xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' World Toddler: 5 Tips for Long-Haul Flights with Kids

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

5 Tips for Long-Haul Flights with Kids



1. Respect Routine


Resist the urge to manipulate your baby’s schedule to get her to sleep more on the plane. This strategy backfires, as you end up with an overly-tired grumpy-pants who refuses to sleep at all. Keep to normal nap schedules throughout the day leading up to the flight so baby stays calm so you can entertain her just as you would off the plane until she starts scratching her eyes.

The same goes for mealtime: feed your child at her regular mealtimes according to the time zone you just left. Note that the airlines will try to make this difficult for you: they will feed you dinner at 4PM; breakfast at 2AM; and turn the “morning” lights on at 1AM. Resist the urge to eat whenever food is served and to wake whenever the lights are on. If it’s not a normal meal time, decline the meal or ask that it be brought later. If it’s not time to wake up, “shh, shh” baby and keep sleeping.

2. Rotate Responsibility


It is not easy to keep a toddler quiet and still for 5+ hours at a time, especially when you yourself are exhausted. So take advantage of your partner if you are traveling with one: when he is running the childcare facility, you should be resting. In such tight quarters it is difficult to unplug from the baby wiggling next to you, but it is the best thing you can do for yourself and your family. Recharge while the going is good. Then take over for your partner so he can shut his own eyes.

Denpasar, Indonesia Airport Playground


3. Make Meal Time Last


When the meal tray comes out, make every bite into an event. We introduce each bite with a lengthy prelude: “Do you want a piece of chicken? Are you sure? Chew…Chew…Chew…” Done correctly—that is, irritatingly slowly-- meal time can last an hour. Most long-haul flights have at least two meal services- so that’s two hours down and 3 – 14 hours to go.

View of the Andes on flight from Puerto Montt to Santiago, Chile

4. Don't Put Baby in a Corner


If you can afford and are willing to shell out for a seat just for your baby, your airplane life will be grand. You’ll have a row to yourself where your family can spread out without worry of bothering the poor stranger seated next to you.

If, like us, you refuse to buy your child a seat until you are forced to (the day she turns two), you can still create private space for her in one of two ways. First, pray that the seat next to you is vacant. Airlines save extra seats for traveling families; indeed, we have been provided a free extra seat on two of our last three long-haul flights.

If you lose the free-seat-lottery, however, you can still create private space for your child in the bulkhead area in front of your seat. To make sure you get the bulkhead, request the “baby bassinet” when you book your ticket (if you book online, call the airline after to have the request added to your ticket). Keep in mind that even if your child is too big to sleep in the bassinet, you can still request the seat and take advantage of the precious extra leg room. 

Arrive at the airport early on departure day to make sure your request went through. If you have one of the first babies to check in for the flight you are almost guaranteed to get the bulkhead.


5. Sleep Whenever Possible


Before having a baby, I spent entire long-haul flights drinking free wine and watching movies. Even now, duty-free Toblerone and Shakespeare in Love beckon me. But I now resist the urge to stay awake the whole flight because I have learned that the only thing worse than an over-tired baby is an over-tired parent.

You never know when your child will wake up and need your full attention. And you don’t know what challenges await you upon landing in a new country. Will your bags have arrived at the destination? Will you be able to find a taxi? Will your hotel room be ready? Dealing with these issues and a baby is almost impossible on little or no sleep. So take advantage of every moment your child is sleeping or watching Mickey Mouse to shut your eyes. Your entire adventure post-flight will go more smoothly if you can sneak in at least a few hours of sleep before landing.

Arriving in Sydney from Santiago to find our bags went to Peru

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