The mere thought of flying long haul with a toddler can bring immediate fear and anxiety to a lot of parents. This fear can mean for some that sadly they totally delay their long-haul travel plans till their little one’s are much older. Having flown long haul several times with both our young children, I have experienced some of the challenges associated with this, so understand why many people do make the choice to delay the experience, however I felt there was an opportunity to share my suggestions to hopefully make flying long haul a more manageable experience for you and your toddler!
Tip 1 – Get Some New Toys / Bring out some old toys
Toys are a wonderful distraction on a long flight. I suggest putting away a few of your toddlers favourite toys a few months prior to the flight and then packing these in your hand luggage for the trip. Bringing out one of these toys every few hours is ideal if you can to stagger it to keep your little one engaged throughout the flight. You can obviously also get some new toys as well just for the trip which is a sensible idea if you can afford to. Some toys that I would recommend for toddlers are: stacking cups, lift the flap books, crayons & paper, small cars. Furthermore, don’t discount the basic supplies on the plane for example my toddler really loved playing with my empty tea cup and spoon once I was finished with it.
Tip 2 – Bring the Baby Carrier
I have found having a baby carrier on long haul flights to be an essential item not to be overlooked. Whether you have a Baby-Bjorn or perhaps an Ergo Carrier, either does a great job for helping you settle and calm your toddler on the flight. I most recently used my Ergo with our toddler who was 19 months old at the time, and still found it a great help as on the first leg I was traveling solo so needed to have my hands free to help with my other child whilst settling her. It provided a lot of flexibility to being able to do things when I needed to calm her down and whilst in transit.
Tip 3 – Don’t forget your toddlers Medication
If your child is on any necessary medication then don’t forget to take their prescription and appropriate labels etc for the medicines. I also recommend taking both Panadol and Nurofen just in case your little one encounters any fevers or ear trouble’s during the journey. Our daughter had been experiencing chronic ear infections on the lead up to the flight which were resolved thankfully the week prior to flying, however our GP highlighted the importance of having Nurofen on standby should any troubles have presented during the flight – as its very effective with reducing inflammation.
Tip 4 – Snacks, Snacks and more snacks!
It’s been my experience that most airlines will allow you to take a reasonable amount of food on board in your carry on luggage. Specifically however I recommend taking a cool bag to keep all your snacks at a reasonable temperature. I found the baby food pouches (savoury and fruit) to be an excellent fallback if your child refuses whats on the in flight menu ! In addition dried fruit, crackers, cut up vegetables are all excellent options as well to keep your little one going. If your child is formula fed then make sure you take your formula, or alternatively their preferred milk in their feeding cup. Reccomend to bring 2 drinking cups also – 1 for water and one for milk.
Tip 5 – How to manage their sleep up in the air
If you can try and keep to your baby’s sleep patterns as much as possible that would be the ideal, that said its hard to align your flight departure time with your child’s sleep time as well! Be prepared to have to wing it a little as you will be contesting against lots of external factors such as noise, lights and new stimulations that are going to compete for your toddlers attention and ability to settle. I recommend taking all your child’s familiar sleep accessories with you e.g sleep bags, comforters, small blankets and swaddles. Two essential items to bring that I can’t recommend enough are a dark coloured muslin and some pegs/clips. These have been invaluable for when I was trying to settle our toddler in the bassinet and allowed me to block the lights out by securing the muslin with the clips to the outer frame of the bassinet.
Tip 6 – Go with the flow/be flexible
For your own sanity you have to be flexible when flying long haul with a toddler! It’s full on and has its challenges , particularly if you are flying solo. Its demanding both physically (as you most will likely be spending a good deal of time walking around the plane) and emotionally in the sense of testing your patience. Its very hard to reason with a toddler at the best of times, let alone when your having to have them restrained repeatedly due to turbulence. Taking a deep breath and just trying to get through each hour at a time will help you keep you get through the journey.
Tip 7 – Look for support during the flight
Finally I think its very important to look for support both in the airline staff and from other parents who might be sitting with you. I have flown both Singapore Airline and Qantas long haul and found both to be fantastic with children, and generally highly empathetic to the situation of traveling long haul with babies/toddlers. Don’t be afraid to ask for things that will make your journey easier – such as delaying meals to fit around your and your babies sleep schedules, or just using the service button to get a much needed cup of tea when your little one is asleep in your lap! When it comes to other parents who may be sitting next to you, try and spark up a conversation with them early in the flight to see if they are like minded people – chances are you can help each other throughout the flight or allow your little ones to play together to keep each other amused.
Hopefully this article has given you some ideas on how to approach your upcoming long haul flight with your little one. While I would not say that flying long haul with a toddler can be an “enjoyable experience”, by getting on top of the things outlined above and with a little solid planning, you can make it a far more “manageable experience” and less stressful than it might otherwise be. I believe travel is a gift to share as early as possible with your children!