One of the most nerve wracking times is approaching a long haul international flight with little ones. I don't know many people that even enjoy long haul flying without putting children into the mix. The prospect of being couped up in such a small space with a little wriggler of a child, for what seems like an eternity, is something no one in their right mind will look forward. But so many of us have family overseas or wish to travel further afield than what a common 1 - 3 hour flight will take us. But how to get through the trip with kids as happy as they can be, and if you are like me, hoping the other passengers aren't adversely affected by your family's presence on the flight!!!!
Bigger kids will generally cope with the inflight entertainment - crikey my kids would definitely get a buzz out of being encouraged to watch movies and play computer games for an extended period. Really little ones will hopefully stick to their eat play sleep routine, as long as they don't get too over tired. Its the crawlers and toddlers that really struggle. They just don't understand, they get thrown out of routines and can just be miserable. But being forearmed is definitely possible, and I trust these few ideas and tips will help get you ready for the adventure ahead.
1) Planning Your Flight Times and Stopovers.
If at all possible book a flight to travel during the night time. Even if you can't sleep, knowing your wee one is curled up contentedly on your lap sound asleep is just amazing. Try to get a good day sleep in prior to travelling, to try and alleviate them getting over tired. Stick to your routine leading up to the flight and get them in comfy clothing even wearing pyjamas onto the plane. Ensure you have a pillow and use an airline blanket (the pillows the airlines offer are not sufficient for either you or your little ones comfort). Plan a stopover if you are doing a double long haul trip. 12 hrs is enough at a stretch, and to have 24 hrs before you set off again is so much better than trying to do two back to back long haul flights. Book a comfortable hotel, get out and explore, swim, explore, play and stretch. Have a good night sleep, decent shower, and get ready for leg two!
2) Take Your Stroller Right to the Gate.
Many airports allow international travellers to take their stroller right up to the gate. It keeps the wee one contained as you are trying to get your family through customs, filling in paperwork, through duty free stores, and into the waiting area. Once in the departure lounge though you will have one last opportunity to give them a run around, so do let your precious cargo out for a good play and stretch prior to getting on the plane. This is definitely not the time to want to keep them contained - there's hours of that to come! If the attendants will bring your stroller back to the arrivals gate on landing, then your duty free experience may be all the more pleasant.
3) Make Friends with the Flight Attendants.
The airline staff are usually amazing and genuinely want a comfortable experience for all of the passengers on the flight. The staff will become an invaluable part of your trip and you may just find one a lifesaver! From heating bottles or food, to holding the wee one whilst you freshen up, even an empathetic smile and interaction with your child. They understand the plights that parents have and will bring you that extra cuppa if you aren't sleeping, and ensure you remain as comfortable as you can too. For flights that aren't full, airline check-in staff and attendants are wonderful at trying to give families a little more space, and if you get the bulkhead that is just a huge bonus! Take a box of chocolates to thank the attendants you will be amazed how a little bit of consideration for them will be repaid during the flight!
4) Food, Milk and More Food!
Be prepared for your flight with as much food as you can. Make it your wee one's favourite foods yet try to ensure that it is nutritious and delicious. Yummy healthy snacks will help to keep your child sustained without making the situation worse. The odd treat is fine (a lollypop for example can provide half an hour break for you) but don't fill them up on junk food or you may have to suffer the consequences. Carrot sticks, fruit, rice crackers, cheese, finger sandwiches, popcorn, fruit sachets, dried fruit are all awesome and will keep blood sugars at levels that don't cause outrageous meltdowns that they are capable of! Likewise with older kids, good food is a great distraction from boredom. Have loads of milk or formula that you can get made at the drop of a hat. You are allowed to travel with liquids for babies, in quantities larger than the standard 50 mls that other travellers are permitted. Remember to dispose of all left over fresh food and declare any unopened packaged food at your destination. I find it easier to have all food in one carry-on bag. This means its easy to check when filling in the declarations on your flight and its super easy at customs, beats digging through multiple bags and risking getting fined for not declaring an item!
5) Extra Clothing
Your hand luggage should be filled with spare clothing, not only for your little one, but you as well. My first flight with my number 1 had me covered in baby puke and then milky coffee within a hour of departure. I couldn't stand the smell of myself by the time I arrived at my destination and was super sensitive at what others must have thought of my aroma!!!! My babies always tended to be more spilly than usual on flights, Murphy's law will dictate that you will need one more set of clothing than you actually thought necessary. Rough flights or flights that the seatbelt sign is on for extended periods of time may mean that your child will become wet through or spill drinks over themselves (or on you). Remember if they are wet through then generally you will become soaked as well. (It is definitely a time to go with the saying "better to be safe than sorry!)
6) A Bag of Tricks.
Spend a little money prior to your flight on new little trinket toys and wee books. What kid does't love playing with new toys! Have a magic bag which you can draw from during the flight. A favourite old toy or best book isn't a silly idea either! Let the child reach into the bag and pull out special little treats throughout the flight. Choose things that are interesting and fiddly but definitely not noisy or you won't be at all popular with your fellow travellers.
7) Arsenal of Games
We all know WE are our toddlers favourite toy anyway so put away any misconceptions that you will watch a movie or read a magazine during your flight - heck you will probably struggle to even get a warm meal!!! You are going to be their number one amusement so the hard work starts from wheels up!!! Have stacks of games preprepared that you can play during the flight. Chopstick fun! Bring along a set of children's chopsticks and have your kids use them to try and eat their snacks. My older children would love this too so bring multiple sets or they will be intensely jealous. Eating raisins, rice crackers, fruit snacks etc with chopsticks from a cup is awesome fun and also offers fine motor practice! Eye spy! An oldie but a goodie, your toddler probably won't know letters but you can certainly play with colours instead, eye spy with my little eye, something beginning with blue, red, green, orange! Felt pads and shapes! Something I played with years ago and I remember how I used to love making pictures out of felt shapes. Better than stickers because you can move them around and get hours of fun and they won't roll off the little tray tables and under the seats to never be seen again. Magnetic boards are just as fabulous and will help provide ages of fun. Make your own books! Something else you can do in advance is to cut white paper up and staple into little books. Your child can create their own books, drawing or using stickers on all the pages and thoroughly enjoy creating their little masterpiece. Crayons and stickers are a must, and again it creates ongoing fun. Cards! Your preschooler may be ready for games like memory, so have a fun pack of mini sized cards. Snap is also great - prepare to be beaten by your new little card shark!
Enjoy the experience of flying with your children, it can only be easier with awesome preparation and your undivided attention during the flight. Sometimes everything just goes to custard and you can only hope that those seated around you have had kids of their own and can understand and help out if needed. Good luck to you all and just remember you get to do it all over again on the return trip home!!!!!