It’s not easy to entertain children on a long flight. Here’s how to make it work without the angst.
Because my husband’s whole family lives in Israel, we’ve amassed quite a few frequent flier miles with our children in tow. We’ve flown with just one baby, then one toddler, then a toddler and a baby and as our family grew, with four children B”H. While those more difficult flights are a thing of the past, I’ve collected some useful tips and tricks to make traveling with young children pass as smoothly as possible for the rest of you.
• Fly at night.
Obviously, cost is a factor when scheduling, but night flights are infinitely better than day flights. It might take a couple of hours of fussing, but I’ve never had a child not fall asleep for at last a few hours of a night flight. Day flights, though, can mean a full 10-12 hours of wakefulness—to be followed by 15 minutes of sleep just as the plane is landing, resulting in clogged ears and a serious meltdown in the passport control lane.
• Pack busy snacks. Mini cookies, Cheerios, pre-washed grapes—these take time to eat. Avoid too many sugary treats, but make sure to have a couple for desperate moments. Button candy and Pez are good ones that last longer than most.
• Each child gets his/her own backpack. All but the youngest children can carry their own backpacks and then there’s no fighting over who has the most snacks left. And if you travel often, consider having separate travel backpacks that are not used as school backpacks. Ours are bright neon colors that can be spotted from across the airport terminal. I like to buy little games and toys in the days leading up to a trip to add to the individual backpacks. When we get home, they get washed and put away with the luggage.
• Activities are key. Know your child and take what works for him and not just the generic ideas you see out there. Some kids can be busy for 3 hours with just 2 Matchbox cars and some will be bored after 5 minutes with 15 of them. Crayons work for most kids —I keep a small box in each backpack and in my carry-on, as well. And pack fresh boxes for the flight home. Trust me—they will lose lots of them. Some other activities we’ve enjoyed over the years:
—Mini Play-Doh cans (they dry out in the air so just throw them out when done playing)
—Travel board games like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders
—Yes and No books
—Reusable sticker scenes/books for older kids
—Label dot stickers for toddlers—they’re easy to peel off the sheet
—Friendship bracelet supplies
• Bring those glow sticks.
For older kids who want a little bit of freedom on the plane, use glow sticks as necklaces and you can see them moving up and down the aisles. We bring extras so they can give them out to the friends they make in flight.
• Wear a hoodie. I don’t care if it’s mid-July, every person takes along a hoodie. Planes get chilly and hoods are also great for blocking eyes when trying to sleep.
• Remember your own headphones. Don’t count on using the ones they give out on the plane because they won’t necessarily work for a child. I like to bring along child-sized headphones that have volume control built-in so they can’t put on anything too loud.
• Baby in diapers? Calculate how many you would typically need for the number of hours you will be out from door to door and then triple it. It sounds excessive until you have a kid whose digestive system is messed up by the air travel and you’re changing a diaper per hour. And there are 3-hour on-tarmac delays. Been there, done that. Also, if your baby/child has a security blanket or lovey, take along a backup. Again, been there, done that.
• Bring a change of clothing for yourself. Trust me on this one. To make all this shlepping a little easier, I usually pack the items I want during the flight for myself in my handbag. Then I can pack a separate backpack or wheeled suitcase with the extra items that come along as backup or are just bulky. My change of clothing, my husband’s tallis bag, the extra diapers, children’s Motrin, etc. all go in there. I stow the bag and only take it out if/when needed.
• All the old tablets can be really useful.
If you can have one device—phone, tablet, laptop—per person, you’re golden. This is what old phones with no service are for. Download new games ahead of time. If you’re renting movies, do so at home and download them so they’re ready to watch offline. Don’t forget chargers—and extra backup battery packs. There’s a time and a place for some quality screen time and this is definitely one of them!
• Have enough strollers and car seats. Any child 5 and under go in a stroller at the airport. Two singles are easier to navigate than a double (I’ve never actually had a double, but I imagine that’s true). I also take along my car seat from home because I like to use it on the plane and in my rental car. I don’t trust rented car seats (shudder). There are several products on the market to make this easier, but I can personally recommend the GoGo Babyz Travel Mate. It attaches to your car seat and allows you to wheel it through the airport like a stroller.
• Empty water bottles & sippy cups!
Because you can’t bring full ones through security, bring empties and fill them on the plane. Cups are just a disaster waiting to happen.
• Emergency fuel: Peanut butter sandwiches. They last for at least as many hours as your journey will take.
• A pre-flight nap, just for mom. If at all possible, get a substantial nap in before you fly because you probably won’t get much sleep if any. Do NOT let your child nap if he normally does not, because that just gives him that extra dose of energy to stay awake until 5 AM.
If I sat here at my computer for another hour, I’d probably come up with some more gems but I think I’ll open this up to your suggestions. What has worked for you? What do you wish you had done differently? Or do you have any specific situations you’d like to ask about? I’m listening!