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7 Practical Tips for Taking Kids on Long Flights

Seeing the world is an amazing opportunity, but long flights are hard for everyone. Add four children aged 3, 6, 8, and 10 to the mix and you have a possible recipe for disaster. I went on all sorts of long flights growing up as a third culture kid, but before flying to Scotland early this week it had been nearly seven years since I had taken my kids on a truly long flight. We do fly to Massachusetts every summer, but there is a big difference somehow between a 6 hour and even 7 hour flight. Our trip to Edinburgh took 16 hours with one layover. My sister R flies to and from China constantly with her family, so I messaged her for her top tips. This post features our combined tips for taking kids on long flights.

If you have a flight in your future – long or short – be sure to check out my general tips for flying with children as well!

Tips for taking kids on long flights.

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Tips for Taking Kids on Long Flight

Sleep

If at all possible, get your children to sleep through the flight as much as possible. Red eye flights can be good for this, but be aware that some children will not sleep in the new environment of a plane – especially if it is their first time flying. Over time, most children can be trained to sleep on planes.

Personally, I find it easiest to fall asleep as the airline is taking off. Something about the air pressure pushing you back into the seat is soothing. Unfortunately, cabin lights are often on during takeoff. A sleep mask and child-sized neck pillow can help. Most airlines provide blankets, but if you want to bring one just in case Aden + Anais blankets pack small and are very soft while providing pretty good coverage (the ones I linked to are 47×47 inches, but sizes vary so be sure to check product descriptions before purchasing).

Pack Layers

Make sure you have warm, comfortable clothes – trans-ocean flights can get cold, even in the summer. Layers are important, because occasionally long flights are unexpectedly hot. Pack an extra outfit for your child and yourself in case of spills or other problems. A pair of pajamas can also encourage your child to sleep on the plane. Have your child change into their pajamas after the first meal on the flight. For red-eye flights, I often have my children wear their pajamas to the airport.

Plan Entertainment.

I always pack Usborne sticker books for my kids on flights. They are well designed, and if your child places a sticker on the back of the seat in front of you it should come off easily (not true for all sticker book brands). Usborne activity books have also been popular with my children. My kids are each allowed to bring one soft toy. I love that six-year-old Lily brought along the doll she made!

My brother-in-law creates playlists for his kids to listen to on flights. The also download a few new apps  to their iPad. Flights are one of those times when electronic entertainment can make a lot of sense. There isn’t much to see out the window most of the time, and it is important that children stay quiet for the sake of fellow passengers. Even if the plane has seatback entertainment, the entertainment choices may not be what you want your children to watch. I am still waiting for the day when airlines show children’s PBS shows, for example. I downloaded a few Amazon Underground apps to my phone to have on hand, but we didn’t use them on this flight. If you own a Kindle Fire (incredibly affordable these days!) and have Amazon Prime, you can download a few of their instant video shows to have on hand.

Put Them in Charge

Kids LOVE holding their own tickets and passports! Make this a privilege they can only have while on best behavior for painless security, boarding, and passport control lines.

Know Your Airports

Some airports have great play spaces and other amenities for kids. Google things for kids to do in whichever airport you have a layover in for play spaces and food your child will eat.

Teach Appreciation

Train your children to be very friendly and polite to TSA workers and flight attendants. Teach children to greet airport and plane staff with a smile, and to smile and say thank you any time flight attendants serve them. Travel is much smoother when TSA workers and flight attendants feel appreciated!

Teach Respect

Respecting public space and the space of others is critically important on an airplane. Talk about how each person on the airplane has this tiny little space that is their own for the whole flight. Parents may share space, but children cannot intrude on anyone else’s space. An airline passenger’s space is their entire seat (including the back, except for the pocket and the tray) and the space in front of it. Teaching children not to kick or brace their feet against the seat in front of them is really hard but extremely important. Sitting in airplane seats can be uncomfortable for children. Leg massages may help, as can other sensory input activities (listening to music, a soft blanket, hearing protection, and Wikki Stix. Airlines like Wikki Stix so well that some have started putting them in their kids’ meals!)

I LOVE having a family of 6 because now we take up two or three rows (depending on the plane). I put the kids who might kick (pretty much just Anna at this point, and she is good) in the second row, so she only kicks our own family if she decides to kick.

Some airlines try to give children bulkhead seats, which can be helpful. If you have an infant (under 2o pounds) you can reserve bulkhead seats. If you are first at the airport they have free bassinets you can use. This was a life saver when we flew with Emma as a baby! Infant bassinets are available on a first come first serve basis for anybody who calls in advance to reserve them.

Do you have any tips to add to this post? Let me know and I will edit them in!

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MaryAnne lives is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

8 thoughts on “7 Practical Tips for Taking Kids on Long Flights”

  1. Elisa | blissful E

    These are great tips! We did a lot of international flying when our kids were tiny, and being able to stand in the back or middle of the plane with baby in a baby carrier was invaluable. I prefer fewer transfers and longer flights, but it’s only doable if you stretch your legs every so often.

  2. Great tips! Our first long trip at the age of 20 months was a disaster, but now it’s OK as my 9 year old spends most of the time reading or playing on iPad. I think she finds it less difficult than me :)

    1. I think 20 months is one of the toughest ages to fly! My main tip for that age is to get them their own seat and bring a car seat on the plane! iPads do now have lots of apps that would appeal to that age, and it is one time when I could see justifying screens even for young children.

  3. I like to pack their backpacks with snacks and entertainment like toys, books, coloring activities and sticker books. The kids use this to entertain themselves the entire trip.

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