For traveling families, flying is an absolute necessity to get to many destinations. When I first had kids, I dreaded taking long flights because I wasn’t sure how my kids would react. I was pleasantly surprised on our first trip to find out that the flight was absolutely worth any inconvenience of the flight. Here are some long flight tips for families if you are considering a longer flight.
While these tips are primarily for families, they should also be helpful for solo travelers or couples. For “long flights”, I’d consider anything from a cross-country flight to an intercontinental trip.
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Tips for Long Flights With Kids
Research Airlines and Flight Routes
Before you commit to a flight, I’d recommend reviewing various flight routes and airlines. Some airlines will charge you an additional fee for baggage and seat assignments while others include those for free. In some cases, you’ll have to pay for seats on each leg of your flight.
You’ll also want to look at the various options for routes. When my daughter was very young, I liked having a connecting flight. That way, she had the opportunity to stretch a little bit before we continued our journey. Now that my kids are older, I prefer nonstop flights wherever possible, even if it’s a long haul flight.
Book Good Seats on Your Long Flight
I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. If you want to be comfortable on your long flight, you absolutely want to have the right seats. Otherwise, you could be crammed in a middle seat in the middle of the aircraft for what will feel like an extremely long flight.
If your airline charges for a seat assignment, that is money well spent. When booking your flight, look at the seating on the flight and choose wisely.
For my family of four, we like to sit two and two on international aircraft. Typically, those planes have rows of two along the edges and a middle row of five seats. I never like being in that middle row.
There are some options you may consider when you book your long flight. When we flew to Greece on SwissAir, we chose to book the seats right in front of the bulkhead, with no seat in front of us.
While we had to put our carry on bags in the overheads during take-off and landing, it was nice to have that extra leg room to spread out. These were still economy class seats, but we did have to pay a little more for them.
Exit rows can be a good idea, but keep in mind that children cannot sit in those seats. If you book premium economy, make sure that there are seats in premium seats that are not in the exit row.
Some airlines let you bid on first or business class flights. We’ve done that in the past, but our price has never been accepted. It can, however, be a great way to save money on lay flat seats.
Prepare Your Kids For the Long Flight
Depending on their ages, you’ll want to properly prepare your kids for the long flight. Discuss how long you’ll be on the plane and what will happen during your journey. If you have a stopover in another country, let them know that they will be going through customs but will still need to get on another flight.
When my kids were younger, the airplane bathrooms were very intimidating. It can be hard to prepare them for this, but try to let them know that the bathrooms can be loud and small. While you can sometimes avoid using the lavatories on short flights, it’s pretty unavoidable on long flights.
During the jet age, travelers dressed to impress when flying. Now, with the exception of business travelers, most travelers dress for comfort.
If you are traveling on a long-distance flight, you’ll absolutely want to be comfortable. Remember that you may swell a bit, so don’t wear anything that may have a tight waistband or is otherwise uncomfortable.
For younger kids, you may just want to dress them in pajamas, especially for red-eye, international flights. That way, they’ll be prepared to sleep.
For long flights with kids, you’ll want to make sure that you have enough entertainment for them. While some flights do have complimentary entertainment systems, you won’t want to 100% rely on them.
When my kids were younger, we packed them each a small backpack with everything they needed for the flight. Don’t forget headphones and portable chargers. Be sure to download movies and shows to their devices in advance.
Bring the Right Products
For red-eye flights especially, you’ll want to make sure you bring along the right products to make your long flight more comfortable.
Most important is a sleep pillow. While you’ll see many travelers with the ubiquitous U-shaped pillow, I actually don’t find that one to be too comfortable. I prefer to sleep with my head on my tray table, so I have a pillow that works best in that position.
Think about how you plan to sleep on the plane and then buy the best pillow for that. Here are some options that we use:
- Toddler Pillow: This may be a good option if you have a window seat and plan to sleep with your head against the wall.
- Lap Pillow: This may look a little silly, but if you sleep this way, you’ll be glad to have this. It inflates, so you can fit it in a carryon bag.
- Neck Pillow: This is probably the most versatile pillow for sleeping on a plane.
Regardless of the pillow you bring, don’t clip it to the outside of your bag. Those airport security bins can be very germy.
Although my airlines do offer blankets, I like to bring my own. This one from Amazon is my favorite – you can wear it like a poncho, it’s comfortable, and it has a pocket.
There are other things you may consider bringing along. These include eye masks, and ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones.
Drink Lots of Water
Flying can be very dehydrating, but most of us also try to avoid using the airplane lavatory too much. Despite that, one of my biggest long flight tips is to drink plenty of water. You’ll feel much better if you do.
I have found that when I fly overnight, I often wake up thirsty. Because I don’t usually want to bother the flight attendants, I like to have a full bottle of water whenever I need it. That way, I can just take a sip and then go back to sleep.
Bring along a refillable water bottle (these two are good, portable options) and fill them up past security in the airport terminal. Some airports, like Terminal E at Logan International Airport, offer fountains where you can fill bottles.
Most airlines do provide ample snacks for long flights – and you’ll usually even get a meal. However, I still recommend bringing along your own snacks.
You never know exactly what you’ll be given for food, and if your kids are picky (or have food allergies, like mine), it’s good to have your own supply. I like to pack cereal bars and other easy to transport snacks. Remember that there are restrictions you’ll have to follow with regards to bringing food into another country.
Be Thoughtful in Packing Your Carry On Bag
Packing your carryon bag properly is extremely important when you are flying on a long haul flight. The items in those bags will be the only things that you have access to while on the plane.
In addition to the items mentioned above (pillow, blanket, water bottles, snacks, headphones, and entertainment), you’ll want to make sure you have the essentials.
For a longer flight, you’ll want to have at least one change of clothes, especially if the kids will be wearing pajamas. On a flight to Italy several years ago, my daughter got airsick as we were landing at our connection. She vomited all over me and we both had to change our clothes (washing the others in the airport restroom), while we waited for our next flight.
If you have kids in diapers or who are recently potty trained, you’ll want to have those supplies as well. Always pack extra because you never know what you’ll need.
As always, you’ll want to make sure that your carryon bag contains valuables, medications, and any other essentials. I also recommend packing a toothbrush and toothpaste so you can brush your teeth.
If you aren’t going directly to your hotel, or if you aren’t sure if you can check in right away, you may want to include some other things. These include deodorant wipes, cleansing wipes, makeup, face cleanser, and moisturizer.
When traveling with kids, you may want to pack them their own little carryon backpacks. My kids are teens now and pack their own carryons for each trip.
Walk Around the Plane
Even if you are comfortable and entertained, you should still take the opportunity to walk around when you can. I try to stretch a little in my seat every few hours, and I take lots of walks to the lavatory.
Do you have any long flight tips that I didn’t include? Leave a comment below.