I don’t think I’ve ever met a parent who looks forward to flying with babies, toddlers, or little kids. Nobody wants to be “that parent” on the flight with the baby who cries the entire flight or the toddler who kicks the seat of the passenger in front of him for hours on end. It’s a stressful and daunting concept for many. Personally, the first time I had to fly with my oldest son I was sick with stress for weeks over it. I’m a nervous flyer as it is, so facing two hours of being trapped on an airplane with a ten month old (admittedly difficult) baby made me cringe. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, in fact that first flight taught me a lot about what to do and NOT to do when flying with a baby, but we did survive and went on to travel more extensively over the next seven years of parenthood so far.
While our first six years were filled with flights of only 2 to 3 hours each, we decided to do something completely insane last year and fly with three kids ages 1, 4, and 6 from Florida to Maui and back. Everyone we knew thought we were crazy. At one point we got so many comments from our friends and family that I started over agonizing about it and nearly canceled our trip, but I’m so glad I didn’t! Not only did we have the most amazing family vacation we have ever had, but the flights were not nearly as awful as I had made them out to be in my mind. We just booked a return trip for this June, when our kids will be 2, 5, and 7, so it got me thinking about preparing for another long haul flight and ways I can improve from last time. Below I’m going to share everything I learned on how to make a long haul flight with kids as easy as possible!
Research research research!
I honestly love doing research. I can’t imagine planning a trip (especially one with kids) without researching every little possible detail I can beforehand. I spent an obsessive amount of time researching flight options, reading articles about family travel, pintresting ideas for keeping kids entertained on flights, you name it I researched it. After lots of searching I was able to find the combination of flights I thought would be the perfect fit for our family. Thanks to expedia’s multi city flight search option, I was able to save about $800 on our flight total by booking 4 one way tickets per family member instead of round trip flights. We were able to fly to LA direct from Ft Lauderdale, sleep overnight by the airport, and then fly direct to Maui the next morning. Our return trip would work the same way in reverse. I was thrilled to know that I’d be able to avoid being on a plane with the kids any longer than six hours at a time, AND avoid sitting around an airport during a layover! Plus we’d be SAVING money doing it this way! Even with the cost of the airport hotel, we still saved around $600 all together compared to the least expensive round trip fares I was able to find. I was super relieved to have everything work out this way.
Choose flight times and seats wisely, even if it means paying a higher fare
It will typically cost more to book a flight at certain ideal times of the day, but did you also know that a lot of airlines are now charging extra for seat selections and carry on bags? When searching for flights, keep in mind that you may wind up having to pay a bit more when traveling with kids to make your flight with kids safe and tolerable. Many people are surprised to find out that if they book standard economy that they can, in fact, be separated from their kids for the flight. This is not something you want happening for a 9 hour trans continental haul. While it’s almost impossible to plan around nap times and dining times when you’re facing a 12 hour travel day, it’s best to at least start off the adventure with a child who is well rested and well fed. Try to book a morning flight and be sure they eat a good meal. The happier they are boarding the plane, the longer they’ll (hopefully) stay that way! When choosing seats for your family, consider how you believe your child will react to flying.
Is he likely to kick the seat in front of him? – If your traveling with another adult, try to seat one adult in front of your kid so at least he’s kicking the seat of your travel partner instead of a stranger. I always try to put my toddler behind my husband. He takes the other child (now children) in the row in front of myself and the baby. This arrangement works much better for us than sitting across the aisle from one another. Not only does it solve the kicking issue, but it also allows us to pass things we’ve carried on back and forth to each other, and makes it easier to help each other watch the kids when one of us has to get up to use the restroom.
Does she tend to get motion sickness? – The back of the plane tends to have more turbulence than closer to the front. My son gets motion sick and I always try to get seats as close to the front as possible, as well as packing children’s dramamine.
Have a restless kid who wants to get up every five minutes? – Consider placing adults in the window seat and the kids closer to the aisle so they can get out to use the restroom on their own or just stand and stretch their legs every so often.
Keep in mind as well that if you are carrying on a carseat for your child that they must have a reserved window seat per FAA requirements. Which leads to my next tip
Book a seat for your baby, and bring on the carseat
This is something I strongly recommend for all flights, not just long ones. Babies under 2 are able to fly for free as lap infants. While this is a great way to save money when traveling as a family, the safety and inconvenience factor just really gets to me on this. I know this is a hot button argument in the parenting community, but I am firmly on the side of safety above financial savings. Why does my luggage have to be securely under my seat for turbulence but my precious child is loose in the cabin to potentially fly out of my arms? Especially since FAA regulations require all infants to be removed from a baby carrier or wrap during take off or landing. On our flight to Hawaii, I took my son out of his seat for a while when he was getting restless and uncomfortable. The seatbelt sign was off and I put him on my lap to watch the tv and eat a snack. Suddenly we hit a bump as he was wiggling around and his head flew into the tv screen in front of me. Luckily he was fine other than a little bump and a few minutes of crying, but things like this happen all the time on airplanes. You never know when you could hit a pocket of air and get knocked around.
Even if safety were not an issue, I would still strongly recommend getting your baby their own seat for your own convenience. My kids do not like to sit still, and the thought of wrestling them in my lap for hours and hours on end sounds like the worst possible form of torture imaginable. Luckily none of my kids minded being in their carseat, and they actually sleep much better if they are strapped into one, so this made our flights a lot more tolerable as well. Even if my son fell asleep while nursing or laying on me, I was able to transfer them to their seat, strap them in, and have the freedom to enjoy the rest of my flight with my arms and lap free. Another advantage is not having to share the inflight screen and tray. My kids were happy to watch cartoons and eat or color on their own tray in front of their car seat.
There are great options available to make it easier to bring your carseat through the aiport, like backpacks specifically for carseats. We personally love these carseat carts. Our kids like to sit in the seat and be wheeled through the aiport, or we put extra carry ons in there and use it as a make shift luggage carrier. If you really don’t want to have to bring a car seat, or you have a child who truly hates being in their car seat and will likely scream the whole flight if confined to one, there are other options available to make a flight safer for a toddler over age 1 who’s flying in their own seat. The Cares Safety Restraint System for instance is small easy to pack harness that simply slides over the back of the seat and straps small kids to their airline seat with a chest clip and lap restraint similar to a car seat. This allows your little one to feel like a big kid with freedom and space in their seat, while keeping them safely restrained from wiggling around or being thrown forward in turbulence.
Comfort is so important on long haul flights. You could be spending an entire day strapped into a tiny seat and even the youngest and most fit of passengers are likely to get achy and uncomfortable. Plus younger kids will likely need to sleep at some point in the flight and that can be extremely difficult in an upright economy seat. That’s why these inflatable foot rests were the best thing I have ever done when it came to travel! They are small and fit easily into a carry on bag, and they inflate in just minutes. When fully inflated, they take up the empty space between your seat and the one in front of you, essentially turning your seat into a bed for kids! On our first flight from Florida to LA, we left on a 7pm flight, which is my kid’s normal bed time. We got to the airport early and had a nice sit down meal, then changed the kids into their PJs for the flight. Dressing the kids comfortably is key. Nobody will judge you for getting onto a plane with kids in PJs if it means peace and quiet for everyone else! My two older kids flew without car seats and we used the footrests and they were able to comfortably lay down and sleep, while still strapped into their lap belts for the entire flight. They’re great for adults as well. I tend to get a lot of lower back pain on long flights so I inflated mine half way and used it as a foot rest to angle my legs up. It reduced my back pain and prevented the usual swelling I tend to get in my legs and feet when flying. Along with my inflatable travel pillow, I was super comfortable and was able to get a good amount of sleep. The best part was all of these items fit nicely into my carry on along with my electronics and snacks!
Pack each kid their own carry on
You’re going to need way too much stuff to be able to fit into your own carry on. Not only will packing each kid their own carry on bag help with lightening your own load, it also allows the kids easy access to everything they’ll want during the flight on their own. This is especially handy if you can’t sit directly next to all of your kids (as is my case with 3). Being responsible for their own bag also makes me kids feel special and important and makes the entire experience more exciting for them. Some parents like to get their kids their own special little suitcase, which is a great idea, but we just use their own school backpacks. Below I’m going to list everything to pack in your carry ons to make your trip go as smoothly as possible:
WHAT TO PACK
Diapers, Wipes, Bottles, Etc
If you are traveling with a baby or toddler, you’ll obviously need diapers and wipes, baby food, bottles, formula, etc. Plan to pack at least double the amount of what you think you’d need in the amount of hours you’ll be traveling. Delays are common and you don’t want to find yourself stranded in an airport for hours and hours short on supplies. We once had a 10 hour delay for what was supposed to be just a 3 hour flight and I ran out formula for our son. I was seriously panicked and had no way of leaving to go get more. Fortunately in this case the flight was eventually cancelled and we had to go home and return the next morning, but I learned my lesson and now always pack extra of the essentials.
This is good advice for anyone traveling, children or not. You should always carry any prescription medications in a carry on bag incase your luggage gets lost. When traveling with my kids I always pack children’s Tylenol, Benadryl, Dramamine, and Nasal saline spray. My kids are prone to ear pain, motion sickness, and sinus issues while flying and I like to be prepared.
A ton of snacks
A hungry child is NOT a happy child. I learned the hard way before that packing extra snacks for a flight is our key to happiness. My kids get straight up hangry if they are not constantly eating. It’s like having three giant hummingbirds. We learned the hard way on several flights and long car drives that we need to always have a massive supply of snacks on hand or we are guaranteed serious child meltdowns. I’m talking three times the amount they would normally have on an average day at home. For shorter flights I might just pop into one of the airport stores and grab some cheese its and treat them to some candy, but for any flight over 2 hours I need a better plan of action. For our flight to Hawaii, I strategically planned out which snacks my kids like that I knew would best control their blood sugar and keep them from majorly crashing. These Annie’s granola bars for example are one of my kids favorite healthy snacks so I packed a whole bunch of them. I also made sure to include a lot of their non healthy faves to keep them happy, and I let them each pick out one treat from the airport store. Their special treat is extra incentive for them to behave on board. We save it for a while and they know they won’t get it if they aren’t on their best behavior. I packed the snacks from home into individual freezer sized bags and packed them in each kid’s own carry on so he was responsible for his own snacks. I brought on an insulated snack bag and packed sandwiches, string cheese, and yogurts as well which I dealt out myself at the appropriate times.
An extra pair of clothes for each person
Kids are notorious for spills and accidents. The last thing you want is to be hours away from your destination and watch your kid spill an entire box of juice all over himself and be stuck sitting in wet clothes the entire trip. The same can be said about toilet accidents. Sometimes the seat belt sign can be on for hours and little ones can’t get to the bathroom on time. For those traveling with babies and toddler, diaper blow outs and leaks can happen at anytime. I once had to change my son’s clothes twice on a flight because his diaper kept leaking! Even for older kids who aren’t likely to make messes, anything can happen and you want to be prepared.
Long distance flights are one time where I strongly suggest letting go of any hang ups you may have about screen time limits. No matter how many other toys, snacks, books, etc you might pack, nothing is going to keep even the littlest passengers quiet and entertained as well as electronics. It’s just a fact. We loaded up tablets for each kid with free Netflix downloads, movies that can be watched without internet connection, which is like the best thing ever! I spent several weeks researching and downloading a large variety of apps that work without internet as well. We also brought along our Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS that the older boys took turns playing games on. Between all three items they were happily entertained for hours and hours. The batteries on these things won’t last for an entire flight, and not every airplane seat comes with charging ports, so we also bring along a few external batteries to keep the kids tablets charged.
Noise Controlled Headphones
Noise controlled headphones are important for kids. Their ears are more sensitive than adults and listening to their above mentioned games and movies at a volume that’s too high can cause permanent damage to their hearing. When you’re facing hours and hours of usage, the noise control becomes that much more important. After a lot of research I went with these foldable, child size noise controlled headphones by Onanoff
They fold up small and come with their own storage bag to pack easily into a child size carry on. They come in a variety of colors and are customizable with a variety of included stickers. The cords include splitters to allow two children to share one device (awesome!!!) and includes a microphone. They also include an adapter for plugging directly into the airline seat for inflight movies. My kids were so excited to decorate and customize their own headphones! They were adjustable and had soft ear pads and my kids were very comfortable wearing them for the entire flight.
Travel Toys and Books
While electronics are great for keeping kids attention, I think most parents can agree we prefer that they find other ways to keep entertained while on board. Travel toys are great not just for the flight itself, but for the kids to play with while on vacation without having to pack an entire suitcase of toys. Anything small and self contained makes for a great travel toy. I plan on writing a follow up blog to list listing me all time favorite travel toy recommendations, but basically anything small and non messy can work well as a good travel toy. A few of our tried and true favorites include these Melissa and Doug on the go Water Wow color pads, magnetic fun tins, and travel size magnetic drawing boards. Toys I’ve seen suggested with other bloggers but have found to be a huge inconvenience to me with my kids include play doh (my kids break it into tiny pieces and it winds up stuck to seats and the floor. Just no) and Legos (they drop the pieces on the ground and I wind up crawling under airplane seats trying to find them). I like to go to the dollar store or scour Amazon for one or two new toys that I gift to them the day of the trip so they are more excited to play with it and spend more time being entertained by it. Books are always great and I will always add one or two of my kids favorites to their bag. While some of my kids can be entertained for hours with a multitude of books, I try to limit to one or two smaller books as to not weigh down their bags.
Thanks to all of the above tips, I now wouldn’t hesitate to fly anywhere in the world with my kids. We’ve lived and learned and have overcome our fears of traveling with little ones. I hope these tips can help you and your family do the same! Happy travels!