One of my favourite things about living in London is having so many different countries just a short flight or train ride away. In two hours or less, you can hop over to Berlin or Budapest, Stockholm or San Sebastián. We take advantage of this proximity whenever we have a spare weekend! But when we have the luxury of a long time off, I am willing to spend more time in transit. I won’t pretend that long haul travel with babies is fun, because it’s not even fun without them. But with the right preparations, there is no question that it is worth it!
Preparing for the Journey
- When you are booking your ticket, take your children’s schedules into account. For long haul flights, always book the red-eye. The kids are likely to sleep for several hours, or even a night’s worth, if it is during their normal bed time.
- If the flight departs around their meal time, make sure they have eaten before they board. Airplane food might not come quickly enough, and might not be something they’re happy to eat. There’s no way you can bring enough snacks to make up for a missed meal! (see photo above)
- Do not attempt to delay nap time for too long. We made this mistake once, hoping that Auden would nap on the plane. Instead, she was so over-tired and miserable that she had a complete meltdown in the security line and finally passed out in the lounge… twenty minutes before we had to leave for the gate.
- Book the bulkhead seats. This might mean calling the airline, as some don’t allow those seats to be reserved online.
- Your child can use the legroom to play around, or at the very least, you can spare someone from a battery of kicks on their seat.
- Get the bassinet installed as long as the airline allows (8 months on some, and weight-dependent on others). Note: Call the airline to see if you can book the bassinet. Some airlines give it to whichever family shows up at the gate first!
- If your child is old enough to understand, start setting the expectations ahead of time. Explain what an amazing adventure you’re going on, and tell them how long the plane ride will be in terms they can understand.
- For example, “We’ll be in the airplane for breakfast, storytime, snack, naptime, lunch and an extra special treat! Plus, you can read a new story and do some colouring!”
- Even better, if it’s the red-eye, you can make it very clear that after a snack, story and trip to the bathroom, it will be time to sleep very nicely so that they wake up ready for adventure.
- If you’re bringing an iPad, make sure it’s charged and the entertainment is available offline.
In the Airport and Plane
- Don’t be afraid to (politely) ask the TSA agent to change his or her gloves before inspecting your child’s bottles and breastmilk. Similarly, be conscious of what you put directly into those bins.
- You know you need to get to the airport early, but what do you do if things go smoothly and you’re left with a long time before boarding? Find the children’s play area! Let the kids run around a bit before you trap them in a confined space with a whole bunch of rules. Be sure to wash their hands (and yours) when you leave.
- If you have lounge access, use it. Check whether your credit card or employer offers Priority Pass benefits, or if you have any airline lounge benefits. Lounge access is a complete game-changer for travelling with kids. Everyone can get food, it’s much more comfortable than the gate area, and you can take some snacks to go.
- If you don’t have lounge access but you’re stuck on an awkwardly long layover — too short to leave the airport but too long for a simple gate switch — consider buying lounge access. This is especially true when your children can enter for free.
- Don’t assume you should board first just because young families are given the option. Think about whether your kids will be happiest having an extra few minutes to settle into their seats, or whether you should let them wander around the gate area as long as possible.
- When you get to your seats, sanitise everything: armrests, tray tables, windows and walls. I usually put hand sanitising spray or gel on a couple of wipes and go to town. Your kids will want to caress every gross surface and then they’ll start rubbing their eyes and trying to eat snacks…
- Put some Neosporin in everyone’s nostrils. This will help to keep your nasal passages bacteria free as well as preventing the dry, cracked skin that is susceptible to infection. If you’re a parent, this is definitely not the grossest thing you’ve done, so don’t get uppity with me.
- If you put milk or juice in your child’s bottle or sippy cup, ask the flight attendant to rinse it with boiling water (or to give you a cup of boiling water so you can do it yourself). That way, it won’t get rancid by the time you land.
- Keep your carrier accessible. You may end up needing to do the bouncing-swaying-waltzing routine up and down the aisles.
- Start with your “lowest-value” activities and work your way up, with walks up and down the aisle between every activity. For example, your entertainment progression might be:
- Airline magazine: there are so many games to play here, depending on the age of your child. They probably associate magazines with grown-ups, so it’s quite exciting to get their very own copy. Find all the flowers, find all the shoes, find all the foods, which flowers/ shoes/ foods do you like most, what colours are they, how many are there, etc. Or they can just crumple the pages with impunity.
- New reading book, then activity books
- Screens are always last. Do everything you can before giving them screen time. This isn’t an issue of being judgemental! In my experience, kids will get tired of the screen at some point, and it’s hard to go down the value ladder. You don’t want them to get bored 2 hours into your day-long expedition.
- Check out the activities and tips I’ve suggested in my Air Travel and Train Travel posts!
- Take the trip in chunks. Don’t try to sail through 15 hours at once. Every half hour of calm is a win! If your child is doing something you find really annoying, but it isn’t fundamentally problematic, let them entertain themselves. When your little scientist is experimenting with raising and lowering their armrest or window shade, take a deep breath and be grateful they’re not bugging you for more snacks.
- If you think their teeth, ears or sinuses will bother them, bring carry-on-sized medicine. Any sort of teething pain, earaches, head colds or sore throats will be much worse in the dry plane air, and with takeoff/landing pressure changes. Breast or bottle feeding also helps with ear pressure, if your child is not weaned.
- If there are other kids around the same age, ask their parents if they’re interested in doing an activity swap at some point. Try not to let your child hear you, in case the other family isn’t comfortable with the idea. If they’re happy to share, you’ve just doubled your entertainment arsenal!
- I always bring one comfort item on trips. You can see my son’s leopard lovey in the photo above. Keep it in the bottom of your carry-on so that you can spare it from airplane filth if they don’t end up needing it, but at least you have it in a pinch!
Finally, be courteous, polite and extremely thankful with the flight attendants. They are, after all, in the service business, and the vast majority of them will be happy to help a gracious passenger. Maybe your kids will be snoozy and calm and eager to please, and all your worries will melt into the warm cockles of your heart. But if they are restless and contrary and generally… well… child-like, you will be grateful for a friendly face at the end of the aisle.
What are the tricks that helped your little ones on long haul flights? Please share in the comments!