Surviving Long Haul Flights with Kids
I’ve lived in U.S. since 1995 and since then I’ve traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Europe with my children (now twelve and eight) at least once a year. From the beginning, many friends here in Seattle would shake their heads in wonder at our seemingly super-human abilities to manage little kids and jet-lag. We don’t have any special abilities and our kids are not any better nor any worse than most children when it comes to flying. But, in our particular circumstances, travelling long distances to be with family was – and is – part of our life and part of our children’s lives. How could we not go to my brother-in-law’s wedding? Or rush to Ireland when my mom was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer? Our trip tally between the U.S. and Europe so far:
• Seven family wedding (just siblings!)
• Four weddings of close friends
• Two medical situations
• One 40th birthday party
• Three ‘just vacations’ – because it’s easier for us to go there than to expect the rest of the family to come here
My first flight as a new mom (to Dublin) was hideous – mostly because of my inexperience and lack of preparation. The next was a little better. By the time we decided to travel to Australia with some friends and their two kids in 2000, we were old hands. The kids had their blankies, snacks, water and entertainment. They were in their PJs as we boarded the flight. We flew overnight so they would sleep. See below for a full list of tips and tricks for making long-haul flights with very young children more manageable. Following these on this particular flight meant we had a fairly pleasant travel experience.
Traveling with children gets easier the earlier you start and the more you do it.
Certainly a 14-hour flight isn’t as easy as a short one or two hour hop, but it wasn’t hell-on-earth (or just above the earth) either. Traveling with children gets easier the earlier you start and the more you do it. No, they won’t be as well-behaved as an adult on the plane, but they won’t turn into monsters either. So, go for it. Stretch your wings. Pick a place you really want to visit and get your kids excited about visiting there too. You won’t regret it.
8 Tips For Managing Long-Haul Travel with Young Children
Lower your expectations and remember flights have a known duration
Start the flight by thinking “only nine hours to go” (or whatever the duration) and count down from there. Focus on the fact that even if your child is not doing well it will be over soon. If this is your first flight, don’t expect it to be anything like what flying used to be like before children. You will probably walk up and down the aisles many times; read the same book over and over; change multiple nappies in a tiny bathroom; and get food or drink spilled (or vomited) on you at least once.
1 person, 1 seat
Even if you are traveling with a child who is younger than two (who could travel as a lap child) it’s safer and more comfortable if everyone has their own seat. With a full aircraft, there is precious little space in a coach class seat to care for an infant or toddler.
Choose direct flights whenever possible
Keep it simple. Avoid risks of missed connections and reduce your total travel time. Taking two short flights with time to stretch your legs between flights may seem like a good idea but rarely works very well in practice.
Coordinate departure and arrival times with feeding schedules, naptimes and other important kid-related activities
This is particularly relevant for long-haul flights. If your child will sleep on the plane, you may get a jump on jet-lag which will make the start of your trip easier.
Pack plenty of supplies for the flight
Pack nappies, wipes, bottles, formula, snacks, toys and books. Everything and anything you might need. Pack a sturdy backpack or changing bag. Overestimate what you think you’ll need for the flight because it’s better to have too much than to run out. Pack a change of clothes for the baby and at least a spare t-shirt for you.
If jet-lag is likely, give some advance consideration into how you will manage it
This may be something a simple as remembering to ask the front desk if there is a park or playground nearby when you check into your hotel – so you can keep your children outside until the ‘local’ bedtime; or deciding in advance with your spouse or partner who is going to take the ‘early shift’ with the children when they wake up hours before sunrise. Keeping normal bedtime hours, fresh air and light exercise will help you get your child adjusted to the new time-zone. Try to focus on getting her adjusted first and then catch up on sleep yourself.
Plan layovers carefully
Two hours is a standard layover interval but you’re not going to be able to rush anywhere when traveling with a small child. Add extra time to compensate for any risk of delay with your first flight and for getting from gate to gate with bags, buggy and any other paraphernalia. If you’re traveling internationally, remember to allow time for customs and passport control.
Take advantage of airport lounges during layovers whenever possible
It’s so much easier to relax between flights in these lounges than out in the main terminal. There may be additional bathrooms, showers and other facilities which you can also use. Use frequent flier club memberships or purchase access using Priority Pass or Lounge Pass.