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La Jolla Mom

Long Haul Flights With Young Kids: Planning Flights and Jet Lag (Part 1)

BY La Jolla Mom
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I didn’t sleep well during the several weeks prior to flying with my baby from Hong Kong to LAX. She was not quite 3 months old, the distance was far and I was scared out of my mind. On top of that, due to last-minute booking we also had to connect in Tokyo. The journey was about 24 hours door to door and my baby had pretty severe reflux. In the end, we were fine.

Since then, I’ve flown long haul with her countless times until we moved back to La Jolla permanently after seven years of living overseas. The only long haul flight my husband ever flew with her was our last one because his job never allowed for long vacations home to California. Plus, I enjoyed being on a crazy adventure like that with her. I know, you must think I’m nuts for loving long haul flights with kids.

I’m going to split these travel tips into four posts. Keep in mind that some of my suggestions for flying with kids and babies might not work for you. But I was so nervous before my first long haul flight, that I found myself very interested in what other people were doing so I’d like to share my experiences with you.

I should also note that I was flying primarily Asian airlines, like Cathay Pacific, which are much nicer amenity-wise and more kid-friendly than domestic U.S. airlines, in my opinion. This shouldn’t matter too much, however. I also am referring mainly flying with younger kids and babies.

Planning The Long Haul Flight With Kids

If at all possible, schedule your flight in a manner that allows your baby or toddler to remain on the same daily schedule as at home.

For example, my first long haul flight mentioned above put us on the airplane to Tokyo exactly when my daughter usually napped in the morning. I also arrived at the airport much earlier than necessary so that I could relax, change her diaper and feed her before we boarded the plane. I didn’t want her to be hungry in case we got stuck on the tarmac before takeoff or in turbulence shortly after takeoff—at which point I’d be unable to reach my bag due to airline restrictions. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you can get caught up in the stress of travel and forget stuff like this, trust me.

The Worst Long Haul Flight I Ever Took

The worst flight that I ever took was one of the midnight Cathay Pacific direct flights from LAX to Hong Kong when my daughter was about 5 months old. If you fly to Asia, you probably know this is a common time to schedule a direct flight because it will put you at your destination in the early morning (though a full day later) and allow most business travelers to enjoy a full day of work.  Plus, it’s designed to help eliminate jet lag by trying to force you to get some sleep on board since it’s night time in the US and you’ll wake up when it’s morning in Asia.

Anyway, my baby was not used to so much activity so late at night. She slept a little bit in the car on the way to the airport but woke up as soon as the car stopped. I thought eventually she’d pass out on the plane for almost the entire flight. She didn’t. Therefore, she became so incredibly OVERTIRED and confused that she screamed the whole bloody way to Hong Kong (in business class on Cathay Pacific). She slept the first 30 minutes after the plane left the gate, and was shocked awake by the captain giving his flight message over the PA.

Can you imagine? I thought I was going to die. I nursed her like mad to try to get her to pass out but it didn’t work. I had my own seat with plenty of room and she had the bassinet, which she never went in to (more on airplane bassinets later). I must say that some of my friends have had an OK time with the late night long haul flights, because their babies slept fine. My daughter wound up being a routine-dependent baby and any deviation from it was a disaster. I never, ever took a late night flight again.

Preventing Jet Lag In Kids

Because my baby was routine-dependent and not a great sleeper, we went to a sleep clinic. Hong Kong is full of American, British, Australian and other expats who routinely fly long haul and need to frequently address the issue of jet lag in their kids. The clinic gave us very useful jet lag advice which I am passing on to you through these posts.

The other reason to schedule your flights so that your kids can stay on the same daily routine while in transit, has to do with jet lag.  You should always, regardless of time change, keep your baby or toddler on the same daily routine UNTIL you arrive at your destination.

This is hard if the airline is trying to force night time by making the plane dark. After you arrive at your destination, plonk your little traveler into the new time zone by implementing their normal routine using the time of the zone you’re in. This seems cruel, but trust me, it works. I was lucky that my flight times made it quasi-easy for me to do this. If we were to arrive at my house in La Jolla around 1:00 p.m., then I would put my daughter down for a 2-hour nap since she napped around 1:00pm in Hong Kong. Remember, she’s tired (as am I) so getting her to nap was not hard. Waking her up after 2 hours was a nightmare because her little body thought it was night time (as it was in Hong Kong) and she would cry and whine like you wouldn’t believe. Trust me, the agony of the first day is worth it.

On the flip side, keeping kids awake is hard too. I would have to do an insane song and dance (sometimes literally) to keep her awake so that she’d go to sleep for the night at her normal time.  As the parent, it’s exhausting but it’s MORE exhausting to have a kid with jet lag for a week or longer when you have it too.

If you do all that I mentioned in my paragraph above, your little traveler will still most likely wake up in the middle of the night on the first night. My daughter would somehow realize she was in a strange bed and not know where she was. After she woke up, I would go in, hold and console her and when she leaned toward her bed, I’d put her in and to sleep. Sometimes I’d have to do this several times during the first night. As she got older, she wanted to walk around the house in the dark to just remind herself where she was. The sleep clinic said that if the child is wide awake in the middle of the first night, go ahead and calmly play or do whatever they like until they tire out and want to go back to sleep. Eventually, they will do the latter except at this point 20 minutes feels like 20 years. Just keep the room as dark as is tolerable and keep your voice and motions calm and sleepy. Easier said than done, I know.

On the second day, wake up in the morning and do your routine like normal.  If your little traveler is sleeping in longer than usual, despite maybe being awake in the night, wake them up.  If your little traveler wakes up during this second night, then you do not go in the room. Let them sort it out by themselves. It sounds harsh, I know, but you use your judgement. By day 2, my daughter is usually back to normal. She does not get jet lag. I firmly believe that the flight scheduling has a lot to do with it along with her inconvenient habit of not sleeping well on the plane and needing to catch up after landing.

I’ll talk next time about what to do and bring on the plane. Please also leave comments about what works for you.

Here are links to the rest of the series:
Long Haul Flights with Young Kids, Part 2: What to Pack Carry-on and In-flight Meals
Long Haul Flights with Young Kids, Part 3: Getting Little Traveler to Sleep on the Plane and Gear
Long Haul Flighs with Young Kids, Part 4: Packing List and Final Thoughts

Also, I wrote a short book that’s available in paperback and Kindle called Flying with Kids: Safe and Sane Air Travel with Your Baby, Toddler or Young Child (Volume 1). Have a look!

Photo credit: istockphoto/vsurkov

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90 thoughts on “Long Haul Flights With Young Kids: Planning Flights and Jet Lag (Part 1)

  1. Great tips. Looking forward to the next installment –hopefully before next week, in time for our trip. 🙂

    I just changed our upcoming long-haul flight to an afternoon one instead of the midnight one as our last experience with a midnight one was NOT fun. Our kids were tired and sleepy by the time we got to the airport and even after we boarded and settled in, they could not easily sleep –over-tired, strange surrounding, uncomfortable, etc.

  2. I never had to deal with the time zone issue, but I found that when we flew when my son was an infant, as long as we kept him occupied every minute, things were ok…we made sure that we gave his bottle when we took off and when we landed to ease the ear popping. When we flew as he got older (toddler age), as long as we had the portable DVD player and some goldfish, we were good to go. 🙂

  3. You have just reinforced my view that I should never have children!! Sounds like hard work!! I’ll stick to my magazines and the complimentary beverages thanks!! 😉

    Happy SITS day!

    LBM xxxx
    .-= La Belle Mere´s last blog ..Camping it up….. =-.

  4. I’ve never flown that far with my kids (only halfway across the country) but those are good tips for ME. I wish I’d read those when I used to fly to England. Too bad those days are long gone. Maybe when the kids are out of the house. I’d better bookmark this. 😛
    .-= pam´s last blog ..Giggling boys – caught on video =-.

  5. We’ll be flying with our kids for the first time in Oct. to Disney. Their are 5 & 7…..can’t image doing it with an infant or toddler. Great information on your Post.
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..One Hour Parties =-.

  6. I haven’t travelled with the twins yet (their 3 years old). But I’m glad to have all these tips because we plan to next year.

    BTW: I can’t figure out where to follow. Probably because I’m on work computer. I’ll do it at home tonight.
    .-= Flory´s last blog ..My Husband’s Heart Attack =-.

  7. I have to admit I can’t imagine an overseas flight with a little one. I once traveled from New York to California with a newborn and a 4 year old – talk about tough! I never thought about keeping them in their routine, with all the newness around them, especially the 4 year old, the excitement (first plane ride), going to see great grandma etc.. I don’t think she ever settled down until AFTER we were back in New York (after a 1 week stay in Cali). The week we returned she was all sorts of backwards. Little boy, as long as I kept to his nursing and nap schedule he seemed good.

    My hat is off to ya, and I thank you for the tips. Good to know for new mom’s…. mine are teenagers now… that presents it’s own problems when traveling LOL

    Happy SITS day!
    .-= LiveLaughLoveCj´s last blog ..Monday Mingle – 3rd Edition =-.

  8. Love this post, great tips!! I have a 2 year old SS we fly with on occasion and I get nervous even through its only about a 2 1/2 flight, I cant imagine taking a longer on than that! You are very prepared!!
    .-= Life of a Stepmama´s last blog ..Denied =-.

  9. I totally agree!! I’ve flown with my oldest when he was a baby a number of times. We never changed time zones so I cant comment on that – but definitely scheduling your flight around your baby’s schedule makes things so much easier!! our worst flight ever was a 6am flight where we had to be on the road by 3am. Thinking our baby would just sleep through everything was so wrong!!!!!

    Happy SITS day!
    .-= Jackie´s last blog ..How I Want to Wash Cloth Diapers =-.

  10. I’ve never flown with any of mine, but I don’t fly very often. Happy SITS day.
    .-= Kristen´s last blog ..Crazy Dog T-Shirts Review and Giveaway =-.

  11. Thanks for the tips! Travel with children can be aggravating, but the end result is usually worth it so we bear it out flight wise and hope for an otherwise fantastic trip!
    .-= Teri´s last blog ..my good side =-.

  12. Thanks for the tips! We have not gone anywhere that has required flying with our kids, but I hope to someday!
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..There’s Nothing Better… =-.

  13. Great tips….
    My girls are adults now, but we used to fly all the time. I have been blessed with two world travelers that have always been so very good and easy to care for. My husband flew with us rarely, but on his fist trip (with us) he couldn’t stop complimenting on how great they were. 🙂 He expected them to behave like most children on flights do. Even the flight attendants would praise my girls. I always made a point to bring this to my girl’s attention so they could feel proud of themselves and strive for more compliments. 🙂
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..The Storm =-.

  14. Fantastic advice. Thank you 🙂
    .-= Tricia´s last blog ..Meet Thailand’s cute and cuddly baby panda girl, Linping!! =-.

  15. Thanks! This is really useful information! I’m going to be taking our 18 mo from NY to SFO in October — I will definitely apply your advice about the jet lag!

    Happy SITS day!
    .-= Sharon´s last blog ..Homemade Croutons =-.

  16. Such helpful tips. I am sure this post is going to help many traveling moms. You should be hired by airlines to post this series on their web sites!
    .-= Cynthia at A Shimmy In My Spirit´s last blog ..I’m A SITS Featured Blogger! =-.

  17. Great tips!!
    My kids are now old enough to entertain themselves; however my girlfriend is planning a trip with her toddler and I am sure this info will be a great help to her, thanks for sharing!!

    Smooches,
    Sassy Chica
    .-= Sassy Chic´s last blog ..Your HOT =-.

  18. We flew from LAX to Europe with our 7 month old. She, too, was a routine baby. It was pretty tough. I wish I could have read this first!

  19. Love this. I’m from Singapore and have been contemplating revisiting some of the places in California we went for our honeymoon. Thing is I have a 6 week year old baby and a toddler that just turned one so this has made me decide for sure that WE WILL NOT BRING THE KIDS. =)

  20. Wow, you are so brave! 24 hours of travel is tough on adults–I’m impressed that you handle it so well with a little one.
    .-= Viv´s last blog ..Talking Up the Weight of Silence =-.

  21. Oh boy! My husband and I already fight constantly when travelling because of our hatred for airports and lack of patience. I can’t imagine what it will be like when we decide to have kids and travel with them for the first time! Thanks for the tips on how to survive though!!
    .-= Alma´s last blog ..oink, oink =-.

  22. Wow! What a very useful post. Very comprehensive!

    I just took a short hour flight to Malaysia, followed by a two-hour car ride, and ALREADY I was packing and getting ready like crazy! Haha! But thanks… I will definitely bookmark this blog for our next planned longer family trip with my 2yo. 🙂

    Oh, and congrats on being the FB!
    .-= San´s last blog ..My Family Trip to Malaysia =-.

  23. Great tips. Just took a very long trip with my 11 month old. It was a little rough.
    .-= Unknown Mami´s last blog ..Guess Where I’m Taking You? =-.

  24. My son is great on a plane, I’m so pleased. Last time we flew across the country he even sat and waited patiently while the plane got up to altitude to go pee.

    Congrats on being featured today! Great blog.

    Norine
    Don’t Put Lizards In Your Ears
    .-= Norine´s last blog ..Book Envy =-.

  25. You’re a brave soul! I’m still traumatized from a flight with my (then) infant three years ago to try it again!
    Alaska to New Jersey in a plane=1 Parent having a nervous breakdown
    .-= Crazy in Alaska´s last blog ..Oobleck =-.

  26. Thanks for this post. We are seriously considering flying from Australia to the UK later this year to see family and I have a 3-year-old and a 10-week-old. I know the baby won’t be a problem. Last time I flew long haul was when my eldest was 4-months and it was a breeze. I did it by myself. I am breastfeeding so that will make it easy for the baby but it’s entertaining my pre-schooler that will be the challenge!
    .-= Emily´s last blog ..Portable UV Dummy Sterilizer =-.

  27. Wow!!! I give you so much credit for traveling so long with a toddler. You have some really great tips. Im not so sure I’ll try it though with 3 under 4 1/2. Maybe in a few years.
    .-= Simply Mommy´s last blog ..How has Motherhood Changed Me? =-.

  28. Terrific advice. I’ve flow domestically with my (almost) 2 yo son since he was 5 mos old almost a dozen times. Personally, I found that nursing was the best and easiest way to get around almost any issue. The trips post-nursing have been much harder, particularly the in-flight time. UGH! Hard work!

    Great tips!
    .-= Jessica – This Is Worthwhile´s last blog ..2:50 pm =-.

  29. THANKS!! Im flying home to the US in a week with a 1 year old!! I need all the help I can get!

  30. I remember our flight home from Spain with our two toddlers! It was a like I was in a time warp! My 12 month old just started walking so all he wanted to do was WALK up and down the aisles over and over! We have traveled a lot with our kids, and so far we have been very lucky, they are good little travelers!

  31. Wow…what a really terrific detailed post. Thanks so much for sharing all that amazing, insightful information!

    I’m so glad it was your SITS day 🙂
    .-= Stefanie Zucker´s last blog ..Growing Up With ADHD – Have Things Changed…? =-.

  32. Great 4 posts. As a frequent business traveller, I see so many parents who could have done pre-flight checks better for all our sakes.
    I really do enjoy children but I also need a peaceful trip, as like many other travellers, I’m on cue from the moment of landing so children travelling well makes for a harmonious community up in the sky.
    .-= Zooly´s last blog ..CHAMPAGNE CLUB – DIVAS IN THE KITCHEN =-.

  33. In 2005, we fly out of Chicago(at 8 pm in the evening) to Tokyo, and then drag our lifeless bodies into Beijing at midnight. Not the easiest trip to make when you have a 17-month-old determined to sabotage peace and sanity!! Poor little Miss daughter was a miserable mess on this flight and quite literally banging on the doors for a quick escape. She SCREAMED bloody hell for the entire flight . Once we got to Tokyo she wa shappy to play in the toddler room. I was so petrified to put her on the flight from Tokyo to Beijing – thankfully she passed out in my arms – I swear – I DID NOT MOVE that flight – NOT ONE MUSCLE!
    .-= Tiaras & Tantrums´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday =-.

  34. I hate flying. I am air sick the whole time and nothing helps…iggg
    .-= The Redhead Riter´s last blog ..My Blog Is Pregnant With Multiples =-.

  35. Belated congrats on your SITS day!
    .-= Joy´s last blog ..joy to the blog’s stampers’ sampler magazine giveaway! =-.

  36. We dont plan on doing much airline travel, but thanks for these tips. I am going to send the link to a friend who lives oddly, in Hong Kong with her family!
    .-= Ms. Mama´s last blog ..Family Camping =-.

  37. Wow, I used to live in Hong Kong and I can’t imagine that 14 hour flight and a baby who didn’t sleep. Did you have a baby carrier? I found that was magic with my kids. Having her in a car seat, in her own seat would have probably helped. I fly alone with three between Europe and California about twice a year, since each was 4 months old. I also would dive into free lavs, if available… I would also recommend getting babies out of business. Yes, bring her to the back if you need to.

    I agree to try to follow the baby’s schedule BUT I hate to see the unhelpful tip to fly when the baby naps. As a Flight Attendant, I saw this go wrong SO MANY times. Especially for shorter flights, babies are easier in the morning and flights are more likely to be on time.

    Yes, once I had a 10 monther sleep a whooping 20 minutes of an 11 1/2 hour flight. Luckily, it was half empty and while he didn’t sleep, he didn’t fuss or cry either. Was glad I brought all those new toys! It was also a daytime flight so while I expected him to sleep *some*, I didn’t realize it would be a marathon (especially on my pregnant-at-time self).

    I never let my babies cry alone but I do keep the lights down and everything quiet. With toddlers, I talk to them. I also let them wake up in California when it’s light out. Okay, the first day or two, it’s 5am but they quickly make it more reasonable and are at least not in a cranky, zombie state.
    .-= Eclipsepearl´s last blog ..Updated September 2009 =-.

  38. I really sympathise with people travelling with kids on long haul flights! These are good tips though, your negative experiences have certainly helped the rest of us strategically manage the stress of long haul flights!

  39. To tell the truth, for a second time I came across one of the best type of information over the net. I I have just saved as a favorite this post and return in the future. I seemed to be energized and even empowered. It will always be nice to remain a blog like this.

  40. I’m planning a roughly 30 hour flight with my husband and baby when she is about 4 months. Currently she doesn’t have routine nap times (she is 2 months old now) though she sleeps a solid 12+ hours a night (with feeds every 2 hours+) . Is a day time nap routine something we need to establish before our trip?

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