The plane will take off any second now. Your eyeshades, bottled water and neck pillow are on standby. Your entire row is empty. “These are optimal snooze conditions,” you think, but your thought is abruptly interrupted by the piercing scream of the toddler in front of you.
This was once you—until you became a parent.
Travelling with children is an immensely stressful affair. But while many elements of flying, like ear pains, are inevitable, there are ways to make the hours between take-off and landing more bearable.
Here are 10 tips for keeping your kids happy on long-haul flights.
1. Make use of these flight booking hacks
Experienced parents will tell you that preparation for a peaceful flight starts way before you even reach the airport. There are several things to look out for when booking your flights:
Book early to pick your seats: Opt for seats at the front section of the aircraft, as they will be less bumpy during turbulence. Booking early also lets you pull the age-old trick of securing the window and aisle seat, and keeping your fingers crossed that the middle one remains vacant.
Reserve meals and bassinets: Bassinets are a godsend when even ergonomic baby carriers fail you on 13-hour flights. However, they’re as limited as the bulkhead seats in any aircraft configuration, so it doesn’t hurt to call dibs in advance. This is also the part where you put in a request for a children’s meal to be offered before the meal service. You’d be surprised by what a colourful platter and a cutesy juice pack can do.
Pick an A380: Most people don’t give much thought to this, but A380s are more child-friendly than Boeing 777s because their engines are less noisy, making them more conducive for sleep. The spacious configuration also helps when you’re taking your kid for walks mid-flight, with the staircase being a sweet playground for toddlers who have just learnt how to conquer steps.
Sync flight time with bedtime: Lastly, it goes without saying that you should minimize disturbance to your child’s circadian rhythm. Keep everyone’s waking and sleeping hours as close to routine as possible, or you’ll suffer more than just jet lag!
2. Have a “tag-team seat” for one parent
While it seems intuitive for everyone to be seated together so your partner can help you out, some couples benefit more from being seated some rows away from each other. This means that when one partner is “on shift”, the other is able to catch some off-duty shuteye away from your kid, lest he/she starts crying for the other parent.
The tag-team seat also has a secondary function that hopefully wouldn’t be used. If your kid’s misbehaviour is giving surrounding passengers a hard time and causing complaints, it helps to have another cabin you could relocate to momentarily.
Who knows, a change of environment might just turn off the waterworks!
3. Tire your kids out with the airport playgrounds
Now that you have all the flight booking intricacies down pat, make sure they don’t go to nought. Check in early and make sure the airline has all your requests in place.
Another perk of checking in early is having enough time to let your kids visit the designated play areas. This is not the time to stop them from running amok up and down the terminal, for what better way is there to leave them exhausted and ready for bed by the time you take off?
4. Bring familiar objects of affection onboard
A trained parent onboard is like Mary Poppins, with a bag full of tricks to be wielded at the right timings so your audience is kept entertained throughout the show. Without a doubt, the opening act is often the latter’s beloved possession. This could be a favourite sippy cup or a plushie that they sleep with. Holding objects that remind your kid of his/her playpen and crib will provide comfort in the initial instances of distress.
5. Stockpile toys and wrap them up as “surprises”
Once the former’s effectiveness has worn off completely, it’s time for the next card.
While the children’s amenities provided by airlines are great, they can only hold attention for so long. Sensory, interactive and mess-free toys have more novelty, and will keep them occupied for longer. These include reusable sticker books, colouring books, activity sets (that don’t contain small parts) or magnatabs. Pro-tip: wrapping them up individually and letting your kids unravel them independently will also buy you more time.
6. Pack special treats into your snack box
At this point, it’s starting to feel a lot like Christmas for your kid, but that’s a small price to pay for 13 hours of peace.
As most airlines don’t have many choices for children’s snacks, you’re better off bringing your own. Your supplies should contain favourite snacks of theirs, and some “luxuries” like cookies and candy that are usually forbidden. This top-grade bribery is a trump card you should only use when absolutely necessary.
7. Never board a flight without an iPad
At 35,000 feet above sea level, all iPad rules go out of the window. The luminance of a tablet screen has saved many parents in social situations. When all other bargaining chips fail, Peppa Pig and Baby Shark will work their hypnotic wonders.
If your kid’s attention span is especially short, make sure you have an entire folder of game applications that are arts, crafts and building-based to keep them engaged.
8. Invest in sleep enhancers
When all the above manages to elicit the first yawn, the final step is making sure they sleep as soundly as possible.
The window seat may be the most conducive for sleep, but designers have taken the liberty to make sleep enhancers to turn any seat into a bed. There are mini suitcases that fit nicely in between rows to double up as a seat extension.
Preparation is half the battle won
With these tricks, you can be sure that your carry-on will be filled to the brim with snacks and toys, which relegates everything else to your check-in luggage. Now a parent’s packing list on holiday can be frightening, but the true nightmare strikes when mishaps like lost luggage occur.
With Direct Asia’s travel insurance for families, you can travel in peace knowing that all the worst-case scenarios—from lost luggage to falling ill overseas—can be covered by your policy. While you can’t calculate all risks, you could at least prepare for them and hope for the best.