Long Flights with Kids

Parent Q&A

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  • Toddler travel--products and advice

    (4 replies)

    Hello, I've got a 2.5 year old and am looking to buy him some over-ear headphones that are in a median price range (so nothing too junky, good sound and sturdy). Any recommendations?

    I am also searching for an airplane bed. I know that Stokke has one, and I have seen a few others on Amazon. Does anyone have recommendations or any experience with a particular brand (or bad experience with one)? 

    My kiddo has done a lot of airplane travel already but this will be his first 10+ hour trip as a toddler and he does not use screens, so any other product recommendations/advice that you can share is greatly appreciated. 

    Thank you!

    I recommend an airline-approved car seat vs the footrest/bed idea due to my experiences: 1. Kiddo was used to and felt comfortable in her car seat. She was happy to be buckled in as usual. (When we once made a short flight without the car seat she kept unclipping the seat belt and seemed to feel uneasy.) 2. My kid always slept best during the last hour of the flight. I could tidy up and organize our possessions while kiddo slept. With the carry-on bed I imagine you must pack and store it for takeoff and landing. And when there is turbulence the car seat seems more practical.
    My best “toy” was a dispenser of scotch tape. I’d file out 12” at a time and let her ball it up etc. Great fun. Have a great trip!

    Not to rain on your parade but have you confirmed with the airline that they will allow the airplane bed? My kids are too big for them now but I have heard that some folks have gotten it all set up only to be told by the flight attendants that they cannot use it, even in a window seat. 

    If space and funds allow, I might instead suggest that you consider buying an extra seat. The last time I took my older kid to Europe, we bought an extra seat in our row of 3 so the middle seat was open. You do not have to pay taxes or fees on the extra seat since no one is sitting in it so it is literally just the cost of the ticket. For us, it was $95rt for a $400 rt/ticket. It made a huge difference in comfort level but with the extra seat you cannot online check in so we had to allow for a bit more time at the airport.

    My 2 kids use these headphones: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PD9V78L/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_titl...

    I think they're sturdy and have held up well. They were $19 but are currently $11.50 on Amazon, so that's nice. My youngest used them at 3 years old - I think they'd fit a 2.5 year old head.

    As for non-screen airplane activites/distractions... these "Boogie Boards" are fun: https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B010HWCEFY/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_as... They're like LCD writing tablets, you use a stylus and draw/write on it and then push the button and it erases and you start again! 

    Or what about a small set of Picasso Tiles? (like Magnatiles but without the brand name sticker price, and just as sturdy/great). I think they'd be fun on the tray table, and my boys can have fun with even just a small stack of different shapes  https://smile.amazon.com/PicassoTiles-Construction-Educational-Engineeri...

    We are also no-screen, and our son did his SFO to Europe flight around 3.5 years old a couple of years ago.


    I'm assuming you're asking because you want to protect your child's hearing, not so much just for music. I bought my son kid-sized noise-cancelling headphones from Amazon for about $100. Total waste of money! It was static-y and the noise cancelling wasn't enough to dampen the plane noises, the band kept sliding off of his head, and were too tight and smooshed his ears. You shouldn't expect there to be high quality anything for kids in this area, because kids break things. My partner had ~$350 Bose headphones, I had $300 SONY headphones, and we also had a pair of $20 safety/noise dampening ear muffs (we got it for watching car races up in Sonoma). Each fits a little differently, had different tension around the head/ears, and we let him switch between the three all through out the flight to be more comfortable.

    We didn't have a sleeping bed, but his was a to sleep for a few hours here and there with his head on my lap.

    To make it without screens for 10+ hours (besides turning off the screen in front of our seats):

    It was a tag team effort between the parents and required cycling through different activities.

    NEW TOYS. We gave him one when we got on the plane, and told him there's one more when we land, if he cooperated with us. I don't remember what the new toy was, I think it was a paw patrol figure (we don't watch but he found out about them through preschool, so this was a high value item). Overall, this occupied him for almost an hour.

    BOOKS. We had new books and we'd bring out one at a time to read with him. The 5-minute stories books worked well for us, and a few cars books. We also flipped through all of the magazines in the seat pocket. Those were extremely interesting for him because we don't have magazines at home. Reading was probably a couple of hours. This flight didn't have duty-free inflight shopping. If it had, I would've let him pick out something to buy for being a good boy.

    SNACKS. I had several kinds of snacks with me, and I let him open the packages to kill time, lol. Another hour.

    AIRPLANE FOOD. I pre-ordered the vegan meal for myself, the kid meal for him, and my partner chose one of the standard options that got wheeled around. My plan was to have three totally different meals so he can pick what he liked and maybe even try some new things. I'm not vegan, but I knew the vegan option would have fruit and probably carb-y things that my son would like. Letting him eat as slowly as possible also was a good time waster. Another hour.

    Looking out the window. We would talk at great length about what we see and if there's anything interesting down below us. Another hour.

    Listened to music. We let him listen to whatever music he wanted from headphones plugged into one of our iphones and relaxed with his blanket. Another hour or so.

    He slept for about 3-4 hours total in a couple of chunks. It's doable, but a lot of work, and once we landed everyone was exhausted.

    Lastly - one thing that I would do differently is that I would opt out of priority boarding. Sitting in our cramped seats waiting an extra 45 minutes for everyone else to board was brutal. It would've better to board a bit later and get to walk around the airport longer.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


One long 14-hr flight, or two short ones?

Feb 2007

We are off on a long flight to visit relatives -- and face a dilemma. Is it better to take one long flight (about 14 hours) and get it over and done with, or have a layover (two flights) and have a chance to walk around, stretch, etc., and take a break from flying? It would be me, my wife, and our daughter who would be 11 mos. when we want to fly. Thanks! kevin

One long flight would be my vote. When my kids were little I flew cross country with them alone a lot. Granted it is not the same but the thinking still holds. More flights, more disruption, more moving your stuff around, more chances for flight delays and other problems. Unless your child sleeps a good portion of it it won't be super easy regardless but the overall time will be shorter and less disruptive. Good luck. Flying Mom

I've done both types and for me the ''two step'' one worked best, especially with older babies. A couple of reasons: 1. Far more easy to change diapers in a BIG bathroom in an airport than in the airplane

2. Babies that have started to (at least want to) ''walk'' will want to do that and sometimes you can't because you've got a rocky flight - a break in flight will give your baby (and you) ability to do some ''walking''

I did think that it worked well flying (one) long leg if the baby still was small enough to fit in a ''Bassinet'' - my children slept well in these and if you can get them too sleep comfortable for X numbers of hours that will give you some rest to :-)

Good Luck and have fun on your trip! Camilla

We have taken our now 2-year old on many airplane trips since her birth, including a couple to Australia (14-16 hours). If the long flight is over the normal bedtime, then I think a direct flight is the hands-down winner since there's a good chance the baby will sleep through it (it can happen!) and a layover would only be disruptive. If not though, it's more open to debate. Personally I find the whole ordeal of air travel tiring whether you're physically on the plane or not, and the sooner it is over the better. Your 11-month old probably isn't walking yet anyway, so wouldn't really benefit from being able to stretch her legs in an airport. And even when they are walking, I think it depends upon temperament. If they're the type that just can't sit still, then I can see why a break might work. For us, though, I'll always opt for direct. I've added a portable DVD player to my ''must bring'' list (works wonders as long as the battery holds out), and (for the truly desperate) there's always Benadryl (did I say that??) Frequent Flyer

I have flown cross-country a bunch with my child, both by myself and with my husband. If you are taking a carseat (and I highly recommend you do) then taking one long trip is better. I also think it's better because it makes the whole trip shorter. anon

i would say, definitely take two flights. we traveled cross- country with our then 8-month-old last october and the brief stopover really helped. she actually was really good on the first flight, but i could tell she was about to get fussy after about the fourth hour or so. during the layover, the baby got some stimuli and floor time, my husband and i both got to stretch and get some decent food, and we were all happy and content when we got on the next flight, on which the baby slept almost the entire 3 hours! we just booked another trip for april and i made sure to split it up even though there were direct flights available.

hope that helps and happy trails! sylvia

With one flight you're just THERE until its over... with two there's the process of boarding and stowing to go through. Neither one is great. Maybe it depends on your child. My preference would probably be for the long flight, because my kids always fell asleep as the plane was landing... and it was so awful to wake them up to go wait in the airport.

One thing that mattered, more, for us was flying in the morning instead of taking the Red Eye. Despite the logic that ''kids will sleep on a night flight...'' mine did MUCH better starting their day bright and early and being awake while everyone else was rested and cheerful (and more tolerant!) and then falling asleep around their regular nap time. The one or two times we did a red-eye we ended up with a kid so excited s/he couldn't sleep... and neither could anyone else. Heather J

At that age definitely the straight one. I found that my son was way more difficult when we switched planes...too much happening, too much excitement and no chance to sleep. anon

Two short ones- I did a trip to Greece with my 11 month old. 14 hours is a long time for a child but it is a very long for you. You will have to entertain, feed, try to get him/her to sleep, deal with crying etc., I am so happy that my kid had a chance to get out of the plane, crawl around, see new sites, eat a meal and move around. I am happy that I was able to do the same and to have a break. It's hard either way and it's great to get it done in one swoop but I think it is harder. Just my two cents. Good luck in whatever you choose. Michelle

We have been on over 15 flights with our 1.5 year old, and I would recommend taking a single direct flight if you have the option. If you need to walk around, you can walk up and down the aisles during the flight. The travel time will be significantly longer with multiple legs, and I believe getting to your destination to unwind, sleep, and enjoy yourselves is more important than taking a break from flying. Your baby will go through less in terms of take-off and landing, and again, the time you save is significant! traveler


I would go for the one long flight. With two flights, there is a higher chance of something going wrong; ie delays, cancellations, and it does make the trip longer. With a 14 hour flight, there is bound to be a lights out period, where the entire plane sleeps. Get your child into his pajamas, and make a bed for him on the floor at your feet. frequent flier

Although I have not done as long a flight as you are talking about (I maxed out at 6 hours) I would suggest one long flight-- adding a two hour layover is actually more like adding 4 hours between getting on the plane taxi-ing around and then all the same at the end of each flight. With an 11 month old, walking the aisles and galleys is pretty much the same as walking the airport, and then you only have 2 take-offs and landings as opposed to four. As well, if things don't go well and you give the baby benedryl (if you are contemplating that), one dose would probably take them for most of the fight.

I have found people on planes really sympathetic recently... good luck! amy

I would say 1 long flight for sure - get it over with!!! She will nap better on the plane than in the airport, and an 11- month-old can do plenty of leg-stretching in the airplane aisle over the course of a long flight. It's not the flying per se that's going to exhaust you, it's the total amount of traveling and departure from your (that is to say, your *daughter's*) routine. Travelin' mama

I know that a 14 hour flight can be grueling ... but it actually will save a lot of time and some stress. Add up the time spent in a landing pattern *plus* the time on the ground in the connecting airport *plus* the time waiting to take off, *plus* the time in the take-off pattern. You're talking about a delay of at least 2 or 3 hours (during which you would have flown an additional 1000-1500 miles on your nonstop). Add up the time from takeoff to landing on your contemplated connecting flights and see...

In addition, anytime you have a connecting flight, you have a chance of missing your connection *and* a chance of your luggage not making the connection with you. David

Picking a departure time for trip to Europe with baby & preschooler

Feb 2006

We'll be traveling to Germany in July with three-and-a-half- month-old and a three-year-old. I'm not as concerned about scheduling for the little one, but I'm wondering what people think about the best flights times for my older guy. Is it better to leave here in the morning or evening? What are the best arrival times to start the adjustment period? What are the best times to leave to come home? Also, any thoughts on the pros and cons of doing nonstop or a stopover? Thanks! Holly

Lufthansa has a great flight that leaves SFO around 9pm and arrives in Munich at around 5 pm. I'm not sure about the other German airports. We've flown with our child (now 3) several times and it works out great because it's close to bedtime. They're excited initially with the whole plane experience, then they eat, and then they conk out for the majority of the flight. Hopefully you can sleep as well. (Have a glass of wine) Then arriving late afternoon/evening once you're at your final destination, you'll only have to push a bit and then it's bedtime there. So it ends up feeling like an allnighter. I would warn you that jetlag is a real kick in the butt going there, so have some melatonin or kava or whatever natural sleep supplements or other tricks (!) handy because you could all be up for a few hours in the middle of the night until you're finally ''in''. Coming home, the flights usually leave in the morning or early afternoon. I prefer a 1 pm-ish flight because waking up at say 4 am is brutal when you have to get your whole family and luggage ready, order a taxi, etc. The bright side is that getting over jetlag going west is much easier. Lastly, non-stop is always best but if it doesn't fit your travel plan, you'll survive. Bon Voyage! travel mom

We did Holland last november with 2.5 mo old and almost 3 y old. I couldn't bare the idea of a stopover: babies suffer mostly during landing and take-off, so the fewer the better. Plus, the hauling of 2 kids plus all equipment through the transit airport was something I wanted to avoid at all cost. With one kid it was still okay, wiht two it got out of control. I got a reasonable deal directly to Amsterdam, and reserved a bassinet for the baby (~$200, better than full ticket price) so she had a place to sleep besides in our arms. Those are only available on transatlantic flights and you have to call the flight company directly for booking. In terms of times to fly, if you have any choice it's always better to arrive at destination at bedtime, then just go to sleep when you arrive and you'll be adjusted quicker. However, I'm not sure if you'll have much choice, because on the way to Amsterdam most flights are timed such that you arrive pretty much in the early to mid-morning - probably same for Germany, and you'll have to (try to) stay awake the whole day until bedtime or you'll be completely out of rythm for days. We took a brief nap in the afternoon and had someone wake us up (hard, but better in the end). Our toddler has taken just a few days to adjust, both last time and when she was 2y3mo. Our baby didn't have much of a jetlag, as expected. I'm not sure if it matters what time of the day you leave. But I would at all times consider the shortest itinerary. Hope this helps, Kitty

Non-stop 6-hour flight or two 3-hour flights?

Jan 2004

Hi, I will fly from Oakland to Nashville, TN with my 16-month old in May. Because the whole trip takes about 6 hour on plane, I need advice on if non-stop 6-hour fly is better than 2 3-hour fly with ~2 hours airport rest, or the other way around. I checked the archives for traveling, I am convinced and will buy a seat for my baby. Thanks. Laura

I've tried it both ways and they each have a benefit. It depends on how unpleasant being strapped in for long periods is, versus how unpleasant getting on and off the plane is. When I have a lot of gear to carry (stroller plus carseat plus diaper bag) or when there is more than one child, then it's easier to not change planes, and just bite the bullet for 5-6 hours. But if it's not too much trouble debarking and embarking, then I like to have a break in the middle, get off the plane, let the kids run around, get something to eat. It's easier for me psychologically if I have two short imprisonments with a break in between rather than one long one. On a flight to the east coast, you're going to kill a day for travel anyway, once you factor in waking up at 5am, getting to and from the airport, and being tired on arrival. So what's another 2 hours for the layover, that's what I always say. Ginger

Actually, the flying time from Oakland to Nashville nonstop is 4 hours, 10 minutes going and 4:50 returning. (I think the difference is due the jet stream.) That seems to me like a much better option than two approximately 3-hour flights. David in Berkeley

On that long a flight, I've found it helpful to have a stop in order to get out and run around. Shleping bags while changing planes can be a problem, however. The best for us has been a one-stop flight using the same plane. Carolyn

I would fly in two segments and take the layover time to run, run, run around. That's what we do when we go back to the midwest (fly Oakland to Denver, then Denver to St. Louis). It breaks things up for everyone, and it's not that much of a hassle. The kid will think the airport is a big playground anyway, so ride the escalators and see the sights, buy a smoothie, have snacks, etc. frequent flyer

We've flown Nashville-Oakland many times w/ baby (now 2 1/2). Southwest has a 7 am non-stop there (3 1/2 hours) and around 6pm non-stop back (4 hours+). It's not too bad, especially if the baby has a seat to snooze in. I would definitely recommend NON-STOP and I do like SW since we've never been delayed. Kristine

I fly quite often with 3 child under 5 to the East Coast. My advice is:it depends on the time of day you are flying and how long your child naps for. Sometimes it's better to break it out sometimes not. If you do it in two segments, make sure you don't break into nap time. m

I travelled several times with my son as a toddler and I would definitely go for the 2 flights with a stop in between of a couple of hours. This will allow your son to run around a bit. It's the physical activity that is the most important. Try to find a gate that is relatively empty and let the kid run and climb, etc. Good luck. Dianna

I'd say go non-stop! A 2-hour lay-over in a strange airport will not be a break for you with your toddler. Every time you have to change planes, there's another chance for delays, etc. It also means you may have to wake him to get off or on a plane, and schlepp the carseat off and on. I'm glad to hear you've decided to buy a seat for your child, but that doesn't mean every minute has to be spent in the carseat. If it's not turbulent, let him go for a walk (with you) up and down the aisles for a break now and then. Bring a few novel toys and books to entertain (my son at that age really liked a little plastic airplane that I zoomed around to show what the plane was doing now), and maybe some ''treat'' snacks. Either way, be prepared to spend most of your time entertaining him as needed. If he's like most toddlers (though not mine), he'll probably get a good nap in, too. R.K.

Oh goodness - I vote for non-stop. The idea of an extra take- off and landing, and packing up all your stuff for a second leg of the trip, and if you have a car seat to maneuver - yuck. Can't wait to see what others suggest!

I always go nonstop. My first daughter was a hyper one, but having her go up and down the aisle was far better than having her run of in crowds inside airports. At least on the airplane is was hard for her to disappear.

Plus during layovers I was always rushing for a connecting flight, worried that the luggage didn't make it too, or found myself delayed and, yes, chasing a daughter into crowds, moving carts, masses of people, etc.

Man, you bring back memories. She is 7 now and likes to sit and read for the whole 4 hours!

Have you been on a plane with your baby before? Does your baby like to nap in the car seat? Is your baby particularly active/squirmy, or more able to be kept entertained with snuggling and Cheerios and puppets and books? I think you and the kid could be comfortable either way, and it's a judgment call you can make best knowing your child's temperament. Where would the layover be? Dallas/Fort Worth has a great little shuttle between the terminals that makes a fun adventure between flights, for example, but O'Hare is just a zoo. Also consider the timing of the flights. We had great luck on a recent trip where the second flight took off right at naptime--our girl fell asleep in her car seat holding my hand, and slept for two hours. We also did well on a non-stop flight that left very early in the morning--we actually got two naps on that trip. Also remember that due to the gulf stream, westbound flights take longer than eastbound flights; it could amount to two extra hours of travel on your way back. So even if you decide to do a nonstop going to Nashville, you might want to break it up coming back to Oakland. Heidi

ALWAYS choose a nonstop flight over one with a stop, any time you can. Most accidents happen during takeoff or landing, not when the plane is in the air, so by going nonstop rather than 1- stop you cut that risk in half (half the number of takeoffs and landings)! Also, when traveling with a baby, the biggest hassle, and the time when baby usually gets fussiest, is usually not the plane ride itself, but the stressful process of dealing with tickets and luggage and boarding and installing the carseat and so on. Best to avoid having to do it more than once. Finally, the nonstop flight is going to take less time overall. If it turns out your baby doesn't like traveling, it's better to get it over with as fast as possible! A ''rest'' in the middle of the trip isn't going to help. anon

Hi there - As far as I'm concerned, stopovers are a waste of time and very tiring. They also increase your chances of having a delay and thus keeping you and your baby out longer than necessary. I personally don't find airports to be rest places at all and if you're going to be sitting around an airport, you might as well be sitting on the plane and getting there. Also, kids are a lot more resilient and adaptable than we credit them - if you expect them to travel 6 hours, they will. We recent traveled with our 15 mth-old to Australia. We had a 15 hour non-stop flight to Sydney. He did fine. One other thing that really helps is flying an overnight flight. He'll sleep the entire way. The parents network archives have some great suggestions on how to keep the young one entertained on a long flight. Good Luck and Enjoy. EAnnis

We took our 15 month old to the east coast on a direct flight for Christmas. We thought direct was best but, even though she had her own seat and she has flown many times before it was hell. I think that is a long time to be strapped in, confined to a seat or two. The next time we do it I think we will try the two leg trip, yeh it is a longer day but at least on the break you can walk around in the airport look at different thing and eat and use the bathroom comfortably. The change of scenery would have helped our little one tremendously. Good Luck marion

My advice with a 16-month old is to choose the cheapest option (particularly if there is a large difference). I've done it both ways coast-to-coast with a toddler (14-months to 2.5 yrs old) and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. While it might be nice to have a break from the flight and play in the airport, you have no way of knowing (or at least, we had no way) if your little one is going to sleep for 3 to 5 hours or not (no matter what time of day!). It's a bummer to have to lug a blissfully sleeping toddler off the plane for the layover while you ponder how wonderful it would have been to just have the plane keep heading to your destination! Moreover, flights can be delayed, and while you planned to have a relaxing 2 to 3 hour layover, it might turn in to a mad dash to not miss the next plane (and it's a pain getting a toddler on and off planes with all your stuff in tow, too). Or you might wind up with a 6 hour layover if the second flight is delayed. So, while chasing a non-sleeping toddler around a plane for 6 hours is also no fun, I argue you really can't plan everything as well as you would like so therefore it really doesn't matter what you ''think'' might happen for the two scenarios. So do the cheapest thing and at least you can count on saving some money! kb

Just a quick response to one poster's suggestion that you opt for an overnight flight whenever possible, because ''he'll sleep the entire way''. Unless you have a very calm chld who consistently sleeps well, I'd think twice. I did it only once, with my toddler son and 6-year-old daughter. My son slept all the way TO the airport, then woke up. He didn't sleep much at all, but cried and screamed for almost the whole flight. My daughter fell asleep on board, but awoke after a couple of hours and vomited. Not much fun for us, and quite a disruption for other passengers, who were trying to sleep. Even if your baby is calm, other crying babies can make it tough for everyone. No red-eyes for us!

Non-stop!!! Fewer ear-pressure changes, time wasted waiting, baggage more likely to be on the same plane, etc, etc. 6 hours is long but not impossible, especially if you can get child to nap a bit. veteran traveler with children