Long haul flying with children can strike fear into the hearts of even the most calm of parents and seasoned of travellers. The combination of crowds, rushing, carrying heavy luggage, surly flight attendants, sleep deprivation, other impatient passengers and bored children can be a recipe for disaster. Your dream holiday doesn’t need to start or finish this way, read on to find out how to enjoy stress-free flights with kids. 

Having completed 11 flights this year alone we’ve worked out how to make flying with children stress-free and even enjoyable so much so that we now look forward to our ‘travel days’.

Here are our 9 best tips for flying with children to make your next family flight as stress free as can be. ✈️ 😀

1. Comfy and Warm

Loose comfortable clothing is essential for flying. Think leggings, joggers or loose fitting bottoms. I find planes can be both horrendously hot (just before take off) and freezing cold (once everyone’s aircon has been running a few hours).

Layers are your friend. A nice cardi or zip up hoody, fluffy socks and a sarong that can be used as a light blanket go a long way to ensuring a comfortable flight. I also find a beanie style hat is brilliant for doubling as an eye mask and ear muffs.

2. Hydrate

Flying dehydrates you and rushing from one place to another often means you forget to drink enough as well, compounding the situation.  Planes lack humidity and the air is thinner making you loose more than you would on the ground.

Dehydration will leave you tired, achy, foggy and cause headaches and nausea, more than enough to make children and grown ups a little cranky. Make sure you and your kids are regularly drinking water, not sugary or caffeinated drinks and grown ups – no alcohol!

3. Snacks

Meal times can be a pain in the back side on planes especially when you are changing time zones. Waiting for a meal at midnight is more than a little frustrating plus kids won’t always like the food served on board.  Having an arsenal of snacks to hand is a lifesaver, a hungry child is unlikely to be able to sleep and in our opinion well fed kids are usually happy kids.

4. Wet wipes and changes of clothes

Having a change of clothes for each family member is a must. We learned this the hard way! Like most mums I’ve always had a change of clothes on me for the kids since they were babies but I don’t normally have anything for Lee or I. This was readdressed after Anabelle threw up all over Lee right before the seatbelt sign went on for landing and an air hostess spilled orange juice all over me! I now always have a change of clothes for all of us without fail. Plus this is also really helpful if your main luggage gets temporarily mislaid.

Wet wipes are my best friends in any situation and a plane is no different. From wiping up spills to cleaning hands without having to head to the bathroom or just wanting to freshen up wet wipes help to make us all feel more human again. Planes are full of germs, just think of all those hands that have touched the TV screens not to mention the on board toilet. Keeping your hands clean and wiping surfaces will lessen your chance of contracting any bugs. 

5. Eye masks, ear covers

As mentioned I often use a beanie hat as a sleep aid to both cover eyes and ears easily. Making sure you and your kids can shut the world out and get darkness and relative quiet on a long flight will really help you to get some sleep.

For younger children I find audio books and/or white noise can be really helpful as well as screens can overwhelm the senses when kids are overtired.

6. Medicines

I always make sure I have some Calpol (junior paracetamol) and tummy medicine available plus plasters, to get through security and to keep packing to a minimum I find that individual sachets are best.

Supplementing with vitamins before your trip can stave off any germs on a flight but try to avoid sleeping aids such as Melatonin as these ultimately just prolong jet lag in children when travelling long haul.

7. Good seats and child friendly airlines

Before pressing the button on that fantastic flight deal you’ve found take a moment to check the airline, plane and seat options that are available to you.

Some airlines are far more family friendly than others. Does your airline have policies to board families first and feed children first? Do they have child friendly food and entertainment options? What about seat choice? Check out Air NewZealnd’s new Skycouch for example which makes a row of 3 flip out into a couch like seat giving you extra room to stretch out.

A350s and A380s are the best planes for a healthy flight with advanced humidification and air filtration systems and natural light simulation.

We always sit one behind the other when we can so that both children get a window seat without arguing. Top Tip: we usually book a window and an aisle seat as the middle seats are the last to fill up which means we often get more room. If the middle seat is taken the person in the middle is usually more than happy to move to the aisle rather than sit between us!

8. New toys and old favourites

Our kids need to have their favourite soft toys with them as their travel buddies but having some new toys that they haven’t seen before is a big help too. Blind bags, kids magazines, a new travel game, a new book, a new game on their tablets and downloaded films they haven’t seen before are fantastic distractions on a long flight.

9. Exercise

While kids may not be a big risk for DVT getting up and moving about will really help keep them be less cranky. Our youngest always gets achy legs on long journeys it really helps him to be able to stretch and move at regular intervals. If you have a layover, child friendly airlines often have child areas at the airport too when the kids can let off some steam.

Worried about children with jet lag? Read our 6 Top Tips for managing jet lag with children.

What makes your life easier when travelling with kids. Do you have any secret tips for flying with children? Let us know in the comments below. 

FAQ – Flying with children

Is my child allowed hand luggage?

Your child will have the same hand luggage allowance as an adult if they have their own seats. Luggage allowance for lap children (toddlers and under) varies per airline but most allow for one changing bag and a stroller and car seat free of charge.

How do I keep a child entertained on a long flight?

  • Small toys and travel games
  • Card games
  • Sticker books, magnetic and felt games
  • Books and audio books
  • A child friendly tablet with preloaded games and downloaded movies. *Ensure you have child friendly headphones so as not to annoy your fellow passengers.
  • Colouring
  • Kids magazines and blind bags
  • Plenty of snacks
  • Create an eye spy gamer or camera scavenger hunt for the plane, airport and/or your destination.

A mix of well loved favourites and brand new toys is a winning combination.

Can I bring snacks on board a flight for my child?

Yes and plenty of them! Remember to ensure that any liquids are within the recommended hand luggage guidelines. Babyfood and milk allowances depend on airport security. It is advisable to head through security with an empty bottle and buy milk/juice or water in the departure area.

Which airlines are most child-friendly for long haul flights?

Emirates and Qatar Airways offer the most amount of family friendly features such as kids meals, kids entertainment, seat comfort and priority boarding. Closely followed by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

Should I reserve seats for my family?

The short answer is yes, if you want to guarantee sitting together. The rules regarding seating children with an accompanying adult are currently under investigation by the Aviation Authority due to a marked increase in the cost of buying seat allocation. While most airlines state they will always aim to seat families who have not prepaid seats together they do not guarantee it.

Does my child need a car seat to fly?

The rules for car seats vary between airlines. Children under 2 who have their own seat are recommended, by the Federal Aviation Association to have an approved car seat to sit in throughout the flight. For babies many airlines offer bassinets which can be pre-booked with your seat allocation.

How can I stop my child’s ears from hurting?

Bottle or breast feeding babies during take off and landing will help them to equalise the pressure in their ears through swallowing. Using a pacifier/dummy will also help. Older children can sip a drink or suck and chew on snacks.

Encouraging your children to yawn will also relieve the pressure and avoid letting them sleep during take off or landing when they will be unable to equalise their middle ear.

For pain relief take ibruprofen 30 minutes before take off or landing.

You can also purchase pressure regulating ear plugs for flying in both adult and child sizes.


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