Many of our international flight usually follow the same routine in four separate phases. (1.) The first meal, (2.) sleep, snack(s), (3.) second meal and (4.) preparation for landing. This is a small peak in to our travel with a toddler and school age children.
Hour one and two, take off and the first meal.
left: preparing to board the plane in Noi Bai International airport | right: first in the plane
Flying with children has few benifits like getting to board the plane early. You are usually the very first batch of people going into the plane, only you won’t be sitting in the very front business row seats. And that’s ok. The plane is very spacious and has plenty of room during this time. Take advantage of it. As soon as you find your seats (we usually pre book the middle row seats), get oriented and organize your overhead bag and what you need in-flight. I will usually keep the kids small backpack with them stow under the seats or next to them. The backpack(s), for my two kids, has a few small toys to keep them entertained throughout the flight. They each get a choice of a small plush toy, a few smaller toys, a doodle pad, a small book and a sanitizer attached to the backpack zipper. They also bring their own earphones.
Flight to Florida at age 4 and 6; They love sitting by the window. After a meal, we usually separate the kids, myself in between them, to help them sleep
The bathroom break
You should have used the bathroom before boarding the plane, or use this time to get it out of the way. The boarding, takeoff and safe altitude process takes about an hour or more before you can unbuckle your seatbelt and use the restrooms. On an international flight, every seat has some form of entertainment. The kids will usually play on their own screen. They will use their own earphones from the backpacks. My wife and I usually give them an hour to play on the screen. After this point the airline will serve a light snack or a meal depending on what time of the day your flight is. We have the kids prepare for the meal, put away their toys, and clear their tables.
If you have a baby or an infant, you should schedule to time the feeding as soon as the airplane start to taxi to the runway. Make sure they have plenty of milk left during take off. This will help them to relieve pressure build up in their ears. Same with the little children, a small lollipop will do and follow with small sips of water. Here are some helpful tip in traveling with a baby.
Hour three, time to sleep.
After the in flight meal, the kids have another hour of screen time to get their food digested and prepare for a bathroom break. After this, we turn down the lights and sleep. Sleep realistically last about 2 to 4 hours for the children. Use the waking time to use the bathroom for a potty break. Brush their teeth if you did not get a chance after serving the meals (the busier time for bathroom breaks). Many passenger will use this time to walk around the airplane or read a book.
Air turbulence and the baby basinet
If you have an infant or baby less than a year old, this is a perfect time to get them situated in the basinet the in flight crew will provide for you. This is about an hour in the flight when the pilot announces a safe flying altitude.
Unfortunately when there is turbulence you have to pick up and hold the baby with you. The flight crew will brief you in how to put a separate seatbelt for the baby attached to you. Don’t worry, this is very easy. This is also a good time to prepare to change diapers for the baby. Work around this inconvenience to bond with the baby to have them clean and dry. Alternate with your spouse to promote some rest for the both of you.
Buckle up Joel | on our way to London for a 10 hour flight
Hour seven, snack(s) and entertainment.
The in flight crew will usually serve a light snack after giving you some time to rest. A lot of the times the kids are asleep at this time. Save the snacks for a later time. If the children are awake, have them snack. This is a good time to read a book to them. Alternate screen time and play time. Do not take out everything in the back pack. Introduce one toy at a time. This is a perfect time to go for another bathroom break.
Flight to New Orleans during the pandemic, 2021, notice all the free space for social distancing.
Hour ten, second meal.
The crew will slowly turn the light on in the cabin. They will usually serve a warm towel at this time. Wash the children’s faces with the warm towel and their hands afterwards. Have them ready for breakfast, or dinner depending on what time of the day your flight is. The crew will usually bring the children’s meal out first. This gives them plenty of time to feed. Train them to reach for the sanitizers in their small backpacks.
left: connecting flight from China to Vietnam, hour 22 | right: India, at 10 month old, wide awake at hour 9 on our 10 hour flight to London. Give them this time to roam around to release some energy before landing.
More potty breaks
Potty break is important at this time. This is usually a busy time. It’s ok to stand in line. You want the kids to get up and be mobile at this time. After the long potty break, the kids will usually go back to screen time. Just before landing, we turn off the scree, have the kids choose a toy or doodle pad to draw.
Hour twelve; landing.
left: India just over a year in the baby carrier after landing in the Philippines | right: the beautiful sunrise in New Orleans. India at 4 years old.
Landing. This is another long transition from landing to the bathroom, that is why a frequent bathroom break is important inflight. Have the kids put their toys away and put away extra food or snacks in their individual backpacks. Prepare to deplane. You made it to your twelve hour flight. Congratulations!
left: a successful 23 hour flight to Vietnam | right: the foldable GB pocket stroller ready to go. Joel at 5 years old after landing in Florida.
Keep calm and fly
Travel in an airplane is different for children of different ages but the routine is the same every time. The only way for you to really find out is to travel and fly as early as you can with the family. The children will adapt to it as they become more and more accustomed to the environment. Children are resilient and in turn, they will bring out the best parent in you. You will be jet setters in no time. Keep calm and enjoy the ride (and some minor turbulence along the way)!. The sky is the limit.
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