Long-haul flights with little ones

My family and I have made a fair few long-haul flights since my daughter was born (ten, I think). Some of them have just been my daughter and me. It isn’t fun or relaxing travelling for long periods of time with small children but you can get through it.

Here are my top tips:

1. If you can avoid flying solo, do it.

Sure, you can fly on your own with a baby or toddler, but it’s hard work and you probably won’t get any sleep. If the baby is young enough, he might sleep in a carrier or, if you’re lucky, a sky cot. If not, you’ll have to walk up and down, watch children’s cartoons or in some way entertain your child for hours and hours and hours.

2. Try and get seats near the doors.

There is often a bit more space near the doors, where you can take your child to exercise, and if you’re on your own you don’t want to be trying to get yourself, your child(ren) and your carry-on luggage right down to the other end of the plane.

3. Use the televisions

Our daughter doesn’t watch television at home (except for when she watches a football match with her father) but on planes she can have as much screen time as she wants. It doesn’t keep her occupied for the whole flight, but it does for a little bit and every little helps.

4. Take headphones suitable for children

Some airlines will provide them, but some don’t, and if your child can’t cope with earbuds then they won’t be able to listen to the television. Which would be awful.

5. Have realistic expectations

You are not going to be able to watch a film or two or three uninterrupted, catch up on some sleep or read a book. You will primarily be entertaining your child, unless he’s asleep or glued to the telly.

When my daughter was five months old I flew alone with her. I managed to watch five episodes of the Night Watchman but then she woke up and wouldn’t let me sit down for the rest of the flight, so I never got to watch the ending. (And it still isn’t on Netflix!)

6. Take snacks.

If you have a toddler you probably don’t travel anywhere without snacks anyway.

7. Book a child’s meal

This may sound obvious, but airlines don’t always automatically provide child meals for people who’ve bought child tickets.

Last time I flew, I rang up especially to make sure my husband and I had vegan and gluten-free meals and my daughter had a kid’s meal.

We ended up with one lot of baby food for me (???!!), one vegan meal for my husband and nothing for my daughter.

There is a reason Air Canada does not have the greatest reputation.

So yeah. Double check.

And also take enough food just in case your child refuses to eat the congealed Mac n cheese in any case. *barf*

8. Don’t worry about other people.

Last time I flew alone with my daughter, she was 19 months, so still on my lap and therefore supposed to go in the burping position for take-off and landing (i.e. over my shoulder). She did not want to go in this position and so screamed, kicked, flailed, etc for the whole time we were on the runway (which felt like forever) until she fell asleep as we took off. While I was restraining/soothing/telling off my daughter, I was also being subjected to glares from several old ladies. I burst into tears. (I was pregnant at the time and I was having a nosebleed after she head butted me…) It’s not worth worrying about what other people are thinking; children cry on planes, it happens. C’est la vie.

9. Take a harness if you have a walker.

I know some people think harnesses are tantamount to child abuse, but you only have so many hands and sometimes you need to be able to stop your child from running off while your hands are occupied.

10. Take a soft baby carrier if you have a baby.

If you’re lucky your baby may sleep in it on the plane. If not, you’ll need it for walking up and down the plane and for once you get off the aeroplane before you collect your buggy.

I have a mai tai wrap thing that I only ever use for travelling. It’s great because I can fold it up and pop it in the changing bag when I’m not using it.

11. Take lots of changes of clothes.

Sod’s law dictates that your baby will have at least one explosive nappy and your potty-trained toddler will wee on her clothes/spill orange juice all down her front. Be prepared.

12. Ask for help and accept it!

Every time I’ve flown alone, and sometimes when I’ve been with my husband, cabin crew and ground crew and lovely ladies and gentlemen have offered to help me – be that holding the baby whilst I go to the loo, putting bags in the overhead lockers, getting a suitcase off the conveyer, or even driving me to the gate on one of those little buggies with the flashing lights.

13. Join the airline’s kids’ club

Lots of airlines (even budget ones) have Kids’ Clubs. This might mean that you get some crayons, a few games, headphones, extra snacks, priority boarding… and it’s free so make the most of it!

Next time we fly, we’re with Air Transat, which is my favourite airline for flying to and from Canada – they give babies a teething ring, nappy, change pad and wipes, and they provide a meal that is both gluten-free and vegan, and the cabin crew is always ridiculously helpful. My daughter has received a letter (for her! Exciting!) with two snack vouchers, a lanyard and VIP pass, a luggage label and some stickers (that are now stuck on the floor…)

14. Look up airport facilities

Look on the airport’s website to see what there is in terms of food and play areas in the terminal you’ll be in. This is especially useful to know if you have a stopover. Sometimes there’s only one play area for the whole airport, but you never know, it might be right where you need it.

Some airports (like the amazing Birmingham International) have courtesy pushchairs for the irritating time between you disembarking and being able to reclaim your pushchair several miles later after passport control.

15. Fly direct

If possible, take a direct flight. It just makes life so, so much easier. Particularly if you’re flying solo.

16. Give yourself plenty of time

We all know that doing anything with children takes approximately 30 times longer than it should. This is never truer than in an airport where even a trip to the loo requires military planning.

Having done it myself, I can assure you that the last thing you want to be doing is running through a terminal to the gate with a toddler who can’t actually run very fast and wants to be carried, a large and heavy carry on bag and a coat that you really regret wearing because airports are always ridiculously hot places (but planes are freezing, so highly recommend getting one of those coats that goes in a pouch).

You’re about to spend an eternity in a confined space trying to amuse your darling child. You need to be as calm as possible, so avoid last minute dashes.

17. Take calpol

Hopefully you won’t need it – but better to have it just in case.

18. Take dummies for babies

Even if your children don’t use them, dummies can be helpful to suck on at take-off and landing to equalize pressure. Like boiled sweets, but for babies.

Good luck!


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