Top tips for surviving long-haul flights with kids

Meg Law
Meg Law
Meg Law is a travel writer and avid explorer who lives on Victoria’s famous coastline: the Great Ocean Road. With a journalism degree and background as a radio newsreader, content developer, media and lifestyle/travel photographer, Meg is happiest when she has a camera or pen in hand to document her latest adventures; traveling the globe with her husband and two mini...
Created on May 21, 2024 · 6 mins read

Traveling with your little ones can be both exciting and daunting. Whether you're planning a family vacation or traveling overseas for work with your family in tow, flying with kids can be scary if you aren’t used to flying frequently.

But before you start writing preemptive apology letters to your fellow passengers, try some of these flying hacks to keep your brood calm, happy, and organised on even the longest of flights. 

We’ve all been there, either as parents or innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire; a disastrous flight where kids are having meltdowns, and everyone is giving ‘side-eye’ or ‘stink-eye’ glances to the perpetrator. Sometimes it’s unavoidable to face an overtired baby, sick child, long layover, equalising ears, etc. Other times though there are some key steps in teaching kids airplane etiquette, (we’ll get to that later).

Be realistic and give your family some grace

Firstly, let’s get real about it. Asking a hyperactive toddler to sit still for 18 hours and not talk loudly, wriggle in their seat, or flip out if the food is not to their liking, is generally mission impossible. Likewise, expecting a newborn to sleep soundly without crying is nearly impossible. So firstly, remove the expectation and layer of guilt about boarding that flight with young ones in tow.

We are all human. You’ll usually find another parent, grandparent, or friendly flight attendant onboard giving you knowing, sympathetic looks. The majority of the time, people get it. They’ll understand if you reach for the Valium, rock back and forth in the corner, or look like a hot mess when you land at the other end. 

Breathe. It is going to be okay.

For those who don’t understand, kindly get off the plane or move up the front to business class. Kids are kids and parents and carers are doing all they can to get through this in one piece, so a bit of kindness would be great. 

The reality is sometimes you have to travel with children – it’s just unavoidable.

Survival tips for the long-haul

Here are a few golden rules of plane etiquette we should all adhere to, to provide comfort and sanity to our fellow passengers:

  • Stay calm. Happy parent, happy child. No one wants to witness a carer or parent ‘lose it’ with a screaming match or exchanging terse words onboard. It can get uncomfortable real quick. Losing your cool and forgetting about respect for others is not okay. The calmer you remain for yourself and your child, the smoother the ride for everyone.
  • Find your seat quickly. There’s always a lot of debate over who’s going to sit where in our assigned seats – siblings love fighting over the window seat. Trust me, it’s a thing. So, sort this out before you board and go straight to the seat.
  • Don’t kick the seat in front of you. It’s probably the most infuriating thing on a plane.
  • Clean up your space and keep it neat and tidy for everyone. No one wants to deal with yellow Cheezel fingers or jelly squashed into the seat.
  • Bring your headphones and please don’t subject the entire cabin to your audio. Not everyone is a fan of Bluey on repeat.

  • Pack lots of healthy sugar-free snacks. Likely, your child isn’t used to the airline food so having a stash of your child’s favourite snacks becomes a game-changer. And don’t forget the trusty lollipop. This treat isn’t just a distraction and indulgence; it’s also a clever way to gently keep their ear tubes open, minimising any discomfort during take-off and landing.  
  • Request a bassinet for your child to sleep on long-haul flights. These baby beds attach to the aircraft’s bulkhead and provide a comfortable and safe spot for your child to nap or sleep during the flight. Availability is limited, so enquire when booking your ticket or try your luck when boarding.
  • Carry extra clothes, baby wipes to keep everyone clean, blankies or wraps, extra nappies (more than usual should you encounter any delays), a comfort toy/blanket, and a dummy to help equalise ears. Bring extra Ziploc bags in case you need a place to put soiled or wet clothes.
  • Bring activities. Pack a mix of stuff your kid loves. Think colouring books and crayons, card games, magnetic puzzles, books, etc. 
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can worsen jet lag and discomfort. Ensure your child drinks enough water during the flight. Avoid excessive sugary drinks, as they can lead to energy spikes and crashes.
  • Try and fly the most direct route with the shortest connection time on the best service airline you can afford. Unfortunately, that may mean coughing up major dollars, but the expense may be worth it. Sometimes cheap airfares are cheap for a reason. Flying the red eye with kids in tow can be even more of a challenge with adjusting to different time zones.

  • Plan for go -time. Whether your child is in nappies or already toilet-trained, having a dry nappy or making a pit stop before boarding is a smart move. No one wants the classic ‘I need the toilet’ announcement just as the seatbelt sign lights up!
  • Fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday. According to air travel experts, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the least popular days to fly—which means not only could you get a better deal on your flight, but you may end up with a free seat next to you in the air. In contrast, Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive.
  • Consider seats. Sit up front if you’re worried about motion sickness—and the back if you’re toilet training. If you’ve got a kid who gets queasy easily, sitting at the front of the plane or between the wings is your best bet since this is the most stable part of the airplane. The back seats, by contrast, will be the bumpiest when the air gets choppy. 
  • Board early. Most airlines offer families and children the chance to board the aircraft before the crowd, and this is your golden ticket to a smoother journey! Think of it as your VIP pass to a stress-free start. By getting onboard early, you not only snag precious overhead bin space for your belongings but also give yourself a head start to settle in.

Wrapping it up

Most importantly, relax and enjoy the flight in all the planning and preparation. Flying with kids is an adventure of its own and it doesn’t have to be a bad experience. In fact, if you follow the above tips, you may even find yourselves having fun. Take a deep breath, knowing that you’ve got this. 

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