A guide to flying long-haul with kids

Lisa Atkinson
4th January 2017

There’s a definite knack to flying long haul with kids and mostly it’s down to good prep.

Fear not, you don’t have to start rigorous sleep-deprivation training or introduce your children to a whole new level of Victorian-style discipline in advance of two weeks family fun in the Orlando. It’s more a question of managing your expectations, getting organised and training yourself to stay supernaturally calm under all circumstances. That last one’s trickiest of all.

Our friends at Thomas Cook Airlines have been taking families on holiday to far flung destinations for years and they’ve seen just about everything. So who better to share some wisdom on how to survive long haul and hopefully even have a few happy moments in the mix?


1. Try to book a night flight

Sounds deceptively simple? Most younger kids are pretty much little creatures of habit and night-time is sleep-time. That’s certainly the theory anyway and it mostly holds true. The likelihood of you snoozing the flight away is fairly slim, but hopefully children will doze off with their body clock and let you catch your breath – or a few minutes of the in-flight movie.

2.  Select seats strategically

Two adults and one child is a simple equation on most long haul flights: just make sure you’re assigned seats together when you book.

Add a few more kids into the mix and the rule is to divide and conquer. Split children equally (or as fairly as possible) between adults and that way you can share wriggly kids, enjoy sleepy ones and diffuse any potential tantrums (yours or theirs).

Select a bulkhead seat if you’re travelling with a baby, there’s more legroom and an airline child safety seat can be fitted if you need one: good if you’re flying solo and want five minutes to eat or shake out your arms and legs.

Find out more about seat choices with Thomas Cook Airlines 

3.  Think about staying over at a stopover

Any flight between seven and twelve hours is long haul, more than that and it’s known as ultra-long haul – just as gruelling as it sounds with kids in tow. One way to cope is to spend a couple of days at a stopover.

Psychologically this makes the journey seem shorter. It usually helps reboot enthusiasm and you can book another night flight for the final leg. Plus, you’ve a better chance of arriving on holiday ready to play, rather than sleep for a week.

4.  The sheer genius of airport transfers

Landing at a busy airport with tired kids in tow and a bundle of luggage can be almost as tiring as a long-haul flight itself. You can sidestep this patch of misery quite easily by pre-booking a transfer from arrivals to your hotel. It might seem like a small detail before you travel but it will feel like a huge deal when you finally arrive.

5.  Relax rules on screen-time

On long haul, all those devices you normally limit suddenly become your best friend. Whatever your position on games, apps and movies back home, just let it slide. Download more of everything than you’ll ever possibly need before you travel. Make sure phones and tablets are charged to the hilt and arm yourself to the teeth with emergency back-up – the child who can’t concentrate long enough to eat a bowl of cereal, can cry relentlessly for six hours solid over a dead battery.

Kids love noisy games, other passengers don’t. Compromise by investing in over-the-head, headphones with volume control, instead of earbuds.

6.  Resort to shameless bribery, it’s all in a good cause

Busy bag or just plain bribery? Call it what you will, but a small sack of wrapped kid’s pressies can buy you a few minutes peace at regular intervals during a long haul flight.

Choose a mix of games, puzzles and toys, ration them out and always keep a few big-ticket surprises back, in case of looming meltdown.

Don’t forget to do the same for the return journey. If you’re travelling with under fours, you can often get away with simply re-wrapping the outward-bound gifts – a high-risk strategy with any child over five.

7.  Keep warm and don’t forget the lavender oil

Cabin air can be too cool for comfort occasionally, pack extra jumpers in your carry-on, lightweight wool baby blankets are good for toddlers and slipper socks can work for recreating the night time feel – even in broad daylight.

Lavender essential oil is a miracle on a long haul flight. It soothes over-excited kids, helps restless little ones doze off and smells nice too. Put a drop or two on a hanky and waft around as required. Don’t put oil directly on to skin or too close to eyes. Usually available in 10ml bottles so no liquid allowance issues at security.

Find out more about flying long haul with Thomas Cook Airlines

Like this? Try 7 ways make short work of short haul flights with kids

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