Long flights with children, how to remain the holiday vibe

Once we flew to Corfu (only 3 hours) with both kids (3 and 1) and we were quite excited about that trip. However the kids would behave, we would be able to manage those 3 hours… But long-haul flights are a different story. A flight is considered long-haul when it takes 6-12 hours. An ultra-long-haul is for over 12 hours in the air. Although there are horror stories known about these long flights I can see myself overcoming the fear and reach destinations outside Europe. What about you?

To help parents with young children now I checked a few of my friends who did dare to cross oceans in the last couple of years.

From Canada to New Zealand in ‘only’ 28 hours, Shannon has tons of experience

Shannon (44), my longtime friend from New Zealand who had lived in Canada for many years is an obvious one. Her two daughters (13 and 10) were born in Canada and they flew to New Zealand many times to visit Shannon’s family. That’s a travel time of approximately 28-30 hours. Can you imagine your excitement when this is ahead? 😉

The first trip was when her daughter was only 5 months old. Then again when she was 2. When number two was born, she took both girls to Auckland when they were 3 years and 8 months old. And from then almost every 3 years until they moved to New Zealand last year.

Once they made a trip to Europe, which was a shorter flight of 7 hours. The girls were 9 and 6 by then. All flights were family (and friends) visit related. Time with family is precious, especially when they are further than far away.

As Shannon spent most of the times several weeks or even months in New Zealand it was easier to take the flights as one by one. With the downside that it wasn’t always easy for her husband to have the same amount of time off. Anyway, it didn’t keep her from flying with a 3-year old and a 7 months year old by herself. Unfortunately those 28 hours became a nightmare due to a screaming baby. The idea of family awaiting kept her going. Shannon admits that flying with older kids is easier, although her being more experienced does help as well.

Don’t get scared of those stories, as Shannon does have fun memories of those ultra-long-haul trips as well. Together with the children they did see it as a big adventure. Seeing the excitement on the children faces, every time something new to admire. Helpful staff, which Air NZ luckily has, is a big advantage as well. Small gifts were given to children and a bit of extra attention is always appreciated.

They do remember the excitement going to France as a different language and something new was awaiting. Sometimes I forget as we would always fly to a country with a different language from Holland!

And the girls have fond memories of those long flights, because there are certain advantages… Guess what 😊

  • Plane food (although it is often a case of either you love it or hate it).
  • They loved having access to the entertainment systems and snacks.
  • They enjoyed people watching on the plane and at the airports.
  • Being able to order anything to drink from the hostesses.

Which leaves her with tons of tips for us on our next long-haul flight

  1. Just roll with it, if you are calm then generally the kids will be too. 
  2. DON’T let them kick the chair in front!
  3. Pack lots of snacks/treats that you can pull out if kids are losing it.
  4. Also little surprises you can show them throughout the flight. Like a new colouring book or little toy –  something they haven’t seen before.
  5. Also downloading some movies or tv shows on a tablet is a good idea if you have long stopovers in airports.
  6. There is also not food always available during these times so snacks the kids like to keep them going. I pack cut up veggies and fruit in tupperware so it’s not all junk. Just remember to get rid of this before you go through customs! 
  7. Let children choose a couple of treats before you leave that they can pack in their carry-on.
  8. Pack pajamas on long-haul so before you get on the last long flight put them in PJ’s and get them comfy to sleep.
  9. If they have a favourite blanket or toy, definitely pack that too.
  10. With little kids pack a change of clothes for them and a clean t shirt for yourself. Shannon has been covered in vomit many times! And wipes so you can clean any messes.
  11. Make it a fun adventure!

And while Shannon and family can’t wait for their next trip back to Canada let me tell you some experiences of two Dutch friends.

Vancouver is a 10 hour flight from Amsterdam, Marijke went with a 1,5 year old

Marijke (42) went with a 1,5 year old and her boyfriend to Vancouver. She was also 16 weeks pregnant, something she knew when booking the flights. A wedding is always a good reason to travel, isn’t it 😊

They had a 10 hour flight followed by a domestic flight of 45 minutes. Although her son could travel for free, it did mean there was not a seat for him reserved. Being outgrown of the baby basket he had to sleep on the floor (luckily they had quite some legspace) on their return flight. Luckily going there was easier as there was extra seat available. They brought a special suitcase along which you can turn into a small bed. Very helpful!

Sleeping? Yes, the baby slept a lot which made the flights easy. But his young age made him unaware of the situation and running to catch the domestic flight when you are tired was less comfortable with all their luggage.

Also Marijke’s experienced friendly aircraft personnel checking regularly if everything is well. All good reasons for their expanded family to check out the Vancouver area again someday!

Marijke’s tips are:

  1. Use the special ear plugs to control the air pressure
  2. The suitcase which you can turn into a baby bed is very helpful if you have a chair for your child
  3. Be aware that when you fly with a baby under 2 years, no seat is reserved. Luckily Marijke had a lot of leg space, but in case you haven’t it can be very cozy on just two chairs with three people for 10 hours…

Gretha went with 3 children to Sri Lanka, 15 hours from Amsterdam

Gretha (41) went with her husband and 3 kids to Sri Lanka. A flight of 15 hours with one stop over. Her husband was born there and for the family a good reason to explore the country. Her kids were 11, 9 and 5 at the time which gave them a bit more room to move. The children can carry things on their own and understand the excitement.

The good things they can remember are the movies they could watch all the time. What is more fun for kids these days 😉 They flew in the A380, which must have been a great experience! The downside of a longer flight is the food, especially being served warm food after you had just woken up is not something everybody is used to.

Gretha advices to:

  1. Take time in advantage for preparation.
  2. Bring some food by yourself.
  3. With older kids you can also talk about how long the flight will take and how far you already are. Keep them motivated by why they fly, the destination is the reason to fly and that really helps during the trip.

The five of them are already making plans for their next trip to Sri Lanka, hopefully their flight will be as good as last time. Thanks for sharing your stories Shannon, Marijke and Gretha! I think a long-haul travel will be added to our bucket list again 😊

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