Long Flights (12+ hours) with Kids

Parent Q&A

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  • We are traveling with twins who will be 21 months old to Asia - 12 hours first leg and 7 hours second leg. I'm just looking for any tips or advice (or just words of encouragement/caution) if you've ever done this. They have never flown before but we have taken them on car trips (4 hours at the most) and have stayed at quite a number of hotels.
    We bought seats for them, so I'm not sure if car seats or the CARES harness would be better. And would we have to be separated (one parent, one child) in different rows? 
    Also, any experience with the time change adjustment is appreciated! 

    Thanks in advance!

    If you’re on Facebook, I highly recommend joining the group Traveling with Babies and Toddlers. Tons of good information on there that has helped me in the past!

    We have taken our child to Europe on trips a little shorter than yours three times (6 months, 2 y, 3 y).  While each age has its challenges and each trip has its meltdowns, all the trips were worth it.  Eventually the flight will end and you will never regret going! Here are some practical things that worked for us:

    • The Fly Tot: This is an inflatable cushion that fills up the footwell of the seat, making the seat into a lay flat toddler bed.  With a swaddle stretched from video screen to head rest to form a light-blocking tent, it has worked like an absolute charm for us and our kiddo has slept for the majority of the long-haul overnight flights.  (We did not take car seats because our kid never slept particularly long in his and they're so heavy to schlepp.)
    • Fun distractions on the plane that buy you 15 minutes:  Puffy stickers and painters' tape to decorate the seats, make roads, etc. (the kind that will come right off), Koosh balls (won't roll through the plane, also a sensory soother), Paint with Water books 
    • And screens obviously :) 

    On the time change adjustment, I worried so much about this, always expected the worst, and was consistently proven wrong. Our child is generally a good sleeper, and he adjusted faster than we did.  Maybe because they don't know jet lag exists, they're just not in their head about it.  In my experience, things smooth out in a few days. 

    I wish you saint-like patience and good travel luck!   

    I haven't done a long flight like this with kids this age, but wanted to recommend the Facebook group Club Bebe Voyage. It's an amazing community of parents sharing tips for traveling with kids. If you use Facebook, you should ask this question there too! Also FYI I've heard some airlines/countries don't allow the CARES harness so make sure to check on that and if it is allowed, get the policy printed out and bring it with you because some flight attendants might not know. Hope you have a great trip!

    We started flying to Australia when my son was 2.5 yrs old. The planes are big so just get four seats in a row and let the kids spread out and sleep across your laps. Take an overnight flight and let them sleep first then iPads and snacks when they wake up and lots of walks up and down the aisle. It’s never been that bad for us. 

    I have used both and would recommend car seats over the CARES harness for that age - car seats are more reclined and cradle them a little, so it's much more comfortable for sleeping. Car seats can't block someone else's exit, so if your plane has four seats in the middle, they could put you there with the car seats in the two middle seats. Otherwise you'd be split up - window/middle or middle/aisle in the center aisle. I think middle/aisle would be better because then you can get out of your seats without climbing over someone with your kid.

    As for surviving the plane ride, lots of snacks and lots of things to do. Screens probably won't buy you much time at that age, but we mostly did little activities like stickers, wikki stix, those Melissa and Doug painting books where you paint with water, and lots of books. That's a hard age for travel because they will want to be super active and there's nowhere to go. We did lots and lots of walking up and down the aisle. We got the OK from our ped to give our then-17-month-old melatonin to help him sleep on the plane and adjust to jet lag (12 hour difference), I think the bottle says 2+ but she said it was ok for limited use for a short time.

    Jet lag is hard with kids. We have done the 12 hour difference a few times and I think my favorite approach now is to let the kids sleep any time they will, and sleep then too if you can. It takes longer to get on the right time, but being up with your kids at 2am is less miserable if you have also had a 5-hour nap during the day.

    Good luck!

    We have an 11 year old and we flew to Asia with him every year starting at 20 months until Covid shut down travel, so we have a lot of experience! First, the bad: 21 months is right in that 18-36 month window when it's really hard to travel with kids, so be prepared! OK, here's the good: we managed it, it was totally worth it, and it only gets better from here! As for car seats, you'll need to call the airline. I believe our airline did not allow car seats on the flight, so we brought a Cares harness, which he resolutely refused to use. Every airline has a different policy, and sometimes different policies for different flights and different planes, so definitely check ahead. We ended up not taking a car seat with us at all, as we wouldn't be using it in Asia, and it was so much easier to get through the airport without it. Since you have kids you can ask for a Bulkhead seat so the kids can play around your feet. Sit together (don't separate!), because at some point during the flight, one of you will need to go to the bathroom, so you'll need an adult in the seat to watch an awake or sleeping baby. For the flight, at 20 months my son wasn't interested in iPads or TV's, and if he was, he only looked at it for 5 minutes and then he wanted to do something else. Bring lots of things to distract your kids. We found the plastic water bottles they hand out on the flight were GREAT for squeezing and banging. Bring lots and lots of snacks. Bring a bottle or a sippy cup to suck on during take off and landing for their ear drums. And bring lots of throw up bags or tubs, extra diapers, and lots of changes of clothing for babies and adults. Bring some disinfectant wipes to clean the space, but honestly, there's not much you can do if they are eating off the floor. This too shall pass.

    Once you are there, make sure everyone sticks to a regular schedule as much as possible. Eat when everyone else is eating, that will reset your body clock the fastest. Try to immediately put your kids on the new clock, wake them up in the morning at a reasonable time, keep them awake until nap time, and wake them up if they nap too long. If they fall asleep in the car, wake them after 20 minutes. Bring snacks with you everywhere. Get lots of sunlight. Try to stretch them so they go to bed at almost a usual bedtime. If they wake up in the middle of the night, try to pat them back to sleep, or else give them a snack and play quietly with the lights low. Don't turn on the lights or get up and start your day till at least 5am. The younger the child, the faster they adjust to the time change!

    As your kids get older, the iPad can entertain them longer, and flights get more and more tolerable, until they are just easy. My son is now 11 and an expert traveler. Good luck!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Flight to India with an 18-mo toddler

Jan 2015

Hello wise souls of BPN,

We've traveled with our toddler before for ''shorter'' flights but no longer than 5 hours. During the most recent flight, when our daughter was 16-months old, here's been our observation:

  • First-hour: Entertained in seat
  • Second-hour: Entertained walking around / novelty of a flight
  • Third-hour: Getting irritable / refusing sleep
  • Fourth-hour: 2-mins of diverted attention followed by 2-mins of irritable bursts, rinse and repeat
  • Fifth-hour: All-stops are out and she's screaming bloody murder, especially as the plane starts landing

By the time we land, my wife and I look at each other with the knowing glance that we'll never do this again, but I guess we both are masochists for not only flying, but flying on a 12-hour flight cross-atlantic flight followed by another 8-hour flight to south asia with our toddler as a lap-child (who will by then be 18-and-a-half months old).

So, here are the questions:

1. I've seen numerous versions of this question posted (I know!), but what are some of the ''best-of'' tips that don't involve screens or drugs to survive that journey keeping in mind that our toddler will NOT have her own seat? I'm not looking for advice on those with experience of 6-7 hr cross-country trips. I'm talking about 21-22 hours people.

2. Once there, what are some of the ''best'' ways of getting her to adjust quickly to the time difference? I don't have unrealistic expectations of her coping right away, but I'm looking for advice on having fewer days of constant whining / fewer nights where she's using our passed-out faces as a tambourine to play at 2AM

3. [This is more for parents with Asian/sub-continental roots that have traveled back] What are some of the ''best'' ways of not losing your sanity while your entire extended family stuffs deep-fried oil-dripping ''foods'' in your toddler's mouth? My wife and I have already created a pact that we will not separate from each other and our child for even a split-second, but I'm looking for strategies to either deflect or cope with my own internal anguish.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom in advance! Terrified of our trip

For the past five years we have flown 2x a year from the Middle East back to the US with 2 kids who are now 7 and 3, a 28 hour expedition each way. Here's what we do:

Starting weeks in advance, build up excitement for the airport, airplanes, meals on a tray, headphones, movies, flight attendants, etc. We likely own every book about airplanes for kids ever written and we read them all. A lot.

Starting weeks in advance, steel ourselves for 28 hours of no sleep and accepting that visiting family is not going on vacation.

Book night flights whenever possible so kids are tired and more likely to sleep for a number of hours.

Once on the plane, act like it's the biggest adventure of their lives.

Make a big deal about changing into PJs once on the plane and settling down for sleep. Sometimes that helps, sometimes it doesn't.

Trade off at regular intervals. One parent takes the youngest as long possible, then we switch. We try to nap as we can but have low expectations.

Carry a ginormous bag packed with surprises wrapped in pretty tissue paper. Pipe cleaners, stickers, post it notes, plastic airplanes from the party supply store, glittery necklaces, a new toothbrush, fun snacks they don't get to eat often...there are a ton of ideas on line and at Michaels that don't cost a fortune. Pack enough for the return flight.

Change scenery frequently and proactively, meaning: Once you sense they are over the current activity and before they start getting fussy, you change things up. Oh look! It's time to go to the bathroom and change into your pink socks (or brush your teeth, or get paper cups to make a tower with)! So over that? Now let's go see what's in the galley. So over the galley? Let's go see what's happening back in our seat. This means you'll likely walk around the airplane and visit the bathroom dozens of times.

Ignore any angry stares from fellow passengers. Just focus on you and your kid.

Give unfettered access to whatever comforts them (pacifier, warm milk, etc)

If screaming commences, high tail it to the bathroom.

Finally, after years of resisting it, I will sometimes give each a dose of ibuprofen if they are having a hard time settling down for sleep, which is preferable in my mind to an over-exhausted, screaming kid.

Once we've arrived, we make sure they have several hours of hard exercise each day (park, swimming, whatever). This is the only thing we have found that really helps with the sleep.

Good luck! It can be done! Frequent Flyer

1) Realize it's horrible and you only have to survive

2) The first flight isn't so bad.... you get on at night you can usually get some sleep in there (change into jammies after dinner, show, then jammies, stories and night night...... just keep at it).

Often airlines give the bulkhead to families. I don't like it as you can't lift up arms of seats. Unless she's small enough to get put in bassinet at bulkhead then don't take those seats. Better three together and you can lift arms and try to stretch her out on your laps. Have extra blankets from plane (or bring like a swaddling blanket) that you can tuck in to seats to create a curtain. If you think she'd go in a bassinet then this can be a great option.

I often try to book the middle section of seats so that there are aisles on both sides. If it's a four seat middle section book both aisles and one in between and then pray that the last middle/middle doesn't get booked. If it does surely someone will shift to your booked aisle for the middle/middle. This is your best strategy for getting an extra seat.

Don't hold back on tech ...sometimes they need a brea for sure. But the plane is a different zone.

Try Rescue Remedy? Does it work on your child? Why not a little benydryl? But of course test first.

3) My most important things in my carryon: Food for your child - as you don't know when airplane food will arrive ... Change of clothes for everyone (my luggage has been lost many times so good to have on arrival PLUS I have had various puke situations so everyone needs a change) ... I like having a small plastic bag for putting trash in right away so I don't have to start making my area a mess. ... Power bars for you in case you can't eat the food and need to eat 1 handed. ... If passengers see you being calm and attentive I think that matters

4) On layover..... Don't book too tight - some airports 2 hours means you're racing the WHOLE time straight to next plane Can you get lounge access some way Brush your teeth, wash face (face wipes)..brush hair, freshen up....... Get some exercise but your child might sleep but at least try to find a spot to lay her off your body

5) On arrival...... you'll want to sleep til noon. Eye mask helpful .... You will be a little hungry when you get home (4am-ish) but insist just toast and let us go to sleep.

If an option ask for only bottled water for first week (or mostly)

Bring some bars/foods that your daughter will like.

After that..... I would just not fight the forces and lean in. Try to create some zones for rest and sleep and more than fried food, but other than that you'll have to relax.......

The flight home is even worse! But it's worth doing. Know it does get better. I'm flying to India with my 7,11 and 14 year old this Summer and it's no big deal...... Well, perhaps still a big deal, but much, much easier. India traveler

Hi. I've flown with young kids across the oceans many times, Europe, Japan, India, Africa - am practically a veteran. (I even flew once alone with a toddler from India back to SF.)

First of all, consider buying a seat for your sanity. It's no guarantee but it helps, and if there's any hope that she'll sleep, it'll be good to have her in the seat so you can free your arms. Without the seat, a front carrier can help for periods. But honestly, just brace yourself for an insane and tiring journey that you'll forget about once you land.

For the toddler stage we've just needed endless quick entertainment... books, little toys, items from the airplane, snacks, and chasing him down the aisle, rolling a little ball down the aisle, carrying him around back and forth. I'd seriously consider an ipad, but if she's too young, it might not work anyway.

As to being there and visiting relatives, I'd try to go into it with a more open heart and attitude. Avoid street food obviously, don't let her ingest the water, make sure she has all her vaccines. Time and love from extended family, hearing other languages, are beautiful experiences for a child - some fried food and gulab jamuns are not going to damage her or make her sick. And you don't want her to fear the place or pick up on your anxiety. My toddler son loved his aunts and uncles, probably ate too many sweets, but had a wonderful time. I'd say the one thing that's tough is the pollution in the cities... he did pick up a cough, but food-wise was fine.

As to the jet-lag, the first few days are really rough. They say it takes a day for every hour of change. One thing I always say (but have never done) is to check in right away to a very nice hotel for at least the first day/night. That way you can have some calm, quiet, a nice bed, good clean food readily available - and just recuperate for a day before immersing yourselves into local life. Please don't be terrified... there's no place like India, you have to go with the chaos and learn to relax. She'll be just fine! anon

Oh, DON'T DO A LAP CHILD TO INDIA! I went to India via London two years ago - I was 37 and an experienced flyer who loves sitting still and reading. It was MISERABLE. That can't be helped but having a toddler on my lap - I think I would have lost my mind. I absolutely think it's worth the money to buy another seat. If it's not, don't do the trip. It was so difficult and it will be difficult regardless, but if you have a child in your lap, your back will hurt, you will make everyone around you furious because it will affect them if your child is just on the lap... oh, I can't emphasize enough how miserable it will be!!! Buy a seat for your child or don't go at all. Seriously. been there

Your post made me laugh (a lot). I haven't done the flying to India part yet with my toddler for the very reasons you mentioned, so, unfortunately, I can't offer too much advice on that aspect, but here are my random thoughts on some parts of your concerns:

* Flights to India are always chaotic and loud, which you probably know. Once I saw a woman putting her kids to sleep on the floor of the plane (she just tucked them under the seat like a carry on). I also shared a flight with the Indian powerlifting team, all of whom were drunk. But that's another story. What I'm saying is, even though your child will most likely drive you crazy, hopefully the other passengers will realize that this type of thing comes with the territory. If you are lucky there will be a nice aunty-type on board who can entertain your kid.

* When you get to India, it is a given that your family will: a) think you and your parenting choices are 'crazy' and 'too American' b) disregard your wishes and do whatever they want to shower your child with love, however that looks to them.

Again, know that you will be driven crazy but that your child will hopefully have a wonderful time and that everyone really loves them. Take advantage of the free childcare and escape with your partner to have a drink.

Enjoy your trip. I may be asking YOU for advice in a few years! Desi Mom

We try to take red eye flights so our son sleeps for a good amount of the way. As she won't have her own seat call the airline & ask to be seated in the bulkhead row so you have more room to play - they reserve these rows for young families. Plus if she is in the weight restriction you can request a cot for her to sleep in - they prioritize babies who are less than 6 mths so you won't know if you get one till check in.

Stay a night at the stopover location so you can rest & get a break. You'll appreciate it, even if you fly a red eye, unless you're very lucky you may only get a few hours sleep. I expect to get about 3 hours of broken sleep so staying at the stopover is important for me to reset for the next leg of the journey.

For entertainment we take 10-12 books. Melissa & Doug make reuseable sticker books that our son has played with for up to 45min. Wooden bead threading toy. Coloring books & a few crayons. Lots of snacks. Buy a new small toy for the flights.They can take a carry on bag on so we fill it up with all that stuff.

You asked for no screens but as a seasoned traveller (our son is 23 mths old & has been on 8 long haul flights around the world so far) I wanted to share with you that we're no screen parents but when he was 16mths we made an exception & got an Ipad, loaded it up with family photos & educational apps - no movies. He just uses it on flights & we limit it to 45 min at a time, then take a break. One of us plays on it with him (while the other rests) -we talk to him about what's going on in each app. We structure the flight so we explore the plane, play with the new toy, read stories, eat, walk around, if its a red eye flight he'll sleep about 4-7 hours, then when he wakes we'll feed him, play,walk around,then once he's bored we'll use the Ipad. We got it to preserve our ability to operate when we arrived - keep in mind depending on your TOA you may still need to function for a whole day so the journey doesn't end for you - also include the time it's gonna take to get over the je tlag too cause depending on the time zone the jet lag lasts at least 3 -10 days depending on the time zone.

Jet lag tips are to try to keep her awake till at least 5pm local time, lots of time outside as the sun helps to regulate them & it's easier to keep them awake. Other than that you just have to ride it out.

Re the family issues, I'm half Chinese, we're conscious of eating healthy & organic daily. Our families don't eat as we do, I've seen my dad feed our son French fries and simply asked him not to - he's seen how we feed our son so he respects that - I make food at their house which they understand cause in their minds babies are 'picky eaters' so they see what he eats. I also loosened up cause in the big picture it's just a few odd pieces of unhealthy food & I still have the power to make sure that every thing else he eats is healthy...every single other day of his life while he's eating under my roof... Traveling Mamma

I have traveled to India (although headed West rather than East) a bunch of times with my child. Here is my best advice.

1. a. If possible in any scenario, get a seat for your child. That may have saved what little was left of my sanity. From your question and the timing, I assume it's too late for that. b. If your child will play video games or watch the movies (hopefully you have individual entertainment systems?) - go for it. My son didn't care about that at 18 months - but maybe your daughter will. Her brain won't rot in 24 (or 48) hours. c. Trade off every few hours which parent is the entertainment; the other parent should try to sleep. Skip the movies or your book, and just sleep. Dealing with a tired toddler is bad enough; dealing with a tired toddler when you're also tired and cranky is miserable. d. (you've read this before, but): bring toys, books, coloring books, sticker books, etc. We did a lot of stickers at that age.

2. Don't stress the jet lag. My son has always adjusted faster than the rest of us. Just try to get her onto India time as soon as you get there.

3. We visit my inlaws, not my family, but I cope with food issues by being hyper-paranoid about things that might make my kid sick (e.g., non-boiled water, fruits that can't be peeled) - and relax about the nutritional value. On our first trip, my son lived on bananas and Cheerios (that we brought) for a week. More recently, he always eats too many sweets. We aim for some nutrition while we're there (have a banana and a cookie...), and then we get back to normal at home.

The good news and the bad news is that the trip when my son was 2 was the absolute hardest we've taken. We survived it, and more recent trips have been much smoother.

Best of luck! Travelin' mama

For us, the flight isn't really the hard part. Bring some new toys, books (really!) and snacks - things kiddo hasn't seen before, and will be interesting. Watching the meals and snack carts come down the aisle is always entertaining. Go ahead and use some media - international flights have screens for a reason. Both to entertain kiddo (for small bursts) and to help you keep your sanity while your little one sleeps on your left arm for 5 hours, completely immobilizing you and cutting off circulation to your left leg. Trade off with your partner, so you each get to nap a little. That, plus poking at the shiny buttons on and around the seat, playing peek-a-boo with unwilling neighbors, and taking a few strolls to the back of the plane, should get you through. Zombie-like, but alive.

For when you're there, I counsel complete and utter surrender. What's the point of this trip? Having your parenting preferences validated? Or letting your child have an actual relationship with their extended family? The times I've been proudest of myself as a parent there are when I'm able to just go with the flow (different eating schedules, lax bedtimes, of course I'll ride on the back of this motorcycle with my toddler because there are no auto-rickshaws going our way). And the times that felt really embarrassing and cringe-worthy afterwards were when I stood up for something that felt really important at the time, that I later realized was just kindof dumb and inappropriate in context.

Just tell yourself it's just for a little while. Grandparents here spoil their little ones, too. Kids are smart, and they will realize that the rules are different in this place, anyways. It won't be as hard as you think to re-assert your rules when you're back on your own turf again.

Jet-lag is brutal. Do all the things they say to do (get out in the sunlight, drink lots of water) and realize it's still going to take just about a day for every hour of time difference. Which means, from here to India with a 13 and 1/2 hour time difference, it takes nearly two weeks to get on local time. We go for a month, because with almost 3 days travel time (plane to plane to plane to train) and 12+ days of jet-lag, if we're there for three weeks we get about 5 good days to visit before it's time to leave again.

I do bring food in the suitcase for when we get there - applesauce squeezers, little boxes of cereal, protein bars, almonds - so that when we do wake up famished at 3am, I don't have to wake up the inlaws or try to navigate someone else's kitchen to feed my kiddo. So we have breakfast by ourselves in the dark, then again when the rest of the family wakes up. We straggle through the day and try not to fall asleep until after 4pm, at least. Or we give up, and all have a long afternoon nap, and just roll with it.

It will be terrible, and totally okay, too, if that makes sense. Good luck with it. -Eleanor

20-hour plane ride to India with 5YO girl

Nov 2008

I'm going to India with my 5YO daughter in December and am looking for recommendations for plane activities. The recommendations in the archives all seem to be for younger children. So far, I have down books/CDs, card games, coloring books. She likes making things so some crafty type things that don't take up too much room, have too many small pieces, and are not too messy would be good. Games a 5YO could handle that don't take up a lot of room would be good too. I'm willing to purchase a portable DVD player but I hear they only last for a couple of hours before requiring recharge and how would I recharge in India for the return trip? The converters never seem to work very well. Thanks for your suggestions! Nervous mom of active kid

Depending on the length of the whole trip, you might want to rent a DVD player from InMotionPictures. http://www.inmotionstores.com/index.html

One thing I really liked about renting from them is they would include an extra long-life battery so we were good to go for over 15 hours. And they include some free movie rentals, too.

You could try going to a travel store and purchasing an adapter/converter (you probably need both to not fry the appliance) specific to India.

Happy travels! traveling parent

I travel with my girls quite a bit (not 20s in one flight, but a few flights per month...). In addition to what you said...

1) download some shows to an ipod...you can recharge them attached to any computer...you cut out weight and the problem of recharging. That can get you about 8 hours of time...maybe carry two ipods...I am sure that you can get a friend to loan you one...

2) Littlest Pet Shop/ponyville...I always pack a mix of Littlest Pet Shop and My little pony (the ponyville ones) with a little house...my girls can play with that for the duration of a five hour flight...they love it.

Hope that helps. Jan M

Hi! I just returned from India last week with my 5 year old (and 2 year old as well!). I don't know how your child is, but mine was just a breeze to travel with this time. American Airlines had the built in T.V./game screen, which she spent a lot of time with. We also took our portable DVD player, but didn't need to use it much. I would check if the airplane you are flying on has the individual TV screens or not. Otherwise, we bought a DVD that has 6 hours of battery life on it. We would recharge it in the airports when we had layovers, and our adapter worked fine in India to recharge it there. We did use the DVD a lot for all of the internal travel we did--on the train and in cars.

Other than that, the main thing that kept her occupied were the activity books I took along (sticker books, mazes, Highlight magazines, dot-to-dots). Those were nice because I could do them with her, but she could also do some of them by herself when I needed her to. I wrapped a lot of little things to give to them when they needed a little more entertainment, but we really didn't need all of the little toys and stuff that I brought. The 2 year old was another story for another post, but I found 5 to be a very nice age to travel with. She was aware and interested in the sites and people and learned a lot on our trip. I hope you have a great time. Kris

Check your airline's website -- some airlines (including Singapore) have movies, TV, and games on demand at each seat. There are many, many choices (obviously, not all appropriate for a 5 year old), and you won't need a DVD player. Between sleeping, reading books, playing with stickers, watching 30 minutes of a movie, etc., my 3.5 year old was only a little whiny on that flight...

I just last week got back from a month in India with our 3-year-old and I have lots of advice for you! General advice I can share is this:

* Spend extra for a ticket on Cathay Pacific, Singapore or other airline that offers video on demand. We flew Cathay and we (and my son) were amazed at the great movies he could watch (including Kung Fu Panda and various TV shows). The better airlines also have power outlets in all their seats, including coach, so ask. Make sure and buy your ticket from a consolidator to get the cheapest airfare.

* Yes, do bring that DVD player. I am usually opposed to them on principle, but my husband made me admit that the DVD player saved our hides quite a few times on this trip. The Zenith DVD player we took with us needed just a $1 adapter and no other accessories in order to play in India (we buy the adapters at the Indian shops in Berkeley to get that cheap price).

* I have loads of other info to share about natural health and food and other topics while traveling with a little kid in India, so feel free to write. Lisa

The first thing is to plan out exactly when you want active play, quiet play, video watching, eating and sleeping. Flying for so long and having such a radical time change is really tricky with kids. Be aware of sweets. We will take our 5YO on a circuit walk around the plane for 20 minutes at a time several times. We also do stretching with him in his seat. We do bring a DVD and charge it with an adapter for the trip home. We use the airline movies as much as we can and just fill in with the DVD as needed. It is hard to hear so DVD's are best if they know the movie well. We now have an ipod that pays videos and we can charge it on our laptop. It is a small screen but you get much more. You can buy spare chargers online. Regarding activities, having a bag that your daughter can choose from a variety of activities helps. We use modeling clay alot. I throw it out at the end of the flight and bring another box for the flight home. We bring magnetic books, felt activities (if they let you bring scissor, you can make the shapes on the plane) and bring blank books for him to make stories up and then illustrate them. He tells the story, I write it at the bottom of the page and he draws on the top. You can buy these books or make them in advance. I also let him buy one toy at the airport. The museum store at SFO international has great toys. Tactile toys are best. Just one more thing, we put him in overnight diapers for landing and takeoff since getting to the bathroom might be significantly delayed. Nothing is worse than having a kid who you have tried hard to keep hydrated (really important) having to wee and not being able to. He always seems to need to pee during takeoff/ascent. Must be the pressure change. Bring children's tylonol-kids get headaches when crying on planes-Hopefully you won't need it. Catherine

There is a website, which I can't remember, that will show you the type of plane you are flying in, which the best seats are & where the power sockets are. If you get a seat with a power socket, you don't need to worry about the portable DVD battery running out. Our daughter also liked listening to books on tape/CD with a Walkman once we found comfortable headphones. KEB

We have been flying routinely to Germany with my daughter since she was 2.5 years old. When she was under 5 we would wrap one toy for each hour of travel (including waiting time spent at airports), as she got older we moved into creative, flat and small art supplies, and above 9 years of age we moved on to books and airplane movies. We tried CDs, but no headphones have been good enough to block out the engine noise and other travel sounds, so my daughter gave up on that and has been happier with British Airways' kid movies and cartoon channel in additon to books. I still have some unused art items from our abundance of flight entertainment for sale: creating funny faces with Shapemaker Fun, sticker set with album to create scenes, set of 7 mini gel pens, set of 24 mini-crayons, crayon with 5 interchangeable stackable colors. Let me know if you're interested. Your child is the right age for it. Heike


14-hour-flight with a 16-month-old

April 2008

We will fly with our then 16 month old daughter from SF to Germany this summer. I am looking forward to seeing my relatives and showing my little girl where I grew up but I am terrified of the flight which is supposed to take at least 14 hours (we will have a 2-hour stop-over in Denver). In addition, my baby will travel on my and my husband's lap! She does not have her own seat. Does anyone have any long-distance flight advice? I appreciate anything that you can suggest. Anon

Fourteen hours is far too long to hold a baby on one's lap. It would not only be more pleasant, but also safer, to have a separate seat for your baby. Airplanes are so cramped these days, that there isn't adequate room for the baby's things, plus your and your husband's things, if you are all packed into only two seats.

There would not even be room to lower your tray table to feed your baby. My advice is to buy an additional seat, at least for the Denver-Germany leg of the trip. Frequent flyer

A few ideas that should help the long flight:

In SFO let her run around and also on your layover in Denver, get out and move around a lot.

When we did a trip to London on British Airways, you could get a bassinet or other seat for your child for about $100. See if your airline has something similar for your longer leg. Or at least see if you can secure a bulkhead seat so she can have that area to play around in.

Pack lots of goodie bags for her waking hours. Some ideas: colorful paperclips that she can string together. Scotch tape, key and locks (keeps him really occupied for a decent stretch of time), stickers and paper, little board books, string. I know on the old lists there are many other good ideas. Good luck! KIM

We took our then 14 month old to Switzerland last September. It is doable and we had a good time. However, it is work. The biggest thing we learned from the experience was to take less stuff. We took a stroller and realized it doesn't make a lot of sense in Europe with all the stairs, plus we had a car. We took our daughter everywhere in an ergo instead. Also, taking a pack n play was just too much unless someone is picking you up at the airport on the other end. If you are visiting family ask them to borrow as much stuff for you as possible. As for the flight itself. Our daughter only slept for 3 of the first 24 hours we were gone. Some things that worked well for entertainment were lift a flap books (I highly recommend My Little People School Bus), crayons (my daughter just liked putting them in and taking them out of the box) and a travel magna doodle. My daughter also liked lifting the arm rests a lot and playing on the floor in front of us. Once you get there keep in mind that all the change is stressful to them. Good Luck! Traveling Mama

Hi- We began flying overseas with our daughter (and her subsequent siblings) when she was five months old. They always sat in our laps until age two, when we were forced to buy seats.

At 16 months, I would suggest getting a small bag or backpack for her, and buying several small toys, magnet toys, paint-with-water books, crayola no-mark paper and pens, and so on. Wrap each one in paper (tissue paper or wrapping paper). She can open one at a time. You can spread them out over the length of the flight (one an hour type of thing, or half an hour). They LOVE this! Some of the little packages can be snacks, too. She will sleep part of the time, so you don't actually need 15 items.

On many overseas flights, there is often an empty seat for her anyway, so don't worry about having to hold her the whole way. You may luck out! Happy Flying! Happy Traveler

We took our 11 month old baby to London a few years ago. If possible, I would highly recommend you buying your child her own airplane seat. By doing so, you can place her in her carseat so she can rest and therefore, you can rest too. A 14 hour long flight is very long and it would be very difficult to keep her on your lap throughout the flight. monique

Go to elephant pharmacy and get children's rescue remedy (flower essences) and calms forte homeopathics for kids. You could also look for a bottle of passionflower or skullcap glycerite tincture. Those should help immeasurably, if you need them at all. You can give them all at the same time, or alternate during the flight. A little lavender essential oil is very calming--you could put a drop or two on yourself and just hold your baby close. Nursing during take off and landing will help with the ear popping.

A drink or glass of wine for yourself during the flight would also probably make you less tense. People are generally very sympathetic to parents traveling with little ones. Use the flight attendants for any help or assistance they can offer--it is their job and a friendly smile and a ''thank you'' from you goes a long way! frequent flier

We've taken our kids to FRA/MUC when they were 6 months old and 18 months old a few times. No matter which way you do it, you'll have trouble in Germany with the time difference i.e. their waking up late at night and keeping you up. So you can only improve the quality of your flight time.

Based on our experience, I'd suggest the following:

1. Take a flight that's at least partially in the night PST. Excellent options would be UA954 through Heathrow, UA8882 through Munich, UA926/UA 940/UA8879 through Frankfurt. You'll get a good 8-10 hours of peace!

2. Try to get a bulkhead seat so your kid has a bit of space to move around, if flying Econ.Class. You could also request a bassinet and makes it easier for everyone to sleep a bit better.

3. Fly Lufthansa. Kids get little toys to keep them occupied and the flight attendants are much nicer.

Good luck. lalith

Very active toddler on a 20-hour flight

Sept 2006

My husband and I are living on tour in Brazil with Cirque Du Soleil. We have a daughter aged 4 and a very active son aged 1 1/2 years old. I will have to fly home with our two children without my husband due to an incredible price difference to extend our tickets. We are not happy about this-and I am really dreading the 20- flight home from Rio. The main problem is our son is a very active and loud toddler and it is very, very difficult to contain him for any flight-much less one this long. We have had 4 very long flights this year like this. We have not resorted to Benadryl or anything else to try to make our son more manageable. However-we are tempted now. Can anyone give us some advice and/or feedback on what we could do to get through this flight? It is an incredibly hard and miserable experience flying without my husband with our son constantly playing with the shade, kicking the seats and other passengers, screaming, throwing anything he gets his hands on. He does nurse but not for the entire time. We didn't expect that we couldn't extend our tickets ensuring travel home all together as a family. If there are some sure-fire herbal remedies that would be great too. At this point anything that could slow him down without harming him would be welcome. If possible. Cynthia

Would getting a portable DVD player and turning him into a Disney zombie for some of the flight help? You run some risk with Benedryl because it can have the opposite effect on some kids (making them even more hyper) and you don't want to be drugging your kid unless absolutely necessary anyway. Good luck! I'm a little nervous about traveling the 14-hr flight to Spain this winter with my 3-yr old spaz, but hopefully people around you will understand and sympathize -Anon

I too flew with my wild child several times on extended flights. Many times the foreign flight attendents were much more understanding and helpful than the Americans. Ditto the passengers. Try to fly at least business class. (well, we can always dream...) If possible a good idea might be to break the flight into a couple of segments...? Or maybe just grit your teeth and tough it out. Everyone will survive. That said: my son NEVER slept anyway and by the time he was 3 I was frantic. I remember dosing him with Chloral Hydrate(!)one time, in desperation, but the upshot was it didn't work and he stood swaying in his crib and singing for all the world like a little drunken sailor. It would have been funny if I hadn't felt so guilty, not to mention, still completely fried. So the moral: if you do decide to try Benedryl (which also didn't work for us!), make sure you try it out first! And best of luck. signed, anon

Keeping 1.5 year old happy on 17-hour-trip

April 2004

Hi, We are planning on traveling to Malaysia from SFO in August'04. It is a 17 to 18 hour flight with couple of layovers. Our daughter will be 1.5 years then. She is a very active child who does NOT like even long car rides, especially since we have to tie her up. I am really at a loss trying to figure out how to keep her happy, while maintaining my sanity and that of other passengers. Any tips regarding food, toys, timing, activities in the plane, seating, strollers (should we take them ?) would be highly appreciated. Thanks all! Bharathi

You don't say what airline you are flying on - but I would recommend flying an airline that has individual TV screens where they show endless loops of movies and usually also have a special channel for kids. Singapore Air and Japan Air have these screens but the American carriers often do not. I flew frequently to the US from Asia when my kids were small and this was the SAVING grace of these long flights. Even if it's the same show over and over the kids would remain fairly well entranced with them which helped ease the having-to-sit part of the flight. Remember, if the flight attendants tell you to sit down and buckle up during turbulence, on the int'l flights they really mean it, no matter what your kid wants to do! SM

I do not know about international flights but we took our baby when he was 6 mths to NY. He did great. Pack toys that keep her occupied, sorting toys, pencils and paper, books, etc. Also pack a brand new toy she has not seen beforeBI suggest a Doodle Pro by Fisherprice. Our son loves this, now 11 months. We spent our time playing with everything we brought as well as with the phone attached to the seat, the tray table, the buttons on the arm of the chair, and the seat belts. We also spent a lot of time walking up and down the isle. People seem to find it cute to see little ones walking around and our son loved all the attention. We also hung out in the back of the plane where the flight attendants prepare food trays. At the end of the flight the man sitting in front of us, actually thank us, and complimented on how good our baby was. Regarding the car seat and stroller: Definitely take the stroller onto the gateway. You will park it at the plane entrance and the airline will load it on the plane. It will be there at the door when you get off your plane. We did not bring our car seat onto the planeBits bulky and another item to try to cart around. Our son seemed to do great without it, where as a couple of other babies were in their seats and cried most of the flight. I am sure it is because they were to confined. Our son loved being able to move back and forth between my husband and I. During take off and landing I held him and nursed him. This comforted him and prevented his ears from hurting, so he did not cry even once! Renee

12-hour plane trip with 15-month-old

We are going to travel overseas with our 15 month old child. It'll take about 12 hours to get there (flight + connections) and I've heard parents say one should bring lots of new toys for entertainment. Any tips on what works best? I would only get one or two things, so I'm curious to get ideas on toys/activities that keep babies fascinated for these long trips.

I do a lot of traveling with my kids and this is what I have noticed: They are fascinated by cups with ice in them, playdough with little things to manipulate (like a plastic knife, for instance), books, velcro pieces to glue and unglue (I used a small piece of felt, and stuck velcro on things like a ping pong ball, a small box, a lid, a large marker), stickers, a real lock and key, a couple of markers. Keep it all secret till the day of the trip. Save your cards! Space things out so that you do not run out of stuff to do. Take lots of walks in the plane if possible, and let the kid run off steam at the airport as much as possible. Bubbles are good for the airports. Good luck!

1. Have your child drink from a sippy cup during take off and landing to help the ear pressure. Bring a lightweight cooler packed with one of those ice packs to hold milk (don't bring the milk, as the airlines have it, just ask for some with each meal and keep it cool for when you need it) tissues, wipes, napkins and some cereal/snacks (the stewards are always busy when you need these things!)

2. Reserve a basinette. Most international airlines (not US ones, though) have these for babies. Your child can play in it, sleep, or sit there a while so you can eat (except during take off or landing). We lucked out because the family next to us didn't use theirs -- our 18 month old slept all the way from New York to Frankfurt.

3. Bring some brand new toys/books that your child has never before seen. Sometimes inexpensive disposible things work well. Large, colorful plastic paper clips were a surprisingly cheap and fun hit for our kids. We made chains, necklaces and bracelets and passed them out to other passengers and the stewards. I paid $1.49 for them, so no loss when they fall into the seat cracks and on the floor. (Of course closely supervised in case of choking).

4. Our doc recommended bringing Benedryll to help the kids sleep, just in case we needed it. We did-- our 3 year old had a major night terror (due to lack of sleep?) it calmed him and he slept thru a layover!

5. Do laps around the plane when the fasten seat belts sign is off. They need to get the energy out.

We took our daughter to Australia when she was 18 months old... with flights of 1 hour (SF-LA), then 14 hrs (LA-Sydney) then 2.5 hours (Sydney to Adelaide). It actually wasn't too bad... jet lag once we got there was a bigger pain in my opinion. Anyway, here are my ideas: you asked specifically about new toys as gifts. At that age, kids love anything wrapped up in pretty paper even if it's just a box of goldfish or a juice box. So wrap up all the snacks, wrap up some of her books, etc. You can hide some of her small books or toys away a month before the flight, then they'll seem really new to her once she opens them. If your kid is not already drinking juice boxes, she is old enough to figure them out and will probably be quite excited by them. They're good for sipping on (or sippy cups, too) during take-off and landing to equalize pressure. Bring a salty snack to give her so she'll want to sip the drink! If you can possibly afford it, buy her her own seat. If the flight is full, you'll be really uncomfortable having her on your lap the whole way. Plus you can bring her carseat, which is probably very comfy for her to sleep in. Finally, it's very stressful changing planes, especially if you have to go from a domestic terminal to an international one (and LAX is especially bad), so make sure you've booked plenty of time for a layover. Good luck!

Travelling overseas w/15 month old child. Sorry, there is no magic toy that will keep your baby fAscinated for 12 hours. The good news is that the movement of people, stewardesses etc. are likely to be much more interesting to your baby. Be ready for a squirmy baby who wants to explore and take the baby for walks up and down and around the aisles. Also, your baby will probably sleep for a lot of the trip as the motion/sound of the plane is very soothing. Have lots of snacks, a cozy blanket and plenty of changes of clothes and diapers, favorite stuffed toys, and lots of small things your baby likes to do-I used to take small picture books, and small toys (variety and distraction are key here). Most importantly, take something for baby to suck on if not breastfeeding-bottle or pacifier as this helps with the ear pressure during take off and landing, and take plenty of powdered milk or formula or whatever your baby drinks. If your baby is used to falling asleep in the carseat, take it on and strap the baby in, they fall asleep and you can rest or read without having to hold onto the baby, and of course its safer for them. ( I used to cover my daughter like a canary with her baby blanket and she'd fall asleep without the lights bothering her, or being distracted by the unfamiliar exciting surroundings). Also take a change of top for you as baby's have a way of making the meal end up all over you too.

For a trip that long, I would bring about six or seven new toys for my toddler to play with on the plane. I have found that they don't need to be major toys, just something new. I buy them very cheap at the Salvation Army or a used toy store or at a 99 cent store (or at a very cheap kiosk in Moscow). I try to avoid things that roll very much, because it's bound to end up on the floor, rolling halfway down the airplane, or things with many small parts, because they're bound to get lost in the seat crack. A little stuffed animal or puppet is great. One recent success was a little Eeyore with a suction cup--my daughter delighted sticking the suction cup on and off the tray table in front of her. A new book is good, or stickers. I once has great luck with an electronic noise-making toy (with a cotton ball taped over the speaker to mufle the noise a bit). I also bring lots of my own snacks for my daughter, and several juice boxes -- sure, snacks and juice are available on the plane, but are they there are available on the plane, but are they there quickly enough? I also bring about a liter of water for me to drink. Bon Voyage!!

Our longest flight has been 5 1/2 hours non-stop to Hawaii and we've travelled a lot cross country non-stop for business along with our daughter. I always put together a set of things to do on the plane that are either new from the store or I've stashed several weeks before the flight so it seems new again. People always comment on 'how good' our daughter is at the end of the flight. Normally she's hell on wheels so I attribute our success to the combination of distractions we successfully deploy. Here's our list:

Mr. Potato Head (unbelievable how long she enjoys this, ears on top of the head or in the nose, tongue in her mouth, mommie's mouth, daddie's mouth, hat on all of us, etc.)

A baggie full of about 10 to 12 Lego parts (the big ones), I always include some of the new type that have eyes imprinted on them or some of the people and animals that plug in (not too many to drop on the floor but enough to build interesting configurations over and over again)

Crayola stamp pens, I try to get a new kind for each trip, if your child hasn't played with these before they'll really be a hit

Polly Pocket or variation, these are miniature plastic doll houses or locket style houses that have little characters, the Minnie and Mickey mouse castle locket provided at least an hour of fun

Paper back picture books, they're light and easier to carry than hard backs and board books

A baggie full of Cheerios

I used to buy several new paperback children's books and wrap them up. I used newspaper to wrap them figuring it was cheaper than real wrapping paper and that my 2 year old wouldn't notice what they were wrapped in. Then I would have her unwrap them one at a time and then I would read it to her. This worked pretty well to keep her occupied, quiet and relaxed.

I'd also bring way more clothes on the plane than you think you'll need. I ran out of clean clothes once - really awful. Also lots of food. Either they're asleep when the airline food comes or they get hungry in between or they won't eat what's offered. Definitely call ahead of time and reserve a child's meal. At least that way they'll be a greater likelihood that your child will eat something.

Other than sleep we brought lots of diversions for the trip: snacks, snacks and more snacks, books, small toys. One trick with the toys that I got from the Neighborhood Moms newsletter is to gift wrap many small toys and bring them out gradually. This worked well.

I can't think of any great travel tricks except to wear clothes ready to be totally encrusted with juice/crackers/drool/crayon by arrival and expect the worst--sometimes it's actually not bad at all and then you're pleasantly surprised. And allow plenty of time to get to the airport early--it's actually not a bad place to kill time with a kid, watching the planes through the window--and nothing makes a long plane ride harder than parents frazzled by a rush to the plane.

This is not about how to keep you child occupied/happy on the flight, but... you probably want to find out ahead of time, if possible, what movie(s) will be shown on the flight, and if it is NOT something you want your child to be seeing request a seat where it is at least difficult to see the movie. I have had a few unpleasant experiences where I didn't do this and then had to try to cope with my child being stuck right in front of a movie that was TOTALLY unappropriate for someone her age (sex, violence, gore, you name it). Anyway this is something to keep in mind... Caroline

14-hour trip to Australia

Jan 2001

We will be taking our 6-month old to Australia. The flight leaves at 11:30pm and arrives at 9:00am with time change (14 hour fllight though). Her bedtime is usually 8:30pm. Should we try to keep her up until the flight leaves (because of ear pressure and want her to sleep most on the plane) with a catnap in the car? How do we deal with the time change when we arrive - try to get her as quickly back to her nap schedule as possible? I particularly don't want any day-night confusion if possible. I would appreciate any advice! Sharon

We travelled to Australia with our 10 month old twins and it went fine. I would recommend the following. First and foremost, reserve the bulkhead seat with the bassinet. I took a sulu/sarong with clothes pins to drap over it to make it dark. Our departure was a little different because I had temporary brain loss and booked us through Los Angeles. But I would recommend letting her sleep before departure as much as you can. The airport was so interesting to our 10 month olds that they wouldn't sleep there. Nurse/bottle feed during takeoff for the ear pressure (we've never had a problem and have flown quite a bit). Our girls slept for a few hours then were up for an hour or so then slept for a few hours the whole trip. Arrival is in the morning so we went into day mode. They had their usual 2 naps during the day in a not very dark room. We tried to keep them up to a semi reasonable time (bedtime is 7-7:30 usually). Then did the usual bedtime routine and I went to bed myself. They woke up at 3ish, I nursed them and they weren't sleepy at all so we played quiet games in a low light room for an hour or so and then I nursed and put them back in bed. After that it was a gradual lessening of the mid night wake and play until about 3-4 days and they were completely adjusted to the new time. Travel and sleeping in a new place always disrupts their sleeping so an extra waking/feeding is the norm for us. Have fun. You can email me if you have more questions. Karen

I would recommend trying if possible to keep the baby up late if possible on the way to the airport, and usually the airport seems to provide the stimulation to keep a child awake. The reason I say this is that if you (children and parents) can manage to get on the plane completely exhausted and sleep on the plane to Australia AS LONG AS POSSIBLE the transition going there is relatively painless. (This is my ideal for trips to Australia and have managed to accomplish it about every time I've gone by staying up late the day before and getting up early the day of. The last time I went, with my daughter, we both got up early the day we left, got on the plane exhausted, were asleep before take off and slept for 12 hours straight.) The planes leave SFO at night, you sleep for a really long night, then get to Australia and it's morning. You usually find yourself going to bed early and waking up early (once there), but this can work out well, especially with children. My memories of going to visit Australia as a child include an awful lot of falling asleep in a bed with lots of coats at my parents friends' houses at 6 in the evening. I was flexible about reinstigating a rigid nap policy with my child when there because the change its easy to forget about but extremely important to babies and small children is the change in meal pattern. I felt it was really important to feed my child when she was hungry, and she mostly just napped when we were driving or riding. On the way back though its usually the opposite (i.e. very long day) and a much more difficult plane flight. Having a jet lagged baby is no fun, but probably unavoidable, but the return trip is going to be harder for jet lag. Personally I've been on planes, well, a reasonable amount with my daughter and she has never seemed particularly uncomfortable about her ears and she is pretty sensitive all around. I wouldn't assume that take off and landing will make a baby cry...necessarily.

When we came back from Australia, I thought it would be important to give my daughter a few days off pre-school to let her adjust (which I did), but the structure of nap and meal times at school actually seemed to help her adjust faster than I did to being back, even though I was working. So once you get back, try to just be persistant with the previous meal and nap time cues without trying to force issues. It's funny how children are both more and less flexible than adults. Have fun... Elizabeth