Being a lover of travel combined with having an Australian husband means we’ve experienced our fair share of long haul flights. We’re dab hands at ensuring those 23 hours on board go without a hitch. Add kids into the mix though and it’s a whole new ball game with new rules and motivational words to live by. Here’s some tips we’ve learnt along the way.
1. Keeping them entertained for 23 solid hours of entertainment can seem incredibly daunting. It’s much more manageable if you break it up into bite size chunks – packing games, magazines and iPads can seem like the solution but you need to stagger these otherwise all your entertainment options will be out the window an hour into your flight.
Instead, similar to home, get a bit of routine together. For the next hour we’ll watch TV, then we’ll go for a walk through the cabin chatting to people. An hour later we’ll go to the loo and freshen up. Next hour we’ll have a snack – with the aim being to make tasks last as long as you can. If you know your plan you can try be on the front foot and not just react to their screams for something new. (Worth noting there will be screams, who has ever spent a 24 hour period with a toddler with no screams?? It’s how you react and deal that counts).
2. Sleep blessed sleep. One of the biggest questions I get asked by friends is whether the kids slept on the flight. Whether they be 3 months or 3 years, sleep is really tricky. The benefit of 3 months is that they’re in a bassinet… 3 years and they’re in their own seat – in-between is more of an issue.
One of the hardest things we found in getting them to sleep was getting them to switch off. With so many people around, noise and lights – over stimulation was our biggest issues. When they were babies, putting a muslin loosely over the bassinet helped enormously – for toddlers an eye mask after they’d drifted off. Prepping before you leave with sounds and smells that can be taken with you really helped too – I’ve used the same essential oils since they were little so a familiar smell on the muslin helps to eradicate the musty aeroplane smell!
3. Feeding the beast. There seems to be a lot of myths about feeding little ones on the flight and specifically milk if you’re bottle feeding (clearly no dramas with taking your boobs on board). So a few things of note
- Under twos can take as much formula on a flight as you need – over twos can’t
- We went with ready made stuff for ease in small bottles so nothing would go off
- You don’t have to open the bottles at security (they go through a special x-ray machine) something I was worried about for fear of them going off
- If you want to minimise the stress UK side, do a click and collect order at Boots in the terminal. That way you don’t have to go through security with it and you know it will definitely be there.
When it comes to ‘real’ food – we’ve found huge discrepancies between the airlines. We always order the kids meal (although they spend a lot of time picking ours) the main reason is they get their food first. Other than that though, I tend to rely on packing our own food for flights. We had a terrible experience with BA – the boys slept through their meal on a 12 hour flight and we asked if they had any snacks… the answer was no but we were welcome to pick through the cleared away trays to see if there were any rolls left over. Nice. On the other hand Singapore Airlines couldn’t do more and always had food available for the boys. If you do go for packing your own food, don’t pack yoghurts. You can’t take them through security.
4. Seating choice is key. My husband and I have dwelled on the best ways to seat our family – divide and conquer or take it in turns. What works best for us with twins is to do shifts of childcare and shifts of sleep. That way we don’t both lose our sh*#%t for 23 hours!! Now the boys are bigger we aim to get three seats together for an adult and two kids and one ‘sanity seat’. Then do stints and swap regularly… that’s the plan anyway!
5. Remember, it won’t last forever. God I’ve whispered this to myself on many a flight but it sometimes needs reminding. My mantra: ‘By tomorrow we will be there. We won’t see these people again. No matter what happens in the next 23 hours, we will survive!’
In addition to my tips, some well travelled friends have the following advice:
“Pack extra water and milk, and less nappies. Kids get quite dehydrated (as we all do) on the flight so need to keep the fluids up and as a result they also wee a lot less!”
“On really long flights, try and have a distinction between night and day. Changing into pyjamas, brushing teeth and settling down for a story can help them think it’s night, even if they don’t get to sleep!”
“Give babies and small children a dummy, bottle or boob at take off an landing to stop their ears popping”
“Make friends with other parents on the flight. There’s strength in numbers and they may be useful at 30,000 feet when you need a spare wet wipe or just to share an understanding smile”
“Don’t rush. Get to the airport early, make use of the soft play in the terminal or just climbing the chairs before boarding and make use of the early boarding.”
Finally, grow thick skin and ignore any haters. A lot of people will moan at the sight of a small child on board but you just have to focus on yourself and what you’re doing. And refer back to the mantra!