Ankle biters get star treatment

September 10, 2007 - 10:04AM

In days gone by, when ankle biters were to be seen and not heard, little travelling darlings would be lucky to get a "Hi, how are you" upon boarding a plane.

And that's if they were lucky. Most of the time parents got dirty looks from fellow passengers if their babies so much as squeaked.

One exasperated parent from those days tells how she couldn't get her toddler to stop crying for more than two hours and was eventually handed chocolate by an air hostess. She threw it back in disgust (probably not a good idea).

But other long-haul veterans tell stories of being totally ignored by plane staff despite travelling on their own with children and ending up drinking brandy with the European men at the other end of the plane when the children finally got to sleep.

How times have changed.

Now it is all about specialised menus, endless cartoons and face painting sessions.

Virgin Blue says it always acknowledges children on its flights with an onboard announcement: "Welcome aboard ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls..." to make them feel extra special.

And when jet-setting, most airlines try their best to accommodate the needs of families.

People with kids are given pre-flight priority, allowing a little extra time for everyone to shake the ants out of their pants and get settled before take-off.

Carmel Spark, features editor of Little Kids magazine, says that this time can make all the difference.

"Give yourself lots of time at the airport and try and stay relaxed," she says.

German airline Lufthansa goes one step further, equipping some planes with dedicated mother and child seat rows.

For the bubs, bassinets are available on long-haul flights and can be attached to the seats.

Most airlines offer this service but it is essential to book in advance as numbers are limited.

The team at Lufthansa will provide a baby-care set complete with food, nappies and bottles.

For rumbling tummies, some airlines have a specific children's menu that makes you wish you were under 12.

Kids on Lufthansa are treated with a creative menu listing dishes such as the Tiger Tail - a pancake filled with chicken and vegetables, and the Pirate's Hand - fish fingers with savoy cabbage mixed with creamed potatoes.

In all cases, make sure you lock in the children's menu at least 24 hours before taking flight.

Keeping the kids entertained has advanced way beyond the days of finger puppets and crayons.

Most airlines will show cartoons and other kid-favourites as well as offering the traditional themed kid packs.

Virgin Blue cabin crew say they're happy to assist with young children, allowing parents a short break to stretch legs. They've even been known to get stuck into some serious face painting.

And everybody agrees, training children young to be good travellers can only be a worthwhile investment.

Whether flying, driving or cruising, the family holiday is more popular than ever.

Cathy Wagstaff, editor of Holidays With Kids magazine and website, says that according to Tourism Australia the family market is the strongest growth segment.

"Families are far more adventurous than ever before in the destinations they are choosing," Wagstaff says. "Long gone are the days where the annual holiday was to the same camping destination each year."

"With the majority of families having both parents in the workplace there is far more money being spent on family holidays."

And, the travel market is responding to the growth. Hotels and airlines are upping the ante on their family-friendliness.

Wagstaff cites Loews Hotel group as pioneers in this movement.

The US-based hotels operate on the motto, "the family that stays together, plays together". Plus, they include four-legged family members.

For the youngest in the brood lending libraries, kids menus and recreational games are on offer.

For the the often hard-to-please teen bracket, Loews gives each and every one a backpack full of things to keep them out of trouble and lends out Game Boys, DVDS and a host of other electronica.

And, no-one is forgotten. Dog walking routes, grooming and vet services will keep the family-member with fur and a wet nose happy.

So, what about the extra cost of taking the kids?

On international Lufthansa flights children under two fly at 10 per cent of the adult fare, provided they do not occupy a seat of their own. Children up to the age of 12 normally obtain a children's discount of around 33 per cent of the applicable adult fare on national and international flights.

Local airlines, Virgin Blue and Qantas fly babies under two-years-old free of charge.

The key to keeping everyone happy: preparation.

Organise kids meals and bassinets where necessary.

"Before you fly, talk to your child about the experience so they know what to expect," Wagstaff says.

"Discuss how long the flight will take and the behaviour that is expected of them. Let them pack their own back pack with their special things to keep them amused on the flight."

And, for when it gets chilly, Wagstaff says to "dress your child in layers".

Spark agrees: "Take a few snacks along, take water and pack a showbag of some sort with novel items to keep them occupied. But nothing too messy."

"Glitter is probably not a good idea," she says.

And with international flights, water needs to be bought after you go through security checks.

On such long-haul flights, Wagstaff recommends trying to book a night-time flight and align the hotel check-in with touch down.

She says that it is OK to ask at the airport if there are any spare seats on the flight so that the kids can lie down for some shut-eye.

Finally, make sure the whole troop is involved in the getaway from the start.

"Involve the whole family in the decision making process. Select a destination that will have appeal to each family member," Wagstaff says.

Of course this might mean a bit of bribery and wheeling and dealing so all siblings are happy.

Spark reassures, "They'll (the kids) often surprise you".

Links:

http://www.holidayswithkids.com.au/
http://www.qantas.com.au
http://www.lufthansa.com
http://www.virginblue.com.au
http://www.loewshotels.com/en/default.aspx

AAP

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