Long-haul and Loving it: Top Ten Tips for Travelling with Tiny Tots

Long haul and loving it

Happy New Year readers. I trust you had a peaceful and relaxing New Year. You might have noticed that my blog has been rather quiet over the last few months. But I hope to get back up on the blogging bike this year.

Well we finally touched down in the UK just after Christmas. I haven’t travelled out of the country for eight years and it has been almost a decade since we last saw family on this side of the world. It has been so exciting to travel again and even more wonderful to see family. Before we left NZ I was more excited than a kid on Christmas Day! When you have to wait for something, you really appreciate it when it finally happens!

When one mentions long haul flying with young children, you are bound to hear the inevitable groans and well wishes from other people. It’s common knowledge that flying with young children can be a challenge. I’ve always enjoyed long-haul flights, probably because I’ve only ever flown long haul a couple of times in my life. I find them fun. I mean how often does one get to sit back and read a book? I enjoy watching films and I even like the aeroplane food! But this was all B. C (before children). I’d never attempted it with children and I was apprehensive yet feeling positive, given that my youngest is now three and a half. Flying with babies and toddlers is even more challenging. I recall just flying domestically with an eighteen month old was wearying. But if your kids are toilet trained, can walk and can communicate their basic needs, it makes the experience easier.

Just like anything in life, the perfect flight does not exist. But here are some little crowd-sourced tips that I’ve picked up along the way.

  1. Safety first. Tips from a flight attendant – Pay new attention to the safety briefing. If the flight attendant does not bring you an infant life vest before take-off, ask for one. Do not, buckle the seat belt over you and the child. If the pilot hits the brakes for any reason, your weight could crush the child.
  2. Choose your flight departure time carefully. On the advice of the travel agent, we chose to take a flight that left at 1:15am. At first I was apprehensive about this, but apparently it makes for better adjustment of children’s body clocks. But it did mean carrying sleeping children onto the plane along with our carry-on luggage, which was the most challenging part of the journey.
  3. Consider your seating. Many parents of infants favour the bulkhead row because it can accommodate a bassinet. The second-best place is near any engin, as the hum of the engine works like audio Ambien. Even if you don’t like the sound of it, you are more apt to sleep if your child does. The other option is to consider sitting in the back of the plane. It is far away from the business travellers and people may therefore be more forgiving.
  4. Packing list. Never depend on your airline to have any baby amenities. Most airlines don’t stock nappies these days. The following are just a few of the items that proved helpful to us: wet wipes!, a change of clothes, a small towel, child paracetamol and medicine spoon (you can have it prescribed in a 100ml bottle), lots of zip up plastic bags. For babies, consider taking toys that you can tether to the seat.
  5. But don’t take too much stuff. If you are changing planes once or twice, don’t take too much carry on luggage, otherwise it will be cumbersome to manage the kids and the luggage on and off the plane and through security. The trick is having what you need without overpacking your hand luggage. Have all liquids (<100mls) easily accessible in small zip lock plastic bags in the outer part of your hand luggage.
  6. Feeding time at the Zoo. Though flights overfeed passengers, take some familiar snacks with you. They are especially helpful for use during flight transfers at airports. If babies and young children eat upon take-off and during the descent for landing, it relieves the discomfort of changing air pressure in the ears and will distract the child from strange noises or turbulence. Lollipops can be helpful for take offs too.
  7. Get some space. If you are taking an extremely long flight, or you are shepherding older children as well, you might consider booking an extra seat for the baby if you can afford to. Many airlines have infant fares available, and the extra money you spend could save your sanity. The consensus of many parents with lap-held children after a ten-hour flight is: “Never again.”
  8. Choose comfort – we had our kids dressed in onesies for the first night flight, with another comfortable outfit to put on for the second leg of the journey. They also took their pillow pets which were familiar and comfortable.
  9. Keeping the little ones entertained: Thanks to technological advances, it’s never been easier to keep kids entertained on flights. Most flights have a screen for every seat and the Air NZ flight that we took had the most up to date technology. There are films, TV programmes, games and audio books on the Ipad. You could even order extra drinks and snacks through your Ipad and they would be delivered to your seat! But we still were armed with a bag of tricks. In it were a few favourite books, a colouring book, crayons, felt pens, a scrapbook to write and draw in, a small tin of magnetic dolls, a whiteboard that they received for Christmas, a card game and another travel game. I also included a craft pack with coloured paper, pipe cleaners and a glue stick (no scissors). The other half wanted to include glitter but I thought that glitter would be best left at home!
  10. An experiment led by Professor Robert Winston demonstrated that parents admit their main concern with flying is how to keep children entertained. His research discovered that the top ten toys to take on a flight were: loom bands, play doh, lego, Usborne Activity Cards, finger puppets, Aquadoodle, Top Trumps, Uno, Magnetic Travel Games, Sticker books. They are creative activities that allow for extended play. Winston discovered that it’s actually the cheapest toys that kept children entertained the longest. You can read the full article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2691372/Top-10-toys-entertain-children-plane-Play-Doh-Loom-Bands.html

robert winston

Other games are ones that don’t have to be packed – consider I-spy and Twenty Questions. You could also get creative with the tray table and drape a blanket over the seat or between the upraised armrest and immediately you have a world of fun in your row. Better yet, bring along a dark blanket and charm your children with glow-in-the-dark toys; they’re perfect for night flights, too. Another tip is to wrap toys up in wrapping paper. Unwrapping helps pass the time.

10. Courtesy. If your child cries and cries, get up and go to the back of the airplane and try to calm him down. If you are unsuccessful, at least you tried. There was a baby on our second flight that screamed for about two hours. Yes it was a little irritating but I really felt for the poor parents. If you see a parent in distress, offer a hand and cut the parent some slack. One thoughtful parent made up goodies bags for the unfortunate strangers who were seated next to her on her child’s first flight. The goodie bag went viral.

goodie bag

Overall, we were pleasantly surprised with how well the kids handled the long haul flight. And we as the parents enjoyed it (mostly). Jet lag is another story however. The other day we discovered our five year old up at 4am in the morning, drawing herself a bath!



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