Long haul flights are a nightmare of boredom, cramped positions, and too much television but they’re a necessity for many families – even those with young children. If the thought of putting your baby or toddler on a 16- or 20-hour flight doesn’t scare a parent, the looks of those boarding at the same time you are is likely to.
Still, if you want and/or need to get from here to there with a baby or toddler, then it’s settled and your best plan of action is to prepare the best you can. Most parents find that the flights usually go better in reality than they imagine they will and what the people around you think doesn’t really matter. Let’s take a look at what it takes to prepare for a safe long haul flight with young kids.
1. Put your legal documents in order early
Passports are now required for all children – including infants and toddlers – on all international flights. You’ll need plenty of time to get a passport processed, and even if you’re not traveling where a passport is necessary, you’ll want to have certified copies of your child’s birth certificate. Some airlines ask to see a birth certificate, but a passport trumps the birth certificate.
If you are traveling alone with your child and you are divorced, you’ll need a letter from the non-custodial parent to show that they know about and agree to the trip. This is to prevent kidnapping in custody fights, but not every border asks for it. They are typically clued in if last names don’t match but some ask anytime they encounter a single parent.
Be sure to have backups of your own passport, insurance documents, etc. as well, just in case they are lost or stolen. See the 4 Best Backup Methods for your Travel Documents to have backups on hand.
2. See Your Doctor Early for Vaccinations and More
Depending on where you are traveling and your child’s age, you may need to speed up the vaccination schedule. For example, cases of polio have been popping up in Syria, Cameroon, Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia since early 2013 according to the CDC Travel Health Notices. In addition, cases of Rubella, also called German Measles, have been affecting Japan and Poland in 2013, so your child may need an early MMR if you are headed to one of those regions. Ideally, you’ll check with your pediatrician, outline where you are traveling, and handle things like:
Vaccinations – if you need to have them early and so on
Copies of prescriptions – in case they have to be replaced while traveling
Contact information – for your regular doctor in case you need to get in touch
Basic medical history – for your travel medical portfolio (don’t forget your own too!)
3. Travel at Night
In theory, if you keep the kids up for most of the day, and arrive at the airport in the evening to fly at night they’ll sleep the entire way (and hopefully you can too). That’s the theory, anyway. While getting into jammies and brushing teeth and reading a story – essentially helping the kids stick to their regular routine, just in a plane – will help, it is a different environment and they may struggle a bit. Still, traveling at night will help you get everyone settled down and make at least part of the trip a little easier.
4. Choose the Bulkhead Seats
Also, when you book your flight, arrange for a bulkhead seat do you can get a bassinet cot for the little one. Otherwise, they will have to be on your lap at all times, which can make eating meals and being comfortable yourself very difficult. Even if you don’t have a baby, bulkhead seats offer more room for bags of kid stuff and you don’t have to worry about your toddler kicking the seat back and annoying people in front of them.
5. Schedule a Stopover Midway
If traveling longer than 12 hours with a child, most parent experts recommend arranging a stopover somewhere in the middle – at least for a couple or three days. Not only does it take the edge off travel boredom but it also helps break up the jet lag too, so it’s not as bad as it might be when you do arrive at your final destination.
Last, but not least … the sanity-savers
The following are the sanity saving tips for traveling with young children most recommended by traveling parents:
Take the stroller all the way to the aircraft so that if your flight is delayed, your little one will have a comfortable place to sleep.
Pack lots of food because there will be times when a snack can distract your little person and you can’t rely on what will be available on the airline’s food cart.
Remember protein-based snacks are sleep-inducing, so getting some of those into your children as you are boarding or soon after may help them settle down too.
Running around in the airport before boarding can burn off a little energy and give them some exercise that helps them crash more quickly.
Have milk and/or water at the ready – especially at takeoff and landing – when little ears can be significantly affected by changing air pressure.
Give yourself the ‘out’ of the electronic baby-sitter by loading up your phone or tablet with plenty of games, apps, television episodes, and films. This will come in handy during long lines, traveling in cars, and other times, so stock up.
Bring the car seat on the plane – it’s one way to rein a squirmy toddler. Plus they’re already familiar with it and you can strap them down.
- Pack for cleanup action – sticky hands, spills, messy faces can all be cleaned up quickly with wipes and hand sanitizer.