Flying long-haul is challenging on your own, let alone with kids. I have done the London-Auckland route a fair few times with varying ages of kids and learnt from my own mistakes. So I have put together a list of my top tips for surviving long-haul flights with kids.
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1) Plan ahead:
Planning is key for surviving long-haul flights with kids. I have made the mistake many times before of not being prepared enough. Ensuring you have considered all aspects of the flight from timings to meals to baggage to where to keep your passports. You cannot be too prepared.
Long-haul flights are a slog and when you are tired it can all feel so overwhelming. Being as prepared as possible will help it go more smoothly and you may even get some sleep.
2) Pick the best airline and flight times
Depending on the route and pricing you may not have a huge amount of choice on which airline you choose. But if you can, select the ones with the best child-friendly reputations. In my personal experience Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand are some of the best in terms of how they treat families travelling with young children. But do your own research as it really does make a difference to how your journey goes.
It is so much easier to travel on an overnight flight so that the children are ready to sleep. If you are doing a long flight like UK to New Zealand you can’t have the whole journey for them to sleep. But I found it helped leaving in the evening on the first flight helped as they were still tired enough to sleep again on the second flight.
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3) Pre-book the kids meals
This may sound really obvious to some of you but I have made the mistake of leaving it to the last minute and being too late to book the kids’ meals for the plane journey. This meant we all got our meals at the same time so I was juggling helping them with a full tray of food on my lap. Plus most of the food was not suitable for kids.
Airlines usually have a cut-off point 24-48 hours before the flight to book the kids’ inflight meals so make sure you do this in plenty of time.
4) Bring a pram as well as a carrier even for slightly older toddlers
The distance you have to walk to get to the gates can be really far, and if you have small children you have to be prepared so you don’t end up carrying them so far. This is especially important if you have a layover. Some airports do have plastic prams for children but these aren’t always available.
You can take prams to the gate and the airline will store them for you but in my experience, you aren’t always guaranteed to get them back for the layover. There are prams you can get that fold up small enough to go in the overhead compartments such as the Micralite ProFold. You just need to check they meet your airline’s baggage requirements.
You can use a baby carrier/sling of course and that is a great option to have as well, but having the pram helps with carrying everything and allows your child to sleep during the layover.
5) Pack lots of snacks!
Snacks, snacks and more snacks. Even though food is provided on the plane, chances are the kids won’t like enough of the meal and then will be hungry 10 minutes later. I recommend snack trays or bead trays turned into snack trays for a variety of snacks. Also, fruit pouches are useful even for older children so you know they are at least getting some kind of nutritious food during the journey!
Lollies or something else for kids to suck for when the plane is ascending and descending can help with the ear pressure. It is also worth packing infant/child paracetamol for the journey, either the pouches or tablets you can now get.
6) Plan for how the kids are going to sleep comfortably
Sleep for everyone is key for surviving long-haul flights with kids. Some kids manage to sleep fine in the seats but for those that need some help there are a few tricks that you can use to make their sleep a bit more comfortable.
Having somewhere to rest their feet can be a big help. There are some handy gadgets that can help such as Fly Legs Up which create a little hammock for your kids to rest their legs in. I have also heard you can use a sheet and some pegs to create something similar but I haven’t tried this out. There are also kids’ suitcases that can be turned into leg rests. With all these options some airlines may not allows them so check before investing.
7) Bring a variety of entertainment options
Older children might be happy watching films and playing games on the inflight entertainment system for hours on end but even so it is good to have other options. A tablet with pre-loaded films and games is of course a go to, along with suitable headphones. Sticker books, colouring, playdough/clay, lacing toys, threading large beads will keep them occupied for at least a bit.
For babies, having a variety of shakers and sensory toys is a great idea. You can stick toys with suckers onto the windows and tray tables.
Another tip I was given was to wrap up a variety of new small toys for the kids to unwrap at various points along the journey.
Walking around the plane and talking to the air crew is another time killer. On our last flight with Singapore Airlines the staff were great. They gave my four-year-old a tour of the galley and answered her millions of questions. Again, another reason why choosing the right airline is key.
8) Ease up on rules on healthy eating and screen time for the journey
When you are travelling for such a long time in a tiny space you just need to do what you can to get through it as easily as possible. If that means your kids have hours of screen time and eat lots of chocolate then so be it. In the grand scheme of things it won’t matter. Just make sure you have their toothbrushes packed in your carry on!
Hopefully these tips for surviving long-haul flights with kids will help you plan your journey. For more travel tips and destination guides specifically for families take a look at the Big World Tiny Feet Travel page.