We have just completed our first transpacific flight with our toddler…and we survived! Prior to this flight, our longest flights with our toddler had been between 5-6 hours. As I mentioned in my post We’re Moving to Australia, having to do multiple long-haul flights to Australia was one of our biggest fears of committing to an expat assignment in Sydney.
Let’s admit, flying with an infant or toddler is never an enjoyable experience. In fact, it is usually a downright awful one. However, reaching our desired destinations, whether it be a vacation, visiting family or friends, or moving halfway around the world, often involves long flights and so it is a challenge we confront willingly.
In an attempt to be as prepared as possible for our 15 hour flight to Sydney, I spent hours combing the internet for tips and advice on flying with a toddler. I found some great ideas and came up with a few of my own.
1. Minimize your Travel Time
Choose the most direct flights possible and shortest layovers. Factoring in your budget, spending the least time in transit should be your main priority. We booked a direct flight from LAX to Sydney, choosing a bit longer drive to the airport, rather than adding a second flight and a layover to our trip.
2. Bring Grandma Along
Seriously. An extra set of hands can make all the difference.
When you have a little one, traveling with family is definitely the way to go (and not only for the flight). We were incredibly lucky that my mom offered to come with us to help with the flight and our first few weeks of settling in. She booked a seat a few rows in front of ours and our idea was that we would trade off getting to sit in her seat every few hours so that one adult could get some rest. Theo was very cranky from his lack of sleep so it didn’t end up working out as we intended since I had to be with him almost the entire time, but I still got a few short breaks and Matt got a couple hours of extra rest. Nonetheless, having an extra set of hands to push the stroller through the airport while Matt and I wrestled with all the luggage and help keep Theo distracted at check-in and customs was invaluable.
I know for most this isn’t an option, and just having your partner on the same flight might even be a luxury. Hopefully the next tips will help you survive.
3. Buy Your Under 2-year-old Toddler a Seat…and bring a car seat
It is very tempting to bring your under 2-year-old toddler along as a lap infant, but don’t do it! If you can afford to buy an extra seat (or, if like us you are relocating and your company is buying the plane tickets) — do!
Imagine wrestling an alligator for 15 straight hours. From our previous flight experiences where we hadn’t purchased our toddler a seat, we knew that is what the flight would be like if we had a lap infant (just take a look at Matt’s face in the picture of us on our flight to Mexico City and you can tell a lap infant wasn’t even an option for this flight).
Most airlines allow you to purchase a seat for your under 2-year-old at a reduced-price (usually about 75% of a regular ticket price). If you do purchase a seat, then I highly recommend bringing a car seat for your toddler to sit in. This was key for us since we could then strap him in and keep the wildness contained. Also, from having done several long overnight drives, we knew that our child who almost never sleeps anywhere but his crib will sleep in his car seat at night.
For more information on installing a car seat in an airplane seat check out Have Baby Will Travel’s post on Using Car Seats on Planes. We ended up choosing to purchase the Safety 1st Guide 65 Sport convertible car seat and left our super heavy Britax Marathon behind in storage – a good thing since this slimmer car seat barely fit between the armrests. Make sure your car seat is approved for airline travel (most have a sticker somewhere on them that says so, or check the manual). We had three different agents check our car seat to make sure it was approved. If you don’t plan to use your carseat much at your destination and just want a very light weight option for traveling, check out the Cosco Scenera Next. If you are looking for a solid, full-time use convertible car seat that is also great for traveling, check out the Diono Radian RXT Convertible seat which has a narrow profile and fits between the armrests of airplane seats.
Another tip – we got the car seat to recline better facing forward than backward.
3. Do a Benadryl Test Run
Not that I am condoning sedating your child. In fact, I am most definitely not. However, I will admit that desperate times can require desperate measures and we did slip our toddler a small half-dose of Benadryl just to make him a bit extra sleepy and take the edge off the excited travel jitters.
If you search the internet for info on sedating your child with Benadryl there are dozens of horror stories of it having the opposite effect and making them crazy hyper instead. Not ideal when you are trapped inside a metal tube at 35,000 feet with 300 unforgiving fellow passengers at midnight. And, while Benadryl is generally regarded as a very benign drug (you can take it while you are pregnant!), there is also the risk of side effects.
So, the week before we traveled, we did a little test run. About an hour before bedtime, we gave him half of the recommended dose and watched to see what happened. It didn’t seem to do anything, but then about an hour later he crashed and was in such a deep sleep we were able to pick him up and move him without him waking – something we usually can’t do.
4. Load a Kindle/iPad/Tablet with Lots of Shows and Movies
Despite falling more on the side of being anti-electronics for young kids, knowing that we have years of long flights ahead of us, we went ahead and bought our son the Amazon Kindle Fire Kids Edition Tablet, 7″ Display — for only $99 it comes with a kid-proof case, 8GB of storage (I recommend buying a 64GB microSD card to add additional storage), 1 year of Amazon Freetime Unlimited, and a 2 year warranty.
I spent quite a bit of time in the weeks before our trip figuring out how to download shows and movies, transferring them to the kid profile portion of the device, and testing them to make sure they worked offline.
We also spent those weeks working on our son’s attention span for watching the shows and figuring out which ones he found most captivating (Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Thomas the Train, and Curious George have been the biggest hits in our household).
On the flight we also discovered that our son was pretty captivated by the in-flight entertainment kids movies due to the novelty of never having seen the screens before.
5. Bring Lots of Healthy Snacks
Don’t rely on airplane food to feed your toddler. Although meals are served on long-haul international flights, you’ll still want to bring your own tried-and-true foods for both meals and snacks. We especially like little finger foods that take a long time to eat (tortellinis, peas, cheerios, raisins, etc.). Also, avoid the temptation to give your kid lots of sugary food (including lots of fruit) to keep them occupied with eating. The last thing you want is for them to have a sugar-high and be bouncing off the walls, nor do you want the moody toddler when the high crashes.
6. Bring Wrapped Trinkets and New Toys
I saw this recommended on YTravelBlog’s 17 Tips for Flying with Kids and definitely feel it is worth passing on. We bought a lot of little toys at a discount store – cars, slinkys, animal figurines, pipe cleaners, glow in the dark bracelets, etc. – and kept them in a little bag to pull out every time he started to get restless.
7. Pack Your Carryons Strategically
Although our last days of packing were a bit of a scramble, we attempted to pack our carryons strategically to maximize our leg room. We packed one carryon for the first half of the flight with all the items we needed for “nighttime” such as extra diapers, pjs, teddy bears, milk, a blanket, etc. The second carryon was packed full of toys and food for the second half (“daytime portion”) of the flight. We kept only one carryon at our feet at a time and put the others in the overhead bin so we could stretch out as much as possible.
8. Have a Special Treat Just in Case
This is my one exception to the rule above about no sugary foods. We keep a small stash of YumEarth Organic Lollipops (made from organic fruit juice with no added sugar) to pull out as a last resort when nothing else is working or when you just need a couple minutes of quiet. Sucking on the lollipop can also really help their ears on the descent, at which point the flight is almost over and you might actually want the sugar high to keep them awake while gathering your luggage.
9. Don’t Forget About Yourself
So often as parents we spend so much effort making sure everything is perfect for our little ones that we completely forget about our own needs. But getting some rest and staying comfortable yourself is key to having a successful flight.
Don’t assume that your child is going to sleep for 11-12 hours straight like they might do at home and spend the first few hours of an overnight flight watching movies expecting to still get 8 hours of sleep. As soon as your little one falls asleep, try to get some sleep yourself. Bring a travel pillow — we got the J Pillow Travel Pillow for this flight — noise cancelling headphones, or whatever helps you to sleep on planes.
As I mentioned above, I found a lot of great tips by reading other family travel blogs. Here’s a few posts I’d recommend:
- Delicious Baby’s Flying with Babies, Toddlers, and Kids
- Travel Mamas’ How to Survive Meltdowns & Meanies When Flying with Children
- Suitcases and Sippy Cup’s Ten Hours in a Tin Can: Surviving Long Flights with Preschoolers
- Trips with Tykes How to Survive Flying with a Lap Toddler
So go out and book that next flight! And remember – for the toddler years, it is all about the destination. You just have to survive the journey first!
P.S. This post is my first foray into the world of affiliate links. What this means is that if you purchase a product by clicking on one of the links above, I’ll get a small commission. Don’t worry – I’ll only recommend products I truly believe in and like.