When You are in for the Long-Haul Flight

Modern Parent

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Embarking on a journey with children is a daunting thought, especially if you have not had the pleasure before. Yes, I am being sarcastic when I say ‘pleasant’ as it will be far from that. A long journey with kids can be one of the more stringent tests you will ever face as a parent.

Whether by train, plane, or automobile, traveling with little ones is tough. Hell, even jumping on a plane alone is a true test of patience.

Having been there, done that, and proudly wearing the I survived — just! tee, here are my tips for traveling with children.

Blissful babies and innocent infants

Breastfeeding is advantageous

The very first international trip I did with a kid in tow was moving from Auckland, New Zealand to Montreal, Canada. Hannah was only 5-months old, so I was still breastfeeding. It was my saviour. I didn’t have to calculate how many bottles of formula were required, nor harass the air hostess for cool boiled water to mix the stuff.

As a nurse-teacher, I often teach post-partum care and to tout the many benefits of breastfeeding, I recount the vivid memory of my seat neighbours on that first trip. They were bottle-feeding their kid who was about the same age as Hannah.

There was quite a commotion halfway through the flight when gentle drops of sticky formula were raining down from the overhead bin. It sounds bitchy, but I was silently chuckling to myself, thankful I was not in their shoes.

I just flopped out a boob and kept Hannah content while they soaked up the mess and sweated over whether they had enough formula left to last the journey.

When travelling, breast really is best.

Bassinet Seats

I definitely recommend pre-booking a bassinet seat so you can put your wee cherub down to sleep horizontally. Unless you book a seat for your baby — which is an expensive option — you will become the bed, and that will become arm and mind-numbingly painful after a couple of hours into the 12 hours plus flight.

The bassinet seat will cost you a little extra but it is worth it. The hostess can snap them into place once the seat-belt light is off and they support babies up until 8 months old — or 26 pounds/ 11.8 kilograms.

Soothing the unsettled babe

Babies often get irritable, especially on the descent — heck, even I suffer from dreadful earache as you drop altitude to land. The best way to deal with this is to feed them — or shove a pacifier in their mouth. The sucking and swallowing are comforting.

If you are experiencing the same pain, chew gum or yawn repeatedly!

Most passengers don’t mind babies — they’re cute as long as they’re not crying incessantly. Feel free to walk the aisle to soothe your little one. It’s good for your circulation and you’ll be sure to get lots of oooh’s and ah’s.

Terrible toddlers

Attempt travel at your own risk

Now this age is more than challenging — even when you are not high in the sky in a confined space with an audience to boot. If you can avoid it, do not attempt a long haul flight by yourself with this age group!

I recall a trip back to New Zealand when Hannah was two. By the time I got to Los Angeles, I was ready to turn around and go back to Montreal. I called my husband in a fit of exhausted tears and I still had the worst part ahead!

Hannah wanted to be on the go the whole time and only fell asleep once back in the stroller when we were killing time at LAX airport. I’d used up all my entertainment tactics and she had gobbled all the snacks in that one flight. What one earth was I thinking?

I did survive the LAX-NZ leg but it was touch and go that either of us would disembark alive.

After that experience, I was in no hurry to do the trip alone. And I didn’t — because I soon had another one to contend with too!

Be prepared for everything possible

If you are flying with toddlers, you have my permission to bring everything including the proverbial kitchen sink with you. Bring at least a couple of changes of clothing — for you and your kid. They will spill something, puke or suddenly regress to soiling themselves.

You need a stash of snacks, as meal times may not be when they are hungry. Pre-order a child meal but be warned they may turn their nose up at it. Let's be honest airline food is pretty nasty even for us.

Be mindful that you cannot bring food into a lot of countries — and most definitely not fruit — so you either have to ditch it onboard before disembarking or declare it. They are very strict about this in New Zealand and even have sniffer dogs running around the baggage claim area. They will catch you out; they actually even detect the smell of fruit even after you have destroyed it — I know!

Toddlers do not enjoy being strapped onto your lap for takeoff and landing as they have zero comprehension of safety rules and obligations. You want to minimize the time that they are confined or it will turn into an embarrassing battle that you absolutely have to win.

It is idiotic to allow your kid to run up and down the aisle anytime during a flight — and that includes pre-takeoff. It is ironic — and rather ridiculous — that airlines offer pre-boarding for people with kids.

I suggest staying in the departure lounge until the very last minute and let your energizer bunnies run wild. At least they can do so freely and are hopefully pooping themselves out so they crash into a deep slumber soon into the flight.

Chose your distractions wisely

Please bear in mind that there are a couple of hundred other people on board the flight who do not wish to be disturbed by your child(ren). This applies to screaming, persistent crying, physical activities — such as constantly booting the back of the seat in front of them — and bulky or noisy toys.

Anything pushbutton that makes cutesy musical or animal sounds is irritating. If you value your life — and that of your child(ren) leave those annoying toys at home.

I suggest bringing reusable stickers — so you don’t have to worry about your child plastering them over the windows, tray table and seatback, nor have the painstaking task of chiselling them off before you leave the plane. Washable markers are advisable for the same reason. They both worked a treat for my rascals.

Playdoh and a selection of shape-cutters are great as long as you keep a beady eye on where it ends up. If your child has a special teddy or blankie, they absolutely have to come on the trip too. For goodness sake don’t lose them though or your trip will become one from hell.

My last suggestion for this age group is if they are toilet trained to put them in pull-ups for the journey. Kids have a knack for saying they don’t need to go when you suggest it’s a good idea that they do, knowing there is going to be a long period of having no access to a bathroom. Or, they leave little time between the urge and the action.

Play it safe — use pullups. I’m at the age where I am starting to think I need to do the same!

Pre-school and school-age

The age of content

Often by the time your kids reach this age, they have already been on a plane so know what they are in for. Either way, you can start the fun at home, letting them choose a small backpack that they can pack some toys and snacks in. The same rules apply as those for toddlers when it comes to toys though! Nothing noisy, for the love of God.

There’s a whole bunch of pocket-sized magnetic games that can be played either in solitude or with your help. There are activity books and the obvious hand-held games. Maybe they are into writing so could start writing and drawing in a journal about their trip?

At this age, they are usually excited to have their very own television screen on the seatback in front of them. All airlines offer child-friendly channels that include movies, popular tv shows and games. If the airline is super child-friendly, they will hand out to each child a special pack full of goodies to feed and entertain them.

By the time my kids got to this age, I was insanely jealous of their ability to fall asleep in the most awkward positions and stay that way for practically the whole flight. I wish!

Maybe I was lucky that none of my kids had meltdowns on flights, but if yours does — and I’ve seen it — your skills as a parent are on public display. We can tell if you have mastered parenting with consistent discipline because your kid listens to whatever you say and stops whining.

Bribery and blackmail may work for a short time, but if they are used to having a hissy fit to get their way — and you can’t do what they want — then all I can say is good luck!


They should know better by now

If your teen is acting out like any of the aforementioned scenes then you have seriously failed as a parent.

Next time, leave them at home!


After all that juicy advice, I’ll leave you with perhaps the best option.

Air New Zealand states on its website that you can travel in one class and put your child(ren) in another. The rules are as follows:

  • Children must all be at least five years old
  • You will need to pay the full adult fare for their seat
  • You must collect and care for your children at the end of the flight, and during any stopovers

Damned! If only I knew about this option when my kids were teeny boppers! Shove them down the back and leave the hostess — and other passengers — to deal with them!

My advice for any type of long-distance travel is to pack more patience than clothes. You will need it at some point, especially when traveling with kids.

Sit back. Relax, and enjoy your flight.

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