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Cathy Winston

Cathy Winston, award-winning-travel writer and owner of the blog, Mummy Travels, shares her top tips on flying with babies and children

I've lost count of the number of times I've flown – long-haul, short-haul, tiny prop planes, sea planes. But the only time I've ever really felt nervous are on flights with my daughter.

First aid kit

The very first flight we took together to Lanzarote, her aged three months, me with all kinds of cautionary tales running through my mind: she slept for 90% of it, lulled by the white noise.

The first long-haul flight we took, at eight months, to the USA – she hated the bassinet and didn’t sleep quite as long, but we survived. The first long-haul flight I took with her on my own to the Caribbean, when she was 15 months and I wondered how on earth to entertain a newly-walking toddler – the answer, I discovered, was quantity. If something could distract her for five minutes, eight of those plus bottomless snacks kept us going for an hour… then repeat.

Cloth books & hand puppets

Cloth books and hand puppets weighed almost nothing but kept her giggling. Water Magic Pads let her colour to her heart's content but I didn't have to worry about her decorating the plane (or herself) along the way.

Stickers ended up on me as much as in the book but it started a fascination that’s lasted for years. And a few lift-the-flap books were less than pristine on landing, but they kept her entertained for much longer than listening to a story alone. And while we never checked in without a fully charged tablet with downloaded TV and apps, gazing around the plane and people watching is almost as much fun when you’re under two.

Even the flight that seemed the longest – where I thanked my foresight for packing Calpol sachets and a first aid kit - when she started teething part-way through, eventually came to an end.

hand puppets

What I wish I’d realised before I started was that it’s rarely as hard as you fear. Armed with her beloved rabbit and a pair of (apparently) angelic big blue eyes, and fellow passengers have always helped when I’ve had to juggle luggage or security queues, quite literally holding the baby when I struggled to collapse a pushchair to be X-rayed.

The more I travelled, the more ways I discovered to make life easier too: ordering baby food and spare wipes to pick up airside was one shortcut. Family security lanes might not be faster but were definitely less stressful, while hunting out the airport soft play hidden away in unsuspected corners meant she could burn off energy pre-flight.

And my secret weapon for almost every eventuality? Several spare muslins which could be blanket, bib, emergency clothing and comforter. I learned to leave toys which squeaked or played a cheerful jangly tune at home, and secured toys to her with a fabric strap so they couldn’t be lobbed half-way across the cabin.And even if we rarely stuck to my carefully worked out plans and routines, having a contingency for most scenarios (just in case) meant I relaxed more too – and she relaxed with me. Because that, along with that first view of the sea, is what holidays are all about.