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With very little ones, always expect the unexpected! Photo: Unsplash/@micki

Flight Plan: How To Fly Long-Haul With Toddlers (Without Going Nuts)

A toddler is a 12 to 36 month-old so you’ve likely got a very unpredictable, overactive energy ball on your hands, stimulated by just about anything.

Those of us who've had to fly long-haul with young children will probably know the aftermath of coming out extremely worse for wear on the other side. But would you believe it is actually possible to fly long-haul with just a few tips, and come out less traumatised than you were expecting?

Disclaimer: You can plan for everything, but just be prepared for nothing going according to plan - and definitely expect the unexpected.

Here are 11 tips on how to survive your lengthy plane ride and still come out smiling:

1. Stick to their routine

Tell the kids they’re going to have a sleepover on the plane so that they understand that most of the journey will be for sleeping. Stick to your child’s circadian rhythm and where possible, choose flights close to their normal bedtime. Best case scenario – they sleep peacefully through most of the flight (added bonus - it’ll make adjusting to the new time zone a lot easier). But be prepared that all this planning backfire and your child gets overstimulated (read tired and bratty), which means that you’re unlikely to get much sleep either.


2. Use a backpack as your hand luggage

Use a backpack so that you have both hands free for the kids. That makes it easier for you to carry your child, hold their hand, push a trolley, show your passports or just wipe your brow.

3. Minimise hand luggage

If you’re juggling two or more toddlers, you’re probably going to have a nappy bag, a stroller and hand luggage of your own. If you don’t want to run the risk of losing anything (or anyone), pack cabin baggage as light as possible. Apart from snacks, medicines, an extra pair of clothes per child, familiar comforts such as a cuddly toy or a security blanket, check in everything else.

4. Pack individual activity bags

Having said that, if your child can manage a little backpack or strolley of their own, add to the excitement of an airplane sleepover by packing them their own activity bag. Make sure it’s light, but be sure to include whatever will keep your child entertained for some time. Usual favourites include little toys, stickers, crayons and an activity book, or even a reading book.


5. Pack snacks

You know this already – little snacks are always welcome and great for diffusing any situation. If your child is a fussy eater, it may help to pack a meal as well for them. Full kids means happier kids, which means you’ll get some peace and quiet too.

6. Comfort first, fashion later

Leave the fashionable clothes for another time. An impractically-dressed child is an unhappy child, so dress them in soft layers that you can take on and off according to the air conditioning or weather upon arrival. Dress little ones in their favourite t-shirts and pyjamas, and add a sweater or jacket when you need to. And keep socks on too.

7. Let them burn off all the excess energy in the terminal

Depending on how soon you want your child to try sleeping on the plane, let them run ragged in the terminal before you board the plane. With any luck, they’ll hopefully have less energy to run amuck on the flight, and will be content to sit in their seats being entertained by a device till they fall asleep without too much fuss. Some airports have playground for little kids so take advantage of that. Send your partner ahead to pre-board and claim the overhead space, while you watch the kids.

8. Pressure drop ear aches

Pack a lollipop or boiled sweets for toddlers to suck on during take-off and landing to help with the ear ache that comes from a drop in cabin pressure. If you’d rather avoid candy, ensure the kids sip (and swallow) enough water instead during the take-off and landing to prevent ear pressure pain.


9. Stick to regular toilet breaks

Usually there’s a very short distance between "I’m fine" and "I need the toilet now". To minimise the chances of unpleasant toilet accidents, stick to regular toilet breaks, especially during "off-peak" hours.

10. It’s ok to use devices

Even if your kids are only allowed the tablet occasionally, relax the rules a little when travelling long-haul. Having a device to keep the kids entertained for a little while will give you time to take a break and recharge, eat something yourself or just get up and stretch your legs. Load your device with their favourite cartoons, games, movies, songs and TV shows to keep them entertained for as long as possible.


11. Breathe and look after yourself

This is perhaps the most important tip of all. Nothing will work unless you’re taken care of too. Drink enough water, take turns eating and sleeping and exercising to avoid deep vein thrombosis. And don’t worry so much about the other passengers. You’re doing the best that you can.

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