How to Mentally Prepare Kids for Long-Haul Flights

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I begin preparing my almost 8-year-old mentally for long-haul flights as soon as I book our next one. The reason is because—let’s face it—kids forget stuff and flying with kids requires significant preparation.

Her to ability fend for herself increases by the day, so my recent goal is to build her self-sufficiency while in-flight. I find that if she can address her issues, less overall fuss occurs.

Over many short-yet-casual conversations, I break what I tell her down into five tips so that she can count them out on the one hand. The bottom line is that whatever you tell your child—keep it simple.

1. Drink Liquids While In-flight

While we know staying hydrated on the plane is important, you have to remind the kids to drink liquids. Keep in mind that their taste buds are altered in-flight so if they push back an orange juice saying it tastes funny, it just might, to them. (I have always been fascinated by how airlines choose wine for various flights, given this fact.)

Be patient and give them a goal. That bottle of water should be gone by the time you finish two movies or whatever benchmark works for you. My daughter is expected to finish whatever drinks accompany her in-flight meals, even if I keep them aside after flight attendant clear her food. Remind, but keep pressure very, very light.

In regard to eating, tell the kids exactly when to expect meals. Our 16-hour Hong Kong flight on Cathay Pacific leaves at 9:30 a.m. so I’ve told her to expect to eat a something quick at home (we’ll have to leave at 5:00 a.m. to get to LAX on time) breakfast in the lounge, two meals on board plus snacks in between. I estimate that means lunch around 11:30 a.m. and dinner around 9:00 p.m. our time. If you are not sitting in a premium class, bring food onboard to fill that 9.5-hour gap (or whatever it is). Premium classes will have mini-meals you can request at any time, but I bring snacks regardless of where we’re sitting.

2. Pay Attention to How You Feel

When flying with kids, make sure they know that it is normal to not feel good at some point during the flight. In fact, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t get that, “Can we just land already…” feeling. Gently—without freaking them out—walk through what they might feel during a long haul flight and reassure them that there is (usually) a solution. Or, pack them a kit (see details below) and explain how to use everything.

  • Do your ears hurt? Tell me, and I’ll give you Children’s Tylenol.
  • Are your lips chapped? Use the lip balm.
  • Is your nose stuffy? Squeeze a little saline solution (practice this one at home, first).
  • Do your legs feel funny? Let’s stand up and walk around.
  • Does your stomach feel funny? It’s time for motion sickness medication.

Now, I found out the hard way that my daughter occasionally gets motion sickness on planes. According to the flight attendants on this unfortunate discovery flight, it hits kids around age four and has something to with growth and balance. Even if your kids have never experienced motion sickness, it does not hurt to spend $5 on emergency Dramamine Motion Sickness Relief for Kids, just in case. It is relatively fast-acting and not easy to source overseas.

3. Get Up and Move Around

I remind her to stretch her arms and legs to prevent cramping but also to break the monotony of a long haul flight. Even wiggling toes while watching a movie is better than nothing.

Using the bathroom after each meal service is part of this strategy. My daughter, like many other travelers, doesn’t particularly enjoy airplane bathrooms in any class of service. We have an agreement that we go at least twice (more, if I can swing it) during a long-haul flight.

4. It Will Take “X” Movies/TV Shows to Get There

Young kids do not have an accurate concept of time, so break down the timeline easily. I’ve told her that I think our Hong Kong flight will take about nine kids’ movies, which helps prevent her from asking me the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” question on repetition.

She also now knows how to check the in-flight map (if available) for an accurate time until landing. I don’t recommend this really if you can avoid this because it makes time pass slowly for everyone.

5. Sleep Makes the Flight Seem Shorter

My daughter has never slept well on airplanes, but thankfully she does also not get jet lag. I tell her that she is expected to fall asleep on the plane. If I can get her to nap for 2-3 hours, it’s a victory. If she doesn’t do it, she’s a nightmare. Finally, she understands that though the flight will seem shorter if she sleeps.

So, those are the five things we recite whenever we talk about the trip.

Pack the Kids a Special Amenity Kit

This time, I’ve packed her a mini survival kit so that she can address some of her potential issues on her own. She chose a little purse she already owns as its carrier. It will have:

  • Sugarless gum
  • saline nasal spray [We like Little Remedies Noses]
  • lip balm
  • granola bars
  • hand sanitizer/wipes
  • a pack of tissues

I’ll keep the medications and emergency lollipops (to quell meltdowns).

How do you prepare your children mentally for flying long haul?

 

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3 Comments

  1. Taryn
    November 1, 2015 at 2:48 pm — Reply

    Hi,

    We are looking at going to Hong Kong for Christmas / New Year and were looking for sites to help us make the decision whether or not our 5 year old would enjoy the trip and if HK is a suitable destination for her. Well can I just say your site is the most brilliant travel site. It is so comprehensive I am using it to set our itinerary and you even help with preparing our daughter for the trip. Thank you! We are now looking forward to booking and enjoying our first long haul holiday with our little treasure.

    • November 1, 2015 at 4:40 pm — Reply

      Thank you so much!!! Hong Kong is beautiful at Christmas as the skyscrapers will be lit up with special Christmas lights and of course there will be some themed activities at Disneyland and the like. You will definitely enjoy it!

  2. July 17, 2015 at 5:41 pm — Reply

    Great tips Katie – thanks for sharing. When my daughter was two (she is now seven) we flew to Europe from Australia (20+ hours) and it was a nightmare. By the time we flew home from Europe four months later it was an absolute dream. Yes she had got more used to flights and transport, but also we had adjusted our expectations of what a small child can manage. We were a lot more relaxed and prepared mentally which made things easier for her. We recently flew from Australia to Asia (about eight hours) with our two kids (seven and three) and they were great. Watched a few movies, ate some food and enjoyed the ride. Kids can be great travellers when they are given the opportunity.

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