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Always pack the red spoon – a guide to long-haul flights with toddlers

Toddler sleeping on his parent during a flightAs a very self-conscious and rather guilt-prone individual, I’ve often been in situations where I’ve felt the world is sternly looking down at me. However, I have never felt more so than when I decided to step onto a plane recently with my two young children.

Staggering down the aisle, laden with bags, toys, sippy cups and my over-excited brood, I saw the faces of the people around me subtly change. Those I passed by revealed a thinly-veiled sigh of relief; those I stopped next to shifted uncomfortably, knowing that their peaceful flight of movies, in-flight chardonnay and dozing on a neck-pillow had swiftly been replaced with the possibility of crying, chair-kicking and weary berating from me.

I’d been dreading this flight for a long time. Being an ex-pat in Australia always meant I would spend a lot of my annual leave flying home to visit family and friends – something I was happy to do when single. I could easily break it up with a few days in Thailand or a spot of shopping in Dubai. But flying with children presents a whole new world of chaos.

The first flight I ever took as a parent I approached much like my first labour – I read the books, armed myself with a ‘flight-plan’ and prayed to the aero-gods for sanctuary. Two hours in and following a projectile baby vomit that repainted the cabin wall, I (and some of my fellow cabin mates) I knew I was in for a rough ride.

Now, after doing various flights with children of varying ages, I’m much more seasoned… here are my top tips …

Top tips for long-haul flights with toddlers and young children

1. Screen time

For me, flying immediately means throwing all screen-time rules out of the window. It’s perfectly OK for adults to sit and watch back-to-back movies across the Atlantic, so an iPad loaded with three seasons of Peppa Pig and a pair of kids’ headphones is a must for any toddler. There are also fabulous interactive games, Wiggles concerts, colouring apps … whatever keeps them happy. Yes, you can also take real colouring books and pencils, but when you are crawling around under the seats looking for the yellow crayon for the 20th time (because no other colour will do), the digital version that can never roll away will become your best friend.

2. New toys

Packing a number of new toys to open once in the air, is always top of my flight plan. Wrapping them in paper (and using lots of sticky tape) buys another 10 minutes of excitement as they are suddenly presents too. They don’t have to be expensive – a new book, a small toy or pocket game from the dollar store will do. Sticker books are inexpensive and worth their weight in gold. You might end up travelling with a pirate eye patch sticker stuck to your forehead (true story), but whatever gets you through the flight in one piece, I say.

3. Food essentials

Aeroplane food sucks for the best of us. Kids in-flight meals are generally no exception. For babies, they have jars of food on tap, but if you have a fussy eater it’s best to carry your own. Very similar to Point 1., I forget all about the importance of five serves a day and carry multiple packets of portable snacks – crackers, sultanas, Vegemite sandwiches and sugar-free treats. Most airlines will also have a selection of muffins, bread rolls, sandwiches and biscuits on board … you just have to ask.

4. Home comforts

If he needs Mr. Teddy to go to sleep, or she sometimes demands the red spoon to eat yoghurt, pack these items (no matter how ridiculous they are!) and keep them close to hand. So the children feel in in control, I also like to involve them in the packing, so they get to choose a few special things. This did almost mean flying with four garden pebbles and a fragile Lego helicopter once, but it does help to give them a sense of involvement in the trip.


Check out our travelling and holidays with babies and children information hub for
more tips, articles and ideas.

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