Advice for long-haul flights
At just six weeks old, our little Lia bean took her first flight. Since that trip to Queenstown, our babe has flown close to 30 flights and traveled around the world and back – twice.
Traveling with a toddler who loves her independence for a 15-hour flight was daunting. But we survived and you will too. To make it seem less scary and to ensure you are prepared, here are a few tips that will hopefully make your travels a tad easier.
Before the flight
What to pack (carry-on essentials)
Snacks, snacks, snacks. If your child is anything like mine, snacks are the way to their heart. They keep them distracted and can turn a tantrum into a happier situation. Here’s what else we packed for our long-haul flights:
- Books. Lia is a book fiend so a few of these to read over (and over and over) were a must.
- Random selection of small toys. Nothing that created too much sound for our neighbors and nothing that weighed down our bags.
- New toys and new books. Something your little one hasn’t seen or played with yet, which will hopefully consume her attention for a bit longer.
- Food. If your little one is sitting on your lap, he won’t be receiving a meal and although I always share my airplane food, she wasn’t always a fan so I packed MANY pouches, pb sammies, fresh fruit (make sure you consume before you get to your destination), baby oatmeal and a bowl (easy to ask for hot water to mix). And as far as snacks, I brought her favorite Mum-Mums rice crackers (head’s up the banana flavour now has added sugar so avoid that one), Only Organic brand snacks, and Little Bellies (all can be found in NZ supermarkets). Lia quickly became obsessed with the puffs from the States (Happy Family Organics). And don’t forget a water cup! We love the no-spill 360 style like the Wow Baby.
- Sleepsack and favorite sleep buddy. In hopes of Lia sleeping on the plane, we brought a bit of home. Her sleepsack kept her warm and her stinky Peter Rabbit comforted her to dreamworld.
- Back-up clothes, diapers, wipes, first aid kit. Even though the days of spit-up are long gone, now are the days of spills. Bring a back-up outfit for babe and yourself, plus extra layers in case it gets super cold. I always bring a beanie for Lia, extra socks and a baby blanket. I pack a ridiculous amount of diapers (because you just never know), a full pack of wipes and a bag that includes baby paracetamol, a syringe, a thermometer, and her vitamin drops.
Just a friendly remember that most airlines allow you to check three baby items for free: car seat, stroller and travel cot (pack ‘n play).
Reserve the bassinet seat.
Just as I suggested in my guide on How to Survive Flying with an Infant, I highly recommend requesting the bassinet seat if your traveling with a toddler on your lap for the following reasons:
- Extra legroom for mum and dad, and extra space for toys, books, etc
- If your child can still fit in the bassinet (most airlines have a weight and height restriction), mum and dad get a break.
- There’s a chance you’ll end up with an entire row to yourselves (we got lucky on our long-haul from Sydney to LA and had all four seats to ourselves).
At the airport
Give yourself plenty of time to check-in, run to the bathroom, grab food and if your little one is walking, find a good spot for them to release some of that toddler energy.
- Nowadays many airports have kids zones for exactly that.
- If you can’t gate check your stroller, bring a baby carrier to get through check-in, security, trams, etc easier. We use the Lillebaby All Seasons. These can also come in handy on the plane if your little one can’t sleep, strap them in and stroll up and down the aisles.
- If you do have your stroller and it’s nap time, try and get them down before the flight. Stretch your legs and let them catch as many zzz’s as possible, the more they sleep, the better chance they will sleep more on the plane.
- Fill up your water bottle and babe’s water bottle before boarding.
- When traveling with a toddler, always take advantage of the family bathrooms, which include change tables, chairs for nursing and extra space to change them into pjs.
I never understood why anyone would want to board the plane first until I started traveling with a baby. I highly recommend boarding when they call for families traveling with young ones.
- It gives you extra time to get settled in the seats without people having to wait in the aisle for you.
- It’s also a good time to say hi to the flight attendants who usually offer assistance. You can let them know you’ll need hot water later, grab an infant lap belt and ask for a pillow if it’s not provided.
- If you are flying solo, they are happy to help you. I saw a flight attendant holding a bub while her mom went to the bathroom.
- They also made a dark space for us on our day flight from London to LA last year when Lia refused to nap.
- Be super courteous and grateful to them and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
On the flight
Time to shine. You’ve prepped, you’re on the plane and you’re hopefully ready to go.
- If you are in the bassinet seats, head’s up – all bags must be stowed away during takeoff so keep a few toys, snacks in your seats to entertain your bub.
- During takeoff, try to have bub nurse, drink, use a pacifier or eat to help with their ears popping.
- I always nurse at takeoff and Lia almost always falls asleep for a short while in my arms. We’ve been lucky to have an extra seat between us in which case, I’ll transfer her over.
- Give toys or books one at a time. When the babe seems bored of the current one, move on to the next.
- Toddlers like anything that isn’t theirs. Let them scan the airline magazine, play with the seatbelt, move the window shade up and down, wow them with whatever random bits and bobs are within reach.
When all hell breaks loose
Real talk. Before becoming a parent, I thought I’d keep Lia away from any and all screens, but guess what, our kids mimic us so when they see Mama scrolling on Instagram, they set their heart out on your phone. Eventually, I realized that screens are everywhere and although we have the control to limit time in front of them, 100% elimination is just impossible.
What was the biggest piece of advice I received from everyone when I asked how to survive such a flight with a toddler? Screentime. This is the perfect time to treat your little one (and yourself) to Disney’s latest flick. Honestly, this kept Lia entertained for hours even though she wouldn’t keep headphones on for a minute. If it’s a long-haul, you’ll most likely have a screen unless you’re flying budget. For shorter flights or any flights sans screens, pre-download episodes of your kids favorite show or movies onto your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Ryan had an entire season of Word Party on his phone, while I downloaded a couple of films in case of a full-blown meltdown.
No screens? If you have exhausted all your books and toys, try post-its. Bring a stack of these and pop them around your seats and your little one will play for (hopefully) an extended period of time.
Last resort? Take a walk up and down the aisles.
We flew on a double decker Airbus A380-800 (I looked it up). This bad boy was MASSIVE. At least five sections of economy including a staircase in the back that I assume led to first-class, it had a gate at the top. Lia had plenty of aisles to roam, up and down, occasionally smiling at strangers and making friends. Not ideal during meal service, but it’s a good distraction for a while.
You’ll survive because you have to. You may not sleep much like you did before traveling with a toddler and you may dream of those times you were curled up with bottomless wine and the latest romcom, but I promise seeing your little one run around a new city or meet family makes it ALL WORTH IT.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me and if you have any wonderful advice, I haven’t mentioned, please share it below.
As always, thanks for reading and happy wandering.
x, Mama V