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Surviving Long-Haul Flights with Kids

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June 24, 2019

A one-hour flight within your own state can be stressful enough with a small child, but a long-haul flight—whether it’s New York to Los Angeles or somewhere overseas—can be especially brutal. Still, we’ve got to live our lives, so if you’re planning to take a lengthy journey with kids, here are some survival tips.

Choose Your Timing

Budget often dictates what flights we choose, but many parents opt for an overnight, ‘red eye’ flight when possible. This is ideal for several reasons, the most obvious being that your child may be more likely to sleep for the duration of your trek.

You’ll also want to try to find the fewest number of connections, if you can. A direct flight, or one with just a single stop, will probably be less exhausting and you’ll reduce the risk of delays/missed connections which can create a host of other problems. Who wants to be stranded during a layover with cranky kids? Not us!

Wear the Right Clothes

While adhering to your airline’s policies, make sure that everyone is as comfortable as possible. Choose soft, loose-fitting clothes for all ages and dress in layers. Flights are strange—they tend to be either freezing or too warm. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt under a sweater or hoodie gives you options!

It’s also a good idea to pack some spare clothes in your carry-on bag in case what you’re wearing gets dirty (or you’re unexpectedly delayed). Sitting for long periods of time can cause leg pain or other problems, so get up and move around the cabin a few times to keep your blood circulating. Wearing compression socks can help with this, too!

Splurge on Leg Room

When toddlers reach a certain age, their little legs are the perfect for hitting the seat right in front of them. Despite what other passengers say, there’s very little you can do about this—except choosing your seat strategically.

Look for spots on the plane (like the first row of economy or near a bulkhead, for example) where you can sit without worrying that your child is going to kick someone’s seat. You may have to pay a little extra, but depending on your stress management skills, this is one splurge that might be entirely worth it.

Expect Some Turbulence

Literally and figuratively, you should expect some rough moments during your long-haul flight. Sure, the whole journey could end up being smooth sailing, but you want to be prepared just in case. If your child gets nervous when things get bumpy, have a conversation with them ahead of time so that they know what to expect. You could also create a playlist of their favorite music to listen to if they get scared.

If your child suffers from motion sickness, talk to your healthcare professional ahead of your trip. They can provide guidance on how to best manage things on a long flight.

Of course, you should also be prepared for the possibility that your child could have a meltdown, throw up, or need some other additional support during the flight. Having a mental plan in place for those moments (and accepting that some things are just beyond your control) can help you maintain your sanity.

Pack the Right Items

We have limited space on airplanes, but many carriers allow one diaper bag per small child in addition to carry-on allowances. Maximize that storage space by packing the right items. So many parents underestimate how many diapers and/or wipes they will need on a flight, so definitely throw in some extras. You don’t want to run out during a flight delay!

Also, be sure to bring snacks, prescription medication, drinks (TSA allows children under a certain age to bring milk, juice, and pouches despite the restrictions on liquids) and entertainment to keep your little one comfortable and relaxed on your trip.

Enjoy Yourselves!

So often, we allow feelings of stress, anxiety and even dread to overwhelm us any time we travel with kids. It definitely takes more effort than traveling solo, but these years are fleeting and it’s so much better to just accept that the struggle is worth it.

You won’t see the people shooting you daggers or rolling their eyes on the plane ever again, so don’t give them any of your precious energy. Do your best, apologize when necessary and then let it go. Focus on the incredible experiences you’re going to have and the memories you’ll create; you’ll likely look back and laugh about the tough moments, too. Enjoy this time with your children because, before long, they’ll be off traveling without you and you’ll wish you could turn back the hands of time.

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