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Flying long-haul with a toddler may seem daunting but if we can do it with our ‘spirited’ bundle of craziness anyone can! Don’t get me wrong, it is hard work but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. Flying with a toddler is a lot more challenging than flying with a baby or an older child. Once a little one is on the move and fighting for independence it becomes a whole new ball game!
We recently flew from Geneva to Thailand. Our outbound flight involved a journey of 20 hours with two stops. This was the trade off for cheap flights. The return was slightly easier – 16 hours with just one stop. We spent ages trying to decide whether or not to go that far with two young children. However, our minds were made up when comparable last minute holidays to the Canaries, Cyprus or Greece were significantly more expensive.
On our return, the main question from friends and family was ‘how was the long-haul flight with a toddler’? Therefore, I decided to write a blog post to help other people that are considering or have already booked to fly long-haul with little ones.
When flying long-haul with a toddler, be prepared to put in a lot of effort. Keeping little ones entertained is essential to keep them happy and being prepared and organised for the flight is key.
Arrive at the airport early
Avoiding having to rush is key to a stress free journey. Also, allowing the kids to have time to run around and let off steam is a really good idea before you board a flight. Many airports have kids areas, such as the one in Geneva that I mentioned in a previous blog about 17 top tips for travelling alone with young children.
Don’t take too much hand luggage
I am yet to heed my own advice. I had definitely over packed our hand luggage and I didn’t need half the stuff that we lugged around.
If possible, try not to take more than three pieces of hand luggage. Ideally, you need a small bag that contains toys and entertainment for the children, a small pull along with a change of clothes for everyone and a nappy bag (even if your toddler is potty trained you may want to consider pull ups when flying long-haul and / or nappies for sleep time plus wipes – always have wipes handy).
Pack your items in either a hand luggage sized wheeled case or a rucksack. When travelling with little people you need to keep your hands as free as possible.
Prepare well for the plane journey
Pack tactically and think about what you may need to access during the flight. Children need entertaining during take off and landing just as much as during the flight so don’t get caught out by putting everything in the overhead locker. I tend to put a few bits and pieces in a small child sized Cath Kidson rucksack. I keep this inside one of the bigger hand luggage items while we are in the airport and whip it out once we’ve boarded. These are small enough to keep under the plane seat making them accessible at all times.
Snacks, snacks and more snacks!
If you are flying long-haul with a toddler, aeroplane meals are not always given out at the best time for little ones. The last thing you want is a hangry toddler on your hands! Children are much happier when they have a full tummy so think about what you can take with you. My children don’t usually snack a lot, so for them constant munching is quite novel!
I must admit I went overboard on our recent trip, but examples of snacks that I take with us include :
- Cut up grapes
- Dried fruit
- Lollypops (for take off and/or landing)
- sugar free / reduced sugar sweets (avoids too much of a sugar high)
- cereal bars
- fruit pouches
I also take plenty of milk with me and I keep it in an insulated bottle bag. There is no limit on milk for babies / toddlers when you fly. It is not always easy to buy milk in airports, however cafes will provide you with a cup of milk and when flying long haul the airlines will usually refill a bottle for you during your journey.
I had packed a blanket for each of the girls and a sleeping bag for the youngest. However, blankets were given to us on the plane and it was a lot easier to use these. Do bear in mind that if you have to change flights some airports are very well air-conditioned and may feel a little cold. If it is the middle of the night and you have sleepy children, travelling with blankets can be handy. An alternative is a scarf. I always fly with a large scarf which can double up as a blanket or a pillow.
If you are flying long-haul with a toddler through the night (which is always preferable with young children), then sticking to bedtime routine as much as possible can help to settle them to sleep. We changed our girls into their pyjamas, brushed their teeth, read a story and then settled them down for a few hours.
Beakers / children bottles
Staying hydrated when flying is really important. To avoid extra plastic waste and the cost of bottled water in the airport, we always fill our beakers up once we have cleared security. There are drinking water fountains in most airports.
However, beakers are also super useful on the plane. When little people are a bit over excited about their interesting tray of lunch, drinks can go flying and a beaker or a children’s bottle minimises this risk. I handed the beaker straight to the flight attendant to fill, rather than use their plastic cups.
Always take spare clothes for your children and for yourself in case of spillage and accidents.
When we travel we also pack a change of clothes per person in our hand luggage incase our hold bags go missing. I also include our swim wear so that when we arrive the kids are able to jump straight in the pool without having to wait for us to unpack. On this note, keep any medicines that you will need for the whole duration of your stay in your hand luggage.
You do not have to pay for a seat on a plane until a child is two years old. We had planned to take advantage of this on our recent trip, however our youngest turned two midway through the return journey. This seemed to confuse the airline who could not fathom how to charge us, despite multiple phone calls! In the end, my husband and I decided that she would be better off with her own seat. Although we lost the opportunity to fly with her before we had to pay for a seat, it was definitely the right thing to do! Looking back now, I cannot imagine having a very energetic nearly two year old on my lap for two flights of 6 to 7 hours each!
If you are flying long-haul with a toddler under 2 years of age it is worth considering paying for their own seat. If you do not want the added cost of the extra airfare you can ask if there are any spare seats when you check in. It is best to arrive at check in very early if you are hoping for this option. It would not have been possible on our outbound flight which was full.
If a child under 2 does have their own seat, they may still have to sit on your lap during take off and landing, plus during any time that the seat belt sign is on such as during tubulance. I say ‘may’ because although we took four flights with the same airline, it was inconsistent as to whether our nearly two year old was given a lap belt or not! If in doubt, check with the airline in advance for their individual policies.
If your child is under 2 or under 11kg in weight you can request a bassinet. These are usually distributed on a first come first serve basis and priority is usually given to younger babies. Another option would be to consider travelling with a carseat which can be fitted on to the plane seat. This may help restrain little ones if need be! You will need to check that your carseat is compatible with the airline that you are travelling with.
Choosing a window seat is always a good option when possible. Children enjoy looking out above the clouds. However, on our recent flight with Ethiad, to enable us to sit together as a family of four we were given the middle row. As we did not pay to prebook our seats, on one flight we were not able to sit as a four. We were given three seats together and one across the aisle. If we had this scenario again we would try and book a two and two. It was hard for the girls to get comfortable and it would have been easier if they could have both leaned on a parent.
Toddler and children meals
If your toddler does have their own seat, don’t forget to order them their own meals. The little trays full with food of various shapes and sizes is quite exciting for little ones.
If we were to fly long-haul regularly I would definitely purchase one of these. It acts as a ride on suitcase in a similar way to a Trunki with some storage space inside, but then its key function is that it turns a seat into a bed. This makes a much more comfortable sleeping space for children. Check out the Jet Kids website for more information.
Most major airlines accept a bed box, but you do need to check before you travel.
However, there are also alternative options that are cheaper and I am definitely keen to try one of these inflatable options for the girls next time we fly long-haul.
Usually, the headphones provided by the airlines are too big for toddler sized heads, therefore it can be nice to take your own for children. Double check if the airline needs an adapter if you do provide your own.
A long-haul flight is definitely not the time to limit screen time. My 5 year old had never played a computer game before we flew to Thailand. She ended up spending hours immersed in Tetris and PacMan! My nearly 2 year old enjoyed listening to the children’s songs. The novelty of having the music played to her through headphones meant that we had ‘the wheels on the bus’ on repeat over and over again!
Toys for travel
When I was planning our trip I picked the brains of friends who had already travelled long-haul with little ones. They gave me some great ideas, most of which I am sharing with you. Having some favourite toys and entrainment plus some new and exciting things to discover tends to be a great combination. Pop to a Poundland before you travel and pick up some bargains.
Wrapping one or two things up to hand out during the flight can be exciting and help fill time. I wrapped up a new pair of headphones for each of the girls and I also filled a couple of party bags with old tat that they had previously received but not played with in a long time. This cost me nothing but was exciting for the girls.
Pace yourself with the toys. Ideas of what to take include:
- aqua pens
- magic painting
- crayons and colouring pencils:
Crayola does a range of mess free colouring books. The colours only appear when the pens are used in the special books. They do not show up on anything or anywhere else.
Also, bear in mind that many airlines offer children’s packs on a long-haul flight. These usually contains a few crayons, a game or an activity. And don’t underestimate the use of the safety card! Both my girls spent ages trying to make head or tail of the laminated sheet!
Stretch their legs
Sitting for hours on end is hard for anyone, especially little ones. Let them have wonder up and down the aisles every now and then.
On a recent flight with Ethiad, an air stewardess approached me and introduced her self as the ‘on-board’ nanny! I never knew such services existed. She said that if the children were bored that we could come and find her and she would help to entertain them. She also offered to wash, refill and heat bottles of milk. Unfortunately, it was a night flight and therefore we did not need her services but it was great to know that she was there.
Also, make the most of any flight changes that you may have by letting the little ones run off steam. If you have time, seek out the children’s space or play area. We changed flights just over 6 hours into our journey. I really enjoyed having time to stretch my legs and let the girls run around.
Baby carrier or sling
Although my daughter was almost two when we travelled, I found the sling very useful when boarding and disembarking the plane. Once you hand your stroller in as you board you will not see it again until you reach your final destination. The sling helped to contain a wayward toddler and kept my hands free to help my other daughter and carry bags. I have used the Ergobaby Baby Carrier for years. Some airports do provide strollers for use in the terminal which is handy between flights. It is worth checking with the airport before you fly.
Flying long-haul with a toddler is never going to be a relaxing experience. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best! Some children may not sleep, no matter how tired they are. However many parents find that the lull of the plane and the white noise helps little ones to settle. You may well experience a melt down at some point but try and keep calm and be patient. Toddlers are not able to understand why they have to be restrained for hours on end but hopefully these tips will help to make your long-haul flight as smooth as possible.
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