Extra Baggage: Flying Internationally with Children
The first time I flew internationally with my children they were 14 months old and we were relocating from New York to Sydney for my husband’s new job. Since that first trip six years ago, we have flown back to the United States once a year to visit my parents so I’ve become pretty well-seasoned at this traveling with kids thing. It is not to be undertaken by the faint of heart but with some preparation and a sense of humour, traveling the world with your children can actually be very rewarding and worth the effort. Our first trip was the toughest as my son and daughter were at the absolute worst age to fly a child halfway around the globe. Take it from me – toddlers should avoid long-haul flights if at all possible. My son had taken his first steps one day before we flew and all he wanted to do was walk, especially when the “fasten seatbelt” sign was on. Poor kid. We did make it through that incredibly long first international trip and lived to tell the tale.
Here are my top hints for those of you willing to brave the friendly skies with kids in tow.
- Get some sleep! For the week before your trip, be sure that the kids (and their parents) get plenty of sleep. Being well-rested at the start of the journey will help everyone immensely.
- Leave early but not too early. There is nothing worse than sprinting through an airport dragging your children behind you to make a flight. There is also nothing worse than having two hours to kill with two wired kids bouncing off the airport walls. Allow yourself enough time to check in with children, use the bathroom, buy water and take a walk to burn off energy. For us, this means arriving at the airport 2 hours before the first flight leaves. Any less and you could run into snags with check-in and security lines. Any more and you could wind up with too much time on your hands before boarding the plane. It is usually not possible to check-in online when travelling internationally with children.
- Don’t make layovers too short or too long. See number 2 for why. I suggest a 2-hour layover if possible.
- Some airlines will need to take your pram (aka stroller) when you check-in so that they can check it through to your final destination. Check with your airline before you travel about when they will need to take your precious pram and if necessary, arrange for the airline to loan you a pram to get you (and your child, snacks, diapers…..) to the gate.
- Pack a few snacks. I like salty and dry things like Saladas, Anzac bikkies and muesli bars. These are all good for upset tummies, both preventing and treating them. They also require lots of chewing which can prevent ears from getting blocked on take-off and landing. If you have an infant with you be sure to feed her during take-off and landing for the same reason.
- Pay attention to the liquids in your carry-on baggage. Do not pack more than the required amount of anything in your carry-on or you will be stopped at the security line and possibly have your bag and/or person searched.
- Order the kids meals before you travel. They are much more appealing to little ones and they also get served first during mealtime. If I could order the kids’ meal for myself I would but they won’t let me.
- For crying out loud (and to avoid crying out loud) let them watch too much television! Make use of those TV screens on the seats in front of you. Qantas has a huge array of popular kids’ TV shows and movies. I also pack a fully-charged iPad and headphones for each child for the flights that do not have on-board screens. The airplane headphones can be too big for most children under 6 or 7. I do not limit screen time AT ALL on long-haul flights.
- Do not be afraid to hit the call button for a flight attendant. They are there to help you. They can bring you ginger ale for a little one’s tummy ache, a snack if the meal doesn’t suit one of your kids, an activity pack (which is always a hit with my two)or any number of other items you might need during the flight. I actually had one flight attendant get my son to stop crying on a flight once. He leaned down and looked Edward right in the eye and said quietly, “No crying. Captain’s orders.” Edward stopped crying at once. I would have married this man on the spot if my husband hadn’t been there.
- Toddlers are the WORST candidates for international travel. Traveling with someone between one and three years old will not be a joyride but with lots of patience and bribes you can make it work. Bring a surprise gift wrapped up to give your toddler when the flight has taken off (after you’ve had him chew some biscuits during take-off to avoid the earth-shattering scream that his ears hurt). Let him walk as much as he wants when the seatbelt sign is not on. Bring his favourite lovey for falling asleep but do not leave it on the plane when you leave! Fly at night if possible so sleeping will be easier. Remember to breathe deeply and smile often at your fellow passengers
- Jet-lagged kids are like monkeys on speed. When you reach your destination, be prepared for hyper-activity, sleepiness, melt-downs and hunger. Take it as it comes for the first days. Let them sleep when they want and be awake when they want. There really is no point in trying to force their little bodies into the new time zone right away because it won’t work and will only make all of you even more cranky. When we arrive at my parents’ house after about 24 hours of travel, we have a slumber party! My Mom makes us all a sandwich while we shower. Then we have our snack and go get in bed and wait to see what happens. Sometimes we all fall asleep and sometimes we are up for several hours. If we can’t sleep we watch our iPads until we do. Jet-lag usually only lasts a couple of days and the easier you are with yourself and your little ones, the more quickly you will all adjust to the new time zone.
I hope this list will provide some insight into travelling internationally with your children. I could list many more suggestions but the main thing to remember is to be patient with your children and yourself. If you can remember that and your passports, I’m sure you will have a blast.
Amy Compton is an American actress turned Aussie soccer mom. After 10 years of performing in New York and touring the U.S, she met a really cute guy with a funny accent. She now resides in Brisbane, Australia with her husband, two children and a blue-tongued lizard who lives under the veranda.