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Long Haul Flights: Tips for Surviving Travel With Your Kids

Every parent of a teenager has experienced a school morning when your child barely acknowledges your presence.  They mutter things best left unsaid and jump down the throat of a sibling at the first available opportunity.  It is hard to have these moments and say to yourself,

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could all go on holiday together…!”

and yet, this is absolutely the time you should be thinking about taking a holiday with your child.

Most trips from where we live start with a long flight to somewhere in the world.   I’ve spent many years learning how to take these types of flights with my children.  I no longer dread them.  I know that part of this is because they are older and can handle the challenges of long haul flights with more patience and composure.  But, I also think it is because I have come up with a few strategies for these type of flights.   Here they are.

Surviving Long Haul Flights

The day you take a long haul flight is the day that you try to survive without major fights, drama, and meltdowns.

The day you take a long haul flight is NOT the day that you decide that:

  • A new rule limiting electronics should start;
  • Your kids should stop eating junk food and make better food choices; or
  • You are going to tackle that disrespectful attitude of your teenager.

When you fly, especially long distances, you want to keep:

  • things simple;
  • your kids engaged; and
  • your kids happy.

The following are my tips for travelling with your children.  You won’t be holding hands in a circle singing Amazing Grace by the time you reach your destination.  However, with these suggestions, you should arrive with your sanity.

Food

LOTS OF IT!

It might seem pretty obvious, but you need to make sure your children have plenty of food when you fly.

Airport and airplane food can be pretty horrendous. We all eat it when we do not have a choice, but most of the time, we prefer to eat other things.

If you have time before you go to the airport, pick up nutritious food that you know your kids will like. It should be easily transportable and fit in most carry on bags. I do not recommend getting something that will need to be reheated on the plane.  Some flight attendants will happily microwave the food, but others may refuse.  You need to stay away from liquids as you might not get them through security. You also need to be aware of any rules against transporting food across a border if you will be entering a country with food in your possession.

 

Helen Martinez Photographer

 

Of course, there are lots of instances when we can’t pick up food before getting to the airport.  You are now left with airport and airplane food.  Airplane food is very limited.  If you have a fussy eater, then you may run into a problem if you are going to rely solely on airplane food to keep your child full.  You should do your best to either feed your child a large meal at the airport, or purchase items at the airport that they can eat on the plane when they feel like it.    The advantages of airplane food is a hot entree will be served hot and of course, it is there when nothing else is available.

 

Break the Rules

My kids know that there are a few rules that I throw out the window on the day we fly. First, soda pop is allowed.  For one day, I’m not going to sweat drinking pop.  If my kids get happy every time the drink cart comes down the aisle because they are about to have their fourth coca cola, then I’m happy for them.

Second, chips and candy are supplied.  On long haul flights, I will often bring a small bag of candy and chips for each of them to nibble when they need it.  They know I have the goodies in my possession and they know at some point they are going to get them. Do not underestimate anticipation!

Third, Macdonald’s could be in play.  There is hardly an airport in the world that doesn’t have a Macdonald’s or Burger King.  If we have a particularly long day of travel, maybe with a layover or two, then I won’t be above letting them have that type of food.   They know this and again, this makes the day go better.

 

long haul flights

Niklas Rhose Photographer

 

Electronics on Long Haul Flights

One of the easiest ways to have a stress free and a happy flight is for each child to have their own electronics.   I have watched amazed and horrified at how long my boys can sit in front of a screen playing video games or watching You Tube videos.  This ability is one of the greatest gifts that parents with children on long haul flights will ever receive when it comes to flying.   Embrace it!

Most international long haul flights from Western Canada will supply a personal entertainment device to allow each individual to choose and watch their own movies for free.  This, of course, is the best.

Long Flights

Luke Chesser Photographer

Other flights will supply a personal entertainment device or a show for a fee.  Still others may offer free movies and shows on any device provided you have downloaded the airline’s app.  The bottom line is that most airplanes on long haul flights should have some sort of electronic entertainment offered.

It is important for you to understand what might be available on each flight before you leave home. You should go online and figure out what is offered. However, aircrafts do change at the last minute with little to no notice. Try and be prepared for all situations. A flight is not the time to be worried about the airline overcharging passengers to watch a movie. Don’t forget headphones… the airline will most likely supply them, but for a fee.

Seating on Long Haul Flights

We rarely sit in a row together on long haul flights.  We all prefer aisle seats near each other but not necessarily across from each other.

On the first day of our vacation, most of us are tired and a little short tempered.  We all need our space and nobody wants to be in the middle seat.  My husband is 6’4″ and my boys are 6’2″ (at the moment), and folding themselves into the window seat is both difficult and uncomfortable for them.  So, instead of forcing each other to be polite and socially engaging while confined to an uncomfortable seat for multiple hours, we accept the realities and work from there.

Angela Hobbs Photographer

 

I do my best to get each of us aisle seats on long haul flights. Sometimes we are across the aisle from one another. Sometimes, we are not.  This allows everyone to get up and walk around as much as they need without bothering each other or other passengers.  It also allows the kids to decompress on the flight for as long as they need. They are welcome to go find each other to talk, or lean across the aisle to share a funny story, but they are also equally welcome to ignore their sibling or be asked to be left alone.

Contrary to what might be expected, this seating arrangement allows us to start to reconnect again. Think about it…you can’t be the best husband, wife, child or sibling if you do not have the time to rest, rejuvenate and find yourself again.  Being together on a flight but separate helps start the process.

Conclusion

In summary, for the best flight experience on a long haul flight with your children, you should consider:

  • Feeding them as often as you can;
  • Supplying candy and chips
  • Agreeing to pop and greasy fast food;
  • Ensuring easy and constant access to electronics; and
  • Seating each other on a plane near but not necessarily next to each other.

If this sounds contrary to every parental fibre in your being, you are not alone.  As I read this, I am struck by how appalled I would be if anyone suggested this as a way to raise my child.  But, this isn’t about the other 364 days in a year.  This is about the one day that you are brave enough to scoop up your children and take them on an adventure of a lifetime.

If you would like to save this article for future use, please click on “Save” on the photo below.  Have a great day!

This blog provides helpful suggestions about how to have a relaxing long haul flight with your children. This is not the time to worry about junk food, bad attitudes, or too much screen time. This is the time to figure out what makes your children happy and engaged, and make sure that you provide that to them.

 



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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Angela
    November 14, 2016 at 3:17 am

    I love this!! Sharing this with my mom!!

    • Reply
      nlhunter
      November 14, 2016 at 4:15 am

      That would be awesome! Thanks!

  • Reply
    Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
    April 29, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    I absolutely agree! Well, except for the aisle seat thing – we have always enjoyed sitting together as a family. Embracing movies and video games is a real gift. We flew most of our years with our children in the days before individual entertainment systems. The movies were very rarely child appropriate. I will let the kids watch almost anything but on some flights I longed for a cartoon or something which would hold their interest. Even when kid-friendly movies came on it was a struggle for the boys to see them. I remember having one particularly unpleasant exchange with an air hostess when I asked for some extra pillows so the boys could sit on them and be tall enough to see the movie. She refused point blank. It still upsets me to think how unhelpful she was. The movie was a cartoon and neither child was able to see it. My younger son is now 6’2″. When we can we try to book the exit row so he can unfold those long lanky legs he got from somewhere.
    Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields recently posted…13 tips to make flying easier – or how to survive a long haul flight without going nuts!My Profile

    • Reply
      nlhunter
      April 29, 2017 at 11:08 pm

      My oldest is almost 20 years old, so I also remember the days when there was nothing for young kids to do on airplanes and you really had to strategize where you wanted to go. It was a matter of sanity! You sound like a kind mother… my two boys are so far 6’2″ and 6’4″ (my 13 year old) and they sit where it is cheapest!

  • Reply
    Agness of Fit Travelling
    July 25, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    The long flights can be very challenging and unbearable! What kind of food do you usually take with you?

    • Reply
      nlhunter
      July 26, 2017 at 3:03 am

      Nothing good, I’m afraid! I would usually get a mixture of their favourite candies and they would each get a bag of their own. I would try to resist handing the bags over until I couldn’t wait anymore, knowing that the anticipation was almost as good as getting the candy. It made a long boring flight a little more bearable for them as they “looked forward” to this special treat.

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