The thought of being stuck in an airplane cabin with a temperamental toddler is enough to turn anyone off from traveling. Luckily, we gathered essential tips to avoid this nightmare and even, maybe, make the best out of it!
Back in the days, I dreaded getting on that first 15-hour flight with my then 9-month-old. The idea of facing air travel with my kid when going back to the States was giving me pure nightmares.
Now aged five years old, my daughter is a veteran traveler with a total of 7 round trip flights between Japan and the USA under her young belt. I have acquired experience along this rocky way and I’m here today to give you the lifesaving tips I always keep in mind when air-traveling with kids. So buckle up and bon voyage!
Rule Nº1: Logistics Are Key!
When it comes to kids, there is no such thing as “improvisation”. If there is only one thing you should remember from this article, it surely is logistics. Think, prepare, check everything!
Prior to the flight
The first step to prepare your air travel experience with a kid is placed way ahead of your trip: read your child a storybook about flying on airplanes.
Be it the first or seventh trip you are doing together, your little one may not know what to expect inside a plane and it can be frightening. Reading a story together is the best way to help apprehend the upcoming experience. “My First Airplane Ride” by Patricia Hubbellis a good choice for young kids. It is also fun to visit an airplane museum if you have one in your area!
Don’t forget to prepare your outfit too! Making yourself comfortable will surely help your toddler feel comfortable as well.
Direct Flights Are Always The Easiest
My advice: go for a flight that will allow for maximum sleeping time.
1. Departing in the late afternoon seems to work well for long, international flights. It allows for a little playtime, dinner, and if you are lucky, for a good night’s sleep for both of you (or some me time!). Inside the airplane, a teddy or blanky and a favorite bedtime story can help your little one settle down.
2. If you are flying solo with your toddler, reserve the seats towards the back of the plane that have just two seats next to each other as opposed to three. This way, you will minimize the chance of bothering an innocent stranger that hopes to sleep through the flight.
3. When traveling with a lap child, request a bulkhead seat at check-in. You might not get the free upgrade, but it is worth inquiring. I had some luck asking again at the gate just prior to boarding.
Which Airline Should You Fly?
From my experience, Japanese airlines are the most accommodating when flying with small children! They encourage you to board early and try to find the most suitable seat for you.
Most major airlines now offer kids meals which can be requested online ahead of your departure (along with a special meal for you if you have any dietary restrictions). Japan Airlines has a cute “obento” type of meals which my daughter loves! They also provide the drinks in a small paper cup with a lid to be child-proof.
For Your Little Foodies
I would definitely recommend you to bring some food with you because meals are not always served when kids are hungry. Pack things that don’t have to be kept cool such as onigiri(rice balls) or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Fruits, veggie sticks, cereal or granola bars are the most healthy options. Of course, you’ll want to throw in some special treats, just in case.
While we are on the food subject, you should give young children something to suck or chew on to relieve ear pressure and pain during take-off and landing. It might help you avoid a hugecrisis.
In the case of spills or upset tummies, bring changes of clothes for you and your toddler (some extra plastic bags come in handy for soiled items).
Pack Some Surprises!
I hunt all year for activities that won’t make any noise and aren’t too heavy in the carry-on luggage. Wiki sticks, origami, sticker books, lace-up boards, large beads with some string, finger puppets, toy binoculars, stamps, magnet books or action figurines are all great to pass time on-flight!
You can also take a portable video player with at least one new movie to watch. I bought my daughter special kid-sized headphones which make it easier for her to listen to the movies and focus on something for a little while.
Your Kid Is The Star Of This Flight
The key to my success is giving my daughter my undivided attention during the trip.
Inside the plane, there are no chores to be done, laundry to be hung, or meals to be cooked. It is just 15 hours straight of mother-daughter time.
What child doesn’t respond well to being the center of attention for such a long stretch of time?