Expert travelling tips for surviving long-haul flights with kids

Child and mother on the plane

Heading off by plane for long-overdue family travel is usually filled with excitement. Still, if you haven't done it before, the thought of flying with kids can bring a lot of worries. Stop right there! Before you start stressing yourself, know that there are plenty of small steps you can take to make air travel with your children easier. Tips for a long flight with kids coming right up!

Top tips for travelling a long-haul flight with kids

Preparation is key

First on my list of tips and tricks for a successful long flight with kids: prepare. Many little things can make a big difference to your flight. Start with choosing which airline you fly, arranging travel insurance, and selecting the time of day you travel. Then, involve your kids in choosing seats, selecting the right snacks and entertainment, and figuring out the best strategies to get some sleep. Involving your children in planning your vacation is one way to prepare them and get them excited.

Preparing your kids

If your children haven’t flown before, tell them what to expect and what will happen throughout the flight. Expect that these are all new and confronting things for your kids. Tell them about having to put their favourite toy through the security scanner, waiting in long lines, needing to sit down for long periods, and the plane's loud noises.

One effective way to prepare them is by reading children’s books about flying. You can also look at apps about flying and doing some role-playing with toddlers. Don't forget to tell them about jet lag! They better be ready if you don't want a moody kid while on vacation.

Tips for a long flight with kids

Go hands-free

If travelling with a baby, invest in a baby carrier, a portable bassinet, or a stroller to have your hands free to deal with carry-on luggage, passports and any other children.

It’s also useful on the plane when you need to go to the toilet and when you want to have a sleep and want to know your baby is secure and comfy.

Take the right documents

If you’re travelling solo, you must have a notarised letter signed by your children’s other parent stating you are allowed to take them out of the country. I know for many, this isn’t possible or desirable, so official custody or court orders are used instead.

You might also need birth certificates or adoption papers as they are also required sometimes, especially when your surname differs from your children’s surname. For instance, countries such as South Africa require that all children under 18 years must present a birth certificate with both parents' names on it in addition to their passport.

There are plenty of people, including me, who have never been asked to produce any documents in addition to passports at immigration, but there are just as many people who have, and if they don’t have the essential documents, they’re sent home.

Also, make sure you check the exact requirements from the consulate or embassy for where you’re going to, and even the airline you’re flying on because rules change quickly and differ from country to country.

Further reading: Ex won’t sign passport application? Here’s what to do.

Check COVID vaccination requirements

Aside from these documents, ensure you have proof of your COVID-19 vaccination status for both you and your children, either hardcopy or on your phone.

Different countries have different rules when it comes to COVID. You may need to be vaccinated to enter the country you are travelling to or be instructed to wear a mask on the flight. The rules are always changing, so check everything and check again the day before flying. Note: Domestic travel can be just as tricky, with different states having different, ever-changing COVID requirements.

Head to SmartTraveller for the very latest COVID updates in relation to travel.

Travel light when flying with kids

I know how tempting it is, but NEVER pack for every eventuality. If you pack too much, it will become a real burden going through the airport, in the airport toilets, and at that terrifying moment when you have to chase down your runaway toddler.

When flying with kids, I take on the plane one day-pack for me and one each for the kids that aren’t too heavy; otherwise, they’ll end up wanting me to carry them (you don't want that). When the boys were toddlers, I’d check in one bag with everyone’s gear inside, but now they’re at school, they’re in charge of their own bags.

Another thing to remember when you’re packing and getting dressed to fly is that you’ll most likely have to remove your shoes, belt and jacket at airport security (just you, not your young kids). Make it easier on yourself by wearing slip-on shoes, no belt or jacket, and having your electronics and liquids in an easily accessible part of your bag for inspection.

Tips for long haul flights with little ones

Use the airline lounge

If you can, organise access to an airline club or lounge if you fly internationally from a busy airport. In places like Brisbane International Airport, it is easy to look after the kids in the terminal building while you wait for your plane. But in places like Los Angeles, flying with kids in tow is a whole other matter.

Airline lounges are little pockets of sanity for tired parents. There are showers, nice bathrooms, children’s play areas, and meals to enjoy before you fly. More and more airport lounges are becoming available for independent use. Otherwise, see if you can gain access through your credit card or by joining the airline club.

Board early

Now I know that you’re unlikely to want to spend any more time on a plane than you have to. It may seem cumbersome, but arriving at the airport hours before your flight and boarding early has plenty of advantages. Doing this allows you to get into your seats in advance and settle before everyone else starts blocking up the passageways and the overhead lockers. It also helps to ask the flight attendants about special requests early on.

Accept and ask for help if you are flying with toddlers

Ask a friend or family member to take you to the airport and help you with the kids until after you’ve checked in. It’s small but can make all the difference in getting off to a good start.

You won’t always have the lovely granny next to you who’s happy to entertain your toddler while you eat or the nice man who offers to get your bag off the carousel. But if they offer (and your judgment says they’re likely to be good people), then accept.

Summary: Expert tips for flying long-haul flight with kids

I remember the Christmas of 2022 when my sons and I visited my hometown. It was a 6-hour flight so I had my full battle gear on. I brought the tablet and coloured pens to keep them busy during long waits. This mama also packed their headphones for a more peaceful takeoff and landing. I even bought their favourite water bottles to avoid tantrums. After all the preparation, I thought I was ready, but tiny mishaps are unavoidable at times like this. Thank goodness for the nice flight attendant who assisted us with the nappy problem! 

Flying solo with kids may not be all unicorns and rainbows, but the flight won’t last forever. With the memories you will be making, believe me, it will all be worth it in the end. Happy flying!

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Therese Danica

About the author

Therese is a regular writer for Beanstalk, transforming her experiences as a mother-of-two into helpful content for fellow mums. She spent years in the engineering field but chose to become a full-time mother. Not long after having kids, she pursued her first love – writing. With years of experience in writing blog posts, articles, and website content, Therese continues to craft narratives that speak to your heart and tickle your funny bone.

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