The Ultimate Guide to Long Flights with Kids - Family Traveller (USA)

Successfully taking a long flight with kids is definitely a learned skill, but luckily with the right prep you can be a pro in no time.

No, you don’t have to start rigorous sleep-deprivation training or introduce your children to a whole new level of Victorian-style discipline in preparation of your family vacation to Europe. To ensure sleep-deprived plane tantrums are a thing of the past, work on managing your expectations, getting organized and training yourself to stay calm under any and all circumstances. That last one is certainly easier said than done, but we have some handy tips and advice that will help lead to smooth and meltdown-free travel.

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1. Book a night flight

The simplest tip can also be the most effective. Kids generally like to stick to their routine, and that includes falling asleep around the same time every night. Booking a flight in the evening ensures you’re much more likely to be travelling with kids who doze off during the flight instead of being wide awake and rambunctious for the entire 8-hour journey. And even if you aren’t able to get a full night’s rest in your seat, you’ll hopefully be able to at least get a few hours of calm and quiet to yourself.

2.  Select seats strategically

Booking seats when there’s two adults and one child is usually easy and straightforward. As long as you’ve made sure that your seats are next to each other, you’re good to go. But if you’ve got a few more kids to deal with, it can get trickier. The best strategy is usually to split up the children fairly between adults so you can equally share the responsibility of restless or tantruming children and enjoy the occasional peace and quiet that comes from sleeping ones. Try to sit either across the aisle from one another or in back-to-back rows with the adults in the aisle seats so you can easily switch places if necessary.

If you’re traveling with a baby, try to book a bulkhead seat. Not only is there usually more legroom, but they can be fitted with a child safety seat if necessary.

3.  Take advantage of family boarding

Many airlines offer pre-boarding options for parents traveling with young kids and babies. Make sure to listen up for the announcement inviting families to board so you can have extra time to get the kids settled and buckled in without having another passenger breathing down your neck. This will also ensure you have plenty of access to overhead space so you can keep all your bags within reach.

4.  Keep wipes and a change of clothes handy

If you’re travelling with young kids especially, messes are bound to happen. Make sure you’re prepared and armed with plenty of wipes and a spare set of clothes for both the kids and yourself that are easily accessible in your carry-on or hand luggage. That way if any accidents happen on the plane, you’re ready to go. It can also be useful to pack an extra sweater and socks in an easy-to-get-to place in case anyone gets cold on the flight.

5.  Bring plenty of snacks

Yes there will be in-flight meals, but children tend to get hungry between meals and there may be unanticipated delays or extra travel time. Not to mention that kids can be extra picky when their tired and cranky. Pack a mix of healthy, filling snacks and lighter, fun snacks to keep them satisfied. Don’t forget to pack them somewhere handy. You can also pass out snacks during takeoff and landing since chewing helps with the air pressure changes. It also doesn’t hurt to stock up on water once you’re through security to make sure everyone stays happy and hydrated.

6.  Relax screen-time rules

Yes, you normally like to limit screen-time for kids. But on long-haul flights, those apps and games can keep kids busy and quiet for several hours, ensuring some peace and quiet for you and your fellow travelers. Make sure their favorite apps are all downloaded and updated and that all devices are fully charged before leaving. You can also check to see if the plane you’ll be on will be equipped with outlets so you can recharge mid-flight, or you can if you’ll need to pack a portable charger to make sure their device doesn’t die in the middle of their favorite movie.

Non-screen games and toys can also work wonders. You might even consider buying and wrapping a new toy before the flight. Unwrapping a gift adds some excitement and a new toy may better hold their attention. Wrapped gifts can also work as bribes in emergency meltdown situations.

7.  Book an airport transfer

The last thing you want to do when you get off an extremely long plane ride is deal with dragging the kids through a busy airport while transporting a mountain of luggage. To make this part as simple as possible, pre-book a transfer for your arrival to your hotel. It’s a small detail that can make a big difference when you finally arrive.