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Is it really possible for children to handle long flights without having a major meltdown? I believe with the right preparations, it is. How can I be so sure? We have made several long haul trips with our son without even 1 meltdown. And I’m talking about travel days that are 22-30 hours long with each flight being 5+ hours long. You and your kids can easily survive long flights too! Follow my tips below for preparing kids for long flights.
Tip #1: Talk to them about the plan
I am a firm believer in talking to your kids about what to expect when something new is coming into their lives. Whether it is a trip across town to visit Aunt Sally tomorrow or starting a new school next month, the more you talk to your children about the changes in their day-to-day schedules, the better they will handle those changes. Traveling is no different. As soon as you tell your kids about your trip, start talking to them about what to expect on your travel day. Show them your flight itinerary. Talk to them about the layovers, how long they will be, and what you will be doing during them. Discuss when you will be getting to the airport and arriving at your destination. Explain what the security procedures at the airport will be like. No detail is too small to cover. The more they know, the better prepared they will be to handle it all.
Before our first long flight with my son, we had several conversations with him about what to expect from our travel day, which was about 22 hours long. On that day, he felt like he knew what was happening when it happened. It made it much easier for him to handle a full day of transitions because none of it was a surprise to him.
Tip #2: Make it fun
While a day of travel can be stressful for adults, it can be a lot of fun for kids. So, capitalize on this sense of adventure and use it to your advantage. Let them have more screen time than normal. Pack new or special toys or books that you only use when traveling. Let your kids have snacks that you normally wouldn’t give them. And during those times when you are waiting and need your kids to be good, engage them in a game. It doesn’t have to be hard. Use your imagination to make something up. See who can spot the most people wearing red shirts, or have them to make up a story about the next person they see. (Check out our list of screen free activities if you need some ideas.) It doesn’t matter what the game is, the point is to just engage them in a way that will keep them entertained when you need them to wait patiently. The more fun they have, the better they will act and the more pleasant your trip will be for you and them.
Tip #3: Dress them comfortably
One of the most important tips to preparing kids for long flights is to dress your kids comfortably, no matter how long your travel day is. This will help with less whining and hopefully will allow them to rest some during the trip. If possible, let them wear one of their favorite outfits. If you will be taking an early morning or night time flight, consider putting them in pajamas for the flight.
Tip #4: Put them in slip-on shoes
Dress your children in slip-on shoes for your flight. This will make them easy to get on and off while at the airport. It will also allow them to get comfortable and settle in better while on the plane. And maybe, with any luck, they will go to sleep at some point on your journey.
Tip #5: Pack their carry-on’s with lots of entertainment
Another tip for preparing kids for long flights is to let them help with the packing of their things. Give them their own carry-on bag. Their school backpack is a great bag to use for their carry-on. Let them pick out what entertainment and activities they want to pack in it for the plane ride. Be sure they choose a variety of activities to cure boredom. Also, mix in low-tech with high-tech options in case they run out of batteries. Just be careful to watch your kids’ bags so they aren’t forgotten or stolen.
Tip #6: Load up on snacks
Generally speaking, hungry kids are cranky kids. So, be prepared with lots of snacks. This way, when hunger strikes your little ones, you will be ready for it. And if your kids are anything like mine, they can be picky about their snacks and may not like what’s offered by the airlines. So, pack ones that you know your kids love. Pack several different snacks in either single-serve containers or ziploc bags. Go for snacks that are easy to eat without a huge mess. Some of my go-to travel snacks are Cheerios, animal crackers, and grapes. See our list of the best airplane snacks for kids for ideas. Always pack more snacks than you think you will need because you never know when you will face an unexpected delay.
Tip #7: Don’t forget to bring their comfort items
Another one of my secret tricks for preparing kids for long flights is to pack their comfort items! This could be their favorite stuffed animal, a beloved blanket, or other comfort item. A comfort item will help settle their nerves, provide comfort when they get grumpy, and can even help them fall asleep on a plane. We can’t go anywhere without at least one stuffed animal! Just be vigilant that you don’t lose a special comfort item! I always pack a pillow and small blanket for my son as well. These help him to get more comfortable when it is time to sleep.
Tip #8: Give your kids time to get their wiggles out
All parents know that kids can only stay still for a limited amount of time. In order to avoid your kids getting antsy and wound-up during the flight, give them time to get their wiggles out while at the airport. Take them for a walk, move to an uncrowded area and let them jump up and down, or have them stand up and wiggle around for a while. Burning off some of their energy before you board your plane will make everyone’s flight more enjoyable.
There is no reason why kids can’t handle long flights as well as, or better, than adults can. You just need to take a little time before your flight to prepare them for it. Pack the right items. Give them time to burn off some energy, and talk to them about what to expect. With these simple tips, you can turn your children into world-class travelers from a very early age. I hope these tips help you the next time you are preparing kids for long flights. For more tips, check out flying with kids, how to handle child anxiety when flying, tips for airport security, and common mistakes when flying with toddlers. Happy travels!