juliecolefam270Julie Cole, co-founder of Mabel’s Labels and mother of five, shares her tips for taking the whole family on a 24 hour flight to Australia. Every other year.

On alternating years, my large brood embarks on a family vacation odyssey to visit my in-laws that includes a 24-hour flight from our home in Canada to their home in Australia. This is a trip year and with take-off quickly approaching, my anxiety levels are on the rise.

colekidaustralia150.jpgA few weeks ago, while flying home solo from a conference and enjoying the peace, I was struck by a horrifying thought – the next time I board a plane it will be with them…my five children, ages 2-9. Did I mention that I’m pregnant with our sixth? Traveling with kids can be stressful for families of all sizes, so you can appreciate the gravity of this undertaking a family vacation with a family the size of mine.

The mayhem begins at the airport with the inspection of passports times seven as the children play “dart around the line-up”. Hubby manages the passports, car seats, strollers and other gear, but he gets so stressed that it just raises my stress level.

Later, as we board the plane, I am greeted by the rows of passengers physically recoiling at the sight of us. Their facial expressions speak volumes: “If there is a God, please make this hideous family walk straight past me and to the back of the plane.”

I have learned a few survival tips along the way. If you too want to avoid the urge to throw one of your children out of the airplane window, I suggest you take heed:

Be prepared, but also prepare the airline for your family

Long before the flight date, I send a letter to the airline telling them I will be traveling with kid and listing my requests and expectations. It is a list that might be described as cheeky and demanding. I’ve included requests like bypassing lines and expecting airport assistance at all times. I communicate my child-sized meal requirements and inform them that the double stroller will be with us until we get to the gate. I ask that any issues with my requests, be relayed to me by a certain date. And I bring a copy of the letter with me when we travel.

If you need a wheelchair, request one. On our last flight I was a few weeks post-surgery with my fifth c-section and there were many privileges that went along with having that wheelchair.

If you’re traveling with an infant, demand a skycot. These are detachable bassinettes for babies that are stored in the bulkhead of the plane. There are never enough to go around and the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so get squeaking.

colekidsairplane150Book your seats strategically. In a row of three seats, we book the aisle and the window in the hope the middle seat will remain unreserved, leaving us the extra space to stretch out the little ones. If it does get booked, the passenger will normally happily trade seats.

If you are bringing a toddler, also bring a car seat. Strap it into the child’s airplane seat to give them somewhere safe and comfortable to sit, eat and sleep.

*Julie Cole is one of the founding mom entrepreneurs of Mabel’s Labels Inc . and the proud mother of five. She is pregnant with her sixth.