Long haul flights are a nightmare of boredom, cramped positions, and too much television but they’re a necessity for many families – even those with young children. If the thought of putting your baby or toddler on a 16- or 20-hour flight doesn’t scare a parent, the looks of those boarding at the same time you are are likely to.
Still, if you want and/or need to get from here to there with a baby or toddler, then it’s settled and your best plan of action is to prepare the best you can. Most parents find that the flights usually go better in reality than they imagine they will and what the people around them think doesn’t really matter. Let’s take a look at what it takes to prepare for a safe long-haul flight with young kids.
Passports are now required for all children – including infants and toddlers – on all international flights. You’ll need plenty of time to get a passport processed, and even if you’re not traveling where a passport is necessary, you’ll want to have certified copies of your child’s birth certificate. Some airlines ask to see a birth certificate, but a passport trumps the birth certificate.
If you are traveling alone with your child and you are divorced, you’ll need a letter from the non-custodial parent to show that they know about and agree to the trip. This is to prevent kidnapping in custody fights, but not every border asks for it. They are typically clued in if last names don’t match but some ask anytime they encounter a single parent.
Be sure to have backups of your own passport, insurance documents, etc. as well, just in case they are lost or stolen. See the 4 Best Backup Methods for your Travel Documents to have backups on hand.
Depending on where you are traveling and your child’s age, you may need to speed up the vaccination schedule. For example, cases of polio have been popping up in Syria, Cameroon, Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia since early 2013 according to the CDC Travel Health Notices.
In addition, cases of Rubella, also called German Measles, have been affecting Japan and Poland in 2013, so your child may need an early MMR if you are headed to one of those regions. Ideally, you’ll check with your pediatrician, outline where you are traveling, and handle things like:
Be prepared for a medical emergency by having a travel medical kit (updated for taking the kids) and a travel medical portfolio with basic information on every traveler.
In theory, if you keep the kids up for most of the day, and arrive at the airport in the evening to fly at night they’ll sleep the entire way (and hopefully you can too). That’s the theory, anyway.
While getting into jammies and brushing teeth and reading a story – essentially helping the kids stick to their regular routine, just in a plane – will help, it is a different environment and they may struggle a bit. Still, traveling at night will help you get everyone settled down and make at least part of the trip a little easier.
Also, when you book your flight, arrange for a bulkhead seat so you can get a bassinet cot for the little one. Otherwise, they will have to be on your lap at all times, which can make eating meals and being comfortable yourself very difficult.
Even if you don’t have a baby, bulkhead seats offer more room for bags of kid stuff and you don’t have to worry about your toddler kicking the seat back and annoying people in front of them.
If traveling longer than 12 hours with a child, most parent experts recommend arranging a stopover somewhere in the middle – at least for a couple or three days. Not only does it take the edge off travel boredom but it also helps break up the jet lag too, so it’s not as bad as it might be when you do arrive at your final destination.
The following are the sanity-saving tips for traveling with young children most recommended by traveling parents:
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.