Long flights can be intimidating for families- especially if young children are in tow. No one wants to be “that family” on an 8 hour flight. A little planning, a bit of preparation and the right tools can make your flight enjoyable for everyone involved.
Planning for your Flight
A great place to begin your planning is to look at what you take with you on daily outings. What do you need for a day trip to grandma's house or an afternoon with friends? This is a good indicator of what you will need on a flight.
Because delays are common, double the number of diapers, snacks, formula and other items of that nature. If you don't need them- great! Better to be prepared. Also carry on one extra outfit for toddlers and at least two extra outfits for infants. Accidents happen and clean, dry clothes go a long way to calming a fussy baby.
Bring a few quiet toys that your child likes. If they especially love a toy that makes noise, cover the speaker with a bit of masking tape; your child will still be able to hear it but it won't be so bothersome to surrounding passengers. Also pack a few new, small toys and books in your carry on. Wrap them, if you like (sometimes the unwrapping is the best part!), and offer them when boredom sets in.
If your child is using an electronic device be sure to bring along a child-specific headset; save those seated nearby (as well as yourself) from your child's favorite song or movie.
Packing for Your Trip
Traveling with small children can certainly add to your luggage load- and trying to maneuver luggage, herd (or carry) children, and get through security can be maddening. I suggest shipping non-essential and disposable items to your destination ahead of your trip.
Be sure to contact your first lodging before you ship items. I've yet to have anyone at a B&B or hotel tell me they don't accept packages, but it could happen. (I may have gone a bit overboard on what I sent ahead for my daughter's first trip to Ireland- but with sensitive skin and a picky eater it was better to be safe!)
Don't forget to pack a carry-on bag for your child- you have enough in your own bag. If your child is old enough to walk a small wheeled backpack is a great option- they will feel so grown-up as they wheel it through the airport. We also kept a favorite “lovey” easily accessible- nothing is too bad with your best friend nearby!
Try to keep your packing light, and either do laundry at your destination or pack items that can be worn a couple times and coordinate with multiple pieces. Keep non-essentials, like shoes and jewelry, to a minimum.
On the Plane
You should always purchase a seat for your child- no matter their age. Severe turbulence rarely happens, but when it does lap children are often injured. I strongly recommend using your carseat on the airplane if your child is two or under. Not only is it safer, but it is familiar to your child- which helps make the strange experience a bit easier.
For older children I recommend the CARES Aviation Harness, a 5-point safety harness that easily slips onto airline seats and is very portable.
While every family is different, I recommend boarding the airplane first, if possible. It will give you more time to get situated and let the kids get used to the surroundings. The time difference between boarding first or last is minimal and, after waiting at least two hours in the terminal your kids are ready for a change of venue.
Be sure to tuck bags with toys and snacks under the seat in front of you so they are easily accessible. Begin with a small selection- the longer you can make them last and keep things “new”, the better.
Of course many flights have in-seat entertainment and the uniqueness of the “little TVs” may be enough to entertain your kids for a couple of hours. We also rely on technology when all else fails. (See above about the headsets!)
In flight meals aren't created with young kids in mind so I usually pack trail mix, granola bars, or another filling snack to supplement the meal and keep little tummies happy.
Try to Rest
Thankfully children can sleep anywhere, and an airplane's restrictive seats don't pose a problem for them. I suggest following bedtime rituals as closely as possible- brush teeth, read stories, say prayers- and turn off your own devices, at least until the little ones are asleep. When they wake you will be near to landing and they will be ready for adventure!
Do you have a tip for overseas flights with children? Please share it in the comments!