A how-to guide to surviving long-haul flights with kids

A how-to guide to surviving long-haul flights with kids

  • Travelling with children on international flights can be stressful.
  • Planning ahead can help.
  • Follow our tips to prepare for each stage of the plane journey.

Everybody loves going on holiday. But for parents and carers, flying with young children can be the least fun part, particularly if it involves long-haul international flights.

From keeping little ones happy, comfortable and entertained to ensuring they, you and your fellow passengers are rested, here are a few ways you can prepare and manage each step of your plane journey.

Booking flights

Mother and daughter on iPad

Choosing an airline

Look into what airlines operate on the route you’re travelling and see what each offers. 

Some airlines are considered more family-friendly than others. They may provide helpful services like pre-boarding for families, child-specific meals and entertainment, and toys and activity packs to keep kids entertained during the flight.

Etihad, for example, offers a service called Flying Nannies. These special stewards undertake specialist childcare training and are onboard most Etihad long-haul flights. Flying Nannies provide support for parents, in any class, and help entertain kids of all age with activities, like arts, craft and face painting.

Seats and meals

Boy eating on a plane

If possible, book your flights well in advance. That way you can choose the best seats and sit together as a family. You can also pre-order baby, toddler and children's meals (if available) and ensure any dietary requirements and allergies your children have are catered for on the flight.

Comfort is key

When it comes to travelling with kids, comfort is often worth paying more for. Choosing a flight that has shorter transit and flight times, or factoring in stopovers to break up flights can make the journey more pleasant.

Long-haul flights are also the perfect time to put those airline memberships to use and head to the airport lounge. You may also want to redeem credit card rewards points to upgrade your seats, whether it’s to Premium Economy or Business Class. You’re sure to appreciate the extra space and service.

Planning ahead helps

Newcastle-based Oliver Gaywood, co-founder of Civic Web Media, flew to Europe with his wife Shana, and their daughter Banksia, when she was five months old.

“We did quite a few things to make the flights easier for Banksia, and for us. We booked flights at night so that it would sync up with her normal sleeping pattern. We broke up our flight (from Sydney to Rome) with a night in Guangzhou, Hong Kong, in both directions, which gave her a bit more resting time and gave her parents time to sleep in a real bed,” he explains. 

“And we made sure she had stuff to do on the plane. We took snacks, toys, books, and generally tried to keep her distracted and happy.”

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Before you fly

Parent and child looking at planes

Preparing your kids for flying

Flying for the first time can be overwhelming for children. Depending on your child’s age, reading them a story, showing them a relevant video or roleplaying may help them better understand what flying entails. 

A visit to the airport may also prepare them for their first flight and show them firsthand what the security screening, boarding and customs process involves.

Whatever approach you take, try to address any fears or anxiety your children may have about flying. Listen to them. Answer any questions they have clearly and truthfully. Make them feel safe, and present flying as a fun and positive experience. 

Pack smart

Make sure you have everything you need on-hand in your kids’ carry-on luggage. This may include books, small toys, games, colouring books, snacks, sweets, drinks, pyjamas, and a change of clothes and underwear. Don’t forget their favourite things, as a much-loved soft toy or blanket may prevent a mid-flight meltdown.

During the flight

Child reaching for buttons on plane

Arrive at the airport early

Nothing compounds stress more than being squeezed for time. Head to the airport ahead of the usual three-hour window so you don’t have to rush or worry about missing your flight. This will let you calmly pace each stage — the security screening, passport control and boarding — of the flying journey with your kids. 

Some airlines offer those travelling with children the option to drop off their luggage earlier than usual. Emirates, for example, allows families to drop off bags up to 24-hours before their flight at Dubai International Airport.

Stop the pop

The pain and ringing you feel in your ears when a plane takes off or lands is known as ‘airplane ear’. The fast change in altitude causes a shift in air pressure and can hurt ears, including those of children.

Swallowing or chewing can reduce the discomfort of airplane ear as it can correct the air pressure. Giving babies a dummy and toddlers a drink can help overcome this. Older children may find drinking through a straw, chewing gum or a sweet may alleviate some of the pain, or at least distract them, until it passes.

Dress kids comfortably

It may seem obvious but if your children are dressed in comfortable clothes, they’re more likely to relax and sleep on the flight. If you’re moving between countries that have dramatic differences in temperature, layering clothes is also a good idea.

After the flight

Boy in airport

Make a smooth exit

Well done! You survived the flight. All you need to do now is get out of the airport and to your accommodation. This is when it’s worth bypassing public transport and arranging transfers and, if available, early check-in at your hotel. This will make that last leg of the journey much more pleasant.

Get back into a sleep routine

Try to ease your kids (and yourself) into a routine that aligns with the new time zone you’re in. Schedule meals and naps at the right time of day and spend time outside in the daylight. Sleep can come quickly in the comfort of a hotel room when you’re all tired.

Do you have any tips for travelling with children? Let us know in the comments below.