One of the more popular questions we receive are around tips for surviving long haul flights with kids and so we thought we’d share some of the lessons we’ve learned over the last 6 years. Our very first flight with each of our children were long ones. Little Monkey flew from Toronto to London and then onward to Mumbai before she was 2 months old and Baby Boy flew from Toronto to Los Angeles for his first flight. They’ve since travelled to Asia and Europe on a couple occasions and I have never dreaded flying with my kids. I know being trapped in a narrow seat with a young child for over 6 hours at a time can be daunting but it can also be quite stress free if you have the right entertainment tools for the flight. I was surprised to read that according to Netfllix 1 in 5 Canadian parents say one of their main concerns when travelling is keeping their kids entertained! I’m not saying we’ve never had a headache inducing cryfest or a major tantrum but they’ve always been short lived and there has only been one occasion when I had to drag Little Monkey to the lavatory onboard so she could calm herself down in the relatively sound proof toilet!
7 Tips for Surviving a Long Haul Flight with Kids
Pack a backpack with small toys
When it comes to hand luggage Chris and I each have our backpacks and now that the kids are a bit older, they each have their own as well. I like having my hands free (especially on trips when we have to push our stroller). Ensure that the kids pack small toys (Shopkinz, Disney clip dolls and mini Star Wars characters are current faves). We also bring small books and colouring pencils for when creative inspiration strikes! Ensure you keep this backpack with you by your seat so that they can grab things easily.
Bring snacks and treats
I never leave home without snacks and find that small containers and ziplock bags filled with healthy snacks and a few treats work well. I bring lollipops and gummy candy for take off and landing (you want something that gets them really moving their jaws- taffy is awesome!). We can’t always rely on flight attendants being around every time hunger or boredom strikes and this is also helpful when you’re caught in long immigration lines! I pack 1 snack every 2 hours per kid (I usually calculate things door to door). Also, my kids never seem ready to eat when the airplane meals are served and so what I do is take the non perishable items and store them in our bags for when they wake up. Travelling with some extra ziplock bags really helps here too!
Bring headsets and tablet loaded with favourite shows
I know travel is a time for bonding and making memories but I’m all for peace and quiet onboard our flights. My kids do watch a lot of Netflix and YouTube when at home and I’m loving the downloadable feature on offer through Netflix. Little Monkey loves downloading a couple seasons of My Little Pony and episodes of Shopkins while Baby Boy is all about Inspector Gadget and Chipmunks . Netflix downloads are a must-have travel essential for us as it helps keep our sanity in checks. With many budget carriers offering great deals, we’ve come to realize that individual tv screens are not always available on some long haul flights and so, we come prepared with our own. Definitely download the shows when you’re at home or near an unlimited WiFi connection as downloading videos will consume about as much data as streaming. Much to Little Monkey’s dismay, Netflix downloads do expire and some of their shows expire within 48 hours so we either have to download them again or in some instances, we can easily refresh them when we’re connected to WiFi. Also, remember to bring a battery pack for those crazy long travels and definitely don’t forget headsets for kids!
Bring change of clothes
We like putting the kids in PJs for the overnight flights because it’s an alert that it’s bedtime. Also changing into “morning clothes” signals that it’s day time and helps get their clocks adjusted. Which is one way we’ve avoided getting overly jet lagged (also, I’m convinced there’s an anti jetlag gene as I never get jet lagged!).
Naps have helped us on many occasions and this is one reason I allow them to bring their sleep masks and travel teddy bear. Items that help them sleep comfortably is worth squeezing into our precious hang luggage. We take away their toys and iPads and put a timer on our phones. The rule is that they have to sit quietly with their eyes closed until the timer goes off. Most instances they conk out but if nothing else, we get some down time for 15 minutes. Unless it’s an overnight flight I usually allow them to nap for an hour at max and try to adjust their schedules to match the destination’s. For example, mine don’t take naps at home but if we’re leaving Toronto in the afternoon and know that we will be landing towards 7 p.m. I allow a one hour nap so that they don’t get cranky on landing as it would be their bedtime back home (but probably only around 3 p.m. destination time).
While we haven’t used this yet, our friends provide rave reviews of this travel pillow that allows kids to sleep flat on a flight.
Bring spill proof cups
I think this one is pretty self explanatory. To avoid major spills and unnecessary outfit changes, bring your own cups. I usually ask the stewardesses to fill the juice or water directly into the bottle but definitely recall that the kids loved playing with the plastic cups usually handed out on board.
Carry medication on board
I always fly with Tylenol for kids, Orange Naturals earaches and my Saje Wellness pocket pharmacy kit. I find that giving them a drop for earaches helps us a fair bit along with the chewy candy. I’ve only used the Tylenol once on a flight when Little Monkey had a fever but I feel safe having it on board with us. As for Saje Wellness, the Eaters digest helps when travelling with tummy discomforts and I always rub some immune germs remedy as soon as we’re settled in our seats. Chris doesn’t fully believe in the healing powers of the oils but will agree that it helps ward off some NASTY smells on board (double win!).
General tips for Flying with Children
Do we board early when flying with kids?
YES!! We love boarding our flights early because it ensures that we can grab the precious cabin space for our bags and we have extra time to figure out who is sitting where (and if we need to swap seats with a stranger for whatever reason, we’re there first and can make the request before they get comfortable in their seat). Boarding early also means we’re not stressed and the kids can settle in and pull all the stuff they need from their backpacks.
Best seat when flying with kids?
This is a tough one but we always prefer to divide and conquer where possible. Ideally we grab a window seat at the time of our reservation and ensure we’re split up one parent – one child. Eg : 14 a & b + 15 a & b. As for bulkhead requests, after the bassinet stage I prefer to avoid the bulkhead despite having the extra leg room. Why? Because you aren’t allowed to keep your bags by your feet during take off and landing (and during turbulence). like having access to our stuff, especially the kids’ backpacks at all times so I can avoid having to reach into the overhead cabin every ten minutes when they forget things!
Do I bring a car seat on a flight?
Okay this is a tough one. We all know that car seats are the safest way to secure your child on board a car or flight. However, I also know how much of a pain it is to lug the car seats and now that we’ve moved to the booster stage, we don’t travel with our full sized car seats at all. My kids are happy to sit “like adults” and the CARES harness is what we have used in flights since they turned 2. If you are traveling with your car seat, have the stamina to lug it through the airport and security gates (maybe check out the mini travelmate?) and have a seat purchased for your child, definitely go for it. I know mine slept best in the car seat during the toddler phase.
I hope these tips will help you the next time you’re taking a long haul flight with your kids. Do let us know if you discover any new tips and tricks to entertain kids on board a long flight – we’d love to hear them!