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15 family travel tips to survive a flight with children

Top family travel tips on everything from entertainment to the best time to travel

family boarding plane
Chloe Best
Lifestyle Features Editor
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You’ve booked a dream family holiday in a bucket list destination, and now there’s just one thing standing in the way of you and sun, sea and fun - a long-haul flight.

For some people, the thought of as long as 12 hours on a plane with children is enough to put them off booking a break in a far-flung destination, but with some planning and strategic booking, you will not only be able to survive a long-haul flight with children, but maybe even enjoy it! These tips will also help with shorter flight times too, and should take the stress out of family holidays.

Parents boarding plane with child© Photo: iStock

Follow these top tips to make long-haul travel with children easier

Here are 15 tools to make plane travel a breeze, from the time of your flight to the essentials you need in your hand luggage.

RELATED: This Instagram mum's airport hack for parents flying with children is genius

Choose your departure time carefully

This is going to be one of the most effective ways to boost your chances of long-haul flight success - choosing the right flight time for you and your family. A daytime flight increases your chances of spending lots of time pacing up and down the aisle and trying to keep little ones entertained, whereas a nighttime flight will hopefully ensure you can all get some sleep, helping the journey to go quicker.

On an evening flight you will likely have an hour or two with the lights on while the meal is served, before they are dimmed for the night, giving you all the opportunity to rest.

children on plane© Photo: iStock

A nighttime flight can be a good choice for families

Pack plenty of snacks

Snacks are an essential when travelling with children, especially if you’re worried your little ones won’t eat the in-flight meals. Stash some of their favourite snacks in your hand luggage to avoid any hangry meltdowns throughout the flight. Meanwhile, if you’re travelling with a baby, advice from states that you are allowed to carry enough baby food, milk and sterilised water as you need for the journey. There is no legal limit to how much you can take, however, individual containers of breast milk must contain no more than 2,000ml.

SEE: 9 family travel mistakes that are costing you money this summer

Bring entertainment

Girl colouring on plane© Photo: iStock

Colouring or sticker books can provide good entertainment

While you don’t want to weigh down your hand luggage with toys and books, a few carefully-selected activities can help to keep children entertained on a long-haul flight. Think colouring, activity or sticker books, or games you can all play together during the journey. Avoid packing toys or games with small pieces, as you may find that you spend much of the flight rummaging around on the floor trying to find lost parts under the seats, not fun for anyone.

MORE: What you need to pack for a holiday: 90 must-have items

Pack as light as possible

While you'll want to make sure you're fully stocked up with snacks, entertainment and a spare change of clothes, try and avoid packing too much in your hand luggage. Over packing or having unorganised hand luggage can make your experience travelling through the airport and on the plane more stressful, so try to create a checklist of all the essentials you need, and pack accordingly.

A bit of screen time is okay

If there’s a time when screen time may be called for, it’s when you’re confined to the cabin of a plane for hours on end. Take advantage of the entertainment system on board most planes, which will likely have films or episodes of their favourite shows to keep children entertained for a while. You could also try audiobooks or music as a way to engage little ones without them spending the whole journey staring at a screen.

Toddler watching screen on plane© Photo: iStock

Take advantage of entertainment on the plane

Burn off energy before the flight

If you're hoping your family will get some rest on the flight, one of the best things you can do is to burn off their energy before you board. Let children run around in an uncrowded area or simply go for a long walk through the airport before boarding to increase the chances of everyone getting some rest.

MORE: 35 best holidays to go on with babies and toddlers

Take the essentials for babies and toddlers

Most airlines will allow you to check in a stroller and a car seat at the gate for free, so take advantage of this by using them to get around the airport with your baby or toddler easier and much quicker.

Stretch your legs

Take it in turns to get up and walk up and down the aisle every couple of hours to help children burn off any pent-up energy, keep them entertained, and stretch your legs. It’s also a good idea to encourage your children to be as active as possible at the airport before boarding your flight, to try and avoid them feeling restless early on in the journey - and maybe even tire them out enough to sleep.

MORE: Ultimate tips and tricks for travelling with a baby

Dress for the occasion

According to the experts at Your Baby Club, what you wear is as important as what you pack in your hand luggage. "The temperature on a plane or in a car can go from one extreme to another, one minute it can be too hot and the next it's freezing cold due to the air conditioning. You can prepare for these drastic changes in temperature by dressing yourself and your child in layers," they recommend. "Wear layers that are comfortable and can be easily removed, depending on the temperature."

Don't forget a change of clothes

"Packing light when travelling is never easy, but one essential thing to pack when travelling by plane, car, or boat, is a change of clothes. From spilt juice to a leaky nappy, your little one may find themselves in many sticky situations when traveling, so it’s important to make sure you have a spare change of clothes just in case," the baby experts say.

MORE: 12 screen-free activities to keep kids busy on plane journeys

They add: "If you’re travelling a long distance, it’s worth packing a pair of comfortable pyjamas, to make nap time even more enjoyable."

A woman packing her hand luggage suitcase for a flight© iStock
Don't forget to pack a change of clothes in your hand luggage

Prepare for air pressure 

"When the air pressure changes on a plane, pressure is placed on the eustachian tubes, causing pain and discomfort in the ears. This is a normal part of flying, but for young babies, this can be extremely stressful. You can relieve and prevent any pain by offering your child a bottle, breast, or pacifier to suck on during take-off and descent," the Your Baby Club team suggest.

READ: What you need to pack for a holiday - 90 must-have items

Let go of boundaries and structure

While you may feel like you need to stick to your usual routine and rules while travelling, Kristin Gallant and Deena Margolin, the experts behind Big Little Feelings, say that you should let it go. "Let boundaries and structure go out the window. Seriously. Be gentle with yourself," they say. "On travel days with kids, we are all just trying to survive. This means lollipops, infinite screentime, truly whatever we need to do to make it to the destination."

Book an extra seat 

If your child is under the age of two, you are not required to book them their own seat, but should your budget allow, the Your Baby Club team recommend you do so anyway, "for their protection during take-off, landing, and through turbulence". 

They explain: "Extra room is always essential when travelling with young children on a plane, so they have room to stretch and play."

A mother and baby on a plane© iStock
It may still be worth booking an extra seat for an infant under the age of two

Don't worry about what other people think

There’s bound to be some challenging moments during a long-haul flight, especially with younger children and babies, but try not to worry too much about what other people think. You’re likely to find many other passengers are in the same position as you or may have been in the past, so they will be more understanding than you may think.

Remind yourself why you're travelling

In trickier moments, remind yourself of the reason why you’re travelling, and the trip you have to look forward to once the journey is over. Take some deep breaths and try to keep calm; regulating your emotions and avoiding getting too stressed will not only help you to handle the situation better, but it can also help your child to calm down too and nip meltdowns in the bud.

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