Kids on long haul flights: What I learnt

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Whilst I am on the train from London to Edinburgh with access to free wifi and kids quiet for the minute, I thought that I would share some of the learnings from our flight over here. Australia is a LONG way away. That’s the first thing I learnt. That and a whole lot of other stuff. Now, I haven’t done a great deal of international flying with our girls. We took a trip to Paris when Daisy was almost 2 to visit my little sis and her husband who were living in  London at the time thinking that it was great that we didn’t have to pay for a seat for our almost 2 year old. I am still equally laughing and shuddering at the memories from that trip with a BIG kid who had to sleep on us or the floor only to have the seatbelt sign come on each and every time she fell asleep. Other than that we have just had some smaller trips to Fiji and the like – all under 5 hours away which really is a breeze.

Waiting

Knowing that we had 24 hours of travel ahead of us, we took the option of a stopover, and with the cheapest early bird flights we could get that meant a 6am flight out of Sydney with an overnight stop in Dubai. The best thing about this god awful early flight meant that we started our adjustment to jet lag straight away. We were up at 3am to be at the airport by 4am for check in and already starting the transition to the complete opposite times of the world. You know the thing I forgot about travel? The WAITING. And with kids that wait can be BULLSHIT. Because they think that as soon as you get to the airport that means you are on the plane. Next time I will prep them for the waiting. The check in waiting, the customs waiting, the gate waiting, the onboard waiting for take off.

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Once on board go HARD with the entertainment. Go hard and early. This is the time to watch as many films or TV shows that you can because it’s all new and exciting for the kids. Don’t show them that games are even an option if you have little ones because you end up spending all your time showing them how to play the game rather than watching Downton Abbey. Everything is a novelty at this point in time so soak that shit up.

About 7 or 8 hours in things look a little different. 4 year olds have exhausted the entertainment options and may be looking for something else, or you could be lucky enough to get a nap in. My advice? Go to the bathroom or have food/drinks/entertainment sorted before that kid uses your lap as their pillow because it could make for a very uncomfortable few hours otherwise. That, or sleep. Sleep while you can!

Craft/colouring wise the thing that just kept on giving was this Djeco scratch thing that my Mum got the girls. Daisy being older meant that she was completely engrossed in the movies, but for the little one she was after other options – sticker books, colouring books etc were all necessary and gave enough of a distraction so that interest could be re-spiked for movies. Trips to the toilet were also enough of an adventure…and when all else fails, turn to hard liquor. I am tres impressed with Rob when I looked down the aisle to see thew creation of a bloody mary going down! Well played my friend, well played.

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After 14 hours we made it to Dubai and the best thing ever was being able to get the girls in a bath, into their pi’s and into bed for a good nights sleep. It made ALL the difference. We could stretch the girls out a little further with some time in the pool…every kid loves a swim and will fight against sheer exhaustion for the chance for one I think. I’m so glad we did this stopover.

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The next leg of the flight really was a breeze – the girls knew what 14 hours felt like so knew that 5 and a bit was EASY. And it kind of was – Harps was scared of the toilets on the plane (the flushing thing was the cause I think) so it meant she was a little anxious at the prospect which meant she didn’t want to go, which is NEVER a good thing for a 4 year old. Much convincing saw us get there in the end, but it could have been tricky and I knew an accident was highly probable. The other killer was not ordering kids meals – even though they are just a variation on the adult ones, they are more likely to have a crack at it rather than a salmon steak. That and snacks, I underdid the snacks and there’s one thing that grates is hearing “I’m hunnnnnnnngry”.  Of course you can get down into that galley kitchen and see what they have – there’s usually fruit there but having your own selection would be a good idea too.

Once we got to London there was more waiting, more queues and then a cab ride – I should have given more of a heads up about that time as well to stop the inevitable tears that followed. We landed at 2.30pm which was a great time to settle, go for a walk and get dinner into them before a normal 7.30pm bed time. 3 days later, I can say we are through the worst of the jet lag and ready to get on with the holiday.

My top tips
  1. Start to prep time frames as early as you can and give it to them in times they understand – the trip will take a whole day at Preschool, then gymnastics and then dinner and bed and even a little longer!
  2. Prep for waiting times as well – maybe even have some treats/prizes/snacks to use as you get through each obstacle. Once you are checked in, give one out, then when you get through customs etc another. The queue waiting is a part of the travel that I just didn’t factor in
  3. Take snacks for the plane
  4. Make sure you have some craft/colouring in
  5. Prep and explain about toilets and potential scary noises that may happen and try to get them to go just before boarding because that seat belt sign is on for some time
  6. An overnight stopover is good if you have the time
  7. Keep expectations low, as low as you can and everything seems like a bonus!
  8. Pack some panadol in your handbag in case – you never know when you’ll need it
  9. Pack an extra set of clothes/underwear for little ones because spills or accidents are inevitable

But I haven’t done this very much so you guys tell me what the best tips are that you have for long haul flights with kids?

Comments

  1. we travel so often that the kids are now afraid of a normal toilet flushing! I let them wee and then send them out and flush with the door open. Also, never underestimate the backup of such wonderful things as phenergan or melatonin. I don’t actually use them but gain confidence knowing they are there. Divide and conquer is the key – luckily we travel in so many dodgy countries where we can check in without all of us being present to the attendant the whole time. We all smile and hand over the passports and then Mr runs off with the kids while I do the loading weighing checkin form filling ya ya rah rah rah. Clothes for mum are important too because i have been spewed on too many times at 36,000 feet. I am of the bandaid theory though – get all travel over and done with, as we’re often more pissed off and fatigued by incessant breaks in travel than we are by just getting the hell on with the trip and collapsing at the destination.

  2. I’m so excited for you that you are here in our summery hemisphere!! 😉
    I am still recovering psychologically from travelling alone with a 20 month old from Europe to Australia.
    Never. Again.
    You’re right, it’s the waiting that is the killer. And the fact that they board people with kids first on the plane doesn’t help at all! It just makes the ‘flight’ longer!
    I have no tips to add to your brilliant ones. Just keep breastfeeding, if you’re in to that ;)) Obv not going to work for the older kid variety, but was my one lifesaver with my little man.
    Enjoy your next leg! x

  3. Love the tips re DIY snacks and entertainment. Always good to have more than you think you’ll need. And you’ve totally convinced me on the stopover. Just looking at your photos of onboard vs hotel room reminds me how crap it is to be cooped up inside a plane for that long and how lovely it would be to have a good dose of space.

  4. The worst bit of planes and airports for me? Those stupid bloody balustrade things they put up at every single queue. Without one of my kids will pull on them, knock them over manage to let the ‘rope’ go snap.

    When I flew home last year (on my own with 3 kids) I went for the stopover in Singas and stayed with good friends. It was fab. The downside? The night before my flight to Sydney, my friends had a party where there was buckets and buckets of French bubbly that I just had to help them drink. The 5am wake up call was painful to say the least. The 8 hour flight was much more painful. Idiot, I am.

    My only sage advice after a lot of flying the past two years. Expect the absolute worst – that way it will be a complete success!

  5. If one of your kids is a seat kicker, arrange to have one parent sit in front of that kid. It will save the passenger in front from getting annoyed. Only Hubs will get annoyed! Another trip is to put the child’s favorite cuddly toy in the seat pocket. (You showed that in one of your pictures.) the child will not likely kick the cuddly, or if he/she does, you can say you’ll take it away for a while.

  6. Skinnyflatwhite says:

    The best tip I have is when you next upgrade your phone, keep the old ones, load some games on them and whack them out as a surprise OMG I got you your own phone just before takeoff. Hours of entertainment. Until they run out of charge….

  7. We always bring a couple of secret ‘new’ toys along with us. For those times when they kick off and there is no consolation. My son’s happy place is the plane so we have slot of distractions when not on planes. We always get the kids meal and emirates is great for kids meals, entertainment and presents.
    The only must do for is now is a stopover both ways.

  8. Living overseas we have done our fair share of long haul flights.

    I prefer flying overnight as my 6 yo is quite a good sleeper and has been known to sleep 10 out of the almost 14 hour flight from the Middle East to Sydney.

    I always talk to my daughter ahead of time about “airplane behaviour”. Basically not talking at the top of her lungs, not banging on the back of the seat in front and making sure she understands that it’s going to be a LONG flight but that there will be a present at the end of the journey is she’s a good flyer.

    Loading their fave movies on the iPad is also good and having a kids size set of headphones.

    We’ve got our flight back to Australia in 3 weeks and I’m already getting my daughter prepared. So far we’ve never had any major issues * touches wood!

  9. lllearningmum says:

    I’m such an amateur at this flying with kids thing. I have one but have done Japan, Ireland and Melbourne flights from Sydney in my short time as a mum.
    I think you have to remember there is a start and end point to the flight. Jet lag however does not give you a defined end point. be prepared for the jet lag upon return. Have dinners in the freezer ready to go. Have friends/ family ready to day babysit to help you recover.
    We are fortunate to have relatives in Dubai so stopovers are common for us.
    I think parents need to unite and have some kind of hashtag for travelling with kids and where/what play equipment is available at different airports. It would help prepare parents. Maybe even have photos of things like the toilet for the kids.

  10. Great tips! After loads of travelling with kids, I would add to bring a change of clothes for the parents (not just kids), plastic bags, and/or “disposable” clothes for the kids in case they get sick (my kids travel in their most stained, holey clothes which are simply discarded if they get sick). My kids get motion sick, so we are well trained in this area! (and it’s hard to know if your children haven’t flown, so it’s best to be prepared!)

  11. We had a change of clothes for both kids and parents. And our big boy wore those night time sleeping pants. That way if he suddenly needed to go during takeoff or landing or if there was a queue it wasn’t an issue. And he never did need them. We ordered kids meals. And we had new books and pencils and activities that they loved. Plus loads and loads of TV and movies. Our almost 2 year old sat on my lap and watched an hour worth of peppa pig 14 times to LA. which meant I watched 14 hours of silent Peppa reruns. I just went in with very low expectations and was quite pleased in the end.

  12. Toilet… My five year old hates the flushing in the plane – we flush it whiskt she is standing outside and I lean in to do it. I just have her wash her hands etc before she leaves and I use hand sanitizer if we’ve used up the rest of the aircraft’s patience!

  13. When we flew to the States I think C watch Peppa Pig for about twenty hours straight. Thank goodness for that pig!
    Two little things I found challenging when travelling with my two year old (in his own seat).
    The airplane headphones didn’t fit C’s head…luckily he didn’t mind watching a silent version of Peppa Pig.
    Also if you are flying with a toddler and you are paying for a seat, the bulkhead seat is actually not ideal. You can’t put the seat arms up as they contain the entertainment console and so your child can only sleep sitting up. On the way over we had a bulkhead seat…I thought it would be roomier but it meant that C didn’t really sleep. On the way home we had a normal seat, he put his head on my lap and slept practically the whole way!
    Next time I fly home it will be with a three year old and a newborn…help me!

  14. Rebecca says:

    Thanks soooooo much. Flying to NYC in December with two kidlets – 21 hours in a confined space not my ideal situation but when heading to your spiritual home one has to do what one has to do. Thanks for all the great tips for the trip!!!!

  15. What great advice you all have… makes me feel like jumping on a long haul flight with 3 children… one day if I ever travel abroad with children I will be so clued up it isn’t funny. I take my hat off to all of you amazing people doing these long flights with young children. I can barely make it from Mt Isa to Dubbo which is only an 8 hour day (flights and waiting included)…

  16. Elisha Rose says:

    After a recent flight with my 2 and 5 year old kids where the entertainment system did NOT work at all (expectation management fail as the kids and I were pumped about the idea of watching new movies) , it got me thinking on how airlines might improve the child/parent/childless flight experience.
    My idea is that planes should clear a few rows of seats in install interactive wall panels or some child friendly play area for kids. This would be within te “kids and parent zone” of the plane. There could be a slight premium to be seated in this area with extra room for your children to play.
    There could be another zone of the plane that is completely child free, people could pay a slight premium for being seated in this area where they could expect to not have noise of children. (Although I thought my girls were really good on the flight, my 2 year old did have a little meltdown at one point which caused the lady sitting in front of us to turn and stare my daughter down with the biggest dirty look I have ever seen.)
    Win – win? Would you pay a little but extra to be in a child friendly area with extra room and toys etc for the kids to play with?

  17. Thanks, Beth! We’re leaving tomorrow on the long-haul Melbourne to London. It’s our first-ever overseas flight as a family – it was great to read these tips. We’ll definitely prep the wait-time (hadn’t thought of that.) That photo of the seat space really hits home just how cramped it is for such a long trip!

  18. We bought little Vespa ride on scooters for their carry on luggage. They had a strap we could pull them on when they got tired. Man was it helpful when we walked miles through healthrow after a long haul flight. The kids loved them and we didn’t have to carry their bags or them. We also load up new games on the iPad for the trip and phenergan is my miracle in a bottle. For me and the kids. Yes, the pharmacist gave me some for adults and it helped me get a bit more rest on the flight. It’s actually really good for motion sickness as well. the pharmacies told me it’s the only thing that will work AFTER being sick, and we discovered she was correct on a high speed train through Europe. It does of course make them sleepy but that’s not such a bad thing when you have a miserable little girl fighting the vomit in the quiet zone of a train. Oh yes, and take lots of wipes!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Kids on long Haul flights: what I learnt […]

  2. […] 1. Here’s my tips for surviving the long haul flight from Sydney to London. 2. Here’s my tips for travelling OS (Europe) with small kids. 3. Here’s my packing tips. 4. Here’s my tips for travelling to Fiji with kids. […]

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