Long haul flight advice for travelling with young kids – help me keep my sanity!
June 13, 2010 3:47 AM   Subscribe

Long haul flight advice for travelling with young kids – help me keep my sanity!

In a few months I will be travelling to Singapore on my own with 2 kids- an 18 month old and a 3 year old. I have never flown with the kids before. My husband has a new job in Singapore and is travelling out first on his own. I am then following a few weeks later with the kids and most of the luggage for a year's stay plus the 2 kids..... help me stay sane with some tips:

*I would like advice as to how to manage them on the flight (which will be 13 hours), my 3 year old boy is pretty hyper most of the time
*What essential stuff I need to take on the plane as hand luggage as I wont be able to carts loads on my own with the 2 kids as well.
*Will my little one have to sit on my knee for the whole flight as I hear (perhaps wrongly) that under 2's don't get a seat to themselves.
*Any ideas for when I need to change my little one's nappy- how have others managed on a long haul flight with 2 kids? I cant remember ever seeing a baby change facility in plane toilets.
*Anything else a seasoned traveller with little ones can recommend to me.

Thanks :-)
posted by blacksky to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Under 2's usually don't get a seat to themselves because you only pay about 10% of the airfare for them - unless you pay a child's fare (more like 75%?) to get them a seat. At 18 months, I think they may be too big for the bassinets too. I would pay for the seat - but it may also be worth assessing whether two business class seats might be as economical as three economy seats (assuming you were only getting economy to begin with). Some relatives of mine did this - a business class seat for each of the parents, and one that the two kids shared. So if you are flying business class anyway, I think you'll be ok.

Look into unaccompanied baggage services - ask if your airline offers it, or look for other service providers. Some services will pick it up, others require you to drop it at the airport (but this doesn't have to be the day you are flying). Just might be worthwhile so that you don't have to deal with the kids and the piles of baggage on the one day.

Take food for the kids, even if you have booked kids meals (probably more likely to be eaten than adult meals) - that way you can feed them when they want to eat and with something you know they eat.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:03 AM on June 13, 2010

Take more nappies than you think you'll need. Also more wipes. At least one change of clothes for all of you. I like taking a shawl - it could be a pillow, a blanket, a mini fort, a wrap and a light blocker. I've heard good things about taking a multitude of new toys and wrapping them up and doling them out over the trip. The baby changing is different between planes but every flight I've had it's tiny and flips down over the toilet itself. Depending on the size of your kid, it may be too short. It's close to with my baby and she was 10 months last flight. If the three year old will respond well, maybe his own bag to take care of. On long trips I relax screen time rules too. Remember that a plane is very anti-kid and super uncomfortable so regular walks should help.

I'd seriously consider a seat for the 18 month old as well - that'll be a hefty chunk of cash but I can't imagine how much pain I'd be in after a 13 hour flight with a kid in my lap. Plus three seats can mean a stretched out lay down for the 3 year old.

I'll be watching this and I'll come back in two weeks after my roadtrip if I've learnt anything new.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:17 AM on June 13, 2010

Just based on my regular traveling with small children and my other regular traveling with luggage, I strongly recommend finding a way to ship your luggage if at all possible. I don't think you'll really be able to handle much luggage plus two children (not to be a pessimist). Is it too expensive? It's really going to be hard to handle all of that without getting too frazzled to keep your kids entertained, IMO. Little toys to dole out over the trip is a good idea as mentioned by geek anachronism. The flight attendants will probably be helpful, maybe even keeping an eye on one kid while you change the other? Have fun -- Singapore sounds awesome!
posted by theredpen at 4:40 AM on June 13, 2010

First off bring at least twice as much snacks and juice as you think is reasonable - in a strange situation your kids may compensate by consuming.

Try letting them roam. If your kids are pleasant then they can burn off a lot of energy by running up and down the aisle and many parent or grandparent types will try to engage them in conversations and games. We did this with our kids on long flights and the main adult response we got from this practice were from people who said they wanted to adopt our kids.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 4:42 AM on June 13, 2010

Actually, most long-haul planes that I've been on do have diaper change platforms.

Make sure you have a little backpack or bag that's for your 3 yr old. Bring limited (say 5 or 6) crayons/colour pencils, and a colouring book or scrap paper. A favourite toy or two. And a new toy or two. Dole them out, as geek anachronism suggests.

I would go ahead and buy the child ticket rather than the infant one, if you're traveling economy class and can afford it. 13 hours with a toddler in your lap will be unbearably uncomfortable for both of you. The only way you'll get a seat for the 18mth old is if seats are empty on the plane.

Some parents swear by a teaspoonful of child Benadryl or similar, although I cringe every time I hear this advice.

geek anachronism's and AnnaRat's advice is really good.

Make sure you get plenty of rest before the flight. You're probably going to be on high alert for much of those 13 hours and it will do everyone's mood wonders if you're well-rested before that.

Take something for the kids to suck on during takeoff and landing. Not all kids have this problem, but I remember screaming from the pain in my ears when I was little. This is one of the few occasions on which my 3yr old gets hard candy.

Minimize what you're carrying for yourself, other than that change of clothes. The less you have to carry, the easier it will be on you.

Good luck. :)
posted by bardophile at 4:51 AM on June 13, 2010

I have a baby, not a toddler, but we've traveled a lot, and this is what I've figured out:

Most airlines let an under-2 kid travel free or at a discounted rate, but they have to sit on your lap. You can also buy them a seat (you can bring your car seat). You'll have to buy a seat for a kid over two.

Some people get very agitated about the idea of lap babies, considering it to be The Unsafest Thing Ever, and feeling strongly that you must buy them a seat and bring their car seat. But car seats on a plane are basically turbulence insurance: they aren't going to save your baby in the event of an actual crash. So you'll have to figure out your own comfort level.

I don't know how much luggage your airline is going to let you bring, but when I've flown, it's not that much (even on international flights). As someone mentioned above, it may be cheaper to ship things and pack light. Hauling around a baby and a bunch of luggage is a nightmare. This is how I've done it when flying alone:

Check your bags and your car seat (US domestic and most international carriers will let you check a car seat for free) as soon as you can. If your airline offers curbside check-in, do it. Make sure the airline is clear that you need everything checked through to your destination (they almost certainly do, but having to move a bunch of suitcases across an airport while transferring would suck.)

If you bring a stroller, you can check it at the gate right before you get on the plane. But from my observing of other families, a stroller is one more giant cumbersome thing to drag around. If you carry your non-walking kid in a sling or carrier of some kind, it's really much easier.

Bring one small carry-on. Pack light. The flight attendant will give you extra juice for your kid if you need it, but hauling around a 10 pound bag is a drag. Into this carry-on, you put one or two extra outfits per kid, each in a ziploc bag. If you have some kind of terrifying vomit problem in the middle of flight, you change them and seal the dirty clothes into the bag.

Plan for the max number of diapers you'll need. Long-haul flights have changing tables in the bathrooms that flip down. Flight attendants will hold your child for a moment if you need them to (say if you yourself have the temerity to need to pee...) - Bring one of those travel packs of wipes. Bring a cloth to wipe up weird bodily fluids that sprout on your child.

I also bring a ziploc bag (you'll see that ziploc bags are something of a theme when traveling with babies) with a few things like a thermometer, baby tylenol, etc.

And toys. My 7-month-old doesn't yet have sophisticated toy tastes, so he's good with things like "Oh wow, a cellophane wrapper with some crackers in it, that's crazy!" but I also bring a half-dozen small toys that interest him, and swap/dole those out. For an older child, you might consider a portable DVD player and DVDs he's never seen before (or which are favorites).

If your babies still nurse, be prepared to nurse during takeoff and landing, or offer a pacifier. It helps with the changing pressure.

I bring a light blanket. I can change the baby on it, cover him when he's sleeping, make a pillow for me, etc.

Finally, for long hauls, if you can schedule a flight that's going to be in the air for the bulk of your kid's nighttime sleep, it really helps.

Good luck!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 5:36 AM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

The hmsbeagle mentioned bringing a change of clothes for the kids in case of vomit. Great idea! I would highly suggest you bring one for yourself, too, though. When my son was 10 months old, we went on a 3 hour flight. About 10 minutes in, he vomited all over me, TWICE. Did I have a change of clothes with me? Nope! It made for a very uncomfortable flight for me and I'm sure all the people around me!

If you can get a seat for each kid, I would highly recommend it. The more room you have, the better. I couldn't imagine holding a baby for 13 hours!

I would really try to stay away from any kind of Benadryl, etc. If you look at the side effects, you'll notice it mentions something about making kids hyper instead of calm. That's exactly what happens to my son, so that's not something you want to happen in the middle of a 13 hour flight.

Good luck, and tell hubby you deserve a BIG reward after you get there! :)
posted by fresh-rn at 5:51 AM on June 13, 2010

if you can schedule a flight that's going to be in the air for the bulk of your kid's nighttime sleep

13 hours with a toddler in your lap will be unbearably uncomfortable for both of you.

These two pieces of advice are spot on. If you are able, get seats for both of them during a time when they would normally sleep. Everything else combined won't make as much of a difference as these two things.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 5:59 AM on June 13, 2010

When I was between the ages of 3 and 6 (My brother was between 0 and 3), my family traveled from the US to and from South Korea at least once a year. Mom had entertaining us down to a science. She would go to the dollar/toy store before the trip and buy one new toy for every hour we were traveling (not just every hour on the plane - every hour we would have to sit around in cars, airports, etc.) Those toys would be wrapped individually and handed out every hour or when we asked for a new one, whichever was longer. The wrapping was vital - it made everything seem really special and it allowed her to pull out several and let us choose based on mysterious shapes.

Some toys I remember are: one of those big pens with 20 different colors that you could click down, a tiny little doll set (Korean, polly pocket size) with little clothes that were changeable, a slinky, a gyroscope with a plastic strip to zip through instead of string (better for small hands).
posted by WowLookStars at 6:43 AM on June 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

Friends of ours who are planning on adopting have expressed an intention to bring chocolates for their neighbors if they ever fly long-haul with their kids. Consider buying goodwill from those around you in advance.

When my brother and sister-in-law few with my niece when she was 2ish, he had made a giant ball of masking tape, which she spent a good chunk of the (much shorter) flight unwinding. It was a great toy for a plane, and he could just put it back together and start over from scratch.
posted by JMOZ at 6:45 AM on June 13, 2010

This may seem obvious, but when buying your ticket plan for as few stopovers as possible. I agree that you should get a seat for the little one. A car seat will be much more comfortable.
posted by Sara Anne at 7:15 AM on June 13, 2010

I'm flying with my 19-month-old (with 2 adults) to Singapore this week. I need to keep you in mind when I'm stressing out.

If you can afford to have someone come with you, that'd be a good idea.

I like the 2 businesses vs. 3 economy seat idea. Bedtime flight if you can.

We're taking Benadryl JUST in case. We tested it last week, as 1/4th of kids get hyper on it. Dr. Sears has some dosing suggestions. Bring tylenol/motrin/teething tablets too.

Doling out small toys, DVD player, at least 2-3 changes of clothes each.
posted by k8t at 7:21 AM on June 13, 2010

My wife offers a complimentary vodka OJ to whomever is sitting next to our child.
posted by furtive at 7:28 AM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just flew a nine hour flight without children and sitting in economy for that long without a baby on my lap was torture so if you can afford to do the two business class seats, that would be much better. Depending on the plane some business class seats on long haul flights recline almost completely flat so the children would be able to sleep more comfortably.

Try to be as organized as possible with your travel documents, possibly putting them in a small purse that you can strap over your body so that you are not having to dig around in the diaper bag looking for tickets, boarding passes, etc. with a toddler on one hip while trying to keep a three year old from running off. That sort of stuff can use up energy and patience fast.
posted by tamitang at 7:53 AM on June 13, 2010

Call and check in with the airline about any documentation requirements. When we flew for the first time with our then 9 month old, we just happened to call in to our airline, who told us that they required a birth certificate for the baby. Whew.
posted by seventyfour at 8:02 AM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Flew 9 hour fight with 17month old, most of the flight was during the day. Remember this is father with his kid and not mom. My son is also super hyper.

I took a lot of food. Few toys, especially those which he loves. 8 diapers on-board. Changed every second hour. Changed one just before boarding. Asked for a bassinet. He was larger for the bassinet so I put him to sleep on my lap and then I put him in the bassinet. A LOT of thanks to Lufthansa cabin crew.

On return journey, I didn't get any bassinet so I asked for a middle row of 4 if its empty, luckily found one. Again, fed my son really well and put him to sleep. Put him on the seats and put 3 pillows on the floor in case, if he falls.

When he was awake, I showed him cartoon films on the screen. That glued him for an hour. Next trip, I am carrying iPod. I am lucky that my son is happy when his stomach is full.

Long story short, carry good amount of food that they really like and few toys that they like to play with. Actually, you could let both of them play an interactive game and don't worry about 3 year old running errands in the aisle. Thats lot better than a cranky kid.
Don't use Bendryl unless you have tried it at home. It could actually stimulate a few.
Find some help with the luggage and I seriously hope that this is a non-stop flight
posted by zaxour at 8:24 AM on June 13, 2010

My significant other suggested bringing as little luggage as possible. Buy stuff there.
posted by k8t at 8:37 AM on June 13, 2010

Bring more changes of clothes for everyone than you think you'll need. Talk to your doctor about bringing an emergency dose of meds in case the toddler melts down. This is a good time to work on the toddler's clock skills: It's noon now, at 1 o;'clock we'll play a new game/watch the next movie. An iPod/touch, whatever with kid music, games, movies, and/or gameboy. A few kids books so you can teach toddler colors, and maybe letters. Seatmates are more tolerant of a parent who is clearly trying hard, and buying seatmates a drink is a great idea. Talk to the toddler at length about what will happen; it helps them behave if they aren't so stunned by all the new stuff.

When I take long trips, I bring a washcloth and some cologne, so I can wash my face well, and freshen up. It makes a huge difference in my ability to cope.
posted by theora55 at 8:53 AM on June 13, 2010

When I was growing up as an Army kid we made quite a few long haul trips, but my mom had three kids to deal with by herself. I've also travelled with my own kids, so here's what I've learned.

Get each child their own backpack. Even the little guy. If he's (she's) anything like my kids he'll get a kick out of his own backpack. It will also make things a lot easier for you if they can carry a portion of their own stuff. Your bag should be a backpack or at least an across the body style so that you have both hands free. Rent a luggage cart, it's worth the cost.

I'm seconding the new toys. Not just a few, get at least one for each hour. A few different coloring books and at least one blank notebook, a new 8 pack of crayons (don't get any more than that, you'll be searching the floor for all of them.), and lots of fun little toys. Head to the dollar store and you'll be able to find a ton. Just remember to stay away from things with little pieces (like puzzles) and things that tend to be thrown (like balls). Matchbox cars are a real winner, and one thing you might want to splurge on is some Crayola Model Magic. The Model Magic is kind of like Play-Doh, but it doesn't stick to things and there is next to no clean up. The Model Magic would be a good thing to give them towards the beginning of the trip because it can be put away for a few hours and brought out again. A few favorite picture books are a good thing too.

Bring individually portioned snacks. Even if you have to separate them into little snack bags yourself. That way you can just reach into your bag and grab something instead of trying to pour it out into your hand or onto the tray. This is also the time for treats that you wouldn't normally let them have. Sometimes the best way to quiet a screaming toddler is a bag of gummy bears. Some treats that I've had success with: Little pretzels, baby carrots, M&M's, granola bars, sliced apples, cheese cubes, gummy bears, different kinds of dry cereal, fruit snacks, animal crackers, and small cookies. I recommend only bringing water to drink but my kids are usually happy with water, so YMMV. I recommend the Nalgene sippy cup. They really are spill proof, and they are practically indestructible.

I second bringing a change of clothes for everybody, I actually recommend bringing two for the kids. An outfit and a pair of pajamas. Absolutely bring Ziplock bags, the gallon size is best. I also recommend bringing very cheap shoes, Target has flip flops for $2.50. That way they are easy to take on and off for security, they are easy to stow during the flight, and if you loose one it isn't a catastrophe.

Bring a blanket and a lovey for each kid. This can be what they carry in their own bags.

Make yourself a checklist for when you leave an area so that you don't forget anything. It would really suck to leave one of those blankets in a foreign airport. Then check the list before you board, before you deplane, and before you leave the airport.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:43 AM on June 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've taken our kid (now two) on long flights several times now. He had his own seat (at 7 and 9 months), was a lap child (at 20 months, twice) and now gets his own seat (has done that twice). We've done it overnight and we've done it during the day. What I've learned:
-EXTRA DIAPERS. The airport stores charge you ridiculously for them.
-Lots of snacks--enough to be able to piece together "meals". Most little kids care nothing about beef tips. Also, in transit, you can find always find dried fruit and cashews, which help balance out the carb loading.
-There's usually at least one bathroom with a flip-down changing table over the toilet. Make sure you close the toilet lid before you flip it down just in case an over-active toddler knocks things off the table.
-Having traveled both ways, I would get seats for both kids if you can swing it. We use this harness on take-off, landing and any time we need to contain him.
-Yes, yes, yes, travel overnight. Most kids I know don't have trouble sleeping on planes like adults do, so that'll help fill a few flight hours.
-Let them burn energy when they can. We bring an inflatable ball in our carry-on and our son has played soccer waiting for many flights. Sitting at the gate is not the time to sit quietly--use this time to let them get their wiggles out.
-We make games out of little things (e.g. Can you help me find all the dogs in the SkyMall catalog?) This is on top of our aresenal of new toys, crayons, stickers, a children's book anthology and an iPod touch filled with tv shows and games.
-In some places we travel, it's really easy to hire a porter to help get your stuff around. If this is the case, make sure you've got money ready to pay them.
posted by wallaby at 12:44 PM on June 13, 2010

At 18 months my son was entranced by lift-the-flap books. I bought a couple for the flight and kept them hidden until needed. Bonus: quiet!

A friend of mine prepared a bunch of little baggies with some chocolates, some earplugs, and a pre-written apology note from her baby to pass out to neighbors in the event of meltdown. She never actually had to use them, though. It might be a if-you-have-an-umbrella-it-doesn't-rain kind of thing.

Nthing bringing changes of clothes for everyone, including you.

Have you explored air cargo options? About 10 years ago I had to relocate from overseas and found that shipping some stuff air cargo with the same airline I was flying on was cheaper than paying excess baggage, and well worth it. Considering you will have your hands full with your kids, the less you have to keep track of day of flight, the better.

Travel hack: some flights have in-seat entertainment that might be appropriate for the 3 year old. Headphones are too big for their little heads, but we solved that by folding up a diaper and sticking the diaper on top of his head, then resting the headphones on the diaper. It kept the speakers at the right ear level and cracked up the flight attendants.
posted by ambrosia at 1:09 PM on June 13, 2010

The ride on carry on seems like a great idea.

Tire the kids out before you board. Find out if the airport(s) have any children's play areas. Have the kids jog/ skip/ hop around once you are past security.

Ideally, you could purchase seats for everyone, and have your own row. If a little one can't fall asleep in a seat that doesn't recline all the way, try having him sleep beneath your feet (again, it helps to have the whole row to do this).

Have a few tricks up your sleeve if the flight is delayed.

Is there any way your husband could take more of the luggage when he travels? If not, a friend could help you wrangle luggage/ children to the check in counter.

Finally, read airport and airplane books before hand.
posted by oceano at 2:36 PM on June 13, 2010

k8t: We're taking Benadryl JUST in case. We tested it last week, as 1/4th of kids get hyper on it. Dr. Sears has some dosing suggestions. Bring tylenol/motrin/teething tablets too.

Still be careful. About 1/5 of the time baby anachronism will not sleep with her antihistamines. The rest of the time she's zonked. But that 1 time out of 5? Hellish. Even worse on the plane (and she's not even big enough to cause real damage).
posted by geek anachronism at 5:57 PM on June 13, 2010

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