Ten Tips for Enjoying (not just surviving) Long Haul Flights with Kids!

Our family just took our first transpacific flight with our four kids (ages 9, 6, 3, and 10 months) and I was SO NERVOUS!  Anyone who talked to me in the week before we left had to listen to me agonize over which toys to pack and what activities to bring and worry over how I’d entertain the baby for such a long flight.  I was so worried!  But guess what?   IT was TOTALLY fine and WAY easier than I imagined.  I thought it was going to be torture, but it was actually really fun!

So here’s my two cents:  Kids are a lot of work no matter where you are.  However, on an international flight, they have a cool TV right in the seat back in front of them AND someone else prepares and brings all the food.  So it was actually easier than regular daily life.  I didn’t have to cook or clean or mediate any arguments over what to watch on TV.  It was pretty great!

I did pick up a few great tips from friends along the way, and even though I’m still a long flight novice, I’ll share what I learned!

        1.  Consider calling the airline and asking for a seat in the bulkhead row with the basinet.  Now if your baby is anything like mine, they won’t sleep in the basinet at all.  However, there is a TON of legroom at the bulkhead seat and the basinet makes a great place to put all the things you don’t want the baby getting into.  We used the bulkhead floor space as a little play area and put all of the toys and things that I was trying to hand him one at a time in the basinet.  They were easy for me to reach, but weren’t rolling all over the floor and getting everywhere either.  Another nice thing about the bulkhead seat is that other people with babies will likely be sitting there too!  It’s nice not feeling like the only one with a baby and you can even help each other a little!  The person next to us on our flight home lent me a wash cloth when my baby flung chicken and rice all over me and she saved our day!  The downside to the bulkhead row is that you can’t put the armrests up.  This can make it less comfortable for a toddler or older child to sleep because they like to put the arm rest up and sleep on you.  We decided to put the kids who would want to lay out on the seat to nap in the row behind the bulkhead row. This way we were all together, but the 3 and 6 year old could put up their armrests and lean on their dad.
        2. Bring a baby carrier for any kids that you typically have to carry if they get tired.  A baby carrier for the baby is a so helpful!  See this blog post for my favorite carry to use on an airplane.  It can be really helpful to bring along a carrier for a toddler or preschooler too.  Our daughter is 3.5 and is an awesome walker.  We don’t need to wear her often at home.  But when we had been traveling for 24 hours and still needed to make it through immigration and find our hotel shuttle, our toddler sized carrier was really helpful!  For tips on how to tell if your child fits the toddler size, check out this post.  IMG_2882
        3. When you’re in the airport waiting for your flight, try to keep everyone awake and get them some exercise!  Some airports have nice little play areas that you can find while you are waiting.  If not, let the kids walk around at the gate.  Take them to look out the window at all of the planes, etc.  Don’t keep them confined during this time. They’ll have to sit still long enough on the plane!  Try to keep them moving.
        4. Feed the baby or give them something to suck on during take off.  If you kept the baby awake in the airport and let them move around, odds are good that they will just fall asleep during take off.  There’s so much white noise during take off and feeding or sucking is very calming and prevents ear pain.  If you’re lucky, you’ll have a sleeping baby before the plane even hits cruising altitude.
        5. Feed the baby or give them something to suck on during landing as well.
        6. When you’re deciding what to pack, think about the things your kids do every day.  The kid who only eats chicken nuggets shaped like a dinosaur will do that on a plane.  The kid who always spills her drink and then refuses to wear a slightly wet shirt, will do that on the plane.  You know what those things are for your kids and you can prepare for that.  Pack a cup with a lid and a spare shirt for the drink spiller.  Pack familiar food for the picky eater.
        7. Don’t worry too much about how to entertain a baby!  Remember that to a baby, everything is new and interesting. I was really worried about how to entertain our baby and packed a million toys.  However, he didn’t play with ANY of them.  He just threw any toy I handed him.  He did spend an hour playing with the airline headphones and another hour velcoing and unvelcroing his sister’s shoe.  He enjoyed tasting all of the airplane food and spend some time removing all of the magazines from the pouch in front of our seat.  He slept a TON too.  Instead of all of those toys, I wish I had just packed a nice pillow so my arm wouldn’t fall asleep holding him for so long while he slept.
          IMG_2742
        8. Get a nice pair of kids headphones.  On an international flight, bigger kids will probably spend the entire time enjoying the in flight entertainment, but the airline headphones do not fit kids’ heads well at all!  Get a pair that’s sized for kids. I also recommend getting a headphone splitter. if you’re flying with more than one child.  If one device’s battery dies, or two kids want to watch the same thing, you can just plug both headphones into one device.
        9. If you think there’s a chance your flight will not be full, you can try choosing seats that leave an empty seat between you and anyone else you are flying with.  One of our flights was a domestic flight that connected to our international flight.   I was planning to sit next to my 9 year old daughter.  When I booked the seats, I put her by the window and me by the aisle.  I left the seat in the middle empty. On one flight, someone was in the middle seat and I just offered him the aisle or the window and he was more than happy not to have to sit between us.  On the next flight, no one was in that seat at all and we had an entire extra seat’s space to stretch out.
        10. Remember that for the kids, the flight and airport experience itself is exciting and magical!  For adults, it can be just something to get through in order to get to the destination.  But for kids, it’s exciting and amazing!  You’re hurtling through the clouds in a hunk of metal!  Be positive and excited yourself.  Take the time to show them the planes taking off and landing when you’re at the airport and to watch all of the cool airport trucks and machines.

          Make a few laps on the moving sidewalk at the airport and just enjoy the experience with them!  After spending an amazing two weeks in Japan, my 6 year old said the best part was watching the airport trucks.  🙂  It’s all magical and amazing to kids!IMG_3119 (1)

I hope your next trip with your kids is amazing and that you found something helpful here!  🙂
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