There are five words that all parents hate to hear: long flights with your kids! It is a phrase that can bring even the strongest, most vigilant parent to their knees and send them into convulsions on the floor.
A long-haul flight with a child can be brutal. Yes, as parents, we all want to spend time with our children. Yet, we hate long flights and being young, it must be 100 times worse.
In 2014, I experienced my first long-haul flight with my son. He was 10-months old on his first international flight from England to the United States. It was a 12-hour flight from Manchester to the middle of nowhere in the Midwest.
It was a steep learning curve for me and my wife. Now, six-years-old, he has been on a number of trans-Atlantic flights as well as trips to countries throughout Europe.
We have learned some valuable lessons that can help other parents deal with those five words that put them off of travel, and we are sharing our advice with you here.
A Kindle can make all the difference
Kindles are great no matter how old you are, and time can pass quickly while on long flights. Prior to trips, we pack our son’s Kids Kindle with his favorite films (along with one or two he hasn’t seen), games, and books.
My son is a huge fan of the How to Train Your Dragons film series. He recently spent a long flight watching all three films in succession. Having a tablet filled with activities keeps kids engaged for hours. A truly engaging game can have your kids glued to their tablet for the entire flight.
Snacks, snacks, and more snacks!
It can take some time after takeoff for the food trolleys to come around. There is nothing worse than a hungry child continually asking when the food will be served then not eating it because they don’t like what is offered.
A well-prepared bag of snacks can make a huge difference to their comfort level. You may need to see what is appropriate to take on your flight as different airlines have rules regarding what can be taken abroad.
It is advisable not to take anything with peanuts on a trip. I have experienced plenty of flights in which one passenger had a nut allergy and fellow passengers were asked not to eat anything with nuts.
Pre-order a meal
This is the same for anyone who wants to survive a long flight in coach. If you pre-order a meal when you book your flight, you will be served before anyone else.
You won’t have to wait for the food trolleys to reach your seats. So, while everyone else is waiting, your kids are munching on pre-ordered meals and filling up their stomachs.
Also, a pre-ordered meal may give you the chance to select foods your kids will eat. Children are notoriously picky eaters.
I’ve experienced several times waiting for meals to be served only for my son to turn his nose up at the food. Pre-order meals and get your kids involved if at all possible, in the selection of the items they will eat.
Monitor their sugar consumption
Kids reactive differently to sugar, but one of the worst things on a flight is a child that is bouncing off the walls on a sugar high.
Too often, kids are given candy or chocolate to satiate and keep them quiet on a flight. Yet, these foods are full of sugar and empty calories.
Kids have nowhere to go to burn off this sugar, which can make a long flight brutal for everyone abroad. A sugar crash can make kids moody and cranky, making an already stressful situation worse.
You should be aware of the sugar content, and possibly caffeine, that is in the snacks and drinks your kids eat before and during a flight. Water will keep kids hydrated on a long flight and, hopefully, in a good mood.
If you have young children, many airlines will allow you to board the plane first. This allows you to settle in and stow your luggage away.
It also gives you the chance to get out any of the toys, blankets, foods, or other items you need to survive a long flight.
Choose your seats carefully
Your attention to pre-selecting seats for long flights with kids is very important. As a family of three, we always book seats on the side row of three. This gives us the chance to control everything about where we sit.
Choosing seats isn’t always that easy for larger families. You may want to select a middle row of four or another configuration.
Regardless, you don’t want to be like the McAllister family in Home Alone and spread out around the plane with some in first class and the rest in economy.
If you have small children that need to be changed frequently or may just need to be walked around, be sure to book an aisle seat. An exit row seat is also good for children as it gives them legroom and they won’t kick the seats in front of them.
Coloring books, games, and activity packs
Even at six-years-old, my son loves to color. A small pack of crayons and a coloring book with superheroes can keep him busy for quite some time.
Activity packs are also great, especially when they are geared towards travel. Activity packs can help kids learn about the cities or countries they are visiting or even some new words from a different language.
Card games and travel-size board games can keep kids from overdoing it with their tablets. It can be a great time to engage their brains in other ways. You can also have some quality time playing together at 3,000 feet.
Long flights with kids can be a great learning environment!
Parents (not kids) should sit back and relax on a long flight. Traveling with a kid requires parental know-how. It isn’t easy taking a child on a long-haul flight, but it isn’t something that should turn you off either. Travel expands the mind and children can learn valuable lessons exploring the world.
While long flights can be boring, the experience can teach patience to children. Too often, we rush to stave off boredom with gadgets, but sometimes, experiencing the wait is a good lesson in life.