tips for long flights with kids

Photo credit: Katrina Jakola / Southeast Asia TravelingMom

My husband and I have lived in Taiwan for a total of nine years, in two different cities, on two separate occasions. We have lived in Taipei for the past six years. We both taught English the first time around in Kaohsiung and moved back the second time for my husband’s job at an International school.

Along the way, we added three beautiful children and became a family of five. Our children are currently aged 10, 6 and 3. On average, our travels home to northern Ontario, Canada and back are in the 25 – 30 hours range of straight travel, each way.

It’s usually three legs with a solid 11 – 16 hour flight in the middle, depending on the direction of travel. We’ve done this at least 12 times and had many other days of travel  that, while not technically as long, felt that way.

When I’m preparing for this undertaking, I know that on the actual day I will activate survival mode.  It’s not an easy feat, this LONG day, but it’s definitely doable. And with some careful planning, it might not even be so completely terrible. If only someone would have pulled me aside years ago and shared these tidbits with me in a loud whisper and intensity in their eyes.

Don’t Assume Anything

tips for long flights with kids

Photo credit: Katrina Jakola / Southeast Asia TravelingMom

Thinking we were so wise, we purchased a seat for our 15-month-old, for a 16 hour flight from Toronto to Hong Kong, so we could bring her car seat on board.

When we arrived for check in, the lovely lady assisting us politely informed us that this particular aircraft was not compatible with car seats. Wait, what?

Who knew that was even a thing? I held in the tears, and calmly tried to plead our case. It was no use. It was a dreadfully awful 16 hours of passing a tired, cranky, squirming toddler back and forth between my husband and me. I just shivered in my seat a little, at the memory of it all. So, consider the comforts you need to make this trip the best it can be and then double check to ensure smooth sailing.

Enquire and think twice about booking on an airline that doesn’t have individual screens on the seat back in front of you for your long flight (yes, they still exist!) and don’t forget to request children’s meals.

Find a Really Great Travel Agent

Even with the deals you can find online, there’s a reason travel agents are still in business. It is their job to cover all the details like getting the best seats, on the best flights, with perfect layover timing. As a family, on this long of a journey, these things are key. Travel agents are there to serve you AND give competitive prices.

Don’t Be Shy

I’m not always the best with this, so I make my husband be the bold one most of the time. At check in, ask if it’s possible to have empty seats around you on board. Ask if there is a designated line for families at customs or security. (There isn’t always, but there’s a chance some kind soul with authority may redirect you to speed up your process.) And when it’s time for early boarding, request that one spouse/adult go ahead and set up “camp,” while the other waits at the gate with the children until the final call. It really never hurts to ask.

Follow an altered bedtime routine

Bring PJ’s and other essentials. Turn the lights and screens off, do a small bedtime routine and make it clear that it’s time to rest. If you’ve checked with your doctor, this is also a good time to give them something that will help them sleep.

A Few More Tips

  • AirplaneBring extra pacifiers. (And other special items)
  • Invest in children’s headphones.
  • Children’s shoes should be easy to remove and put on. (For security check points at some international airports, and in flight)
  • Check your stroller at the gate. That way it will be returned to you for any layovers.
  • Bring extra, full sets, of clothing rolled up in large, individual Ziploc bags. If there is any sort of accident, you can zip the soiled clothing up.
  • Research your airports ahead of time so you have an idea of where to find the indoor playgrounds and food on layovers.
  • Be prepared, with clothing choices, for temperatures on board and at your destination
  • Bring extra diapers and wipes. (So many wipes…) If your child was recently potty trained, consider a diaper in flight.
  • Anytime you’re not on a plane, get those kids moving!
  • Do what you need to do. My kids love long flights because they know they have unlimited electronics and that I will have plenty of their favourite snacks to choose from. (And maybe even a few special surprises.)
  • Finally, be super organized, and very intentional. I try to have one carry-on per child (older children carry their own backpacks and stow it at their feet) and one bag filled with snacks, chewable ibuprofen and motion sickness pills, a couple of books and simple activities. Make it easily accessible. Cut out the unnecessary stuff. Chances are you aren’t going to have any time to read that 3-pound novel anyway.

In a perfect world, your whole family would be feeling 100%, but if not, check out these tips for flying with a sick toddler.

You know your family. Take your time and think thoroughly about how to prepare for each and every one of you. This is time well spent!

Want more? Read more tips for long-haul flights and tips for dealing with jet lag in kids.

Wishing you happy and smooth travels.