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Frequent bathroom trips, the disastrous mistake of forgetting Mr. Snuggles at home, sidelong glances from the other passengers on the 11-hour flight — there are countless things that make flying with children challenging. Some families, quite simply, need a helping hand. And for those who wish Mary Poppins offered her services in the air, Etihad Airways is at the ready.
The national airline of the United Arab Emirates offers a Flying Nanny program, dedicated to helping families with children on long trips.
“More and more families are flying Etihad Airways’ long-haul routes, and we saw what a daunting task flying with a young family could be,” says Aubrey Tiedt, vice president of guest services at Etihad Airways. “Etihad refuses to accept the distresses and discomforts of family flying as inevitable.”
These orange-aproned crew members accommodate children and unaccompanied minors in a number of ways, including meeting younger children at the gate before their flight and coordinating their meal times. They also organize activities, such as origami, face painting and magic tricks, or quizzes and challenges for older children.
“The Etihad Airways Flying Nanny liaises with parents; supports other cabin crew members when they interact with families; and uses her specialist knowledge to make the travel experience more relaxed,” Tiedt says.
Etihad consulted with Norland College, a U.K.-based provider of childcare training and education, to develop the comprehensive Flying Nanny program. The program launched in September 2013 with a group of 300 Flying Nannies. In October, Etihad celebrated the graduation of Elpida Tsatsaronis, the 1,000th Flying Nanny to complete her training.
The nannies are selected from existing cabin crew members. They graduate from a specialized course at the Etihad Airways Innovation Training Academy in Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates, which covers creative ways nannies can engage children during flights, as well as child psychology and sociology.
“The course enables Flying Nannies to identify different types of behavior and developmental stages that children go through and appreciate the perspectives and needs of travelling families,” Tiedt says.
Flying Nannies also replenish milk bottles, offer snacks and advise families transiting at Abu Dhabi International Airport about its various child facilities.
There is at least one Flying Nanny on every long-haul Etihad Airways flight — two on popular flights, such as those to London and cities in the U.S. These nannies are on call and available on all flights with no need to book ahead. Agents and clients should note that children’s meals need to be requested ahead of time, either during booking or 24 hours before departure.