Practical Tips to Survive a Long Haul Flight with Young Kids

So you’ve booked that holiday for you and your young kids to a far-flung corner of the world, congratulations, whether you’re going to some exotic beach in Thailand, heading towards Peru’s Machu Picchu, seeking out the Big Five on safari in South Africa or backpacking around Sri Lanka, the excitement will be building. But before you get there, you have to…er…get there, which generally means you’ll have to survive a long haul flight with young kids.

As well the excitement, no doubt there’ll be a fair amount of anxiety building as well.

Well, I’ll say one thing first….it won’t be as bad as you think!

Practical Tips to Survive a Long Haul Flight with Young Kids
We survived, you will too

Having done a fair few long haul flights with our young kids now aged 2 and 4, we too have been on the edge. So here are some practical tips to survive a long haul flight with young kids.

1 – Wait until the last possible moment before getting on the plane

When you’re sat in the departure gate, for some reason, as soon as boarding opens, everyone jumps up and runs to try to get on first, it always happens, even people with young kids.

Why on earth would you do that???

All you’re doing is prolonging the time you need to keep the kids entertained. Even if your ‘seat section’ is called out for boarding, that doesn’t mean that you have to get on then. I’m not at all saying be late and hold the plane up, but just let the kids run around the gate, burning off as much energy as they can, until the last possible second.

2 – When the plane lands, get off as soon as you can

On the subject of getting on, there’s also getting off. You’ve all seen it, the second the plane touches the ground, everyone gets up and starts sorting their bags, the aisles fill up, its madness.

You think to yourself, ‘What’s the rush? another few minutes won’t make a difference, we’ll just leave when it’s quieter’.

Bad Idea. The reason? Immigration.

If you’re flying into a popular tourist destination, chances are, you’re likely to be faced with a loooong queue. From my experience, Immigration staff are slow and they couldn’t care less about the 500 other people from your flight who are lining up.

(Oh wait, another flight has just landed, there’s another 500 people waiting to get through…..)

(and another….)

You get the idea…

Basically, for every person who gets off the plane before you and is therefore in front of you in the queue, you’re probably adding another 1-2 minutes to your wait time

You need to do everything you can to get off that plane to beat the queue. Get the bags ready, the kid’s shoes etc BEFORE the plane starts to descend, so as soon as that plane door opens you’re ready to go,

get up, get out, and start walking!

I promise the few minutes of stress dealing with the carnage in the aisles when the plane lands, is nothing compared to having to deal with entertaining the kids at the back of an hour-long queue!

3 – Wrap up presents and hand them out at set intervals through the flight

I’m not talking anything big or expensive and certainly nothing with small bits that can (and will) get lost. If your flight is 7 hours, get yourself to the Everything’s £1/$1 etc store and get 7 little gifts and wrap them up. Every hour, give the kids a gift, the unwrapping will, of course, take the set 3 seconds but you should get at least 5-10 minutes worth of entertainment out of each gift, leaving you with only 50 minutes per hour to fill. It also gives the kids something to aim for and to be ‘good for the next few minutes until the next present comes‘ It all adds up.

4 – Don’t feel guilty about screen time

Most, (but certainly not all) long haul flights have in-flight entertainment and if you have the screens on the backs of the chairs, then you’re onto a winner. The kids can watch tv, listen to music and play games to their hearts content. As we all know, however, kids get bored no matter what they do.

First off, definitely don’t research what films may be on and let them choose in the days leading up to the flight, the scrolling through is part of the fun and can easily last 20 minutes! Also, if you’re like me and you try to limit screen time in the day, that needs to go out the window on this journey I’m afraid, if the child is happy (and quiet) sitting watching TV for 7+ hours, let them do it, don’t feel guilty, this is a long plane journey, its not a day at school, its all about getting to the other side.

(and if you haven’t taken my advice in point 2, you can read a book to them in the immigration queue if you really want to…’ll have plenty of time!)

5 – But….delay screen time as long as you can

‘If you watch TV first, then I’ll let you read a book’ – No Parent Ever.

We all know it’s the other way around.

If you are determined for the kids to do something a little bit productive on the plane, read a book, colouring etc, good on you, but get them to do that first, it will be a hell of a lot easier using screen time as the carrot in return for half an hour of reading. If you let them watch the screen the second you get on the plane it could be hard to get them off without some drama.

6 – Download apps on your phone/iPad etc that will work offline

This requires a bit of preparation. There plenty of fun child-friendly apps out there, but you need to do some testing before you get on the plane. Download some games that you think your child might like, but you need to make sure that once they’re downloaded, they don’t need WIFI and will work on ‘airplane mode’.

Don’t make the mistake we did once and be faced with the dreaded ‘No Internet Connection’ when you’ve promised the newest coolest app that would have been guaranteed to entertain them for an hour!  Check out this list for some cool ideas

7 – Focus on milestones in the flight

Have you ever seen ‘About a boy’? , if you haven’t, you’re missing out, but anyway, watch this little snippet.

Good old Hugh Grant hits the nail on the head, split the journey up into units of time, then on each milestone, do something. So if you’re on a 9-hour journey, I would split that into 18 units of half an hour.

At the end of each unit, get up and take a walk around the cabin,

At the end of the next, take the kids to the toilet,

Next, take the kids to speak to an air hostess,

Next, get up and do a stretch routine with the kids. Who cares if you look stupid, the kids are entertained, we practice press-ups in the aisle!

Next have a drink, snack etc.

Each of these will take a few minutes themselves and psychologically it will help you through, you’re only ever half an hour away from the next ‘event’.

It’s all one big mind game.

8 – Get other passengers to interact with your kids

Whilst you’re out on one of your ‘walks’, if another passenger smiles at your child or tries to give them a high five or whatever, stop and talk to them. Get your kid to say ‘Hello’, if the passenger starts asking questions, “what’s your name? how old are you? Where are you going on holiday?” etc, you’re on to a winner, that’s a good 5-10 minutes done there.

I’ve found the best people to ‘target’ are the older couples who are usually grandparents… just sort of point your kid in their direction. They know how to speak to young kids and will take a genuine interest. You never know they might offer for your kids to sit with them for a bit, we’ve had that before, it’s not like they’re going anywhere is it?. If someone offers help, take it!

Just definitely don’t aim towards the tired-looking mid-30-year-old who already has two young kids of his own and is totally stressed out (probably because he didn’t read this before getting on the plane).

He has absolutely no interest in high-fiving your kid.

9 – Make sure you pre-order a kids meal

It should happen automatically. I say ‘should’ because nothing ever goes to plan. Kids meals come out first. You don’t want them waiting whilst all the other kids eat their sausage and mash covered with tomato ketchup, to then be presented with some adults beef and mushroom stew.

….and finally

Pack your carryon bag properly! Don’t just shove everything in!

You’re not going to need that third colouring book for a while, it’s not an emergency item, and you can unpack that new novel you brought to read for later, stop kidding yourself, it’s not going to happen.

Pack what you might need at the top of the bag so you’re ready for that moment when the turbulence gets a little bit too much, I’m talking tissues, wipes, change of clothes….for everyone, you included.

Good luck on your flight and remember…

However bad you think it will be, it won’t be as bad as that. 

So those are my practical tips on how to survive a long haul flight with young kids, have I missed anything? Sure I have, let me know!

I am a stay at home Dad, from England, living in Malaysia. Talking about how we survive the heat, the cultural differences, the lifestyle changes, the travel and lots more challenges that being a stay at home Dad in a foreign country brings.

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