How To Survive A Long Flight With Kids

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Air travel can be stressful for everyone, from unreasonable security measures to delayed or canceled flights. Parents have even more to stress about when flying, crying babies, fussy toddlers, and fighting siblings will fray anyone’s nerves. Whether you are visiting family or taking the vacation of a lifetime, sooner or later your family may find yourselves taking a long flight. Some parents opt to take late-night flights, hoping the kids will sleep through the bulk of the trip. Other families just try the best they can to keep the kids entertained.
Before you find yourself trapped in an airplane for hours with your kids and a crowd of strangers, it pays to prepare. You’ll need to fit everything from snacks to entertainment into a few small bags. Can you really bring enough toys and games to keep your kids busy for hours without leaving those tiny airplane seats? Is there a way to keep them entertained without invoking the ire of nearby passengers? What if your child really does scream for the entire flight? Here are some tips, ideas, and plans that can help smooth out the trip for everyone involved.
Remain Calm
Travel can be exciting, especially if your child has never been on an airplane before. This enthusiasm can lead to a child who is incredibly worked-up over an experience that basically amounts to sitting still for several hours. Well-meaning parents may encourage this enthusiasm, but when planning for a smooth trip the last thing you need is a child that is over-the-top excited. While air travel is a unique experience, your child’s expectations should be pretty close to reality.
We’re going to fly above the clouds in an airplane going super-fast!” is likely to result in a kid running in circles with delight and anticipation. “We will have to spend a lot of time waiting and standing in lines, and when we get on the plane we will have to sit in our seats for a long time,” is more likely to prepare your child for the trip. Don’t be too gloomy, but save the exciting parts of air travel for when you’re actually there. Watch the planes take off and land, look out the window while taking off and landing, but try not to get the kids too excited beforehand.
Bring Toys
Toys can be a great way to keep kids busy during a long flight, but they could just as easily become another headache for you. The trick is to bring the right toys for your particular tot. Parents of older children tend to let them pack their own toys, but the kids aren’t always great at picking toys that will keep them busy for long periods of time. If your child tends to play elaborate scenarios with playsets and action figures or toy animals, a small fold-out playset might be a great way to let them play pretend. If not, the action figures will just weigh you down. Stuffed animals and dolls can be soothing, but they are also bulky and tend to get in the way after a while.
Building toys can be great entertainment for kids of all ages. Lego, Mega Blocks, and other building bricks can be set up on a tray table. Small sets often come in self-contained plastic containers with pictures and building ideas. You can help keep the kids engaged by asking them to build various objects with the bricks they have in front of them. Can they build a house? A dog? A tree?
Electronic toys can be a life-saver on a long flight or a boring drive. From personal DVD players to hand-held video games, these devices are engaging enough to hold most kids’ attention for an extended period of time. Some devices are intended to be educational and come with a wide range of games that teach math or spelling, others are largely for entertainment purposes. If your family already owns a portable DVD player, tablet device, or hand-held video games, consider picking up a few movies or games that will be new to your kids.
If you don’t already have them, there’s no need to rush out and buy the latest and greatest devices. Ask around, you may know someone who would be happy to lend you an older hand-held game system. Video game shops also sell used games and devices. If you normally limit screen time for your kids, consider relaxing the rules a bit, especially for long flights. Movies and video games can also give siblings some much-needed quiet time to get a break from each other. Remember to bring headphones or earbuds that will be comfortable for your children, and consider getting a headphone splitter so that more than one person can listen at a time.
Bring Activities
Coloring books and crayons have been a classic choice for entertainment on the go, but your local craft store probably have many more ways to keep your little ones busy. Look for sticker books with favorite characters, and feel free to add a few more sheets of stickers for more fun. Mazes, word searches, and intricate patterns can be fun for older children. Extreme dot-to-dots, do-it-yourself story books and journals, and papers that change colors with special markers are other fun ways to keep everyone doodling.
Many craft stores now carry self-contained kits that include everything you need for a craft. Peel-off adhesives turn foam shapes into fun stickers, and allow your child to create a picture frame or a fuzzy animal. Beads, lanyards, and yarn crafts are other options that may hold your child’s attention. While toddlers and preschoolers may not be able to manage an actual craft kit, they may enjoy making paper bag puppets or bending colorful pipe-cleaners.
Bring Books
Unless your child is a serious reader, they may not be able to focus on a novel during a long flight. Instead, look for activity books like Where’s Waldo and I Spy. Most look-and-find books mention a few things to find on each page, and have lists of additional things to find at the end. You can squeeze even more entertainment out of this sort of book by spotting things yourself and then asking your child to find them, or discussing what you see on the pages. “What do you think this man in the corner is doing?” “Do we have a ball like that at home?” You can even play look-and-find games with in-flight magazines and catalogs if you have multiple copies.
Anything Goes
You can’t always predict what kids will do during a long flight, and you may end up being that parent with the screaming baby. While you may encounter a few grumpy passengers, most people will be sympathetic as long as you at least appear to be trying to remedy the situation. Zoning out while your child kicks a seat in front of them is guaranteed to make someone angry, but correcting them, removing their shoes, or apologizing to the occupant of that seat can help soothe everyone’s nerves. A long flight is not the time to wait out a temper tantrum to teach your toddler a lesson. For air travel, a good rule of thumb is that, as long as your child is quiet and not actively kicking seats or touching other passengers, anything goes. If they want to lay on the floor in front of your seats or shred their in-flight magazine, that’s just fine.
So if you’re travelling with small children by airplane, make sure you’ve got a plan. Making preparations to keep them entertained can make all the difference.
 Jacqueline Carter is a travel agent for Thomas Cook Family Vacations, a writer, and a mother of three small children with lots of experience keeping her family sane. Photo courtesy of

Author: Jonathan Marlow

Travel Blogger and dedicated world traveler

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1 Comment

  1. Hey, when you’re holding the baby, you don’t want to suddenly feel wetness coming through on those newly washed clothes. I found it pretty annoying to have to change the diapers, toss the clothes in the laundry, and wash the baby with the other brands, when I should have been playing with the baby. I think honest diapers did a fine job.

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