Home Leisure & Lifestyle Travel with Kids: 8 Tips for Navigating Long-Haul Flights with Children

Travel with Kids: 8 Tips for Navigating Long-Haul Flights with Children

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For most people, the holiday starts at the airport, but travel isn’t always easy, especially if you’re taking the kids.

An estimated two million Brits will be set to travel abroad this Easter holiday. So whether you’re heading on a short haul trip to Europe or a long haul holiday to Florida, a little forward planning can make all the difference and ensure your journey is as smooth as possible, before you arrive at your hotel or villa.

Zara Bartoszewicz, Senior Social Media Executive and mum of one at holiday provider Ocean Florida, has shared eight tips for navigating long-haul flights with young children.

1. Use the airport’s soft play area to tire kids out

Letting kids play before getting on the flight can actually be a very useful way of tiring them out enough so that they’re ready to nod off.

Most large international airports should have a children’s play area in between gates or within proximity to a seating area, as well as toy stores for them to enjoy. For example, Heathrow airport has a ‘stay and play’ area for children in each terminal, open from 6am to 9pm everyday. Similarly, the Orlando Florida airport has plenty of Disney stores to keep kids entertained – it even has a 3,000 gallon aquarium in the food court.

2. Pick seats in advance and board early

Although many may not think of it as a big deal, choosing the right seats actually makes a huge difference when flying, especially for long haul travel. You’ll want to consider things like how close you are to the bathrooms, what seat configuration is best for your family size and whether you want to book seats with extra legroom. 

Your best bet when it comes to reserving seats, is usually the middle four seats in the emergency exit row, as they are very spacious and young kids are still allowed to sit here, which they often aren’t if you’re directly next to the exit door. Ensure that you book a seat for every passenger, even small babies, as it’s much less stressful if everyone has their own space.

Some airlines also provide the option for families to board early for free, so do make use of this if you can, as it will give you enough time to get everyone settled. Sometimes airport staff will even let you and your family cut security lines if you ask politely.

3. Try the viral inflatable pillow hack

Check with your airline before bringing this along, as not every carrier allows this, but purchasing an inflatable foot pillow to fill the gap between the seat and the floor and allow little legs to be stretched out is a game-changer comfort-wise. Using a pillow like this makes creating a bed easy, simply blow into the mouth piece to inflate, place in the gap between seats and cover with your child’s favourite blankets.

If your child is too big for this option, or your airline doesn’t allow it, invest in a good neck rest, or a small pillow that can be leant against the window or placed on top of laps. If you need extra pillows to cover uncomfy bits of seats, such as the buckles, the airline will likely be able to provide them for you.

4. Choose your food options wisely

Agreeing on meal options for everyone in advance means that you don’t have to worry about fussy eaters rejecting everything available when it’s time to eat. It also allows you to ensure that your kids will be eating something nutritious that aligns with any dietary requirements. Some airlines also offer menus aimed specifically at kids.

In addition to pre-booking your in-flight meals, remember to bring enough snacks in to avoid any hangry outbursts. Healthy, low-mess snack options might include nuts, applesauce pots, cheese sticks or veggies and hummus. Avoid things like boiled eggs or tuna, as they can easily leave a lingering smell in the plane.

Fruit is another nice option, but many children tend to complain about sliced fruit going brown after sitting around in a lunch box. To avoid this with apples or similar fruits, try using a core slicer before wrapping a rubber band around the apple. This will keep the pieces held together and will make sure your apple slices don’t oxidise. If you don’t mind the added taste, sprinkling lemon juice onto cut fruit will also have the same effect.

5. Download all your children’s favourite shows and games

Bringing tablets and consoles preloaded with your kids’ favourite media is a great way to entertain them for longer periods of time. It also ensures they won’t be disappointed if the built-in tv system doesn’t offer anything to their liking. Ensure that you have the right chargers, adapters and spare battery packs for the devices you choose to bring, as well as a pair of comfortable, child-friendly headphones.

When travelling with more than one child, it can be useful to invest in a cable splitter, which allows two or more pairs of headphones to be plugged into the same device and listen to the same audio so that movies or shows can be enjoyed together.

6. Learn how to pop your ears like a pro

One of the most stressful parts of flying for young children, is the potential ear pain that comes from the cabin pressure as the plane changes altitude. Babies have a particularly difficult time with it as their ear cavities are so small. Luckily, there are measures you can take to prevent this, such as bringing medicine specially designed to relieve ear pressure in babies.

For older children, teaching them how to equalise the pressure in their ears by holding their noses and gently blowing can be helpful. If kids find that sensation too uncomfortable, getting them to yawn or giving them chewing gum that dissolves and is not a choking hazard can be great.

7. Try building a “snackle box”

Bringing lots of entertainment is one of the best ways to make sure any long family journey runs smoothly. Magazines, colouring books, toys (ideally ones that won’t be easily lost or don’t make a mess), a pack of cards or other fun board games are all amazing options.

Another option for a toy that can keep the kids entertained and fed, is the TikTok viral “snackle box“. Essentially, this involved filling a cheap fishing tackle box (or other box with multiple compartments, with your children’s favourite snacks. Not only is it a sensory toy that can help young children learn how to sort items, but it’s a great way to make sure the kids are getting the nutrients they need.”

8. Stick to your standard bedtime routine

Replicating your kids’ usual sleep routine as closely as possible when travelling will help give children a mental signal that it’s time for them to rest. For example, if your child usually has their dinner, bath and stories before bed, you could get their pyjamas on after the inflight meal, have a quick wet-wipe wash and brush their teeth before reading and dozing off in your seat.

Kids love a bit of routine, however much they may try to resist it at times, especially in a new environment. It can be extremely beneficial for children, particularly those who are neurodiverse, as they can often find airports quite stressful. Long queues, loud noises, and busy environments are just some aspects of travel that can trigger anxieties or meltdowns. 

We are an official partner of Sunflower Hidden Disabilities and recommend ensuring your child wears a Sunflower lanyard to signal a hidden disability. Airport staff are trained to recognise this and can offer assistance to make travel easier.

Travelling with children who have a disability, whether visible or hidden, can often make trips abroad that extra bit more challenging. However, most airports and select holiday providers offer a range of services to ensure your journey runs as smoothly as possible, such as free lounge access and complimentary fast-track passes.

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