Kids on a plane: Should agents offer their advice?

By Steve Jones
Home » Kids on a plane: Should agents offer their advice?

The tale is a familiar one.

You’re four hours into a long-haul flight, and the kids are growing restless. All entertainment options have been exhausted, the usual distraction strategies no longer working.

World War 3 is breaking out at 38,000ft and your fellow passengers are giving you daggers.

Such a scenario was detailed this week by Irish model and DJ Vogue Williams, who described her ‘hellish’ journey from the Maldives to the UK.

Her one-year-old daughter Gigi had a tantrum, the wife of former Made in Chelsea star Spencer Matthews revealed, and ‘whinged the entire time from the airport to home’.

“I tell you one thing I won’t be doing again,” Ms Williams told listeners on her podcast, “And that’s an 18-hour trip with two children whilst pregnant.”

Her experience prompted a question on the Travel Gossip forum: “Knowing the trials and tribulation of flying as they do, should travel agents ‘challenge’ customers, and offer advice on the suitability of taking young children on a long-haul flight?”

The answers came in thick and fast.

“I would say it’s not our place. If someone had ‘challenged’ me when I took my son on his first long haul flight, I wouldn’t have taken it so well,” said Kelly Durrington, a Birmingham-based member of Travel Counsellors.

“My son’s first two holidays at 10 months and 20 months were long haul and he was absolutely fine and slept most of the flight. He’s been long haul more than short haul and prefers it for the entertainment system! It’s each to his own and every child will cope differently.”

Gatwick arrivals
Parents can often arrive as frazzled as their kids: Should agents question the suitability of long-haul flights for young families?

Roy Wills, a Personal Travel Consultant at York-based Designer Travel, acknowledged it was a delicate issue but believed agents have an ‘obligation’ to share their knowledge and expertise.

 “I feel ‘challenge’ is the wrong word as it implies confrontation,” he said. “It’s difficult because even a simple question about how a child would cope is a challenge to the parents judgement that they might resent.

“At the same time, I do feel we have an obligation to advise as politely as possible. But quite what the right wording is I don’t know!”

But for Lisa Harrison-Keating, from Midcounties’ homeworking division Personal Travel Agents, any ‘advice’ on the subject would not be well received.

“It’s not a travel agents’ job to offer parenting advice unless it’s asked for,” she said. “It would come across as extremely patronising.”

Lauren Marques, a travel consultant at Your Holiday Booking, said she saw ‘no point’ taking small children to far flung destinations. But she added she would never impose those views on clients.

“There is no way I’d take my two-year-old on a long haul-flight,” she said. “There are plenty of gorgeous places in Europe to go on holiday. Mallorca and Portugal are the only places we have taken him since birth and those two hours were just bearable!”

Lauren added: “Just talking from personal experience I know my child would hate it and be unhappy. So it would be unfair on him and everyone around us.

“Would I tell other people what to do? Absolutely not. It’s your choice as a parent, you know your child and their limits.”

While not suggesting parents should be questioned on their decisions, Collective Travel’s Lorraine Robinson said advice was possible if communicated in the right way.

“It’s not our place to say. I travel long haul with my child and would be insulted if someone else had an opinion on it,” she said.

“But I do think it’s a good opportunity to show the value of an agent. I help clients plan for long-haul flights, advise on flight times to coincide with naps and sleeping patterns, offer stopovers to take the pressure off the long journey.

“It’s not saying ‘I think you’re really stupid’ but passing on advice. As a mum what I always say is ‘I was the same, I had the same problems and I solved them so I’m passing on things that I learned’.

“It’s just making people think about things they might not have thought about.

“As a travel agent it’s my job to get people to where they need to be in the best way possible.”

David McKerry, owner of Dumbarton-based We Do Travel, was in no doubt how he would react.

“I always travelled long haul with very young kids from around six months old. Now we have three kids and they have been on at least one or two long-haul holidays a year since they were born,” he said.

“I’ve never had any huge issues and if someone had suggested they know me and my kids better than I do then I would have taken my business elsewhere.”

Yet there is still room for a spot of advice, delivered in the right way.

“I encourage my customers to go long-haul and give them some light advice based on my experiences and no one has come back with a horror story yet,” David said.

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