I'm flying long haul with a toddler – please send help

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

OPINION: Next month, I will be flying with my two-and-a-half year old son to Europe. Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi.   

Now I realise this is a #firstworldproblem. I am lucky to be able to fly to Europe in the first place (although I would not do it if it weren't to see my family). But please, hear me out.

Contemplating the journey ahead brings me cold sweats. For our first flight to Sydney, we have to be at the airport at 4am. This one should be fine – my son's excitement to be in the plane will probably keep him occupied for the three-hour flight.

Then we have a few hours in Sydney before stepping into a 15-hour flight to Abu Dhabi. Our last flight to Switzerland will be another six hours.

 I took to social media to ask for advice on how to survive the ordeal. My post was immediately inundated with thoughtful, well-intentioned and actionable tips.

"Don't go!"

"Get him in a seat as far away from yours as possible!"

"Get him on a different plane!"

Thanks guys, that is so helpful.


By far the most common advice was to drug my son. I actually looked into this option. Phenergan​ – a sedating antihistamine – is the drug of choice among parents desperate to get their kids to sleep. Apparently doctors used to recommend it for long-haul flights but not anymore. Also, it can backfire and make kids hyperactive for hours. I'm too chicken to try that.

Others tried to be reassuring: "Don't fret too much. It's going to be painful, and possibly the longest 30 hours of your life but hey, good fun awaits".

Good fun does await, I told myself. It can't be that bad. At least it's got to be better than last time we went when he was eight months old. He would not sleep in the plane's bassinet so we spent most of the flights taking turns pacing the aisle with him in the baby carrier. This time he will have his own seat and might sleep more easily.

But a friend wrote that, after travelling several times with her two kids, she had come to the conclusion that two-and-a-half was "pretty much the hardest age". Well, dang.

Thankfully, some genuinely good tips were shared in the mix.

A couple of dads recommended I exhaust my son by making him do laps of the airport lounge – "then they'll pass out", one of them promised. Others said flying overnight was the ticket. Our longest flight is during night time on the way in, but will be during daytime on the way back.

My current plan is to get the pilot to fly around the world in the opposite direction – that's how time zones work, right?

Great suggestions I had not thought about included: getting decent over-ear kids' headphones (the ones they give away in the plane aren't great for little ears), wrapping an assortment of small toys and treats to get mileage out of both the toy and the time it takes to unwrap it, and stocking up on sticker books.

A couple of people recommended a device that extends the plane seat to turn it into a bed. There are a few options on the market and we have settled for Fly LegsUp.

In the end, the best advice was that normal parenting rules need not apply while flying.

"Go for sweets, TV, nose picking – just keep them happy," a dad wrote, before adding, most helpfully, that "the flight is nothing compared to jet-lagged kids".

I can't say I feel better after reading all this. But I have added a few things to my cabin luggage, and at least I know what to expect.

May the force be with me.

 - Stuff