Long-haul, international flights can be stressful for both you and your toddler, particularly if you are travelling solo. With more than 15 long-haul flights under our belt before Miss M was 2 1/2, we developed a few survival strategies. Here are our top 15 tips for surviving a long-haul flight with a small child. Who knows, you might even enjoy it!
Welcome to Part 3 of our series on long-distance travel with a small child! Today we’re sharing our 15 top tips for surviving a long-haul flight with a small child.
Tip 1: Check the paperwork
One of the easiest tips for surviving a long-haul flight with a small child is to get your paperwork in order. It is one of the few things you can control before a flight. Check that your toddler’s paperwork is in order and take extra precautions if you are travelling solo. Don’t forget to check that your own paperwork is in order and that your passport has at least 6 months to go before it expires.
Tip 2: Pack light
Normally, if you are travelling with a toddler, you will be given additional luggage allowances. Make sure that you have everything you need in your cabin luggage, as well as some spares for any eventualities. However, don’t pack more than you need just to take advantage of the additional allowance. You still have to carry it!
Be particularly economical with your own hand luggage. Can you fit your handbag in your carry-on suitcase? Or can all important documents, your purse, phone, etc. fit in an outside pocket of your baby bag? That’s one less bag to struggle with. Consider carefully what carry on luggage you are taking and how you will carry it for any transfers or while going through border control and security.
Tip 3: Pay the extra
If you can afford it and the services are available, pay the extra fee for the convenience. Whether it is to reserve seats or check-in early, for curbside check-in or a pick-up service when you get to your destination, or even for early entry to or late check-out from your hotel: the expense is worth it for your sanity and will go a long way towards surviving a long-haul flight with a small child.
Tip 4: Take snacks
Take lots of snacks. They are key to surviving a long-haul flight with a small child.
If your child is anything like Miss M, they will not like at least half of what is in the kids’ meal. Snacks will be your lifesaver, not just during the flight but for any transfers and in the case of delay, too. If you want some tips about what snacks work well on a plane, check out this post. Remember – a child, who is eating, is not screaming.
Tip 5: Pack new entertainment
Simply, your child will be occupied for longer with a new toy or book. It will also help make the trip seem more special to your child. They will smile more, which will make surviving a long-haul flight with a small child easier for you and other passengers. Need ideas on what entertainment works well for toddlers on a long-haul flight? This list will help.
Try and look for things that will travel well and can do double duty. Stacking cups, for example, can be used to stack, to hide things or for sorting.
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Tip 6: Bend the rules
A long-haul flight is not the time to have a stand-off and be strict about enforcing the rules. How much more special will the trip feel to your toddler if you let them do something that they are not allowed to do at home?
Let them watch Paw Patrol on the in-seat entertainment system. Allow your toddler to have some more gummy bears – they help relieve the pressure on their ears. Pack snacks that your toddler likes but rarely has. You can always enforce stricter rules at home, making the plane trip a special exception. Remember: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Tip 7: Keep the comforts
Just as you should pack something new, you should also keep some of the comforts.
Some small children find sleeping more difficult on a plane because it is an unfamiliar environment. Do what you can to make things easier for your child. Bring their lovey. Take their favourite bottle or pacifier. Have their normal lullaby downloaded on your phone or take their favourite bedtime book. Maintaining some routines will help both of you relax.
Remember, too, a plane trip is not the time to try out new foods or creams. Learn from my experience. The flight with the strange rash due to an unfamiliar cream and the in-flight diagnosis by the on-call doctor will stick in your mind forever. It will not be a fond memory.
Tip 8: Make it a game
Situations that are unfamiliar can be very stressful, especially for small children. One way to calm them is to ensure that you pack their comforts. Another way is to make things a game.
- Most kids love to help. Let your toddler help with packing and give them something to carry.
- Turn the time spent sitting on the tarmac into an airport game: What colour is that plane? What is the man doing? How many blue planes can you see? What’s the biggest plane you can see? Can you see the picture on the side of that plane? What is it?
- Take photos or let your child take photos. Children love looking at themselves and you will have something to remind them of the trip.
Games will help your toddler forget that everything is unfamiliar. And it will make surviving a long-haul flight with a small child that bit easier.
Tip 9: Sleep
Most parents find it difficult to sleep during a flight, especially if they are travelling solo. If possible, try and get some extra sleep in the days leading up to the trip.
I know, you are probably trying to get everything else done so you don’t return to a bomb site, trying to get all the things you want to take washed, ironed and packed, worrying about forgetting something, doing the last minute shopping for supplies… I’ve been there. There can be a lot to do and it can be very tiring. If possible, add sleep to that list.
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Whether you want your child to get some extra sleep in advance will depend on your flight times and your child. In our experience, late night or early morning flights are smoother if Miss M has had some extra sleep the day before. Do what is best for you both.
Tip 10: Make a fool of yourself
Don’t worry about making a fool of yourself in front of other passengers. They would much rather listen to you woefully sing a song out of tune to try and keep your child quiet, rather than be listening to your child scream. Ditto silly voices or faces. You are unlikely to see the other passengers ever again anyway. And it might just make surviving a long-haul flight with a small child – your toddler – much easier for all
Tip 11: Be mindful of other passengers
Some passengers enjoy interacting with children and will ask your child questions, pull faces, play peek-a-boo, etc. Other passengers will not, and will prefer to sleep or read or to get some work done. Be mindful of other passengers and their preferences.
Who has not been on a plane and seen a child repeatedly kick or push the seat in front of them? Who has also seen parents ignore their child and let them repeatedly kick or push that seat? DON’T. BE. THAT. PARENT.
Social media has been buzzing with stories of parents who made up little bags with earplugs, chocolate and little notes for fellow passengers:
“Dear New Friend,
My name is Max and I am 10 months old. This is my first time on a plane and I’m going to visit my Grandpa.
I may cry or scream, but I’ll try not to. If I can’t win you over with my smile, perhaps some candy and earplugs will help.
While these bags are very cute and thoughtful, who has time to put them together? Who even has space in their hand luggage for them? Most passengers understand the situation for your child, even without a cute bag.
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Tip 12: Accept help
Airline staff and even other passengers are often more than happy to help you if you need. You will probably even get a number of offers of assistance. Especially if you are travelling as a solo parent: accept the help. Going to the toilet, filling out forms, and repacking your bag are much easier and quicker without your child in attendance.
On some of our flights, the plane was relatively empty and the airline staff were jumping over each other to help us. I left Miss M with the staff in the galley briefly to have a few moments to myself and get a couple of things done. When I went to get her, she was trying on their hats and showing them her Wauwau and had not even realised that I was not there. The staff enjoyed the distraction so much they took photos.
Accepting help – and even asking for it where needed – makes surviving a long-haul flight with a small child so much easier, particularly if you are solo parenting.
Tip 13: Look after yourself
Most tips focus on your toddler. Don’t forget about yourself!
In most cases, the trip is likely to be much more taxing for you than it is for your toddler. This will particularly be the case if you are travelling as a solo parent. There are a few simple things you can do to look after yourself:
- Wear comfortable clothes
- Drink lots of water
- Freshen up
- Walk and stretch
- Use your favourite lip balm and hand cream to counteract the dry aeroplane skin and eye drops for dry eyes
- Accept offers of help and have a few moments for yourself.
You will feel so much better for it.
Tip 14: Accept the things you cannot change
There are many things outside of your control on a flight. The weather. Turbulence. How full the plane is. Other passengers’ moods. Delays. Lost luggage. Though they do not make the flight easier, you cannot change them. Dwelling on them will just make things worse, so accept them and move on.
Tip 15: Recognise that you are tired and grouchy too
Long flights with delays, little sleep due to a fretful toddler, added stress because you are traveling solo, time changes and temperature differences and stuffy, dry plane air can quickly wear you down and make you just as grouchy as your toddler. Simply realising this will make things much easier for you both.
Surviving a long-haul flight with a small child
Long-haul flights with small children can be daunting and exhausting. Follow these 15 easy tips for surviving a long-haul flight with a small child and you may even enjoy the flight.