Surviving Long Haul Flights With a Baby and a Toddler

By Yvonne Chan

May 17, 2019

Some of the best trips I have had with my babies are to far flung destinations around the world. There’s nothing like experiencing new cultures and cuisines together as a family!

The challenge is that getting to these places likely involves a long flight! From my home in Toronto, flights to Europe can be 7-8 hours there and 8-9 hours back, while flights to Asia can be 14-16 hours there and 12-14 hours back! Below is a list of places we have traveled with our babies, the duration of the flights, and the ages of our little ones during the trip. Don’t forget to tack on a minimum of two to 3 hours to the total travel time for getting to the airport, security, customs, baggage pick up, and getting to the accommodation at our destination!

  • Paris, France (8+ hour flight) with a 3.5 year old and 11 month old
  • Osaka, Japan (12+ hour flight from Toronto to Tokyo and 1.5 hour flight from Tokyo to Osaka) with a 2.5 year and 6 month old
  • Oahu, Hawaii (10+ hour flight) with a 2.5 year and 5 month old
  • Hong Kong (15+ hour flight) with a 2 year old

How did we survive those long hours in an airplane and pre and post boarding?

Key tips on preparation:

Ensure that you all sit together by selecting your seats immediately after you book your flight.

Air Canada and Westjet allow no-charge seat selection for parents traveling with young children immediately after they book their tickets. Don’t wait until check-in to select your seats!

Reconsider your window/aisle preferences.

Traveling with young children may result in multiple trips to the lavatory, and so an aisle seat may be more convenient. However, a toddler may want the excitement of a window seat.

Request a bassinet if flying with an infant.

Long-haul flights are usually on larger, wide-bodied aircraft where certain rows of seats have the ability for the airline to place a bassinet for a baby to sleep. These book up quickly so be sure to request these seats immediately after you book your tickets.   

Book a morning or early afternoon flight is possible.

We usually like to fly during the day versus at night. Flying during the day can ensure that everybody is somewhat fresh and rested to get through security. Flying at the end of the day may conflict with bedtime and may result in having to deal with overtired babies through security and on the plane. When we traveled to Japan, we booked a flight that departed Toronto at 1pm. Our 6 month old had a nap once we got on the plane and then again a few hours later when it was “bedtime”. Our eldest fell asleep about 7 hours into the flight and slept for ~5 hours on the flight.

Pack your child’s carry-on with plenty of supplies.

Bring a day’s worth of snacks and finger foods, but be sure to check your destination country’s policy on bringing perishable foods like fruits. Pack 1 full pack of wipes and 2 days worth of diapers (about 10-12) for the baby and extra underwear and socks for the big kid. Dress comfortable for the plane. Pack an extra t-shirt and thin pants for everyone traveling in case there are any spills or accidents.

Key tips in-flight

Bring a variety of toys and games, and consider modifying your screen time policy (if you have one)!

While we are usually very mindful to limit screen time, we use it as an incentive or reward for great behaviour during the inevitable waiting and lines during check-in, security, and boarding. A good set of made-for-kids over-the-ear headphones are a great investment. Small sized board games like “Spot It” and Tic Tac Toe can also occupy a toddler on the plane.

Provide an environment for them to sleep.

For infants, a baby carrier is our go to if the airplane bassinet is not available. We’ve also used the aisles and galley areas at the rear of the plane to walk around and help our infant fall asleep. For toddlers and bigger kids, we’ve made a makeshift little bed by laying down the airplane blankets and filling the area between the seats with airplane pillows and allow them to stretch out! Do a mini bedtime routine around the same time you would at home. The cabin lights are generally dimmed during the time to sleep to help passengers adjust to the destination time zone.

Despite your best preparation and in-flight strategies, sometimes babies will still cry! I’ll never forget our then 10-month old crying for an hour as we flew from Amsterdam back to Toronto! Our best advice: Don’t be afraid of the crying baby! The worst that can happen is that the baby cries and a bunch of strangers get upset, but at the end of the flight you simply get off the plane and continue on your way 🙂

 

Happy family travels!

 

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