9 tips for flying long haul with children

June 24, 2015


With the Summer holidays coming up lots of us are planning a family holiday.  Even though we aren’t going away this Summer travel has always been a huge part of my childhood and adult life for as long as I can remember.  Even when Anya came along, we didn’t stop traveling.  In fact it was the opposite – we realised we just needed to plan a bit better but it was entirely doable.  We also didn’t let long-haul put us off.  She’s only six and has already been to places as far flung as Argentina and Uruguay, San Francisco, India and Nepal (lucky kid!).  Some of these journeys have involved 14-15 hour flights but we managed.

Some people have commented to me that it’s easier for us with only one child and in some ways it’s true – we don’t have squabbles to sort out, no one fights over which plane seat they’d like (except Richard and me who both always want the window seat!).  But on the other hand Anya has no one but us to entertain her.  And sometimes it’s been just her and me on long journeys so that has been a bit trickier but still entirely manageable with a little planning beforehand.

Having been through so many journeys and with the holidays coming up I thought I would share some of my best tips on flying long haul with children.  There are loads of tips out there for flying with toddlers and babies but not as many for slightly older kids who are around 4-7 years old.  I also wanted to share my own experiences of what’s worked and what hasn’t as I’ve tried so many little things to make long flights as bearable as possible.  Long flights can be trying with young children and in some ways a lot harder than flying with babies who don’t move.  So I hope these tips help you if you’re planning a long haul flight with children soon.  And if you’re still thinking about whether you should brave long haul or not,  I hope these tips inspire you and make you go for it!

1. Get them excited not just about the holiday but the journey too.  If they’ve never been on a plane before then this will be a huge excitement in itself.  Even if they have, planes are always exciting – I have taken thousands of flights and I’m still excited every time I get on a plane.  Tell them about what to expect at the airport and on the flight so they know what’s coming – include the good and the bad.

2. Let them pack a little back pack or mini stroller suitcase to take on the flight.  I use the words ‘let them pack’ very loosely.  What I mean is let them believe they are packing a case.  Left up to Anya she would cram the most random things in to her hand luggage (she once tried to pack her collection of pebbles that weigh a ton!) so I keep a sharp eye on what she’s putting in there and subtley guide her towards the things I know we will need.  Try and get the kids to pack their hand luggage a few days in advance of leaving because this not only builds up excitement but it gives you time to see what’s in there and to change things around if needed.   This way you can avoid any last minute panics and arguments.

3.  Buy a few cheap toys from the 99p/dollar store but don’t show it to the kids beforehand.  Keep it hidden away and surprise them with it when they are showing signs of boredom.  In addition to a few toys I also take along surprise snacks and treats which always work like magic.

4.  While I wholeheartedly suggest taking a few surprise toys and treats, you can’t go overboard with these as there is only so much you can carry in hand and you don’t want to end up lugging 50 kilos worth of hand luggage around with you with two tired and whiny children in tow!  The next best thing is an ipad or similar which is fully charged and loaded with games and movies.  I know a lot of parents are against screen time but believe me on a long flight it is a godsend!  If you have two kids and one device then be very clear in advance of the flight as to who get’s it when or let them both watch a movie together if that’s an option.  Besides occupying the kids, ipad’s are lot easier to carry around than toys.  This may sound a bit strange but I have a little calculation I use to decide what entertainment comes along and what doesn’t – minutes/hours of entertainment it can provide divided by weight/space it takes.  The ipad wins every time!

5.  Carry Calpol, iburpfen or similar in your handbag.  When Anya was five and we were flying to India, with no warning she developed a burning high temperature mid-flight.  She was so hot that there was even talk of an emergency landing.  Kids getting sick is bad enough at the best of times but at 30,000 feet above ground, it’s scary!  Luckily there was a doctor on board who checked her out and managed to get Calpol off another passenger.  The doctor suggested waiting to see if the Calpol helped before doing anything else.  Luckily it worked and I learned my lesson. (Even with the no liquid on board rules, you can still take medicines along ).

6.  When flying long haul with children, expect the unexpected like delays, lost luggage and extra long queues.  While you can’t plan for every eventuality, it helps to consider the things that can go wrong.  I tend to keep a spare set of clothes for Anya in her hand luggage which came in very handy when the airline lost our luggage when we landed in Buenos Aires after a 24 hour door to door journey.  Also spare underwear is handy as even at 5-6 years of age, accidents can happen especially if there are long queues to use the inflight loos.

7.  If you too have a fussy eater like Anya (and even if you don’t) it’s a good idea to get the children well fed before a long haul flight.  Meals can be delayed, they may not like the options available, their choice of meal may run out – so many reasons and the last thing you want is bored, tired and hungry kids.  We usually head to the airport early and let Anya have a full meal at one of the restaurants there.  That way she’s fed as late as possible which in theory should keep her full for several hours and then I give her the surprise snacks and treats on board as she won’t eat the airline meals.

8.  Keep the best for last.  In my experience, that last hour of a long haul flight is the most painful.  The last 60 minutes can feel longer than the entire flight!  By that time you’ve probably been traveling for several hours and the kids have just about had enough.  You’re probably tired too and I know I start to lose every bit of patience that I had at the start.  So I keep one special toy or treat, usually the best one for this last hour.  It really helps in taking Anya’s mind of her tiredness and boredom for a little while at least. And every minute of calm at this stage helps.

9.  Lastly, don’t forget to relax and enjoy the journey which is the first part of your holiday.  Once we step inside an airport we are in holiday mode and all normal at home rules are broken from the word go.  It really helps if you focus on the fun side of things and keep your sense of humour because after all if you’re relaxed, your kids will be too.

*I’ve linked up to Honest Mum’s brilliant blog posts and Mums Days the list.

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  • Tinuke

    I can’t believe how well travelled Anya is! What a very lucky young girl.
    Your tips are super useful, some I do already, such as getting my Mini Me excited about the journey, but I’d not thought about bringing medicines in our cabin luggage, but I will do from now on.
    Thank you!

    x T

    • ebabee likes

      So glad you found them useful Tinuke. We love, love traveling and can’t wait to get on a plane again. Thanks for stopping by x

  • ParentingHealthybabies

    Good Post, Liked the idea of carrying some surprise toys to kill boredom. My 4yr old son generally sleeps and watches movies during the flight to kill time

    • ebabee likes

      Thank you – glad you enjoyed it. You’re lucky that your little boy sleeps, that’s the best way to pass a flight but this is in case they don’t,!

  • Rob

    Great post. One child, two children or three traveling with little ones has its ups and downs. We have flown a number of times with all of our children and patience is always the answer.

    • ebabee likes

      So true – patience is key! But sadly mine does start wearing thin especially towards the end.

  • Mama, My Kid Doesn't Poop Rainbows

    3 days until our 22 hour, 3 flight journey to Europe. Hold me.


    • ebabee likes

      Good luck! It will pass quickly and hopefully very smoothly! Pack lots of treats.

  • Mum in Brum

    Brilliant tips – it’s s important to travel with children and as long as you’re well prepared it shouldn’t be too stressful. Really good idea about holding back the best treat for the final hour, I’d never have thought of that. Thanks for sharing

    • ebabee likes

      Thank you. Preparation is so important as you say and the better prepared the smoother the journey, always. But when all else fails including patience, those treats to come in so handy

  • Lins @Boo & Maddie

    Such great tips, I remember really hating the plane food when I was little. Although at least the in-flight entertainment has come a long way since the late 80s/early 90s! Well done for keeping her so well travelled, seeing the world is the best education in my honest opinion x #brilliantblogposts

    • ebabee likes

      Thank you! I still mostly hate in-flight food but still eat it out of sheer boredom! I couldn’t agree more – travel really is an amazing education. I grew up in a family where travel was such a huge part of our lives and I want the same for my daughter. x

  • Natasha

    We absolutely love travelling too and S has been to quite a few cities in his short life. I def. agree with the pound store idea, I usually get him a few packs of hot wheels which he loves and yes yes yes to the Ipad, it really is a life saver! 🙂 #brilliantblogposts

    • ebabee likes

      Agree, travelling is so important – it’s such an eye opener and such a great education for kids. We can’t wait to get on a plane soon – so many places to discover. Thanks for stopping by.

  • HonestMum

    Fab tips here, we flew long haul a lot pre-kids to SA, the US, all over but we feared it with little ones and mostly holidayed in Europe or the Med. However taking them to Jamaica recently was really a walk in the park (and some days I worry about going to the supermarket with my two), the boys loved it, they slept, watched films and were as a good as gold and for a 2 1/2 year old that’s pretty good going. I agree, a nice meal pre flight, lots of things to keep them entertained and snacks and their own suitcases helped us too. We’ll definitely not fear long haul now. Thanks for linking up to #brillianblogposts x

    • ebabee likes

      Thank you. I think often the idea of doing it is often worse than actually doing it. A little planning before helps so much and like you said, despite dreading you had a very smooth journey. Cracked me up with that line about going to the supermarket!

  • Morgan Prince

    Great tips, we’re about to fly to Orlando and although my boys have been before keeping them entertained is always a pain. I HATE flying and so anything that can keep them occupied while I cry and fret is good! 😉

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