as and when necessary so one can have a bit of a breather.

If you’re on your own, then it’s all on you, so I recommend finding a friendly face on the airline staff, letting them know you’re travelling with kids single-handed, and asking them to contact you as soon as there is any news.

Camping Out

If it looks as though you’re going to be there for a while, it’s a good idea to stake out a base camp. At best you might hope to get a couple of seats together. At worst just a patch of floor out of the way of everyone else. If you can find somewhere close to the departures board, all the better. Pile up coats and cabin bags for comfort, and make yourselves comfortable. From now on, someone stays to hold this spot until your flight is called.

Playing Games

There are probably a thousand different games you can play to amuse yourselves and pass the time when delayed in an airport. Here are a few of our favourites:

  • Looking out the window and guessing how many planes you’ll see take off before your own flight is called
  • Reading the departure board to see where different planes are headed – are any going to places your kids have been? What memories do they have of those trips?
  • Making up stories and characters about other passengers (those far off in the distance, not the ones sitting right next to you!)

Spending Money

Give each of your children a bit of their holiday money, and then go explore the various shops in the departures area, letting them take turns spending it. It’s amazing how much time you can kill letting them wander around all the shops looking at what they can and can’t afford. This gives you the opportunity to pick up any essentials you need too.

Getting Entertained

Some airports have a kids’ play area, but you can expect them to be pretty basic. The one at Gatwick, our nearest airport where we usually fly from, is now just a tiny soft play. We usually bring along our family tablet, which only tends to make an appearance during long travel journeys.

If you have some kind of device with you, remember that most airports will offer free charging areas, although you may need to queue for a while, so that you have some juice left for the actual flight. You might also be able to charge devices on the plane. Gatwick Airport offers 90 minutes’ free Wifi, and I am sure many other airports will give similar. I always bring along a fully charged battery pack too just in case.

Staying Hydrated

Long delays can lead to everyone getting ‘hangry’, so it’s vital to get some rest, drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and eat regular, healthy snacks. I pack a few snack bars and pieces of fruit to avoid having to visit the expensive restaurants at airports but that doesn’t always work out. If your delay is a long one, and you can encourage your kids to get some shut-eye while waiting, then your battle is halfway finished.

My Essentials For Coping With Flight Delays

  • Device such as tablet or kindle and battery pack
  • Headphones
  • Travel pillows
  • Nappies and wipes
  • Eye masks
  • Healthy snacks
  • Pen and paper

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  • Zena’s Suitcase

    It is definitely my worst nightmare. I think the kids and I might just about get through this by Daddy isn’t the most patient person in the world. I might use some of these tips on him if it happens to us