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Let’s face it, a long flight with a young one is not anyone’s favorite part of a trip. A means to an end, yes, but I know that my kids are a total crapshoot when it comes to enjoying a long flight. Sometimes they will hunker down with their headphones, giving you hours to relax. But when the boredom (or hunger) sets in, it is best to be prepared! I’ve flown a ton with my kids, starting when little man was 4 months old, so I am excited to share my best long flight survival tips for families!
Long Flight Survival Tips for Families
READ MORE ABOUT Airplane Travel with Car Seats
Despite flying often, for the first seven years of my son’s life (and probably over 50 flights in that time) we stuck to flights that were 4 hours or less. Usually less.
But last August, we headed to Hawaii. Survived the there and back and I can proudly pass on what I learned about long flights with kids.
Traveling during COVID? Check out my guide for FLYING DURING THE PANDEMIC
Long Flight Survival Tips: Entertainment
Entertainment (Electronic): This is the most important thing to plan for – keeping kids entertained! We are pretty brand-loyal to Delta, and on longer flights, there is in-seat entertainment. Before flying to Hawaii, I checked the website to see what type of plane we would be on, and what type of entertainment was offered. Of course this is always subject to change.
For the kids, I always bring their own headphones. (And for the grown-ups too!) Since toddler-hood my kids have used Kidz Gear headphones and I highly recommend them!
The ease and variety of choices with in-seat entertainment has come along way and could easily occupy a child for hours. But again, you never know, so I also pack both kids’ iPads. Right now they have old iPads that we bought refurbished. My son’s iPad is about 6 years old and still going strong. But when we need to replace I am probably going to get them Kindle Fires.
For a long flight I will download at least one new movie from iTunes. For our Hawaii trip, I downloaded Zootopia on each iPad, along with a few Peppa Pig episodes. I also downloaded a few new, free games for each kid.
Many carriers now offer Wi-Fi on board. My husband will use the Wi-Fi for work, to send emails or surf the Internet, but I’m not sure you can really watch YouTube or stream movies. On shorter Delta flights, they offer free streaming movies, but I have not had luck activating this service. If your flight offers this, be sure to download the GoGo Entertainment app before you fly or check the device requirements ahead of time.
PRO-TIP: Pack your ipad chargers in your carry-on, most longer flights have outlets on board.
Entertainment (non-electronic): My kids can pass a ton of time on an iPad, but even the most technological kid has their limits (and we don’t limit screen time on long flights). So it’s always good to have a literal bag of tricks of non-battery operated ways to keep kids entertained.
When we arrive at the airport, each kid is presented with a drawstring bag of items just for them! We used old drawstring bags that we have picked up for free in various places, you know you probably have those sitting around the house! To fill them, I went to Five Below and Michael’s to purchase new goodies for each kid. Here is what the bags contained:
For the 8-year old boy:
Kidz Gear Headphones (we kept the iPads in our carry-ons)
A new pack of markers – buy a two pack HERE
MLB Spot-It <– EVERYONE Loves these games!
A deck of playing cards
Travel Spirograph <– This is my kid’s favorite travel activity! Keep them entertained at your destination as well!
Blank paper to draw
For the 5-year old girl:
A pack of Shopkins
Sticker Dolly Dressing Book <–We love all the books from this series, and if you live near a Five Below, you can get these for $5!
Four small party tins of Play-Doh
A new pack of markers
Go Fish <– Love this set, the cards in the shape of FISH!
Blank Paper to draw
Long Flight Survival Tips: Food
Food: Okay I admit, I love to eat. As does my family. My kids will get HANGRY if they are hungry. So I tend to over pack in the food department. I’d rather be over prepared and have choices, than starving at 10,000 feet.
When traveling to Hawaii, we left JFK around noon and arrived in Maui at 8pm local time. Twelve hours in the air, two hours at LAX (if there were no delays), crossing five time zones and two meal times. I literally packed an entire Vera Bradley duffle full of food!
P.S. The duffle doubled as a beach tote when we were on the islands.
The morning of departure, little man and I walked over to our favorite bagel store (Town Bagel for my local friends) and picked up sandwiches for everyone. This was the lunch that we ate when we got on the plane.
Additionally, we packed some hefty airplane snacks. If we made it to LAX on time, we knew we would have plenty of time to grab some dinner. But if we were running to reach our connection, I didn’t want to be stranded without food.
Editor’s Note: we made it to LA on time and hubby and I had overpriced and underwhelming burritos from the food court. The kids ate from our pre-packed snack bag. This was also the first time we ever denied purchasing them fresh fruit as they each asked for a banana – with a $5 price tag. Hell, no!
In our duffle I packed protein bars, bagged snacks like pirate booty and chips, fruit (apples and oranges, less messy than grapes or berries), sabra hummus/pretzel packs, cheese sticks, and delicious muffins I purchased freshly baked at the bagel store.
PRO-TIP: Pack extra napkins in your food bag!
Since we were arriving late at night, and staying in a condo, I packed little boxes of cereal for our first breakfast AND a pound of Trader Joe’s coffee with a Ziploc bag of filters! I knew jet lag would equate to a pre-grocery store trip, early wake-up! Sometimes I even surprise myself with these genius ideas!
As for drinks, we always travel with our own Camelbak water bottles (P.S. Amazon has the best price on kids’ Camelbaks). Keep them empty as you go through security and fill them ½ way at a water fountain near your gate. The pressure on ascent/descent can cause these to leak, but I found that if you don’t overfill and open the top straw, you should be okay.
Long Flight Survival Tips: Sleep
Sleeping: Now on our flight TO Hawaii, I realized I should not have let my kids sleep as long as they did… but baby girl slept the entire 5 hours from California to Hawaii. (Working on a follow-up post about how to handle jet lag with little ones).
But sometimes you want them to sleep, like on a red eye.
We bring with us travel pillows for each kid (these are SUPER CUTE, but you can also get a plain one for $5 at Five Below). I also have several eye masks that the kids think are fun to wear. It does help with blocking out light.
We always dress comfortably for any flight, but for a red eye or night flight will just have the kids travel in pajamas. A sweatshirt can also double as a blanket or pillow, so we normally travel with these in our carry on!
Long Flight Survival Tips: Before Departure
Pre-Departure Tips: Hopefully you will have plenty of time in the airport – you are on time and not sprinting to your gate!
My kids loved this scavenger hunt. Pin it, and before you go, print out LOTS of copies! They each did one in JFK and one in LAX. Now every time we talk about flying they ask if they can do the scavenger hunt!
UPDATE: Click HERE for a new scavenger hunt from Have Diapers, Will Travel
Personally, when I fly solo, I like to get to the gate early, preferably with a magazine and a coffee and start winding down before boarding. But with kids who are going to be sitting and plugged into a device for a long flight, I like to get them up and moving as much as possible before take-off. Since I had just bought a new Fitbit, we literally did laps up and down the halls of JFK to try to get as many steps in as possible. Luckily dad didn’t mind waiting at the gate with all of our stuff. Either way, leave the workbooks, ipads, etc. to be played with once you really get on board and underway!
PRO-TIP: Unless you REALLY need extra time to get settled, or are jockeying for precious overhead bin space, I like to board the plane LAST, why spend even MORE time sitting?
Long Flight Survival Tips: Don’t forget about Mom!
Mom Essentials: Moms, don’t forget your own earbuds, a magazine or two, your travel purse, and a good book. And for the family, be sure to pack wipes, hand sanitizer, a change of clothes, tissues, a a plastic bag or two, and a pack of gum to help with popping ears!
Like any travel scenario, this is how we do it, and it works for us. I’ve come to realize that the best advice is to pick and choose from lists like this and make it fit your family’s needs. And with everything, bring your patience! Expect the unexpected and be flexible. And if need be, at least they serve wine on long flights!
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