Tips for long flights with a toddler
If there’s one thing I know about travelling 36 hours with a toddler, it’s two things:
- If possible, choose a toddler you actually like or are related to
- It’s achievable
We decided we liked our two year-old enough to fly to Europe with him, and so the planning began. We are frequent flyers, we travel domestically a lot and overseas a few times a year. We have even done this exact trip with him before… except he was four months old and all that was required was my boobs and the plane bassinet. We have flown to NYC and the Maldives with him, but this was before he was moving around. A toddler is different. And by different, I mean, do you really need to go to Italy?
There is a reason many antipodean parents instill a no-fly rule when their kids are aged between about 10 months and three. It’s a marathon effort. My husband wears sports clothes because he genuinely thinks of it as an endurance race.
Alas, I write this knowing our parent (2) to child (1) ratio is comically easy, especially when a friend of mine with SIX children, including twin one-year olds was on the same flight as us, but there is still planning involved, inasmuch as ideally you:
- a) Avoid melt-downs (yours. But also theirs, I guess)
- b) Get some sleep
- c) Not deliberately leave your child in transit because they’re slowly but powerfully extinguishing your will to live
Here are some of the tips I have accrued for long-haul toddler flying.
Fly at night
Choose a night flight if it’s a long one. The child will be wide awake and stimulated at the airport, so run them ragged and make sure they have food in their belly. Yes, you risk a bit of a meltdown choosing a late night flight and it likely won’t be pretty at the departures gate, but better to have them so exhausted they can’t put up a fight on the flight, rather than well-rested and ready for ice cream and Despicable Me followed by Frozen and a few hundred laps of the aisle. Day flights have always failed for us. It’s too bright and exciting for child to sleep, and they are generally already hungry, antsy and tired from transit before we even board. What fun.
Be at the airport first, but board last
Be at the airport early. Everything takes longer with kids. If you’re travelling as a family, try to get one parent on first to ensure you get some cabin space for all your bags, then the other parent boards last with the kids (why sit on the plane any longer than required?) Once you’re on, try to make their seat as ‘bedroomy’ as possible: bring their sleeping sack/blanket or pillow, their comforter or teddy, and our travel must have for both the flight and the hotel at the other end: a big black scarf or piece of fabric and gaffa tape to tape over any lights above them. Read books to calm them.
Pack a Wondersuit/PJs for child, (we dress ours in this for the airport, just chucking a jumper over the top and some shoes on for a stylish update) plus a full change of clothes for arrival. And plenty of undies or nappies. (We went through TEN NAPPIES flying to Greece with him as an infant. TEN. And four Wondersuits.) Also pack a spare top for you. You’ll be grateful for it.
Before I leave, I buy six or seven cars, figurines and sticker books from Big W or the $2 shop and wrap them. Child receives travel treat if he is helpful and good and obedient and a perfect little robot. Or, yknow, just eats his meal. If I can swing it, I ask the flight attendant to give it to him and say it was from the pilot for being such a great flyer. Keep one for transit, or arrival at the hotel when mum and dad need to check-in, and unpack the cot and organise something for dinner, and child has been awake for 15 hours and is about to have a volcanic tantrum/eat the grape-shaped soap in the bathroom. (Other playthings I rely on: films and games on the iPad, puzzles, Playdough, colouring-in, dad’s beard, etc etc.)
Bring as many of your own as you can bear/fit, in carry-on and big luggage, both for the parents (protein bars etc), and the child. I am always hangriest when I travel, because I don’t have access to my usual snacks. So, instead of being a bitchy jerk the whole trip, I stash snacks from home in my suitcase.
Make your toys small (or thin) and go hard on the snacks: 99% of toddlers would rather watch a screen and mindlessly eat than read Hop on Pop. (And our rule is: there are no rules on planes, just do what works.)
For the flight I bring a snack cup for him to eat out of without mess, and I Ziploc stuff like plain cooked pasta, Cheerios, muesli bars, dehydrated fruit, Babybel cheese, sandwiches, squeezy pouches, and a few treats like chocolate chip cookies or chips for bribery. Who knows what they will serve and if child will want it? Better to have reliable backups. The less sugar the better, for a million reasons, but chiefly: small contained area + small child + sugar = a form of fresh hell you and everyone on the flight could do without.
The Plane Police
There have been rumours of me introducing the idea of a fictional police force roaming the plane looking for naughty children who climb over seats, scream, or throw stuff, but as yet there is no evidence.
If you’re seated next to a solo passenger, and would prefer for them not to hate you because you dared to travel with young offspring, buy them a glass of champagne or a snack pack to inspire goodwill/tolerance. Or, give them some diamonds. Diamonds usually do the trick.
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