flying long haul alone with toddlers
Global parenting

How to survive long haul flights alone with toddlers

Why is flying long haul flights alone with toddlers hard?

Long-haul flights are not easy. They are tiring, they are boring, and they are exhausting. But what is the worst part of long-haul flights? Flying solo with babies and toddlers!

Does this sound familiar: Waaaaaaahhh! Why am I still on the plane?

The first time I flew with my 11 months old daughter alone from Helsinki to Singapore, I aged 10 years in 12 hours. 

But before we go any further, let’s understand why long-haul flights can be difficult for a toddler and stressful for a parent.

First, more often than not, planes depart at the weirdest hour of the day. We frequently fly long-haul flights. My 5-year-old has visited all the habitable continents, and not once did we depart or arrive at a reasonable time for a small child.

Most young kids need at least 10 hours of sleep per day. However, on a flight, it’s not always the case. The lack of sleep experienced by children on a flight is a serious issue, as it can affect their mood. One of the most common side effects of lack of sleep and jet lag is irritability, which can lead to crankiness, tantrums, and other behavioral problems.

Second, there’s the food situation. Although many airlines offer special meals for kids, often it is food that may not agree with their tummies or taste buds. Hence, you get to plan meals and snacks to take on board. Naturally, the longer the flight, the more complicated the packing and planning situation. 

Third, flying long haul can be hard for adults, let alone children. The lack of sleep, time zones, and changes in the diet all contribute to the jet lag that comes with flying. Jet lag is a temporary condition where your body struggles to adjust to the timezone you are in. This can cause tiredness, nausea, and trouble sleeping. For kids, this can be an even bigger issue. They are still developing and their bodies need more sleep than adults do.

There are ways of reducing the effects of jet lag for adults and children alike. It can be done by modifying their diet or taking supplements like melatonin to help them get back into a routine sleep pattern quicker.

how to keep kids busy on the plane
A little playground at Frankfurt International Airport

Fourth, the dreaded flight cancellations and long layovers. We’ve been pretty lucky regarding flight cancellations. However, we often have long layovers with lots of time to kill. Unless you stop over at Singapore’s Changi Airport, which is more like a massive amusement park than an airport, layovers are boring for kids and hard for parents. 

Speaking of Singapore, if you happen to travel via its Changi Airport, read our guide about what to do there with kids.

And finally, the LOOKS and sighs you receive from fellow passengers when your kid is cranky, crying, or unable to sit still in one place for more than 1 minute.

However, traveling and discovering new destinations is definitely worth all the hassle. I am sharing some tips below for parents flying long haul flights alone with kids, toddlers and babies.

Flying long haul flights alone with toddlers and kids – 7 Tips for Successful International Journeys with kids

Packing Essentials for kids on a Flight

flying long haul flights alone with toddler
In the skies somewhere over Indonesia

When you are packing for a toddler on a flight, you need to be prepared for anything. You should pack items that will keep your toddler entertained and happy while they are on the plane, or else they will get bored and start to get cranky. You should also pack items that will help you stay organized while traveling.



-Coloring books and crayons/pencils

-Travel Activity Kits


Activities, letters, and stories that are sent to them by postal pigeon Patrick

– Extra clothing in case of spillage.

Don’t worry about packing something to keep yourself occupied… you’ve got kids for that!

Bring a stroller to the airport

The stroller is perfect for airport travel because it provides an easy way to keep your children close and safe while you navigate the airport, deal with security, and find your gate.

If you have ever had to navigate an airport with your children you know that it can be a time-consuming and stressful endeavor. The last thing you need is to worry about how you’re going to keep your kids safe while you handle everything else that needs to be done. That’s why we recommend the stroller as one of the best inventions that makes travel with kids easier.

You can keep your child strapped into stroller all the way till the entrance to the aircraft. This is the place where you leave the stroller and board the plane. The crew will take care of your stroller and it will be waiting for you when you finally step off the plane at your destination.

How to Keep Your Kids Entertained on the Plane

Here are some tips to keep your children entertained on long haul flights:

– Bring their favorite toys and movies.

– Give them a small pack of crayons and paper.

– Play games with your kids. Tap into their sense of adventure by encouraging imagination, talking about the destinations and discovering new things together.

Pack some snacks that they like and don’t forget the sugar-free drinks. I always pack coconut water for my daughter. It is not something that they serve on during flights, and coconut water is tasty and good for health.

how to keep kids busy on the plane
Some of the activities provided on Lufthansa flights

– I always pack a little surprise goodie bag with items that she hadn’t seen before. For example, some brand new stickers, figurines of favorite cartoon characters, stamps, anything small and simple. Airlines usually provide activity kits for kids.

Lufthansa is especially kid-friendly. They always gift Thea at least one hour’s worth of activities. On our latest flight with this German carrier, Thea received a pretty lunch bag with multiple presents, activities, and snacks inside. Needless to say, Lufthansa is her favorite airline.

If you can afford or have enough miles for an upgrade- fly with kids in business class

Spending hours and hours in the economy-class on the plane is torture, even if you fly solo. It gets even worse when you fly a long haul flight alone with toddlers. You can be upgraded to business class when you have enough miles/points. Make sure to join frequent flyer programs. You can then use the accumulated miles/points for upgrades.

how to keep kids busy on the plane
Onboard KLM

I’m grateful for having the possibility to fly long-haul flights in business class. It makes the experience way more bearable. I don’t care about the service, champagne, extra smiles from flight attendants, supposedly better food, warmer blankets, softer pillows, the size of screens… All I need is a bed for my child and me. Once the lights go off, I turn our seats into beds, tuck Thea into her beddings, and lie down. 

Getting them used to pressure changes while flying solo with toddlers

Flying with kids can be tough. They often have to deal with the pressure changes and altitude adjustments that are not always easy for the little passengers. Especially for the first time flyers.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to get your kids used to these changes before they happen. One of them is to show your child videos of airplanes taking off and landing, so they know what is coming.

Another thing you can do is to talk about the flight with them beforehand and explain why it’s happening and what it means for them.

flying long haul flights alone with toddler

Give them a packet of juice or a lollipop at the time of take off and landing. Swallowing will help with change of pressure and protect those little ears. Moreover, it will keep them busy.

how to keep kids busy on the plane

Evacuating an Airplane in Case of an Emergency

I don’t know how about you, but every time I board an aircraft, especially if it’s a Boeing, I remember the episodes of the Mayday Aircrash investigation. If you haven’t watched this documentary on Youtube yet, seriously don’t. 

I find it comforting how some airlines use the phrase ‘in the unlikely event of an emergency landing…’ before launching flight safety demonstrations. Anyway, my point is that although we may know what they are going to say by heart, do check where your nearest emergency exit is. It’s true what they say, your nearest emergency exit might just be behind you. Also, don’t forget to check with the flight attendants where the child-size life jackets are.

And most importantly, have a safe and enjoyable trip!

If you happen to be looking for a diaper bag backpack for airline travel, read our article below:

Best Diaper Bag Backpacks for Airplane Travel in 2023- The Complete Guide

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