Family travel tips

Long Haul Flights with a Toddler: A Survival Guide

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One of the best parts of blogging is being apart of a large online community, full of other bloggers. Being able to swap stories and tips is not only vital for professional growth, but it’s also fun and exciting. Now and then we even get to share our stories with each other’s readers. This week I’ve invited a guest blogger to give us all a bit of travel advice about long haul flights with a toddler. Don’t forget to check out this packing list for a trip abroad with toddlers as well.

About the guest blogger

Familia de Iturmendi is an expat family raising a child and frequently moving around the world. Since becoming parents, they realized it is truly a Parenthood forever, so they decided to motivate and support other young families and travelers with kids by sharing all of their incredible experiences and crazy stories through their website Parenthood4ever. Please continue reading as they tell us how to survive a long haul flight with a toddler.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. True or false?

I must say, long haul flights with kids can be easy if you are well-prepared. But what does it mean? How can you be well-prepared for a long haul flight with a toddler when they are so unpredictable? Well, in this article I am going to introduce you to some incredibly useful tips and tricks to make your flight restful and stress-free.

aeromexico airplane

1. Prepare everything in advance when traveling with babies and toddlers

When you are about to embark on a long haul flight with a toddler on your lap, make sure you prepare everything in advance. Make a plan; organize tasks by days if necessary; think what you should wash, where you should put stuff and when to pack everything.

It was our fourth time moving from one country to another (third time changing a continent). Last time moving from Prague to London we accidentally threw all our passports with two-months savings (that were supposed to cover us in the beginning in one of the most expensive country – England) in a trash bin outside the property that locks with a special key. Oh, and just before we have chucked everything out, we happily passed all the keys to our realtor who has left. Sweet as!

It was an extraordinary sight to watch how we were getting everything from our suitcases carrying a 5-month-old baby in the last five minutes before departure. That said, PREPARE EVERYTHING IN ADVANCE!

2. Prepare food before long haul flights with a toddler

I always prefer and recommend cooking something for your child when preparing for long haul flight with a toddler. Firstly, it makes him feel more comfortable eating his favorites during the flight; secondly, home-made food is always better than pouches, in my opinion. As much as my son loved them at his 9-11 months, after that he denies each of a kind; thirdly, it always preferable for fussy eaters (totally my case!)

If you prepare anything blended, I suggest you use reusable weaning fill pouch bags. And important to note that it is not possible to store baby food in the fridge on a plane, nor it is possible to warm it up (at least airlines I have taken didn’t provide with such service). So, due to the temperature drop, think wisely about what to cook for your baby. If it is meat I will serve it as soon as possible; I wouldn’t go for fish though. However, mealtime kit is a MUST! My favorite of all time is skip&hop on the picture below. It is compact; the zipper is sturdy, food is hot for hours and hours. You get six containers plus a cooler bag. I highly recommended it.

Baby food and snacks for the long haul flight

In general, babies and toddlers are getting quite complicated with food and sleep during long flights, just as we adults. A favorite food might turn to be a win-win for everyone. Also, some snacks are plus! Kids love them, what can I say?! Though, I am always for a healthy lifestyle trying to give snacks after the main meal in a reasonable quantity.

3. Check with your airline on luggage allowance

In our case, as we were moving to another continent, we used all the space that was given to us by the airline. Unfortunately, Aeromexico allows a buggy only as an extra for a baby. Travel cots or booster seats are available for an additional charge, around 100 GBP [$127] per trip. In our case, we placed both items inside our luggage, leaving only 10 kg of space for our belongings. (Later on, we knew it was a lie, the baby could have another 20kg luggage with him).

It was such a good idea to check on all luggage restrictions beforehand, as honestly, I was 100% sure we can pick one item for free apart from the buggy. Usually, airlines let you choose among a car seat, booster seat, or travel cot, which wasn’t our case.

4. Make sure you bring a baby bag on board with everything you need and maybe a little bit more

When making long haul flight with a toddler, we use a big and spacious baby bag. It includes a unique insulated on-the-go baby bag, a changing mat, and a diaper bag. (Check our family best selection of everything you should have when traveling with kids, including KIDS TRAVEL ENTERTAINMENT!) Some airlines, such as Aeromexico, let us carry on board a baby bag of 20kg max. So, in this case, our bag was a perfect fit. In general, we pack all Teo’s clothes, medicines, hygiene items, such as soap, shampoo, baby powder, bepanthen cream, etc. We also put his favorite toys and gadgets – our lifesavers during the flight.

luggage to board on a plane

Find out how to create a perfect kids flight bag here.

5. Place the most important items on top of everything

It is essential to think about what things you are going to use on the plane during long haul flights with a toddler and arrange them accordingly in your bags. For example, I put changing mat in the baby’s bag side pocket, medicines and diaper cream – in the front one, changing clothes, diapers and insulated food bag – inside the bag on top of everything; passports, documents, money, and a pen I put in a special compartment of my anti-theft bag.

This arrangement worked for me just perfect, as my hubs could understand where to get things from easily.

6. Arrive at the airport earlier than usual

I am the person who is never late, but at the same time who is coming just on time. My experience with a baby taught me that it worked well when I was single. Now time flies like Peregrine Falcon.

toddler on way to airport boarding

According to my experience, arriving three hours before the long haul flight is just about right. Reasons are the following:

  • No queues.

Some airlines do let you first as a passenger with a baby, e.g. Aeromexico, but some don’t, so it is better to be on time at the airport;

  • No rush whatsoever.

You are able to check-in your luggage stress-free, let your toddler run around for a while (it is important to burn a bit of his energy before the flight), get some coffee and offer food to your baby in a comfortable high chair, use bathroom service, and what most importantly, let your baby feel relaxed as you will be relaxed.

toddler running at the airport
  • A great chance to get an extra free seat in a row.

If you ask nicely and if there is at least one free seat in the entire plane, you will be given one, as you are travelling with a lap toddler. Usually staff make sure of that.

Extra free plane seat for a toddler
  • No stress passing security checkpoint.

Less people and so, more time to go through the security. As you are carrying some liquids and food for your baby, you will be likely checked, meaning some of the bags will be opened, and you will need to re-arrange them at some point (see p.3). Also, consider taking out your laptops, folding and unfolding the buggy – all this carrying your baby at the same time.

7. Consider the night time for long haul flights with toddlers

I have heard many stories about taking long haul flights from other parents. I would agree on one common point – consider taking the night one. Why? Because it increases your and your baby’s chances to sleep and rest during the flight. In our case, our 13-months-old toddler has been sleeping for eight hours straight comparing to regular twelve. But it is because he went to sleep way after his routine hour, 18:00 vs. 22:30. Also, very important! – try to sleep as your baby sleeps. Remember, crossing time zones affects your body just as it affects your little one.

toddler in bassinet on plane

8. Distract and reassure your baby during long flights

Long haul flights usually contradict with the baby’s routine. If it is your first time, there is a chance your little one might feel insecure or even get scared or extremely exhausted waiting for the flight. Some young children are easy-going and fall asleep wherever and whenever they want. It is not my case. Our son prefers sleeping in his cot in his house in comfort.

So, our job was to distract and play with him before we boarded on the plane. Luckily, he is getting very excited being surrounded by other people, that sometimes even forgets about his mom and dad.

If your baby gets exhausted; staying close lulling is just the best. In other cases, when reaching to the limit, reading a nearby magazine or watching a short cartoon or baby songs’ video on your tablet, kids kindle, or phone turns out very helpful.

distracting toddler on a plane

9. Consider reserving special seats with a travel bassinet attached

Every airline offers travel bassinets on a broad of the plane for free. All information on reserving infant bassinet and what some airlines hide from us is here. However, seats for parents comes with an extra charge for each trip. Make sure you check with your airline the dimensions and maximum weight for the bassinet they provide. In Aeromexico, we were offered the cot with 12kg max. Our son was 13 months old, 80 cm tall, and weighed 9 kg. His height was just at the limit though. Also, all cots are quite narrow, which wasn’t that bad, as it limited by my son’s movements and so was more secure during the turbulence. We have decided to cover him with a particular protective layer from possible turbulence during the entire flight.

plane travel cot, bassinet

10. Let him rest as soon as the lights are off for taking off

Him being able to rest with the lights off was one of the most critical points for me. I even asked a flight attendant how much time it takes for the plane to take off and how long the lights were going to be switched off. As we had an unlucky experience taking the short flight from Venice to London just before this one, I wanted to make sure this time we have enough time to fall asleep.

Here is why I love long-distance flights

Short vs. long haul flights

  • Lights

During the short-distance flight, flight attendants tend to switch on the light and start their service immediately after take-off. The service requires them time, plus, it all goes for an extra charge. To the contrary, long-distance flights don’t’ no rush, and they take their time, which benefits your baby.

  • Broadcasting

Same as lights, broadcasting seems to be continuous and loud. While on long-distance night flights, the crew tries to minimize noise and avoid annoying sleepy passengers.

  • Free water and coffee

One thing I like the most about long-distance flights is that you get as much water as you need. I never knew this as I received a 1.5L bottle being on my fifth month of pregnancy. This time I was lucky to have another bottle, because I was still breastfeeding. Yay!

At the same time, my hubs was enjoying his free coffee with cream and a piece of delish chocolate. Booya!

free coffee on board
  • Movie availability

Oh yes! What can be better rather than enjoying watching a movie after your baby is fast asleep?! However, don’t go too hard on this, force yourself to sleep when your little one does the same.

entertainment on dark plane
  • No crib

Of course, with a short-distance flight in economy class the only possibility you have is lulling and carrying your baby during the entire time.

11. Keep him comfortable

It is a good idea to make your baby feel comfortable. One of the best tricks can be bringing his favorite little blanket to cover him in a bassinet. It is always a great idea to bring some of his favorite toys, such as building forms, musical touch remote/phone, musical instruments, or fluffy tiny toy. Also, letting him walk around, chat with other people and cabin crew pays off. Firstly, because you can relax while your baby is on other laps, secondly, it is just so much fun for him anyways. Also, bringing his favorite food and a few snacks will be appreciated by your kid too.

Baby with the plane crew

12. Take it easy

Don’t insist on anything. As previously mentioned, we are breaking our toddler’s routine. The most important is to be relaxed, then your baby will feel more relaxed and happier. Try to offer some food and lots of fluids. Let them get drowned in your cuddles and kisses and have as much fun as possible.

traveling long-distance flight with a small child

13. Consider a seat for your baby

Airline safety experts agree that the safest place for your baby is in his or her car seat using special restraint devices, such as a car seat or CARES harness. However, while FAA rules haven’t changed just yet, it is all up to a parent to decide whether he prefers to travel with a toddler on a lap or not. Please, read more about it in details here.

It also comes down to the fact that toddlers are quite different from babies. One can feel comfortable in its car seat; the other can throw the tantrum of the century (again, totally my case!) There is no possible chance my son will sit in a car seat without crying, possibly because we never had a car. Bottom line, it is your call when traveling on long haul flights with a toddler.

14. Consider electronics

Although the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no screen time for little ones until their second birthdays, a little bit of it won’t harm you or your baby’s sanity. I am cautious with TV sessions for my son, and mostly, it is all limited to songs in four languages.

However, I found it really practical in two cases:

  1. On the way to the airport, as my son can’t bear car seats;
  2. Before taking off, when he was just so tired, and we needed an extra five minutes before breastfeeding him.

All-in-all, I do not use a lot of electronics, nor do I suggest doing it regularly, as kids get used to that so fast. It’s incredible!

15. Consider a carrier

Although we are not a carrier family (and I know I am missing too much!) but taking a carrier instead of a buggy through the airport might sound like a good idea. Keeping your child close to you from all the noises at a late hour is just what they need. Your baby might even fall asleep easier. Your back will thank you too!

Hope these tips are going to be of a great help for you!

Anastasija Rižika
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1 reply »

  1. This is a very comprehensive and helpful post! We are planning on travelling next year when my little one will be nearly two. The thing that worries me has been the flight. Reading some of these I feel a little bit more relaxed! Thank you for sharing!

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