British Airways’ pilots have plenty of advice to turn family travel into child’s play. Photo: Getty Images

Expert • June 2017

A pilots’ guide to family holidays

That long-awaited escape with the kids should be the highlight of summer, but there’s no denying that it can also be a daunting experience. The Club asked a panel of British Airways’ pilots for tips on how they avoid tantrums and tears when they travel with the kids in tow

Captain Rob Johnson, Airbus A320 fleet (@PlaneCharacters)
Explain the airport process to your kids ahead of time and build in expectations about waiting around – I’ve even written a book about it as part of my Plane Characters series, Pilot Ollie & Pilot Polly’s Guide to the Airport. A good supply of snacks is always handy too – but not high-sugar ones. 

Avoid potential meltdowns by having something to keep children busy at all times, particularly during long periods of being sat down. An iPad (make sure it’s fully charged) loaded with apps and CBBC programmes is always handy, as are colouring, word search and activity books, which provide a great distraction.

Visiting the flight deck may also be an option after landing. Pilots are always pleased to meet young travellers and could even have goodies such as stickers and postcards to give them... if they have been good.

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Avoid potential meltdowns by having something to keep children busy at all times, says Captain Rob Johnson. Photo: Gallery Stock

Captain Hugo Webb, Airbus A320, and Senior First Officer Hannah Webb, Airbus A320
We are both airline pilots and with our combined knowledge of travelling we should be considered experts in navigating airports. Introduce two toddlers and the wheels can (and do) quickly fall off. So we use an acronym when we travel with them: NUTA – notice, understand, think ahead.

At the airport, have a plentiful supply of snacks stuffed in any spare pocket. Long security queues with hungry toddlers are best avoided. We’ve also found that taking a small bag of new toys, stickers and pens, with each one wrapped in paper, keeps them busy for longer. Many terminals also have a soft play area – Heathrow Terminal 5 has a brand-new complex. It’s not signposted but you’ll find it tucked away by the domestic departure gates.

Be sure to check the local government website before you fly if you are travelling somewhere unfamiliar. We have been caught out in South Africa without our children’s birth certificates, and being interviewed by border control after a long night flight is an experience best avoided.

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Make the airport a part of the holiday experience, says Chief pilot Allister Bridger. Photo: Gallery Stock

Chief pilot Allister Bridger, Boeing 747 fleet (@al_bridger)
Tell the family that case space is limited. It’s easy for you to ask yourself questions such as, “Do I really need to pack this?”, but it’s harder to explain to kids. After all, even if you pack and then take half of it back out, you’re likely to have too much.

Make the airport a part of the holiday experience. Arriving early will not only take the stress out of travel, but you can also relax together, get something to eat or go shopping – and most importantly, get excited about your trip.

Finally, get everything ready the night before – print those boarding passes, check passports are packed and sort out your route to the airport. Getting a large family ready to depart can be like herding cats, so it’s best to be as prepared as you can be.

Kids under 12 can fly free on journeys between London Heathrow and Edinburgh, Inverness, Belfast, Leeds, Newcastle or Billund in Denmark. Offer valid on bookings made by 1 October 2017, for travel until 31 October 2017. To book and find out more, visit

This article has been tagged BA, Travel Tips