It’s arguably the most stressful mode of transport but flying long haul with kids needn’t be as hellish as you might think. It’s all about pre-meditating every eventuality to get you to the buzzing city or sandy beach destination of your dreams. Miss Manners is no stranger to screaming, vomiting, hyper kids on flights but she has a few secret tricks up her prim sleeves that will have you prepared at 32,000 feet no matter what your kids throw at you (metaphorically or otherwise).
7 top tips for travelling long haul with kids
Consider your flight times
If you can, it’s wise to co-incide your flight with your child’s bedtime or close enough to it, particularly if they are very young. Stretching bedtime to an evening flight can work well. Theoretically this should guarantee you (them) more golden sleep. It’s also a good idea to increase the afternoon nap to give you a little leeway and ensure they are not over-tired when boarding.
If you are travelling more than 14 hours then consider a stop-over. Most airlines offer one at no extra cost. It gives you a chance to break the journey, get some sleep and maybe even have an afternoon by the hotel pool to recharge your batteries. You will then be able to hit your final destination ready to go and will have bitten off a bit of jet lag in the process.
Be a good Girl Scout and be prepared. Have some snacks, water and a game handy in case you need to decamp at the boarding gate for hours. If you need a buggy keep it with you right until the aircraft door because your child will have somewhere to sleep if you are delayed.
What to take on board
A nanny. And failing that it’s wise to have some emergency bits and pieces in your hand luggage. We suggest a spare set of clothes (for any unfortunate baby spewing on yourself), PJs (get your kids changed into them before the flight), sweatshirts & comfy snuggly socks as aircrafts can get very chilly. Lavender essential oil is great for soothing over excited children and can help lull little ones to sleep.
For all your toiletries and emergency pharmacy needs do not leave home without our fool-proof holiday hack. This will prepare you for any eventuality. Don’t forget earplugs for children who have sensitive ears for take off and landing (and one for everyone in your row if things get bad!). And if you need help on packing that suitcase read our how to pack like an expert feature.
Don’t forget germs can lurk everywhere on planes so anti-bacterial gel and wipes are an absolute must.
Entertainment on board
Once your kids are over 4 this is probably when you can start enjoying flights again yourself (sigh). Miss Manners is normally a stickler for screen time limits but this is probably the one time when 10 hours of uninterrupted back-to-back movie action is positively encouraged. Oh the hypocrisy! It’s a good idea to take your own kids headphones as aircraft ones can be a bit uncomfortable for kids.
For younger children who need more one-on-one entertainment then a bag of ‘lucky dip gifts’ works a treat. Think pound shop tat: crayons, stickers, mini cars or dinosaurs etc. Stagger their opening over the flight for maximum distraction value. Be canny and re-wrap for the return journey. Bring a bunch of plain printing paper and get your kids to make up a storyboard using stickers. Simple but effective.
The Myth of Sedation
Some people swear that the only way to get through a long haul flight with kids is to ‘drug them’. It’s a pretty polarising topic and one you definitely need to do your homework on. There are many over the counter antihistamines with sedative effects but they don’t work for everyone. Although it may feel like you’re doing it for the good of other passengers (kind of like your in-flight community service), it does have the potential to really backfire. Some kids will fall into a deep slumber and others can be totally hyperactive with big saucer eyes that won’t go to sleep. Don’t be that parent. Although tempting, we’re more of the run-them-ragged-before-the-flight opinion.
Snacks & Munchies
On most long haul flights you should be able to pre-order child friendly meals. We strongly suggest you re-confirm this request a few days prior to flying. In-flight food can be stodgy at the best of times (although we confess to rather enjoying it!) so it’s also wise to take a few supplementary back-ups on board as well.
Miss Manners always tucks some individually wrapped brioches, cereal bars and mini sandwiches in her bottomless bag, alongside some favourite biscuits to help fill up empty tummies during the flight. Some flights will have a help-yourself snack basket for post dinner nibbles but it’s not always the case (as we found out recently on a homeward journey). So do plan in advance. You do not want to be the parent who frantically purchases a 2kg Toblerone from the SHOP magazine just to satisfy the gartantuan hole in your child’s stomach (ok, that might have happened just once).
In general the body will adjust to a new time zone at a rate of 1 to 2 time zones per day. So if your journey crosses say 5 time zones it will take 3-5 days to fully recover. But in reality the first 24-48 hours are the trickiest. It’s a good idea to start shifting your child’s bedtime in advance of your trip if you can. By sliding it 15 or 20 mins (in the direction of your new time zone) you can start to acclimatise quicker. On the plane be mindful of the current time at your destination – if they are sleeping in Beijing then pull the window hatch down and encourage everyone to have a nap (easier said than done we know!).
Hydrate like there is no tomorrow (and by that we don’t mean Bloody Mary’s) both on the plane and when you land. Once you hit the ground, roll with the new time zone as best you can. Be prepared to lose a couple of days on jet lag (factor that in when planning your trip), so have a quiet day of activities when you arrive. Light exercise and sunlight particularly help your body and your brain make sense of the new time zone. So get outside and soak up a little vitamin D. The perfect excuse to build sandcastles and read your Summer novel!