Flying Long Haul with Little Ones: 5 Tips for Staying Sane

Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, a woman walked in with an unmistakeable sense of urgency. She didn’t have an appointment, but desperately needed ‘a few words with the doctor’.

She was taking a long-haul flight with a toddler and hoping for a miracle!

I didn’t like to tell her, there’s no single cure for in-flight delirium.

But while flying long haul with a baby or toddler is definitely a little hairy, it’s not unmanageable. I know this, because there was a time when my daughter regarded the in-flight safety card as one of her ‘favourite stories’.

Together, we’ve learned a few tips about flying … especially long haul. And here they are.

1. Why Long Haul Flights Aren’t That Bad

In my opinion, short haul flights are harder than long haul flights. (I’d define short haul as anything less than four hours.)

Why? On a long-haul flight, the aircraft is usually bigger and in the air, ‘space’ is your best friend. Short flights are often crowded, noisy (no one’s sleeping) and service is limited.

On a long haul flight, you can settle in and staff are usually helpful with things like putting cumbersome bags in the overhead locker, fetching bottles of warm milk, or watching bub while you make a toilet pit-stop. If they’re not, be bold and ask for help.

2. A Night or Day Flight?

For me, it depends on the child’s age.

Night is best, if they are still not up for entertaining themselves during the day, which is generally before the age of two.

A long day flight can leave you counting down the excruciatingly long minutes, as you pace up and down the aisle with a toddler who wants to practice his or her newly acquired ‘balancing’ skills! The upside, you get to know most of the passengers on a first name basis!

After the age of two-and-a-half, a day flight works a treat, if they like to watch TV. Some swear by buying their kids baby-sized headphones. Once they reach three, it gets a whole lot easier. You may even manage a movie and glass of wine!

Mum furious after Qantas sits her kids with strangers

3. Where to Sit?

If you’re flying long haul with a baby during the day, sit up front, where the baby bassinets are (also known as ‘bulk-head’ seats). Even if your baby isn’t sleeping or is too big for the bassinet, you can pop them in it to play and the extra foot room is handy for them to sit (when the seat belt sign’s off, and if the Flight Attendant permits).

If you are travelling overnight and your baby is too big for the bassinet do not get the front row. These arm rests have television monitors inside so won’t lift up when junior wants to lie across your lap. The arm-rests behind the bulk-head seats, generally do lift up.

ALWAYS plead or grovel for a spare seat.

4. Beating Jet Lag

There are many theories about beating jet lag, but generally you just have to go with it. Some believe in sticking to your child’s normal sleep schedule; others say it makes more sense to adjust to the time zone in the country you’re going to.

When we travel to the UK, we always try to put ourselves in their time zone and set our clocks accordingly. Usually, no matter what you do, it can take three to five nights to get settled, and it’s worth noting, flying West is easier on the body than flying East, so recovery time differs.

Get plenty of fresh air, daylight and stay hydrated. A lot of people, including myself, swear by melatonin, a natural hormone used to regulate the sleep cycle. You might be tempted to try antihistamines or the like, in a panicked effort to make your child drowsy enough to sleep. Some doctors don’t recommend it, but I believe in doing whatever it takes to stay sane.

Sadly, for me, I had a daughter who became hyped up on these sorts of medications. Try any new medication out before the flight!

mum central

5. What to Take?

If your baby is tiny, feed them (breast or bottle) on take-off and landing to avoid any ear problems; if they’re older, give them a dummy or lollipop to suck on. You can take baby powder and milk on the plane when flying long haul with a baby. I’ve also taken baby food on board, but once Ava turned three, she was happy to eat normal airline food.

Taking a night flight usually means you get fed late, so have a stash of snacks to eat before boarding or on board, so they don’t fall asleep on an empty tummy (or shout the house down demanding food).

When they’re babies and young toddlers, take a baby carrier like the Baby Bjorn, especially if flying alone. It frees up your hands to lug baby and paraphernalia through x-ray machines and on board. If your little one is verging on toddler age and walking steadily, take the stroller all the way to the gate. If the airline wants you to check it in, ask for a temporary one to get you through the airport in one piece.

Limit wipes and nappies, (even though your think you’ll need tonnes). Do take extra dummies and an extra change of clothes for you and bub, plus Nurofen or Panadol in case of an unexpected high temperature or teething. Take a few new toys, colouring-in pads, crayons (things that won’t fall down the side of the seat) to keep them engaged.

For more great tips on air travel with kids, check out these 20 Best Tips for Flying With Toddlers!


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