Have you ever been stuck on a long flight with a screaming child thinking 1. “My God, can someone shut that kid up”. 2. “I would hate to be in the parents shoes right now” ?
When we had our own kids I started thinking about how we probably would BE in those dreaded shoes soon and immediately started strategising to make it easy on us, our children and fellow travellers.
We (my sisters and I) travelled a lot as kids and I don’t remember it ever being dramatic or turning into a screamfest even when my two youngest sisters were small. Mom sometimes travelled alone with the four of us to the States which of course required disciplin and planning. Dad’s military style training of us (we marched on family walks, arranged our shoes with military precision according to size etc.) must have helped as well as Mom’s death-stare, you know the one that says “you move another muscle, you die”. Mom and Dad where also very good at including us in the “team”. By that I don’t mean letting us make decisions. I mean teaching us the nature of travelling, what everybody is expected and required to do so that we actually get to our destination. We knew where we were going, where we were transitting. We understood that it may be uncomfortable but everybody had to deal with it and take own measures to MAKE it bearable. My measure was a good measure of Twizzlers. 🙂 In those days we didn’t have screens on every seat. It was a screen the size of an IPad on the ceiling 6 seat rows ahead. And as kids we could barely see over the seat in front of us so had to find a wedge between the seats that gave us a view of the movie chosen for that flight. If it was a bad one; tough! If you travelled as a kid and have kids now you will remember this and all I have to say is;
Kids today have NOTHING to complain about on a long haul flight!!
Flying with kids
We have made several long hauls with our children. Olivia is 5 and James 4. So far all of them have been a walk in the park with the kids sleeping more than 8 hours of the flight. But it is no coincidence. Deploying a family takes nearly as much preparation as deploying a battalion (which was recently one of my hobbies before relocating to Brazil as a housewife). Read on if you are one of those poor parents described above or are embarking on your first long haul or just plain curious as I share my tips on how to enjoy a long haul flight with your kids.
Pick the right time to fly – on long flights like Europe to North or South America or Asia which take 7-13 hours we always opt for night flights. That way the kids (and parents) sleep most of the flight, killing time. It also makes it easier to adjust to the time difference and avoid jetlag.
Inform the kids – tell them about the trip. Show them on a map where you are going to be flying. Where is your connecting flight? What is expected of them? Talk to them about the boredom. Make them think of own ways to alleviate boredom on the flight.
Pack carry-ons – When kids are old enough or responsible enough let them take care of their own carry on backpack or trolley bag. The kids and I pack them together. I tell them what to put in it and why. I am, after all, teaching them how to travel. As they get older they will have more freedom and responsibility to pack themselves. I try to keep the packing list very simple for two reasons;
A) Because the kids will have to take care of their bag the whole trip. We are NOT carrying them for them if they get tired. We make this very clear.
B) They really don’t need very much as the airline caters everything. Packing to much only ends up cluttering and the kids don’t really learn what they need when half of the stuff in the bag isn’t used.
This is what we pack in the kids’ carry-ons for long flights:
A suitable bag or backpack. Any one will do. These trolley bags on wheels are a thing in Brazilian private schools. Everyone has one including my kids.
Flipflops bc, well, we live in Brazil. 😉 They are also very easy to take of and on when traveling and they store very nicely in the front seat pocket.
A neck pillow I have discovered is helpful though not crucial.
Activity book to combat boredom. I personally do not believe it is healthy for kids to be on iPads and iPhones. Besides, screen time gets a little excessive since there is also a screen on the plane. So when waiting for a connecting flight or on a long drive we play cards, draw etc.
Extra set of clothes. During a 24h period there is bound to be collateral damage when combatting stubborn foil on a juice box or trying to eat yoghurt in turbulence. (I even have an extra t-shirt for myself just in case. Can’t go around with jam on my shirt).
Water. Water is great to have because in most airports, if not all, the tap water is not drinking water. So you’ll end up paying lost of money for water at the airport right before you board the air craft and get it for free. Just remember to empty the bottle before you go through security connecting flights. We forgot once… We were so pleased with ourselves for beating the debarking crowd to security because we had little time to get to our flight. Then we realised our water mistake… So we stepped aside and emptied our bottles while 100 disorganised language students squeezed past us to security. Argh!
Set up your day so that meals and naps occur at times that will optimise your flight. I get the kids to take a nap long before the long haul so that they can just make it through dinner before going to sleep for the night. Sometimes I put them to bed before wheels leave the runway. Whatever works. The main thing being that they are tired.
Info bracelets. Just in case you get separated for some reason make it easy for others to reconnect you. I usually put kid’s name, my name and number on there. If there is room the flight numbers also. The kids have clear instructions what to do if they are lost.
Find someone in uniform and tell them your name and show them the bracelet.
Stretching legs at airport = attrition warfare Encourage walking, running and climbing around at the airport (find a suitable space). Sleep will be more welcome and restful. At some airports there are play grounds or play areas. Check their websites.
Ear popping when taking off and landing can be very uncomfortable for some people. Chewing gum helps. Pick up a fun flavour at duty free. If the child is very small sucking on a bottle helps. And you are still nursing your baby do it during take off and landing to avoid ear popping. (For the baby, not you)…
So that pretty much sums it up for now. I’ll be sure to share more tips as we continue to do long haul flights.