Guest Post: Happily Enduring Long Flights With Little Kids, Part 1

by Laura on May 1, 2013

I am so excited to share this awesome guest post from my sister Heather!  Her family is stationed overseas for the next several years and she has loads of excellent tips to share. 

This is a two-part post, so be to read the continuation.  Hope you enjoy it:


Guest Post: Happily Enduring Long Flights With Little Kids,

Part 1

Two adults, one infant, one toddler … 8 bags, 5 carry-ons, 1 double stroller, and 2 car seats…all traveling on two international flights totaling over 19 hours.  Tack on layovers and we would be spending over 24 hours non-stop traveling.  I NEEDED to be PREPARED!!!

Moving to the other side of the world wasn’t easy, but it was doable.  And while I can’t say the flights were enjoyable, they weren’t that bad.   I did a lot of research beforehand, learned a lot with our first hand experiences, and have continued to receive more tips from expatriate friends who travel often internationally with their kids.  It looks like I will regularly travel with my kids on long flights over the next several years.  Some of these trips will be only my kids and I, since my husband won’t always be able to come with us.  So I have been compiling a list of ideas and advice on how to happily endure long flights with little kids.

Now you might not be moving overseas, but you might be thinking about taking a long flight with your kids.   Don’t just leave your kids at home because of the flight!  Taking big trips with kids can be an amazing experience that can open their eyes to the world.  With that in mind, the following 10 tips helped make our flights less harrowing for my family as well as for other friends.  I hope they help you.

1.           Have a Good Toy Bag.

Backpacks are not that great for this, in my opinion, unless your kids are older and can carry their own and can get toys in and out of them on their own.  I like multi-pocket duffle type bags because:

  • They keep all your items from shifting around.
  • You can get out a couple items without having ten things fall out of the bag.
  • Allows you to reach down and get out the toys without having to open it in your seat.  This makes a huge difference if tray tables are down with drinks on them.

To make things even easier, separate groups of items with Ziploc bags. Organization is key when it comes to the toy bag. Here’s the bag I used:

Toys that worked for us on the flight

New favorite toy given right before trip: Ariel Barbie was ours

  • Kaleidoscope
  • Play dough (make sure it is new so it’s not crumbly)
  • Colored pipe cleaners: A world of possibilities (snakes, rings, bracelets, etc).
  • Couple favorite books
  • Good games on iPad/iPhone
  • Water Pen Color Books
  • Quiet book/flap book with buttons, ties, zippers etc.  This example is great because all the pieces are attached with strings:

  • New coloring book
  • Wikki Stix (for airplane windows, tray tables, cups)
  • Lacing cards.  I have made my own, but there are great ones to buy too.  Here’s one great example:

  • Stickers and sticky notes

2.           Have an Emergency Bag.

Along with having a good toy bag, you will need another bag containing “emergency” supplies.  Since this bag will only be needed a few times in your flight (fingers crossed), you can store it in the overhead bin instead of below your seat.  Here are some thoughts for what you could put in your emergency bag.

My Emergency Bag:

  • 2 outfits for the kids.  (This included one set of pajamas each)
  • 1 extra outfit for husband and me
  • Band-Aids
  • Generic medicines and any needed prescriptions (enough for the duration of your trip just in case your bags don’t get there).   I brought 3 months worth since we were moving overseas.
  • Child medication and thermometer (for fever, cold, etc). You never know if it might be needed. Plan for non-liquid.
  • Extra food for meal time (not snacks). See item #3 below.
  • Special sleep items: See item #4 below.
  • Wet wipes and diapers, diaper cream of course.

One mom’s motto was “Less Toys, More Clothes.” We didn’t have any major accidents so I didn’t NEED the second set of outfits on our flight, but I was lucky.  And when it comes to having me or the kids sit in dirty or wet clothes for hours, this is one area I would not change.  If you are traveling for less time, I am sure one extra outfit is fine.

3.           Food and Snacks

You will want to bring food that can work as a dinner, lunch, or breakfast, since often times the flight will make an in-flight time change.  This might put the meal times at a very different schedule than when you would normally eat.  I was so thankful to have brought a couple packs of oatmeal and just asked the flight attendant for some hot water.  It was filling and the kids weren’t hungry.  Besides, who knows if your kids won’t touch the in-flight food?

As far as snacks, choose salty over sugary snacks so your kids don’t get too hyper.  It also helps them drink more, which makes it easier for them to depressurize their ears.  Nevertheless, sugary snacks that take a long time to eat (like suckers or pez) are great every once in a while, especially as good behavior incentives.

Lastly, never underestimate the power of the sippy cup even for kids who are a bit older.  I even like to have a cup with a lid for me.  Then instead of those cups that they give you in flights that will surely end up in everyone’s laps, pour your drink into your personal cups and everyone will be much happier.  Remember to check that they are empty before you enter security.

Food Options (Not all obviously, but here are ideas)

  • Individual Oatmeal packs or cups (just add hot water)
  • Baby food squeeze packets
  • Freeze dried yogurt/ regular yogurt that doesn’t need to be refrigerated
  • Soft Beef jerky for toddlers
  • Apples/ easily peeled mandarin oranges
  • Dried fruit/raisins
  • Freeze dried fruit for babies (easier to dissolve than dried fruit)
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Couple pieces of wheat bread

Snacks and incentive food options

  • Favorite cereal
  • Suckers
  • M&Ms
  • Fruit snacks
  • Salty snacks – pretzel sticks, goldfish, cheese crackers

A note on Security:

I have been very successful in taking on many items that are more than 3 oz because they were “for the baby. “  That includes squeeze applesauce (my toddler loves it too), baby food, and even regular Gerber yogurt that doesn’t need to be refrigerated.  They usually test a few of them and then let me go with everything.  I can’t guarantee you’ll have the same experience obviously, so you might need to buy some items in the airport if overzealous security officers deplete your stash.

4.         Special Sleep Items (Put in the emergency bag)

Sleeping is a big deal so I am willing to have a little more hassle in the terminal to bring pajamas, blanket, or a favorite doll or stuffed animal.  This signals to the child that it is time for sleep even though you aren’t in your bed.   We changed our kids into their pajamas at night, and I think it made a difference.

5.         Other Incentive Ideas (Keep in toy bag)

Behavior incentives can really help with the inevitable boredom or loss of desire to behave well.  Make sure you have a few of these up your sleeve.

  • Sticker chart in a special folder.  Reward with a sticker for good behavior.
  • Gift-wrapped toys.  Introduce them as a reward or one every hour or half hour.  These could even be toys you already have.  Three months before your big trip, just take the toys and hide them away.  When it comes time for the trip, VOILA! You have “new” old toys.
  • Special video, snacks, etc. Pre-empt the meltdown.  If you see they might lose their cool soon, try to give the snack or video as soon as you can.  That way you aren’t rewarding them for having a meltdown.


Question:  Do you have a special incentive item that works well for your family?

Don’t forget to check out Part 2!  Take a self-questionnaire about carseats & strollers, ways to incorporate fun, see some cool gadgets, and get scheduling advice.

Guest Author: Heather About the Author:

Heather is the mother of two adorable girls and has been happily married for 8 years.  She graduated from BYU in Elementary Education with an ESL minor.  Her family is currently living abroad for her husband’s job with the Foreign Service.  They are greatly enjoying their new adventures as expatriates.

Other related posts:

Preboarding with Young Kids

Keeping a Preschooler Busy on the Plane

3 Tips from an Airline Stewardess

To Carseat or Not to Carseat?  Airplane Traveling and your Toddler

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Rochelle May 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Great ideas, Heather. I’m taking a 9+ hour flight from Europe to the States with my 1 year old next week and these will be great tips for packing. Crossing my fingers that all goes well.


Laura May 16, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Hope your flight went well Rochelle!


Cheri June 13, 2013 at 12:05 am

Great ideas! I had never thought to bring sippy cups or an empty bottle for myself on the plane for drinks, but I will now! Brilliant idea!


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