Travelling with children tips: How to avoid problems with airlines and hotels

Flying with children can be difficult enough without airlines further complicating things.
Flying with children can be difficult enough without airlines further complicating things. Photo: Getty Images

"If you don't sit down I'm going to throw you out the window."

This threat comes from a parent at the end of their tether, at the start of an international flight on Singapore Airlines.

A flight attendant of infinite patience asks the mother and father to strap in their three-year-old. But she keeps screaming, jumping up and down on the seat.

"We need to take off, Sir," the staffer pleads.

"What am I supposed to do?" the father asks.

Every time she stands up, he says, "Look. The lady can see you. She's coming back to eject you from the aircraft".

Travelling with children is weighed  with uncertainty. Will they sleep on the plane? Is there enough space in the hotel room? And is it appropriate to drink one's body weight in gin and tonic?

This is complicated by the ever-increasing difficulty of booking a flight or accommodation, after attempting to read the fine print.

No wonder 63 per cent of parents have "negative feelings" leading up to a family holiday, with one-in-four stressed about "getting organised", according to research by Wotif.

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I receive emails every week from parents about being stung with a big bill after cancelling a booking online. (Many are about Booking.com, in relation to hidden charges.)

 Wafer-thin margins on international airlines also mean you need a masters degree in travel management to ensure an enjoyable flight.

One reader, Gordon Hunter, had a series of bad experiences on United Airlines, as his kids' seats were shuffled around the aircraft.

He kept checking online: "At one stage my wife and I were at the front of the economy section on the plane. Two kids were together on the opposite side of the plane and one child was down the back near the tail." (Perhaps the long-suffering family on our flight would have preferred separate seats?)

Seriously, no one needs this kind of hassle, especially in the lead-up to a long-awaited holiday.

We recommend finding a family travel agent. Someone who's in your corner, with your interests at heart. They understand how the business works, what the latest scams are and which packages will save you money.

Our tipping point was eight hours and 20 minutes into a marathon day of online and phone interactions, to book four seats together on a flight to Europe for my 50th birthday.

Because of various reasons – code-sharing, incompatible computer systems and interchangeable aircraft configuration – we left it in the lap of an agent: Sorted in 10 minutes.

Flying with kids is stressful enough, without a last-minute surprise at the airport or hotel. Enlist an agent so there's someone to lean on. Or to blame when the nappy hits the fan.

See also: Budget airline introduces child-free zones on board