Flying Long Haul with Little People

Jenny Igoe on 01 May 2020
My definition of long haul is 7 hours plus. The longest flight we have taken with our kids is 17 hours, Perth to London, age 3, 7 and 8. So I feel equipped to cover this subject.

Whether its to visit family in New Zealand, or Mickey Mouse in Orlando, its ALWAYS worth the travel time.

I give mine a bag each which they need to pack with things for the flight. My 9 year old would take up all the room with her favourite cuddly toy. My 10 year old would bring her vlogging camera and an eye mask. My 5 year old would want his Top Trumps.

As the parent you need to be mentally ready. But it can be done! And even enjoyed. Break the flight down into sections… Boarding the plane is exciting. Take off can be testing with babies who need to pop their ears (plan to feed them during take off and landing to help with this) and toddlers who need to stay strapped in their seat when they may not want to be. Bribery is a good tool…. Screen time and Haribo are totally acceptable here. Check out the movie list…. Hook them up with their headphones for the first hour or two of the flight. Food and drinks trolley – excellent – this passes a good hour… gets them fed, we get to have a glass of something nice which is relaxing and lets face it makes us nicer parents! It can be a long time waiting for the trays to be cleared, so we designate one person to take one for the team, taking all the trays stacked in front of them to free up the others and allow the kids to get out to the loo. If you have really little ones, getting them changed at this point can help encourage “sleepy time” which is the ultimate goal!

I find that age 6 and up they are really just content with the movies and games… for most of the time. I do always have some other things in my bag that they aren’t expecting like a magazine, snacks and of course – playing cards! For me the most challenging age is the 1.5 years to 4 years where they are fidgety/tired/hungry and if you are parents of this age group there is a certain amount of acceptance needed. They are going to cry, probably kick the seat in front a lot, need to have cuddles and stimulation at different times… you’ll need to engage in their games/books… so be ready for that. Let them sleep when they want to… you can recover any lost routine once you get to your destination, the flight is about survival with the least amount of stress. If you are lucky enough that your kid falls asleep… don’t do what I do and get stuck into the mini bottles of wine while binge-watching. You sleep as well. You will thank yourself when they wake and you haven’t got a dehydrated hangover brewing. After that you are on the home straight. Another meal will be served! Another movie! A stretch of the legs… maybe brush their teeth and get excited about being there soon. Mine are always fascinated to look at the moving map to see where we are flying over.

Recently I put this subject out to my customers to ask for their top tips. The responses were heart-warming and hilarious. More than one told me tales of exploding baby poos – why does this ALWAYS happen on planes, is it the air pressure? Another told me they always wish they could tell the mothers and fathers with crying babies that its okay…. Just comfort the child…people are not judging! Anyone who stares… let them. They are likely to be in awe of your bravery.

If you are travelling with a baby under 2, you can request a Bassinet. This allows one parent plus the baby to sit at the bulkhead (extra leg room) with a small cot/babyseat, freeing up your arms and some space on your lap when they sleep. Booking with a Travel Counsellor can help improve your chances of securing one since we have seat maps and live availability.

The cabin crew are your best friend in terms of heating baby milk, or having a chat with your older kids to pass the time and providing activity packs. Don’t be afraid to accept help from them if you are travelling as a single parent with more than one child, if you need to pop to the bathroom while one sleeps, or if two are crying at the same time. They are often delighted to help!

Planes can get chilly so I dress mine in comfy clothes, and they love the blanket and pillow that the airline provides. Emirates really made our first long haul flight special by coming round and taking a polaroid picture, and giving it to the child as a gift. When it got late they brought around hot chocolates and marshmallows, what's not to love!

I mentioned before, our longest flight was on the 17 hour non- stop service from Perth to London. It was the last flight home after an amazing Australian holiday. Its all very well preparing for a flight to your destination, packing a bag of spare clean clothes and fresh unread books and gadgets…. but what about after living out of a suitcase for 3 weeks, clothes dirty, books all read from cover to cover? I felt very anxious at the airport wondering how on earth we would survive the next 17 hours. I needn't have worried. Granted they had been prepped for this by the long flights taken 3 weeks earlier, but still….. they behaved like seasoned travellers. Kids deserve more credit than we give them!

Qantas have been very clever when designing this flight. Firstly, the seats are roomier because they removed one seat from each row, creating a 3-3-3 configuration instead of the usual 3-4-3. This small change made a huge difference. Secondly, the aircraft is dark. After drinks and dinner, the cabin crew vanish, the lights are out… it feels natural to sleep. And sleep they did! 8 hours for my 3 yr old, just over 6 for my other two. You can't say fairer than that. For the parents staying awake for the peace and quiet,there is a self service fridge at the back for all the snacks, beers and water you could want.

With better understanding of Autism and hidden disability within airlines and airports now it is easier than ever to travel with children affected by these issues. Travel Counsellors can advise on ways to reduce anxiety and stress when travelling with children who have additional needs.

If you consider removing your usual flight length restriction for your next family holiday, let me come up with a holiday created for everyone’s tick-list, kids included. You might be surprised at where you can get to for your money!

And with this extended lockdown and travel ban I am sure that long haul flights to visit loved ones will be more popular than ever when the restrictions are lifted.

Until then! x