How to survive a long haul flight: Flying with a baby, toddler and kids

Tips for Flying with a baby and kids 

Taking a long haul flight with kids may be some parent’s worst nightmare.  There are a million things that could go wrong, the disapproving stares, the fear of forgetting something or that the kids will just cry and cry.  I mean, before I had kids, I couldn’t bear to think about travelling with an infant.  But I got over that quickly, the wanderlust flame never burnt out in me.

To be honest, I’m a fan of just rolling with it.  At most, it’s a day or two of what could be crazy but you will get there in the end.  Just leave some time to recover at the other end.  But there are a lot of tools you can use to make the journey that little bit easier too.  I mean, why struggle when you don’t have to.

I’ve travelled across the world with my kids, even flying long haul 24 hours from New Zealand (including flying with a newborn by myself and solo with a toddler and preschooler)  But I also called on some fellow travellers to share their own tips and tricks for flying with a baby, toddler and child.

If you are somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere thinking about a long haul flight to New Zealand and wondering how on earth you could fly all that way, then don’t worry, we have you covered.  Try these tips then get geared up for a great New Zealand Road Trip

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Table of Contents

Tips for flying with a baby and kids: Before the flight

Tips for flying with a baby and kids: During the flight

Tips for parents

Get a lounge pass

Whether you are a frequent flyer and it comes with your card, or you pay for guest access, accessing your airline lounge will be the best thing you do before your flight with kids.  Let me tell you why

  • In case of any accidents, you have access to showers to clean yourself, or them up.
  • There is food on demand, perfect for the little ones that always seem to be hungry
  • Barista coffee… need I say more
  • Wine: if you are stressed about flying with an infant, this may help (but not too much)
  • Free WIFI gives the kids plenty to do before the flight
  • Some even have a kids room or area with tv screens and books and toys like the awesome Air New Zealand lounge in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • All your gear: You don’t need to worry about leaving your bags to go to the bathroom or grab some food.
  • Kids of certain ages go free (each lounge is different)

I just felt like it was safe and I could relax a little.  When I travelled with just a newborn, someone even offered to look over the stroller while I got some food.  When I took my two boys, it was great to just be able to grab some food and not have to worry that I had paid an exorbitant amount for something they wouldn’t even eat.  I loved the selection and the calm that came with the lounge pass.

Ride on Luggage

Having to navigate kilometres of terminals with slow moving toddlers, or worse, having to carry them along with everything else can be stressful.  But a great solution is to purchase some ride on luggage.

 

For those looking for something fun and funky, try the Trunki ride on luggage.  Fun animals will engage the kids, they will have all their own carryon, and they can either pull it, or ride on for a fun ride.  Or choose the JetKids bed box, that not only is a stylish and minimalistic ride on, it also has a pull out bed to turn your airline seat, into a lie down seat for the kids to sleep.  My best tip for flying with a baby – well slept kids are happy kids.

 

Or for parents with infants, you could also try the Mountain Buggy Bag Rider.  An ordinary carryon wheeled bag, but special strap and stability to create a carrier seat on top.  Kids love being able to see whats going on and going fast.

Flying with a baby, a mother smiles at her daughter on the way to her international flight
There are better options than breaking your own quality luggage. Try a ride on luggage, specifically designed for kids to ride on

Take a stroller to the gate

Especially if you have more than one child, or if you are travelling by yourself, then taking a stroller to the gate can be a lifesaver.  It’s not just for pushing your child around

  • It’s a great place for your child to nap if they need to.  I highly recommend sticking to your usual sleep routines if it is possible.  Ensuring they are well rested will make a far more positive start to your long haul flight.
  • You can offload some of your carryon luggage.  Even if the kids decide to walk for a while, it’s a great trolley alternative.
  • If you gate check the stroller, you can get it back at the next gate, meaning you can navigate customs at the other end with your own “trolley”
  • The kids won’t complain about having to walk too far if they can take a rest in the stroller.  It is a people carrier after all.

My favourite strollers are by Phil and Teds and Mountain Buggy as they both have double strollers that sit inline (one behind the other) so are no bigger than a single stroller.  I love that they also fit a bassinet and convert to a liedown sleep.  So if you need to take a stroller (beyond a typical travel umbrella stroller) then these would be my pick.

A note if you are using a stroller solo:  If you are by yourself, you may end up having to push a stroller and a luggage trolley at some point.  Or having to create the Leaning Tower of Pisa on our luggage trolley.  Doable, but just something be aware of.

Phil and Teds Stroller in Wellington Central City
Phil and Teds Inline Stroller- Lasted all three kids and great for cities since its not wide

Use a baby carrier

An alternative to using a stroller is to have a baby carrier.  This is my absolute preferred method of carrying an infant or toddler.  To be fair, you could even get away with carrying a spirited preschooler if you needed to.

When I travelled with my newborn, I had the stroller to the gate, then use a baby carrier to get onto the plane, then through transit.  

A baby carrier will leave you hands free to get through customs, to find food and to push all your luggage to the counter. Having them contained will also mean you don’t lose them amongst the crowds or have them running away during visa check.

Do be aware of what carryon luggage you do use.  Ie. Don’t bring a backpack for carryon luggage as well as a backpack baby carrier.  However a backpack and a front pack are a great combination for keeping your hands free to navigate the airport.

My favourite carrier for newborns is a woven wrap carrier such as a 9 in 1 cuddlebug baby wrap and sling.  When they are little, they are often too small to fit properly into a structured carrier and to be honest, I’m always worried they will get covered and slip down which is dangerous.  Whereas if you use a material wrap carrier, you can wrap them right into place.  They do take a bit to learn to tie properly but once you get the hang of it, I found they were much more secure. (thank you YouTube) 

For older infants, toddlers and preschoolers, I can highly recommend an Ergobaby carrier.  It can be worn as a front pack or a backpack and I have carried kids up to about 4 years old in them.  Easy to take on and off and my kids have always loved them.  They also love being up high to see. 

They also have a Ergobaby 360 carrier meaning kids can sit on your front facing outwards.  I always wanted to try one of these as friends of mine really rate them.  

Ergobaby Baby Carrier

Use packing cubes in your carryon luggage

It is very common these days to use packing cubes in your checked baggage, however with kids especially, I highly recommend using these in your carryon luggage to help you find everything.  At the very least, the kids will rustle through the bag and lose small items, so having these all in cubes will definitely help.  I recommend the following bags:

  • Snack bag
  • Nappies/Wipes/Change of clothes
  • Toys/Ipads/Books/In flight entertainment
  • A packing cube or pocket for tickets/passports/pens/flight information
 
There are two types of packing cubes

Standard cubes which are a light soft shell that separates your gear, or compression cubes which are great for making sure everything fits into tight spaces.  Compression cubes are usually more expensive.

 

We use the Shacke pack packing cubes.  They come in a variety of colours and the mesh is great to be able to see what is in the bag and which member of the family it belongs to.

 

If you are looking at a compression cube, don’t go past Tripped Travel Gear designed by fulltime travelers Tim and Fin.  They have a second zip to compress the bags, and remove the air and bulk.  Do be aware that you can fit a lot of stuff into your bag with compression cubes, so do check the weight of your carryon luggage.  Mine is always over the general 7kg.

Tips for using a dummy or pacifier

I said I would never use a dummy or pacifier (haha, pre-kids I knew nothing) but my kids were really sucky babies and they really helped them. Top tip:  Make sure you have a pacifier clip to attach to them.  This way you won’t lose it at a prime moment and they won’t drop onto a dirty airport floor (gross!)  In case of Murphys Law, pack some spare ones too. They recommend feeding babies to help their ears, but I have found that a dummy has helped as well for their ears, encouraging them to suck and swallow. We really like these pacifier clips

Book a SkyCouch with Air New Zealand

When I travelled to Washington DC from New Zealand by myself with an 18 month old and a 3 year old, the best thing I did was to book a skycouch.  A skycouch turns three economy seats into a liedown couch.  This means if you don’t have one of those kids bed converters (like a Jetkids box) that you can lie down and get some rest.

If you can imagine a footrest, a bit like a lazyboy that comes up and fills in the empty space, then this is practically the skycouch.  The good thing is that you can bring each seat up individually, meaning the kids can sleep while you have your seat like a normal seat.

Let me tell you why these are awesome in my mini Air New Zealand skycouch review
Advantages of the Air New Zealand Skycouch
  • Kids can lie down flat to sleep
  • With the couch up, the kids have a space to play without losing all their toys to the floor
  • It gives them more room to play and “explore”
  • An adult could lie down curled up and sleep next to a child
  • You can get an infant pod (baby bassinet) and lie down beside your baby
Disadvantages of the Air New Zealand Skycouch
  • You can’t tuck your legs behind you when you’re sitting upright.  I never realised how much I liked to stretch my legs by tucking them under the seat, but with the footrest in the way, you couldn’t do this.  I hated it like this actually.  So my advice is never to sit in a skycouch row (if you haven’t purchased the extra add on)  Or if you are a family of more than 3, get an extra seat beside the skycouch and you can swap around.
  • It does cost extra.  If you are sitting in the skycouch row, you have to pay to be able to use it.  The prices differ, but on my flight from Auckland to Los Angeles, it was around an extra $200 on top of an economy adult and 2 childrens seats.

Make a DIY Travel Activity Pack

Tip by Holly Connors from Four Around the World

We started a fun tradition with our girls right from their first long haul flights as toddlers, creating travel activity packs for them before we leave home. These have changed to suit their interests and ages, however, the basic concept has remained the same.

Our DIY travel activity packs are personalised travel toiletry bags that have several pockets and sections to fit different activities. 

Before we leave on a new trip, we load these up with fun stuff to keep them occupied while flying. They also work great for road trips or quiet time at our accommodation.

Popular with our girls are small puzzles, mini colouring and activity books with crayons or pencils, small toy dolls or cars, and mini travel games. They have also had card games, surprise toys and spelling activities. 

We also add a couple of snacks too since kids often get hungry between meals on flights. Being able to help themselves to snacks can make a difference in how calm they are. 

Flying with a toddler needn’t be too terrible if you keep them entertained.  If you ask our kids their favourite part of their holidays, their activity packs are often near the top of the list. It’s the little things.

If you are interested in some popular travel activities for kids, check out these ones below

Bring novelty toys

Tip by Stephanie Perez from Navigating Adventure

My go-to tip for travelling anywhere with small children (but especially long haul) is to prepare by purchasing a number of small, novelty toys and items that they will enjoy which they haven’t played with before.  I try to think of things my son will love – and put them away ready for the flight. 

For example, on a recent flight to Darwin we bought some LEGO minis characters, a small duplo toy, new colouring in book. Other ideas are the magic marker book and pen sets and matchbox cars. Bring a small pencil case to store them in once they have been opened and steer clear of toys that make noise. 

The trick to keep them hidden and bring them out gradually throughout the flight, at times when your child is becoming restless or bored. 

I learnt from past trips that my son’s regular toys don’t keep his attention for long, new ones are much more exciting and maintain his focus for that little bit longer. Another bonus is that he loves using them throughout the whole holiday.

We then keep a few more kept some tucked away for the flight back!

Breastfeeding

Tip by Babs from Travel Gear for Kids

Although breastfeeding is my go-to-answer for any issue involving babies, when it comes to a long haul flight with small children, I really wouldn’t be able to cope without it. 

My daughter was 4 months old when we took our first (long) flight – about 6 hours to Cape Verde. She had to sit on my lap with the extra seatbelt, but I was able to hold her in such a way that she could nurse and still be in a safe position for the take off. As she was just getting into that phase where she could keep herself awake, getting her to take a nap while being on such an adventure, would’ve been difficult without her “titi”.

As a toddler I found it even more useful. Nursing her offered a solution when she was hungry, bored or ready to take a nap. And when it was time for bed on our red-eye flights to Malaysia and Colombia, all I had to do was put on her pj’s, read a story and let her nurse herself to sleep. The same way she does at home.

If you aren’t able to breastfeed or choose not to (no judgement here: fed is best), having a bottle on hand can help with the takeoff and landing phases.  Flight attendants are able to heat the water and you can always add the powder yourself if you like.  Some airlines are happy to fully make it up for you, others prefer just to heat the water and leave the rest to you.  If you hop onto the plane early, now is a great time to ask to prepare a bottle before the other hundreds of people hop on board.

Use a CoziGo for ensuring a dark and restful nights sleep 

Tip by Clotilde Passalacqua from A Princess Travelling with Twins

Many parents recommend planning long-haul flights with small children at night, so they have to entertain them less as they will be asleep. For many it works, but I always suggest evaluating based on your child. 

For example, when our twins were very young, they slept well only in their cot in the dark, therefore we decided to book our first long flight with them by day. Of course, 10 hours was a long time to entertain our two little bundles of joy, but we could not imagine what they could have become if they had cried all through a night flight.

Fortunately, with a bit of organization everything worked well, especially as just before leaving we discovered CoziGo that is invaluable during daytime flights. At 12 months old they were still taking two naps a day, (without them, grumpiness for the rest of the day would be assured!), during a day flight it would have been impossible to get them to sleep if we had not had this cover.

CoziGo is easily fixed to the different types of airline bassinets and can also be used daily with a stroller. If your baby is used to sleep in the dark then this solution can save you from a long unhappy flight and stressing about your fellow passengers.

Nab the Bassinet in the Bassinet Row

Tip by Catherine Brady by Traveling with the Littles

The best way to survive a long-haul flight with small kids is to get the bassinet row.  Bassinet seats are usually ‘free’ for people with children under two years old, and they are a lifesaver!   I flew on five long-haul international flights with my son before he turned two, and the only way I survived was having the bassinet row. 

  • The first reason is the extra space.  The bassinet row is usually along the bulkhead row, so you’ll have lots of extra space on the ground for your kiddo to play. You can stretch your legs, and generally have more room to spread out.  
  • Second, continuing on the extra space tip, I always brought a blanket and put it down on the ground and made a little ‘playpen.’ It’s useful for containment and giving your little one their own ‘space.’ 
  • Third, is the bassinet itself.  If you can get your child to sleep in the bassinet score- if not, use it for storage, a place to put your dinner, or a place to let junior play.  My son only slept in the bassinet one time; however, I still found it useful. 

Lastly, when you’ve exhausted all your toys, tricks, and tips, don’t be afraid to go for a walk around the plane.  Most passengers love seeing little ones toddling up and down the aisles. It’s also a good way (and really, the only way) to burn energy on the flight. 

Favourite Nursery Rhymes 

Tip by Vrushali from Couple Journeys

If you are flying with a toddler, iPads or any gadget for that matter are a life-saver on long-flights. On one of the flights with my one-year-old, all hell broke loose. A few hours into the flight, my baby-girl started screaming begging to leave the plane. She had had enough of the flight and just wanted to break free. From repeatedly shushing her to distracting her with the toys, I tried everything I could to calm her down. Nothing worked. Finally, I pulled out my iPad and handed it over to her. 

Thankfully, I had saved a few videos of her favourite nursery rhymes on it. She instantly calmed down, sat back into her seat and watched the videos on my iPad until she dozed off on her own, only to wake up when it was time to land. The lesson I learned from it was that it makes no sense to worry about your child’s screen-time on flights. Hand an iPad, a phone or whatever it is that keeps your child from throwing a fit on a long-flight! It will make life easier not only for your child but also for you and your fellow passengers.

Bring a Car Seat

Tip by Melissa Conn from Travel Car Seat Mom

One of our best tips for managing long flights with little kids is to bring a car seat. It’s a familiar space, which will help kids overcome the anxiety of a new environment. The recline of a rear-facing car seat makes it much easier for kids to sleep than sitting on a regular airplane seat. Most importantly, a car seat keeps kids safer than an airplane seatbelt (which is designed for an adult body) in the event of turbulence or a runway incident.

Most airlines do have regulations as to which car seats are approved to bring onboard, so just check the conditions with your airline.  You will, of course, need to purchase an additional seat if your children is under 2.  You will need to weigh up the cost of having the flexibility and freedom, vs the cost of the tickets.  Flying with a carseat may be your best bet to enjoying a relaxing flight with an infant.

Click for prices of FAA approved carseats like this one here

Give in to technology

Tip by Sharon from Dive into Malaysia

Before I started flying with kids, I worried so much about flying long haul with them. I now find it one of my favourite times! While small gifts, activity kits, etc may help for a short while, I don’t find them effective for long periods of time. Since we live in southern Australia and all international flights are LONG, we need something more. What makes flying really easy for us is iPads.

From about 18 months old, I find kids can be hypnotised by these devices for as long as you want. In normal life, we heavily regulate their usage with our three kids, but on flights, they get to use them as much as they want and they lap it up.

While we still occasionally have a tantrum or problem, this removes the vast majority and we find flights very easy. I actually think of them as quality “me” time as I tend to get a break for most of the flight to do what I want on my computer.

As kids get older, entertainment screens can do some of the job. However, they still aren’t as effective as iPads. For younger kids, reaching them can be an issue and they really need their own device. I highly recommend an iPad next time you fly with kids.

If you are looking into a cheaper alternative to an iPad, you could also check out these options

Headphones for Kids: A must have for flying with kids

This may seem like a silly and trivial addition to your kids carryon luggage,  but the headphones they give you on the plane are sized for adults.  They are far too big for kids under 3 and they won’t be able to hear properly and they fall off.  Even for younger school aged kids, they aren’t ideal.  Or if the airline offers “earbud” style headphones, you will spend the whole flight putting them back in their ears.

If you are bringing your own device, then I highly recommend bluetooth headphones for little ones.  They won’t be able to play with the cord, nor do you have to worry if they move around. They can still hear what is going on, no matter whether they are on your knee, or in their own seat.

I highly recommend bringing your own kids headphones.  We use these Riwox Kids Headphones. I really like them because they are bluetooth, but also have a cord in case you forget to charge them (like me) so there are two options. They also light up when in use which the kids really love.

Drink Bottles for kids

If your child is prone to spilling their cup at home, then don’t trust them on a bumpy flight on a plane either.  To ensure that everyone stays dry, then bring a reusable drink bottle with you on the flight. 

I highly recommend a drink bottle with a straw as they are far less likely to be left open and the kids don’t take huge mouthfuls they could potentially spit out or spill.

I have about 3 of these Contigo drink bottles.  The kids love flipping the lids and you can actually drink a lot out of them.  Sometimes I find with the small straws for kids, they can barely get any out, so although they look like they are drinking a lot, they really aren’t getting the volume.  Check out prices of these here

Just roll with it

Tip by Ariana from World of Travels with Kids

My suggestion is not something you can buy or you can pack. It is actually the opposite… you can plan as well you can, but ultimately the best way to get through a long haul is accept what is happening right at that moment, and that you can’t change it.  What will be, will be. 

Certainly good preparation for a flight is vital, and allowing lots of time for kids to be kids.  However even when you have done everything you can, and been zen playing cards at the gate… things will and can go wrong. At that point in time, don’t worry about what people think; try not to get frustrated with your kids, and ask for help.  

I know that my own stress can be mirrored by my kids, so the more stressed I get – the worse they get until we snowball into a big melting mess.  

At that point accepting what is happening is the only thing that can save the situation! Oh… and the other mantra is “This too will pass.”

Tips for parents

 

Bring a change of clothes for yourself

This is one of these things that I always say to myself and never remember to do.  If you have a nursing baby, then there is always a change of getting burped milk or a whole feed all over you (props to all those mothers with refluxy babies out there, I hear you).  So bring some extra clothes

Even with kids, you are more likely to end up with a spilled apple juice, flicked scrambled egg and a water bottle that leaks on your back.  Murphys law right?  So prepare for the worst

Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers

I was lucky enough to breastfeed all three of my children until they were over 1, so let’s just say I have had some practice, but not without milk supply issues.  So here is my kind words of advice
  • Please don’t forget to eat and drink.  With all the busyness of getting to the airport, navigating customs and boarding with your mountain of gear, its easy to forget.  So make sure you have some snacks just for you, and take a reusable bottle to fill up, both before you board and on the plane.  I have often asked the attendants to fill up my bottle rather than keep visiting my seat for a meagre 100mls of water.  I prefer a metal bottle so it doesn’t explode in my bag, and I really like water that stays cold.  If you’re like me, try one of these Stainless Steel Insulated drink bottles
  • You don’t need to feel self conscious breastfeeding, but if you do, you might find a pashmini style scarf useful for covering yourself, or ask if there is a spare row to give yourself a little more room.  These ones here are super cheap and great quality
  • Dont forget breast pads. There’s nothing like walking around the airport with splotches.  Stock up with some extra ones here
  • A few extra layers for yourself.  I don’t know if it was just me, but I often got really cold when breastfeeding.
  • Ask for a pillow or blanket to prop up your arm while feeding. This will save your muscles and your neck.  Its also far more comfortable if they get all milk drunk and stay asleep.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

In the early days when I had my first child, I was very much… I’m an independent woman, I don’t need any help, I can do this on my own.  While this was very true, I could and did do it, but I realised that I didn’t need to.  In fact, becoming a parent opened my eyes to the kindness of people.

If someone offers to help, just let them and if you need help, then seriously don’t be afraid to ask.  A big chunk of the population knows what you are going through.  And you will be no worse off if they actually said no.

Ask if there are any spare seats

 

If you are flying with an infant, but haven’t booked an extra seat, don’t be afraid to ask if there is one floating around.  Even if the wee one doesn’t use the seat much, even having somewhere to put the little toys or lie them down to kick around will definitely help.

——

 

At the end of the day, expect the worst and hope for the best.  At worst, it will be a number of hours of loud upset kids and a few grumpy passengers, but hey… whats one day?  You will get to your amazing destination and have a fantastic time.  So either way… Don’t panic!

You may have seen online, stories of new parents providing packs of sweets and earplugs and cute little notes apologising for their baby’s first flight.  But to be honest, I really don’t think this is necessary.  Babies and children are part of society and you do not need to apologise for their presence on a flight.  As long as you look like you are trying to help them (ie. this is not a time to start to teaching them crying it out),  you will be perfectly fine.

Flying with kids can seem stressful at first thought, but with a little patience and these awesome tips for flying long haul.  If you have your own flying tips, come and chat with us over on Instagram or Facebook and let us know your best ideas.

 

 

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Jennifer

Jennifer

Founder of Backyard Travel Family

Jen is a super organiser when it comes to travel. Having travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, has lived in London and the USA and holidayed in many parts of Asia, she is not a newbie to the travel space

Jen has three young children, 5 and under and travels around New Zealand with them.

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