I have a confession to make. When I am waiting to board a long-haul flight (or any flight for that matter) and see a young child waiting to board the same plane, I fear the worst. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a complete monster. I have had young children of my own on planes. This is probably why I become fearful. I have been that mother trying to no avail to console a screaming toddler. I have had one who needs to use the bathroom while trying to keep an infant on my lap from screaming bloody murder. Yes, I know first-hand that flying with children can be a nightmare for both the parents and the other passengers. So when I see a child boarding the plane, I secretly hope he or she will not be sitting anywhere near my general vicinity and say a little prayer of fortitude for the accompanying parent. I’m just keeping it real here folks. I’m sure you might think the same things. At least I hope I am not the only horrible person who feels this way.
Our family has been taking long-haul flights regularly for the past two years and my kids have become completely accustomed to them. This became blazingly obvious when we were on our last flight from Seattle to Shanghai. As we settled into our seats, my boys asked how long the flight time would be. When I answered, 12 hours, they replied, “oh, is that all?”. Is that all?! Easy Peasy. On a side note, 12 hours is not easy for me. At all. It is still pure torture. My back aches, I am bored out of my mind, and I feel as if the flight will never end. I asked fellow adult travelers for some tips for making long flights more bearable and they had some real gems. You can read them here:
21 Tips for a Successful Long-Haul Flight,
Long-Haul Flight Essentials (22 things to pack in your carry-on)
But this post isn’t about you or me. It is about our kids and how to make this portion of your trip go as smoothly as possible. Don’t panic. You will get through this. Perhaps make a few quick enemies in the process, but you will survive. I’M KIDDING! Hey, if you can’t laugh about a potentially difficult situation you are going to cry, right?
Once again I sought out advice from the experts. Those that have been on the front lines. Ex-pats who travel, and travel a lot. They raised their hands and eagerly offered so many incredibly helpful tips. Although my kids are older and relatively self-sufficient on flights, memories of traveling with little ones are still easily and vividly recalled. So read on my dear friend and gain confidence. You’ve got this, and just keep telling yourself, “if this flight goes really badly I will never see most of these fellow travelers again”. Haha!
Could this be challenging? Yes. Will it ever end? Also yes. You can do this. Just channel your inner calm and know that you and your kids are going to do just fine. And remember, your kids are watching you. If they see you get worked up, they will get worked up too. Just put on a smile, take a deep breath, and outwardly project your zen-like persona.
Pack each child their own backpack with favorite snacks, books, toys, and games. This will give them independence and teach them a bit of responsibility looking after their own bag. If you are an organizing freak like me, separate items into Ziplock bags. This makes them more easy to find AND waterproof. A bonus for when they knock their coveted full cup of Coke off their tray table.
Take your time
Don’t allow yourself to get flustered by an impatient passenger behind you who has got to get to their seat “right now”. I mean really, you will all end up in the same place at the same time. Just keep yourself calm and take your time getting your kiddos into their seat. After all, you have already had enough stress just getting on the plane, right?
Don’t forget the headphones
Sure the airplane offers headphones but often times they won’t stay in little ears. Heck, they won’t even stay in my ears. So get each child their own headphones and try them out before you travel to make sure they are comfortable.
Load new games onto devices. Kids will be occupied for hours trying to defeat Bowser or whatever other mythical creature is in their game. I know I just totally dated myself there. Sorry!
Pack some surprises
When I was a child, my mom and dad divorced. I lived full-time with my mom but once a year would fly by myself to see my dad. My mom always used to wrap little gifts and put them in my carry-on bag. I was allowed to open one per hour. I made sure to wear a watch and being the honest kid I was, would wait until the exact moment when my watch would strike the next hour to open my gift. I remember one present was a word find book. To this day I still use word find books at the beginning of every flight. Aww, thanks, mom!
Don’t let your kids see any new movies a month before you travel. This way they will have plenty to watch on the plane.
For the young ones
Request special meet and assist (MAAT) service at the airport. This free service will assign someone to help you with your luggage and stroller when boarding and disembarking the plane which is a godsend for parents traveling with young kids, tons of accessories, and only two hands.
Layovers can be fun
Bring balloons to blow up. They won’t take up much room in your carry-on and will keep kids entertained for quite a while. Also, most airports offer kid’s play areas where little-ones can stay busy for a time.
Kid’s meal? Yes, please!
Request a kid’s meal when booking. If for some reason your child is sleeping when their meal arrives you can ask the flight attendant to hold it for you and serve it when your child is hungry.
Expect the unexpected
Pack a Ziplock bag with a change of clothes in each carry-on. You never know what could happen with kids on flights. I have been peed on, pooped on, and even thrown up on. If it’s going to happen, it is going to happen on this flight so best to be prepared.
Run, play, repeat
Keep kids (and yourself) active all day before a flight. Hopefully, they will be worn out and sleep the entire way. Yeah right, I know I’m a dreamer.
Channel your inner MacGyver
Shortly after you board the plane, ask for pillows and blankets. Often times they run out. Tie the blanket to the corners of a tray table and kids will be able to put their legs straight out instead of kicking you as they sleep. And an extra bonus, when they aren’t sleeping their blanket can become a fort for all those action figures you so wisely packed in their backpacks.
Last but certainly not least
The most important tip.
Drumroll, please…Book a ticket in business class and put your kids back in economy. Or better yet, just travel without them. Whoop, whoop! Juuuust kidding.
Most importantly, don’t worry, and try not to stress. With some advance planning, you will have an easy journey with your kids. Take a deep breath. It will be fine, and before you know it, you will arrive at your destination. Perhaps a little battered and bruised, but really ready for anything. I mean, if you survive a long-haul flight with kids, you can pretty much take on the world, right? So go forth and conquer! You’ve got this, you brave parent you!
A special thank you to all those parents out there who have taken (and survived) many long-haul flights with kids. Your tips will become a valuable tool for many travelers to come. Cidonie Richards, Heather Aumann, Farah Rahim, Wendy Yee, Stephanie Zumbolo, Andrea Ballmer, Keli Thakur, and Elaine F.