How to Prepare for Long-Haul Flights with Kids

Family at airport

Dejan Ristovski / Stocksy

Traveling with kids, especially taking a long international flight, can be quite tricky—little ones aren’t always amenable to the necessary on-the-go logistics of getting from point A to point B. Of course, you want the experience to be as smooth as possible for your family as well as for the other passengers on your flight, and there are some things that you can do to foster the best outcome. And, should things not go as planned or as hoped, there are strategies for tackling hardships as well. Keep reading our guide below to learn about practical tips for traveling on long-haul flights with wee ones.

How to Plan Ahead of Travel

Before you even book the airfare, get your kids involved. If they have some agency over the trip, they’ll feel invested in its outcome. Research together and learn about the activities you’ll be doing once you arrive at your destination. Are there museums, unique restaurants, walking tours, beaches, or cultural activities that you’ll be adding to the itinerary? Get your kids invested in the planning process by showing them travel videos, flipping through photography books, following a recipe and cooking international fare, practicing a new language, or learning how to make some of the local art.

While on the flight, you can talk about all of the fun things you’ll be doing once you land, which will feel like a light at the end of the tunnel. Also, you can pack activities and snacks for the flight that coordinate with the country you’ll be visiting. If you learned, for example, how to make Peruvian wool bracelets, you can make some while in the air as well and gift them to flight attendants or fellow passengers.

What to Do on the Day of Travel

It can’t be said enough: If you’re traveling with kids, and all of their gear, on an international flight, you need to allow for extra time to get to the airport, get through security, find your gate, and take care of your kids’ many needs along the way. You don’t want to miss your flight, after all of the efforts it will take to get on board the aircraft, because your rideshare was late, or your little had a bathroom emergency, or there was an unexpected meltdown at a snack stand. It’s better to be early and waiting than have to reschedule altogether.

Also, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to pack and recheck that you have all of the necessities—passports, onboard activities, extra snacks, change of clothes, plenty of diapers or baby supplies—that will get your family to where you’re going with minimal stress.

How to Pick the Best Airplane Seats for Kids

First of all, choose your seats wisely. When you arrive at your gate, let the agent know how many kids you’re traveling with and what their ages are to be sure that you have selected the best seats possible. Is there a bulkhead row available, for example, so that your kids won’t kick the seats in front of them or annoy other passengers by lowering and raising the window shades and tray tables over-and-over? Are there open seats with extra legroom so that your babies can play on the floor and have a little extra wiggle room?

Seats directly in front of the lavatory are not optimal because the extra noise and people in the galley will create commotion and noise. If you have older kids, it can be best to put them in a row directly behind the adult seats so that if a seat gets bumped, it won’t disturb a stranger.

How to Entertain Kids During a Flight

Playdough can provide great fun while in the air, and it’s also something you can easily make ahead of time. Pack drawing supplies like paper and washable markers. Bring books. Put a couple of handfuls of Legos into a baggie and challenge your kids to build a travel scene or an Airbus. Bring workbooks that include games like tic-tac-toe, mazes, and word searches. And, consider bringing along some useful fully-charged technology, loaded with digital movies, games, and photographs. Just don’t forget the headphones!

You might also consider buying a few surprise toys to offer your kids along the way. Children will get a lot of mileage out of new finger puppets, sticker books, pipe cleaners, mini building sets, coloring sheets, or airplane-specific toys. Or, tell your little ones that they’ll get a special prize if they make it to the halfway point without misbehaving. 

Getting Your Kids to Sleep on a Long Flight

Ideally, everyone in your family will get many hours of restful sleep and wake up refreshed just as your flight is preparing to land. The ideal is not usually the reality, however, so it’s best to tailor your expectations and prepare for every scenario.

Bring along comforting items like lovies and blankets, avoid sugary foods and drinks, lower shades, and do your best to create an environment conducive to sleeping. Perhaps you usually read a book and sing a lullaby at bedtime to your children. Use the same tools you use at home to get your kids to sleep while onboard the aircraft. Perhaps strolling up and down the aisle while bouncing your baby will do the trick. And, if they just won’t sleep, ride it out, go with the flow, and remember to breathe.

4 Kid Travel Hacks You Should Know

  • One of the common reasons babies cry on airplanes is that their ears hurt. Wait to nurse or bottle-feed your baby until take-off or landing—sucking helps alleviate the pain due to the air pressure. Pacifiers can also help infants. If you have older kids, give them a sucker, a piece of gum, or candy.
  • Bring an extra change of clothes in a Ziplock baggie. If your child has an accident while onboard, or if they get wet or dirty from snacks and drinks, you’ll be able to do a quick-change in the bathroom and secure the soiled clothing in the sealed bag.
  • Pack a variety of snacks. Not only is it good to keep your kids well-nourished on long flights, but also, it can be a good distraction from the boredom of being stuck in a seat. And, if your kids are too picky to eat airplane food, you’ll have something that you know they’ll eat or drink.
  • If you fear that your babies are at a high-risk for disturbing those around you, consider offering a “peace package” of earplugs, chocolates, and a note apologizing in advance for any discomfort.