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Family Travel Survival Guide: 7 Tips for Long Haul Flights with Your Little People

A child wearing headphones on the plane
TravelPost Category - TravelTravel - Post Category - GuidesGuides

It’s time for that long haul flight. But this time it’s with your toddlers in tow. Game changer. Gone are the days of 13 hours of back-to-back movies…

But fear not, mamas! We have lots of super ideas to make the journey easier on all. Journalist and mama to twins Rachel Everett shares what works for her in this Survival Guide.

I’ve had lots of flight experiences in my travel career as a journalist, some luxurious and wow-factor, some bizarre and some plain hair raising (but providing great story fodder!). Travel to me is all about being adventurous and spontaneous – that’s what makes it exciting – it’s the unknown and I’ve been lucky to experience some truly amazing destinations as a reviewer.

Fast-forward a few years and our family goes from two to four. Our boy/girl twins were born in 2011 and this literally changed everything. Excitement is no longer the key objective for our travels. Keeping sane is the main aim for all involved. Travelling with the twins is now our new adventure!

A mother and her kids standing on a runway by a plane

Water? Check. Blankie? Check. Entertainment? Check. Change of clothes? Plenty. Like most things in life, being really organised makes for a smoother flight experience for everyone.

Here are my practical tips for maintaining sanity and have a much smoother long-haul experience:

1. Night or Day?

When booking your flights, decide what will work best for your children and their personalities. Is your child a good sleeper? Then opt for a night flight. For a night owl, the day flight may be best so they can be active and walk around or chatter, whilst not disturbing other passengers sleep.

You don’t have to go as far as providing goodie bags for fellow passengers like this couple did but it’s in good spirit to try and make the flight better for others too. We don’t prefer night flights of flights up to 12 hours anymore. We usually do a stopover which helps break up time being on the plane.

2. Kiddie Areas in the Airport

If you’re flying from Dubai airport, then you’re in luck; there’s a children’s area complete with play equipment, television screens featuring children’s programming, and baby changing rooms. There’s also a climbing area and interactive games zone for kids who need to burn off excess energy before their flight. Other enhancements include redesigned washrooms with spacious and comfortable baby changing facilities and nursery, family toilets, “powdering booths” for women and innovative screens providing passengers flight information. All of this is at Concourse B at the airport.

On the other hand, if there’s not a lot to do at the airport for wee ones, then plan something active before arriving if you can, so they will (hopefully) tire easily.

A mother and her daughter looking at a plane at the airport

3. Airport Greeter Service

If you’re travelling solo with the kids, this tip will be really helpful. You can get a member of staff to meet you at the airport and help with your luggage. Sometimes you just don’t have enough hands to hold kids and carry everything. An airport greeter can meet you and take the weight off for at least a short while and you can stay sane a little longer. If the whole family is travelling, then share the load, one parent on the kids, the other on cases. Many hands make light work has never been a truer…

4. Let Off Some Steam

The day before the flight (and leading up to the flight), get your kiddos to run, run, run! Do plenty of activities with them, so they will need some downtime on the plane. At the same time, make sure your kiddos have plenty of rest in their own beds the night before they fly. Don’t tire them too much or they’ll become delirious on the flight! A well rested child is a happy child.

Children walking through the departures lounge at the airport

5. Packing Carry-Ons

Just like the Girl Guides, “Be prepared!” While you still want to pack as light as you can, I pack two of everything, plus two extra sets of clothes – just in case. For activities to occupy kids on the plane: Etch-a-Sketch, small colouring & sticker books, tablets, snack boxes, water bottles. Avoid any toy that has too many parts that you’ll lose in a sleep-deprived state.

Keep it simple but fun. I pack one hand luggage bag with clothes and overnight gear and we use two small backpacks so they have their own little bags with supplies in. Their backpacks add an element of independence for them and they can choose some items to pop in them.

6. Check for Best Seats & Free Rows

When you get to the airport check-in, it always pays to be extra nice. Appeal to the staff, and explain your situation, ask if there’s any chance of them finding the best seats for you all, as you don’t want to disturb anyone too much. The airlines also don’t want disgruntled passengers!

Sometimes they have given us an unoccupied row of seats and it’s made such a difference. Other passengers seem much happier too, not being sat next to multiple toddlers. Once a man took one look at us and legged it to another aisle!

A flight attendant watches over a baby

7. Ask for Help

Ask away! In my experience, flight attendants are usually really helpful when you need it; heating food and milk, minding a toddler while you go to the bathroom. Being polite and respectful is key. If you want people to help you, be nice! I always think a long haul is arduous for everyone, it’s never going to be like solo travel so try to make it as pleasant as possible for all involved – especially the flight attendants who work so hard. You never know, you may end up in first class…


Planning for a trip with two under 5 really is a military operation. And the truth is, you will be the freak show. People stare, waiting for some sort of entertainment to come from your direction. But, show them how you work your magic on the kiddos and just how super organised you are. Being confident and calm is key. After all, you’re not there to please the crowds. Happy travels, mamas!

Image #1, image #2 and image #4 sourced via Pinterest. Image #3 sourced via Trekaroo.

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