Before reaching for sedatives, consider slightly less drastic action. When flying long-haul, especially at busy holiday times, you might have little choice but to take red-eye flights and – the dread of all dreads – sit in middle seats.
Screaming babies and bored kids can make 8-, 10- and 12-hour long flights seem twice as long – on you, more than anyone. To up your odds of enjoying the process, here are 12 tips to enjoy a long flight with children (*plus a bonus tip at the end). Just remember, whatever happens, there’s a stiff drink waiting at the other end. For you, not for them.
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12 tips for a long flight with children
Whether you’ve booked your flights or are still perfecting an itinerary – here’s how to make sure the only comments from your fellow passengers are compliments: “She’s so well-behaved!” or “I didn’t even realise there was a baby behind me!” Can it be done? Let’s see what we can do.
1. Pack a big kids’ bag
Even a very small child can cart their own travel pillow, comfy bits and a few toys or books.
It’s a toy, a seat, a ride and a suitcase: Trunki ride-on suitcase performs all kinds of magic as a ride-on toy, a seat while waiting in queues and as a toddler-sized carry-on suitcase. It even meets the carry-on size requirements for Bangkok Airways. Used as a ride-on toy, the Trunki ups your odds that they’ll tire out en route to the plane.
Hands free to be held: Trunki PaddlePak – A backpack means you can keep hold of your children’s hands while they do their own carting. It’s waterproof, too, so works wonderfully as a beach bag.
2. Gate-check your buggy/stroller
If your babies are still stroller-size, hang on to your equipment until the last possible second. A gate-check buggy bag means the only germs returned on landing are your own. As well, the bag keeps straps and delicate parts safe from getting caught in anything. Gates at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) are miles apart, so make sure to keep your stroller with you until you board.
3. Bring amazing snacks
Your very best tactic = distract with food. Use lollipops as a crucial tool; they’re “please don’t scream” prevention, especially during take-off and landing. For the remaining 8+ hours, if you’re happy for the plane food to be treated as a science project, snacks that take time to eat are prized distractions – your first line of defence. Ziplocks or spill-proof containers filled with Goldfish crackers, pretzels, gummy snacks, etc – and plenty of them! Flight attendants can fill up your spill-proof water bottles or sippy cups (just bring them empty through security). Older kids might like Vapur Kids Quencher bottles, they’re futuristic and a bit high-tech.
4. Board first, and settle in to play
Take advantage of your airline’s offer to board first and get your children settled. Once on the plane? It’s Tactic Time. We’ve rounded up all sorts of in-flight kids’ games, books, comforts and distractions to keep your children happy while flying long-haul. Many of these you’ll want to keep in your own carry-on to control delivery times (see #5), but have a starter pack ready to keep everyone happy and occupied for the hour or so for boarding time through to meal service and movies. This way, you’ve already won gold.
5. Reward with in-flight bribery (regularly)
Fill a carry-on bag with wrapped presents – each earned with good behaviour. Within? New books and games – including things like toy dinosaurs, a Barbie or matchbox car, a tub of PlayDough, and even things that might teach about your destination. The key is variety and choosing toys that are silent (or can be made silent). Nothing is more annoying than a video game or kids’ show at volume.
Sharing is caring: Want to play iPad games, or watch a movie together? Just tuck a headphone splitter in your bag.
6. Creative activities make the time flyView on Amazon
View on Amazon
View on Amazon
These creative activity sets suit a range of ages and have a long list of attributes perfect for kids on a plane: they’re quiet, they don’t make a mess, they don’t require batteries or have parts to fall on the floor, roll under a seat and disappear. Your children can work on them over the course of a few hours (and doodle during a movie). Wikki Stix and Play-Doh will make a creative space out of the plane’s tray table.
7. Play a game together
All of the above: (A) require just 2 people to play, (B) have no loose pieces to lose and (C) can be played in relative quiet sitting in your plane seats. Perfect!
8. Colouring booksView on Amazon
Throw in some new crayons, felts or coloured pencils and you’re golden.
9. Bedtime rituals
If you’re happy to turn your children into a science project, see if you can achieve subliminal “you’re getting v-e-r-y s-l-e-e-p-y” success with a pre-bedtime ritual: tooth-brushing and a change into PJs.
10. Sedate with comfort
SnooziHedz travel blankets look so comfortable we want a grown-up sized version. Now’s also the time to bust out a favourite bedtime cuddly toy and extra warm socks. For babies and very small children, many recommend the sleep-inducing trickery (and added safety) of using your his or her car seat on the plane. For older children, anything extra soft and snuggly might help send a child to sleep on a long or overnight flight. Even if for just an hour – that’s blissful time you can read, watch a movie or sleep as well. Your third-rate airplane rom-coms? They’re waiting for you.
11. Bedtime storyView on Amazon
View on Amazon
View on Amazon
12. Enjoy your layoverView on Amazon
If your long flight is actually two or more flights, check in advance where you’ll find play equipment or kids’ areas in your transit airports. Failing that, luggage carts and moving walkways tend to hold a fascination.
13. *Bonus tip* Assume Murphy’s Law can fly
Consider adding a few bits to your own carry-on for whatever “you’ve got to be kidding me” scenarios could find you mid-flight. Wet wipes galore. Air-sickness bands. Gravol. Ginger chews. Lollipops for take-off and landing. A dozen packs of earplugs for nearby passengers, should you suffer the ignominy of the plane’s screaming baby being your baby.
Our most genius tip of all? Put this “Oh Sh*t Kit” in a handbag organizer, or any quick-access pouch with lots of pockets and a hanging loop. As soon as you reach your plane seat, either put it in your seat-back pocket or hang it from the hook on your tray-table. That way, it’s totally ready – guaranteeing you won’t need it once.