10 Tips for Travelling on Aeroplanes with Toddlers
Ever since our kids were a couple of months old we have taken them everywhere with us. We were that crazy young family in the corner of the fancy Italian restaurant, or in busy tourist locations. When Beth was three months old we took her with us to our friends New Years getaway. Five days with 15 of our loud friends in the same house. We were a lot slower and sleepless but it was a tonne of fun. We haven’t stopped ever since.
Our children are used to coming out late at night with us, sleeping on people’s couches and beds and in cars. I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to 24 hours on an aeroplane with them. Our kids have been on a number of flights, but New Zealand to London was by far the longest we've ever done as a family. I've been asked to share a few of my tips that may help you when travelling long haul with young ones. So here are my 10 tips for travelling on aeroplanes with toddlers:
1. Travel prams and baby carriers are your best friend!
Bring both on the aeroplane with you. I’ve got a Mountain Buggy Nano stroller and it’s my favourite minimalist travel pram. It's compact and versatile. Best of all it fits in the overhead bin so you can walk it onto the plane.
As we have two kids, when both are tired at the same time I baby wear one and put the other in the pram. Prams and carriers are perfect for airports.
2. Snacks, it’s all about snacks.
Snacks help keep kids busy but also help keep their glucose levels from dipping. It's often these times when kids lose the plot. Fruit is best, but with strict border controls it’s easier to bring prepackaged snack balls (made from dates, dried fruit and nuts), crackers, and fruit pouches (not good for the environment sorry but they make great travel toddler snacks).
3. Choose where you sit wisely.
Check with your airline, but most children under 15 months (and under 11.8kg) are eligible for the bassinet and bulkhead seats on the aircraft. Book this! It’s amazing, even if you don’t use it, the bassinet seating gives you extra foot room and space. Your kid/ kids can’t annoy the person in front as you are the first line of seats. These seats also mean you are next to the toilets and airline staff, plus close to water, food and rubbish bin/garbage/trash! These seats may cost more, but it’s worth every penny! Dan loved it as it meant he could stretch out and get some half decent sleep.
4. Order a special meal.
Ok, this one I just figured out. Because we are all vegan we requested vegan meals. But guess what, all special meal requests get their food served first! We often ate all our meals a good 10 to 15 minutes earlier than the rest of the aircraft. Kids were happier and we were happier because it's at these meals time when we needed food the most. We booked our flights with our favourite airline Air New Zealand where there is every kind of special meal available; halal, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, egg free, etc. even if you don’t necessarily eat one of these ways, order one. It’s no extra charge. Eating earlier = happy toddlers.
5. Fly at night.
This could either work in your favour or not. It worked incredibly well for us travelling for 24 hours straight. We got on the plane at 11.30pm. Kids went straight to sleep for 6-8 hours. They then woke up and we started our day with breakfast and movies. If you do fly at night read the next tip.
6. “TV only works during the day”.
When travelling from New Zealand to London, our first flight was at night. As soon as we boarded we said, "TV only works during the day for kids movies”. We encouraged our four-year-old to fall asleep so she could then watch her movie in the morning. We didn’t want to board the plane and then for the kids to watch an hour of TV. Screen time hypes kids up, stimulates their brains and dampens melatonin. Within minutes of this ‘rule’, both kids were fast asleep.
On another journey when we flew to Hawaii (9 hours overnight) we let Beth watch a movie as soon as we boarded at around 9pm. It was such a bad idea. Beth was two at the time and she was too stimulated to fall asleep. She only ended up falling asleep half way through the flight.
7. Breastfeeding is your secret weapon!
If you nurse, use it to your advantage! It helps to soothe, and quieten your busy baby or toddler. Don’t be afraid to feed on demand throughout the flight. Children also get very dehydrated in the air, so it’s also a great way to hydrate them. Aubrey usually has about 6 feeds during the day. On our flight, he probably had about 25+!!! Exhausting for me, but I generally had a pretty calm baby.
Or if you have a bottle, offer lots of bottle, whether it’s formula, soy milk or even water. We bought Aubrey’s glass baby bottle and filled it with water and offered it to Aubrey throughout our journey as well. The suckling of a nipple or bottle teat helps to relax a child. Same goes with a dummy/ pacifier - so if you use one, use it aplenty on board the aeroplane and in transit.
8. Ask for help.
This is especially so when going through border control. Usually the staff at airports are empathic towards young families. I remember when we arrived in London the line was the slowest I've ever been in. Aubrey was crying, everyone around us was staring at us. Beth was trying to lay down on the ground. It wasn’t fun after flying for 24 hours. I ran to the side and asked very nicely if we could go through a faster lane as we had tired, grumpy children. The lady was very understanding and rushed us through, saving us at least an hour standing in line. Usually, kids have their meltdowns when you stop and wait. When walking around I find there are things to see which distracts them. Minutes after we left that busy line in London airport, the kids were happy again.
9. Clean Their hands.
I’m pretty relaxed when it comes to dirt. Kids who play outdoors in the sand, mud and dirt can benefit from the bacteria-rich surfaces as the dirt can be good for building a healthy microbiome.
But with that said, 1,000’s of people pass through airports daily which can make them breeding grounds for lots of nasty bacteria and fungus. When travelling, I always take a healthy organic hand sanitiser. I usually make my own using a recycled mini spray bottle containing 1/2 witch hazel, 1/2 water, and a couple of different essential oils such as orange, clove and tea tree (15-20 drops in total). Or you can purchase natural hand sanitisers that are safe for toddlers. Dr Bronner’s sell a lovely lavender hand sanitiser here.
I use this spray on our family before eating, after using the restrooms, after my toddler has touched the ground a hundred times - just anytime it’s needed. My toddler Aubrey loves to put his hands in his mouth so keeping his hands clean gives me peace of mind.
10. Let them loose.
At airports, when it’s safe to do so (not during border processing or bag check) let your child loose. Let them burn out their energy and move freely before boarding an aircraft. Instead of taking the elevator or lift, take the stairs. Make challenges with your kids to see who can walk the fastest or climb the stairs first. Burning energy when not on the aircraft will pay dividends later on.
Remember most of all to not get to get too stressed when travelling. Kids pick up when you’re emotions are heightened with stress and anxiety. Do your best to stay patient and calm. It’s hard work travelling with kids. It all comes down to your outlook and accepting the chaos of it all.
Happy chaos! I mean your travelling. If you have some tips of your own, please do share below. I’d love to read them!