Surviving Long Flights with Kids and Teens

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Travel can be daunting, even if it’s a short trip down to grandma’s.

Clothes, food, accessories, a multitude of gadgets, shoes and oh yeah, a $50 fine on overweight baggage.  And an additional $10 if you didn’t pay it online before you were even fined.

With the recession and rising oil prices, airlines certainly don’t make it seem like they put the customer first. I mean, why else would you be allowed to travel with an infant, but not given any excess baggage allowance? Was it a non-parent who made that rule? Don’t they know that infants equate to more stuff than the rest of the family? And with further cost-cutting, who knows what else we will have to give up on flights – free water? Oh wait, too late.

But, there are some joys associated with traveling: vacations, adventures, family reunions, friend visits, and a sense of liberation as you ascend to the skies. Parents particularly get so caught up in the logistics that they forget how much children can learn through travel, by seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, in someone else’s language.  But the distances can be tough so here are some tips to follow to survive long flights when you are traveling with your kids.

1.     Choose your time wisely: If you are doing a long haul flight, try booking a night sector. This may seem counterintuitive but kids (infants included) have a much higher need to sleep through the nights than adults, so it’s possible that the whole gang will be “lights out” before the dinner service is concluded.

2.     Book your seats before hand: Have a broody teenager who wants to be by the window? Need a bassinet seat for your baby? Don’t leave it to chance. Make sure you call the airline way in advance and set up your seating configuration to save you the hassle of having to juggle fellow passengers around to get the family seated together.

3.     Pack plenty of entertainment: Most international flights these days are equipped with personal entertainment systems and many have separate channels for kids’ programming and games. While you don’t want them glued to their joysticks until their eyes turn square, you may want to relax the rules a bit while they are on the flight. If you have an infant or toddler, make sure to pack plenty of books and toys. I usually have my iPad as my one can’t-live-without travel accessory.

4.     Food can be fun: Like you would do at home, use meals on the flight as a time to chat, and engage your children with conversation about what they are eating. For toddlers, you can burn through a good hour playing with the bread, cheese and fruit salads. In addition, make sure to carry several types of snacks to keep them busy for the rest of the flight.

5.     Avoid sugar for kids under 10: Fruit juices, candy, cookies, are all no-nos for your sake more than theirs. You don’t need them going hyper when the aisles are packed with people waiting for the bathroom post-meal.

6.     Be considerate, but not obsessive about other passengers: Sometimes I feel like airlines should do “adult-only” sectors for a large premium for all those people who look offended at the fact that kids are allowed on planes. Obviously they have never had children, or had such horrible experiences traveling with theirs that they are determined to make everyone else’s worse! Keep decibel levels to a reasonable low, and apologize if things get out of hand, but don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s not easy to do what we do.

7.     Delegate: If you are traveling with multiple kids, give the older ones jobs that will keep them occupied, and out of trouble. For instance, your 6-year old can color with your 3-year old so you can take a break for a few minutes. Get your 10-year old to read off the passports to help you fill out the landing cards. If you have a teenager, put them in charge of the whole lot and see if you can spot an empty seat on the other side of the cabin! (Just kidding. Sorta).

8.     Beat the pre-landing bathroom rush: If you have an approximate idea of when you will be landing, start getting the troops prepared 60 minutes before arrival. This is because the bathroom queues usually get longer just after the captain turns on the seatbelt signs. And after that you could be circling for a while and unable to get out of your seat. This is also a good time, while everyone is standing, to pack up the belongings that might be strewn all over your row.

9.     Beat the lag: If you are going to land in the am at your destination, try to get the kids to sleep a bit before you land. That way, you are all able to stay up for a while and give your body a chance to adjust to the local clock. Similarly, if you are landing at night, keep everyone awake so that they crash when you get to the hotel (NOTE: This does not apply with infants who should not be made overtired or it will lead to complete hysteria!).

10.  Make sure your arrangements on the other end are made and that you have enough cash in local currency for a cab and one night in a hotel. The last thing you want is to be stranded with grumpy kids and no place to go after a long flight.

11.  Split your clothes: Pack such that every suitcase has a little bit of everyone’s clothes and toiletries. That way everyone at least has clean underwear if the airline loses one of your bags!

Hopefully these tips will make your flying experiences more manageable, and perhaps even enjoyable!

Bon Voyage!

Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan is a mother and blogger who travels around the world with her 22-month old son, and catalogs her experiences at

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