13 top tips for surviving a long haul flight with toddlers

Surviving a long haul flight – and here I am talking something like NZ to Europe, or, 24-30 hours depending on your stopover times – can be arduous on your own, let alone with younger kids, unless of course you can afford first class! These tips should help you get through in good old cattle class.....

Please please put me, my 18 month and 3 year old up there in first....please

Please please put me, my 18 month and 3 year old up there in first....please

1.       First – if you are doing long haul with kids (or without for that matter) stick to the better airlines- like Qantas, Singapore, Thai, Emirates, British, Lufthansa, Qatar, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, ANA,  Air New Zealand. Avoid airlines based in the USA – they quite simply are not up to the same standard as the airlines from Asia, Europe, Middle East, and down-under.  Air Canada is ok.

2.      If you can afford the time and the extra cost and to some extent the hassle – take a stopover halfway so you do a couple of 11 or 14 hour trips rather than the big one! Alternatively, and easier, if there is an option of about 8-10 hours stopover and an ok hotel at the airport itself, consider a few hours out in a hotel. Although often it’s just easier to grit your teeth and get through it.

Bulkhead bassinet, new book and toy = short term bliss

Bulkhead bassinet, new book and toy = short term bliss

3.      Ask for the right seat when booking – if under two you want a bulkhead seat with a baby basket. If over two they get their own seat so you can make a bed on that for them. When you get on the plane ask for blankets and pillows before you get going. At check-in try and get a spare seat next to you so you can stretch the little one out a bit.

4.      Be psychologically prepared – its going to suck! Unless you are one of those lucky few that can get on a plane and go to sleep for hours sitting up, long haul flights suck at the best of times, let alone with kids. Just go into it knowing that, prepare to smile through it, and arm yourself with the knowledge that it won’t last forever and in a couple of days it will be over!

5.      Take two if you can. Two adults makes life so much easier – you can take turns at dealing with the kids.

6.      Make sure the kids have comfortable clothes on as a priority. No fashion show – just plain good comfort. Take spare clothes on the plane – you are definitely going to need them.

7.       Keep your kids up and about and make them as exhausted as you can before you leave. Make them run, jump hop, skip, run some more. Don’t let them sleep, and yes they may be unpleasant at the airport, but get on the plane and with any luck they will crash not long after.

8.      The switch from a few TVs at intermittent places along the cabin (with one film showing for all) to personal screens on the back of the seat in front of you is the best thing that ever happened to people flying with young kids – so make the most of them. If your little one is of an age to watch anything then let them watch whatever they want! Before you book your flight make sure the airline you are flying with does have them – most these days do – life saver! Apart from the airline TV you can also take your own electronic devices with favourite things loaded to go! This is one time you do not even think about how much ‘screen-time’ they have had – you just let it go.

New toy for a moment of peace (bribery and corruption reign on these flights!

New toy for a moment of peace (bribery and corruption reign on these flights!

9.      Take a bit of throw away entertainment (e.g. colouring books or paper and pens) or a new toy, but don’t let them see it or give it to them until you really need it. Once they are tired and rattly it won’t help for long but may give you some distraction time. It works better with older kids, but worth a try.

10.   Make sure you have the extra food you need for your little one. They are not going to want to wait patiently for the meals at set times – take extras and yes take some ‘treats’ for good kids! Again another reason to stick with the better airlines is to make sure that they will give you boiled water if needed, clean the bottles if needed etc. Always take bottles of milk or drink for take-off and landing. It not only distracts them when they are being made to sit with a seatbelt on but also helps prevent ear pain.

Chewy stuff for saving the ears (and bribery)

Chewy stuff for saving the ears (and bribery)

11.    Do not leave without painkillers – this flying lark can hurt ears a lot. As an ear sufferer myself, and the mother of an ear sufferer, I can tell you it’s no joke and the pain can last for days after the flight. Make sure you always have something for them to suck or chew on for take-off and landings – a bottle, a lollipop or whatever (forget the health thing in this situation – it’s more important you don’t have bad ears for a few days) and give them painkillers if it is clear they are hurting. Remember that if you are flying long haul there is always that stopover so it’s a minimum of two of each. Also remember that if you are breastfeeding a child over 2, you won’t be able to do this during landing or take off as they have to sit in their own seat.

12.   Make the most of stopovers. Even if you are exhausted, get your kid to run around like crazy. Don’t worry about what people think, just get them running and moving as it will pay off later. Of course Murphy ’s Law is that all kids will finally fall asleep just as you arrive at the stopover (but wake them up anyway and really exhaust them)!

13.   If your babes do go to sleep or do watch TV for a bit, close your eyes and get some rest. It doesn’t matter if you don’t sleep – just having your eyes closed for a bit will help you manage later in the flight

Once you have survived the flight, don’t forget to be prepared for a few days of disruption when you get to the other end – although it’s almost always easier for kids to adapt to new time zones than you. This is one of those times I can’t say “enjoy the journey” but I can say have fun when you get there!