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Survival Guide: Long Flights with Kids

Navigate long flights with kids like a pro with this survival guide

When you have in-laws who live on the other side of the world, long flights with little ones are just a part of life. My first trans-Atlantic flight with an infant was from Seattle to England to Spain, in November no less. We survived, but I sure wish I’d had access to advice from more seasoned parent travelers. My second child had his passport photo taken when he was less than a week old. His eyes weren’t even open in the picture! Let’s suffice it to say, I have some personal experience in this area.

So if you are dreading the thought of what a long-haul flight means with small kids, don’t fret. Many have gone before you. Some simple preparation can reduce the anxiety that comes with the unpredictability of travel. In this article, we’ll share some tried and true as well as new tips to keep the little ones entertained, comfortable, and calm during those hours in the air. Whether you’re an experienced traveling parent, nanny, or caregiver, there is something for you here.

1. Plan Ahead

This seems so obvious but with the general chaos and changing rules that come with travel these days, it’s always good to have a refresher. When traveling, kid’s schedules are thrown so out of whack (not to mention time zones)! The key to a successful flight is going to be to plan as much as possible. Be mindful that kids feel the stress of the adults around them, so the more prepared you are, the more chill the kiddos will be.

Start by considering the following:

  • Flight time: Choose a flight that aligns with your child’s sleep schedule or when they are generally calmer. Would this be a night flight? Do it.
  • Seating arrangement: Opt for seats with extra legroom or near the bathrooms for convenience. Is it an extra $27 bucks per seat? Do it.
  • Entertainment: Pack one or two favorite books (hint, kids love to hear the same things over and over so no need to bring a library). Bring small and electronic devices to keep them engaged, and remember headphones if needed. Small kiddos are often fine with just the images. Don’t overthink it too much, but do cover the basics. Try to bring things they have never seen before, so it will be more of a novelty when you bring items out.
  • Snacks: Bring a variety of reliable snacks to nosh on, and maybe a few they have never had before as a a special treat. (So long as they are not surgery ones that may give them a burst of unneeded energy).

2. Keep Them Entertained

Imagine telling your kid to sit in their high chair for 9 hours. Would this be boring for them? Frustrating? Now we can see from their point of view what a long flight is like. Here are some affordable and fun ideas.

  • Coloring books and crayons: Let their creativity flow as they color and draw.
  • Interactive games: Bring along small games that can be played on tray tables.
  • Movies and shows: Load their favorite movies or shows on a tablet or portable DVD player.
  • Tape: I learned this from another Mom eons ago. When my kids were toddlers I would take a roll of tape and let the kids play with it. They would take pieces off and put them on their shirt, and their hands, stack one piece on top of the other, peel them off, start over. Who knew this could be so entertaining? If you dole it out conservatively, it will last a surprisingly long time.

3. Ensure Comfort

Comfort is crucial for kids during any form of travel, but on a long flight, it requires even more thought.

Tips to keep them cozy:

  • Dress in layers: Airplane temperatures can vary, so dress your child in comfortable layers that can be added and removed as you go.
  • Pack a blanket and pillow: Bring familiar items from home to help them relax and get some rest.
  • Comfortable shoes: Choose shoes that are easy to slip on and off during security checks and for restroom breaks.
  • Noise-canceling headphones: Reduce cabin noise and help your child sleep better with headphones designed for kids.
  • Don’t lose it: Consider getting some velcro and tagging the most precious items to your child with a way to easily attach them to your luggage to ensure they make it to your destination.

4. Stay Calm and Positive

Little ones pick up on their parents’ anxiety, so it’s important to stay calm and positive throughout the journey. Remind yourself of the following:

  • Start early: Build in a healthy amount of extra time so you aren’t tearing through the airport or fretting about long lines. The kids pick up on this and it can start a cycle of you fretting, and them crying, and before long everyone is distressed. Not needing to rush will reduce the chances of this happening.
  • Be patient: Long flights can be challenging, but maintaining patience will help create a more relaxed atmosphere. Your little ones will also take in how you treat others along the journey (be they airline workers or other travelers).
  • Engage with them:
  • Play games, have conversations, and show interest in their activities to keep their spirits up.
  • Reward system: Create a small reward system to motivate good behavior during the flight.

By following these tips, you’ll be better prepared to tackle long flights with kids. Remember, the key is planning, keeping them entertained, ensuring their comfort, and maintaining a positive attitude throughout the journey.

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