I recently had a Twitter follower ask me a question about taking long flights with children, and it made me think back to a recent flight experience of my own.Not too long ago, I flew to Sardinia via Milan with not one, but two young children, ages one and two. I found out the hard way that my two-year-old son was suddenly afraid of flying, despite flying tons as an infant, so our flight was exceptionally difficult.
Even with the hiccups and added stress, that flight was beneficial to how I’ll be handling long flights with my children in the future. I’d like to share some of my tips for flying overseas with toddlers and small children for a seamless flight and time-change adjustment.
Fly When They Sleep
Thankfully, most flights from the US to Europe are overnight, so this means you can settle the kids down for some sleep because the cabin will mostly be dark. I’d recommend having a normal routine and busy day on the day of travel, so that your children will be ready to get some sleep after meal service, just like all other passengers on board. I always have my children board the plane with their pajamas or comfortable and soft clothes to minimize disruptions once at cruising altitude.
Sit in Spots With the Most Space
When traveling with young ones, choosing a seat should be done skillfully, and the right seat can make all the difference. This means find rows with empty middle seats, sit in the back where it is sometimes less crowded, or try to get bulkhead seats so it is more comfortable for everyone. While bulkhead seats seem to make sense on the surface with more leg room, keep in mind that they often do not have armrests that lift up, which can sometimes make it difficult to get a little one to sleep comfortably (we like to lay them down horizontally once they’re sound asleep). Think about what would work best for your family.
New Entertainment and Special Treats
This goes without saying but, pack a lot of snacks and new entertainment. I say new because your child may get bored with the same games they’ve played before at home. The time will pass more quickly if they have a load of new kid-friendly apps they’ve never tried. Also, a new toy, book, or even coloring book that you can surprise them with is a huge help as well. Pack treats that are “special,” things they might not get to have often, in order to make the flight feel exciting and special. Outside of the special treats, make sure and bring wholesome food too because airplane food is hit or miss. Younger children often find it hard to understand that the food that is offered in flight is their only option; therefore, having a backup may save a meltdown.
Stay Somewhere Comfortable For the First Night
You’ve all survived an uncomfortable flight so use the first night to get a proper rest (a little luxury also doesn’t hurt) as this will help everyone settle in. Once we arrived in Sardinia, we were going to be staying in a remote area without Wi-Fi or TV for a few days. Knowing that ahead of time, we decided to treat ourselves for a night at the Park Hyatt Milan the first night (using points, of course). Its central location made it easy to go out for strolls and walks, and it allowed us to avoid having to take trains or buses, and in general, avoid chaos. Not to mention, as a Hyatt Diamond member, we had the benefit of free breakfast which also included an amazing room service breakfast option for all of us to enjoy at our convenience.
Even as an adult, I adjust better by doing my best to stick to the time of day it is in the new place. For example, I always power through the day, avoiding naps and acting sluggish, even when my body fights back. This same practice also works well with children, helping them adjust much more quickly. Although it may be rough for a day or two (but less rough if you have a comfortable place to stay, as stated above), natural sunlight, fresh air, and being out and about helps tremendously.
Don’t Force It
Honestly, my kids were delirious the first night, which made keeping up with our traditional routine difficult. Instead of getting frustrated with the kids fighting sleep at 11 PM and disturbing guests, we took a stroll around central Milan. After being outside in the dark for a short bit, their “internal clocks” registered that it was nighttime which made falling asleep much easier when we got back. At the end of the day, we are all human and there is no magic formula to create idealistic results with children. Having a positive attitude and being less rigid can keep everyone smiling and sane!