Taking a Long Haul Flight with Preschoolers

The realities of travelling with babies and toddlers means you are far more likely to be packing snacks and toy cars in your favourite hand luggage rather than beauty products and the sleep mask you may have found there pre-babies. However taking a long haul flight with preschoolers in tow doesn’t need to be a fraught experience. With some thoughtful planning you might even be able to sneak in a cheeky 15mins of the inflight movie undisturbed!

Here is how…

1. Plan ahead and then plan some more

  • Where possible book a night flight. Get little ones as prepped for bed as possible before heading to the airport, arrive in comfortable loungewear that can double as PJ’s. With any luck by the time it gets to wheels up they will be tired enough to gently fall asleep to the hum of the engines.
  • If you are travelling smart you will have a sensible ratio of 1 adult to 1 child, although this isn’t always possible. If you can split the children up between the adults in your party, divide and conquer is key…don’t venture too far away though. Consecutive rows will be perfect. By splitting the children you can avoid bickering and general mayhem, but you need to be in close enough proximity to the other adults. This will enable toilet breaks and the much needed extra pair of hands when a drink inevitably gets spilled etc. If you are pre-booking seats try and get the centre section, giving you access to both aisles for pacing restless babies up and down.

2. At the airport, calling all passengers!

  • Don’t worry about investing in what might seem like a handy ride on case or scooter bag, they may seem like a brilliant idea but inevitably the kids will get bored of the novelty in 5 mins and it will leave you with extra items to carry around the airport. Keep hand luggage to the essentials, carrying babies and toddlers the long walk to the gate is enough of a pre-flight work out.
  • To give yourself the most relaxing airport experience possible (no Home Alone style scenes of running through a busy airport to make it to the gate please) try and give yourself 3 hours before board time to get everyone fed and airport essentials bought. Perhaps treat the children to a new toy that will captivate their attention for the airport wait and some of the flight. Under NO circumstances cave into buying sweets at this stage, sugar fueled children is not conducive to making this plan a success! When it comes to choosing somewhere to eat the draw of the champagne and oyster bar will be strong, we all remember that being the starting place of all good holidays pre-children but now is not the time. Choose somewhere family friendly with quick service, if you are lucky they will serve a decent prosecco by the glass (stick to one glass though, and keep hydrated)!

3. Inflight entertainment

  • Using a dummy, giving a bottle or breastfeeding during takeoff and landing can help regulate the pressure in babies ears. A well supervised sugar free lolly could be a good solution for older toddlers.
  • Comfort is key! Child size flight pillows are a worthy investment to help older toddlers get comfortable and settled to sleep. If you are travelling to a more extreme climate than the one you have left ensure you pack a change of clothes to suit where you will be disembarking, layers are great for adding or shedding to get comfortable. Don’t forget nappies and/or spare underwear and socks for those that are potty trained. The results of a missed trip to the potty will have an incredible knack of travelling south quickly and no child seems to be able to endure a soggy sock for longer than 0.00000000000005 seconds.
  • A tablet and child size headphones are fab for toddlers 18 months and over, if you have to use endless episodes of Peppa Pig to make the flight a success that is fine and with the headphones you and the other passengers won’t have to endure it. Any younger than 18 months and you will probably spend the whole flight putting them back on and picking them up off the floor. Before purchasing check they are age appropriate for your child.
  • Pack lots of snacks to keep little ones fed if they get peckish between the designated meal times or as back up if the inflight meal isn’t to their taste.
  • Wrapping a small present up for every hour of the flight will help keep toddlers well occupied. Ideas include colouring, mini playdoh or stickers. You don’t necessarily need to go out and buy new toys, they will be surprised to unwrap and see familiar toys from home to unexpectedly play with on the flight. For ultimate convenience why not check out ‘Keep em quiet’ who can supply you with age appropriate pre-packed goody bags stashed with toys, activities and healthy snacks in a handy drawstring bag. Children will love to carry these around and rummage through during the flight. Bags can be customised for travel time length to ensure there is lots to keep them busy not only during the flight but throughout your trip. Meaning you don’t need to worry about packing any toys in your suitcase.

4. Arrivals

  • Whether you are travelling for business or for pleasure, you are one flight down and you did it! We are betting it went much better than you thought, consider yourself parenting level EXPERT. Now go and enjoy your trip and consider how the preparation may have felt stressful but how culturally enriching the result is for your child.

5. Coming home

  • Jet lag is a concern when you have a routine that is working well for your baby/toddler. On your return give children 72 hours to get back to their routine on their own, if that isn’t working try and take a more rigid approach to getting back to what works.
  • You now most likely have at least a couple of long haul flights with babies and/or conquered and under your belt. Where are you going next?

By Louise Lennon