Up in the air: How you can help manage kids on long flights 

Feeling a bit nervous about a plane trip with your kids? Here are a few tips to help make the flight as stress-free as possible.

There’s no denying it. Long-haul flights with young children can be a challenge, but it pays to plan ahead so the trip goes as smoothly as possible.

Thinking about how to entertain the kids on a long flight is one thing, but there’s also a range of other issues to think about when planning a journey. The golden rule is to talk to the airline before you travel and don’t leave on-board seating and other arrangements to chance.

Here are some tips to help make sure everyone arrives in good shape.

Food

  • “If you are bottle-feeding your baby, be sure to check whether the airline offers facilities to heat milk,” says Dr Brian Morton, Chair of the Australian Medical Association Council of General Practice. “And for food safety, don’t premix formula – carry sachets of formula and mix with cooled boiled water just before use.”
  • Pre-order age-appropriate foods, but don’t rely on these meals entirely. Pack non-messy, nutritious foods that don’t require refrigeration. And pack a change of clothes in case of any accidents.
  • During the flight, keep kids hydrated with water. Take your own empty water bottles and ask cabin crew to refill them.
  • Help your children wash their hands with soap and water, or use a sanitising gel to minimise the chance of picking up any infections.

Pack non-messy, nutritious foods that don’t require refrigeration.

Sleep

Baby sleeping on plane
  • Although a night flight may seem like a good idea, Dr Morton suggests booking a daytime flight when kids are active and can be entertained. Night flights may be problematic because other travellers have an expectation of sleep and may take less kindly to kids who are having trouble settling.
  • Try to book your flight on a day that is less busy as there may be extra seats for kids to stretch out on.
  • For babies, pre-book seats with a bassinet. If you can’t pre-book, get to the airport early to nab a spacious seating area.
  • Plane cabins can be cold, so make sure you take warm clothing and ask for extra blankets.
  • “There is no need to start acclimatising kids to new time zones before you leave,” Dr Morton says. “Just like adults, kids should try and adapt to the local time zones – try to stick to their normal routine.”

Ear problems

Painful pressure in ears is usually worst during the plane’s descent, and ear problems can arise if the ears become blocked by mucus or inflammation due to a cold or infection.

  • Swallowing or chewing may help to lessen the pressure in the ear.
  • Try feeding your baby with breast or bottle during take-off and landing.
  • For older children try a drink of water or sucking on a lollypop.
  • “If your child has a cold and a runny or blocked nose before you are due to travel, ask your GP to check that they are well enough to fly.”

If you can manage your child’s food and sleep, and alleviate ear pressure, you should be on your way to having a stress-free plane trip. If you have any health concerns about flying, be sure to check with your GP before departing.

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