Flying long haul can be stressful. Flying long haul with kids can bring stress levels to a whole new level.
It is best to do a little pre-planning. Here are a few helpful hints and ideas to get you through the airport and flights when travelling long haul with children.
Here are a few key things we’ve learned along the way.
- Before you go: Pre-order the kids’ meals
Most long-haul flight with duration of around six hour or more still serve meals in economy class for free. That is pretty much the end of the good news. Airline food has improved in recent years but not by much! What you are probably not going to hear, when you peel back the foil off the top of the plastic dish, is exclamations of delight. Luckily for travellers with children, most airlines generally allow you to pre order meals for kids when you are booking your flight. This is not only necessary, it is essential as they usually only bring as many meals as were ordered, so extras more than likely won’t be available.
- A bit of junk food is OK
Yes, yes. Junk food is bad and the world is getting fat. We all know that. But until you’ve experienced travelling with little people, you really can’t judge a parent for letting their kids rip into a pack of Oreo cookies. On long-haul flights always bring a few extra packs of snacks along with usual healthy snacks. But probably best to avoid chocolate and other high-sugar items, for obvious reasons. Now is not the time for a sugar high, but neither is it an occasion to be too rigid about nutrition. Regardless of what you feed your kids, the chewing makes the air pressure changes easier on their ears.
- Consider flying when they’re asleep
Some children can sleep anywhere whilst others just cannot. Overnight flights, where possible, are a good idea as it gives you a chance to get some sleep as well. Maybe even watch a movie as you enjoy your meal of rubbery poultry and a sneaky glass of wine. Also, try filling an entire 13-hour flight with fun but quiet activities. Now that’s a challenge!
- Take advantage of the early boarding
No point waiting around. When you hear the “We now invite passengers with small children to begin boarding at this time.” early boarding announcement, over the airport system, run for that gate. Grab your kids, grab your luggage and shuffle on to the plane. Having those additional few minutes to get things stored overhead, the kids settled into their seats and yourself seated is reward enough.
- Bulkhead seats aren’t for everyone
Everybody loves/wants the bulkhead seats. More leg room, space for bags and toys is always welcome. When flying with infants, it is one of the few places on the plane where bassinets can be set up with ease. Great and necessary if you have a baby but maybe think again if you child is older. The armrests tend not to lift up as they contain the tray tables. Trying to get a four-year-old to sleep usually means lifting up the armrest and having a pair of toddler legs spread across your lap for a few hours.
- Gadgets good, ear buds bad
One of the first things to check on any flight and especially on long haul, is that the in-flight entertainment is conducive to ‘little ears’. Generally airlines tend to distribute headphones but some give out earbuds. Whilst the former is usually suitable for kids to wear, earbuds tend to not stay in and will cause frustration for children trying to use them. It’s always good to pack a spare pair of headphones in your carry-on bag. The in-flight entertainment system is your best friend on a flight. If you’ve got an iPhone or an iPad, load it up with new kid-friendly apps your children have never tried before you fly.
- The element of surprise
Along with the snacks, games and other meltdown prevention essentials you’ve packed, it’s wise to throw in a few small surprises. Think noise-free goodies like stickers, new crayons, colouring books, puzzles, little cars and dolls. Another tip is to keep an eye on what kids are packing into their carry-on luggage too. The last thing you want in the airport is any embarrassing incidents when you get to the security gates because something inadvertently found its way into your kids’ trunki suitcase.
- Don’t forget who’s in control
Other passengers understand. Kids will be kids and noise is to expected. But it really is the parent’s job to make sure their child is occupied and not driving everyone crazy. Nobody will sympathise with the parent who lets their child run around the plane shrieking and kicking the backs of people’s seats. Before any journey, remind kids what will happen and what’s expected of them. Especially the part about having to sit down and wear their seat belt when the lights on. If a child is over three, they’ll usually understand. And if they don’t, a stern word from the flight attendant will likely scare them around to your way of thinking!
Want to earn bonus points with other surrounding passengers? Follow this dad’s lead and hand out sweets and ear plugs to your fellow travellers.
When the plane finally lands and taxis to the gate and after a long night of telling yourself “nearly there now,” there really is nothing like hearing those validating words from another disembarking passenger: “Your kids were really well-behaved.” It’ll bring a tear to your eye.
And you know what? If they did misbehave, so what…!
You did your best. J