Travelling with your family can be a rewarding experience. But to get to many great destinations, a long-distance flight may stand in the way. There’s plenty you can pack, and do, to help make a lengthy flight go smoothly. Here are a few to try for your next trip:

Book an evening flight

A smoother flying experience can start from the moment you’re booking tickets. If it’s available, try to book an evening flight that overlaps with your children’s usual bedtime. Even if they only manage to get in a few hours of sleep, that’s a few hours less time you need to be worried about keeping them occupied and entertained on-board.

Burn off energy pre-flight

Many international airports have children’s play areas that are free to access. This is a great way to help younger kids let loose and burn off some energy before boarding a long flight. Locate the play areas at both your home and departing airports online prior to departing so you can access them quickly and easily. And don’t forget about play areas in layovers and connecting airports too.

Pack an essentials kit

Handbag organizers and hanging bags are a great tool to pack that puts essentials within easy reach. Your emergency kit can include items like antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, motion sickness medication, sick bags, empty bags for trash, Gravol (dramamine), and gum or candies for takeoff and landing. Once you’re settled into your seats, hang your kit or tuck it into the seat pouch so you don’t need to access it from the overhead bin mid-flight.

Snack attack

If your airline offers children’s meals, be sure to order this ahead of time through your airline or travel agent. Whether your children are picky eaters or not, you’ll want to pack an array of their favourite bites and snacks in case the in-flight meal doesn’t pass the test. Tempting snacks can help children to pass the time while also keeping their stomachs full. Bring a mix of healthy treats and indulgent bites to switch things up.

Playtime strategy

You may be tempted to pack all your kid’s favourite toys, but you should be strategic about which ones. Avoid items that make noise or have lots of moving parts that can roll around and get lost. That also goes for colouring utensils too — invest in triangular pencil crayons or markers that are less likely to roll off a tray table or seat. Magnetic games and activities are also great for minimizing missing parts. Many board games, even the travel versions of them, are tricky to play on a plane since they require multiple players, so opt for games that can be played alone or with two.

Comfortable clothes (and a spare set)

Suggest your kids get dressed in soft, comfortable clothing that they can easily move around in. If you’re boarding an evening flight, they might even want to get into their pyjamas before boarding. Dark clothes help minimize the appearance of stains while slip-on shoes make for easy on-and-off. Keep a spare set of clothes for everyone in the family in your carry-on luggage in case of any accidents mid-flight, and bring a blanket and thick socks in case the flight is chilly.

Onboard entertainment

While screen time might be limited on a regular day, long haul flights should be an exception to this rule. Download a host of favourite shows, games, and movies onto your tablet ahead of time. To avoid bothering other passengers, make sure you pack kid-friendly headphones that comfortably fit your children. A headphone splitter can also be handy in case you have two kids that want to play the same game or watch a movie together.

Plane bags for each

We’ve mentioned a lot of additional items to bring with you for the flight. But remember that your children can carry their own packs for the trip. This will help them feel involved in the adventure and gain a sense of responsibility for their belongings.

Pack a ‘blind bag’

Incorporate the excitement of novelty and surprise by making a ‘blind bag’. Like a loot bag of sorts, you can create secret blind bags for your kids prior to your flight and wrap them like a present. While favourite toys and games are a must, new activities and trinkets could help to occupy your children’s attention for longer than familiar items. Anything from stickers to treats and snacks, small games and figurines, books, and modelling clay work well in a blind bag. Surprise them with a blind bag midway through the flight as they’re edging into the realm of boredom.

More surprise gifts

Is there a toy, game, or gadget your child has been begging you to buy for months? If it’s plane friendly, you might consider surprising them with the gift just before the flight. The excitement of a new toy, or even a new book, can occupy them for hours.

Go for a walk

Parents and children alike will appreciate the opportunity to stretch their legs. When the aisles are clear of food service carts, consider going on a walk through the cabin. Or when heading for a washroom break, take the long way around to extend your stroll. If flight attendants aren’t busy, you could turn this into an opportunity for your kids to ask questions and learn more about how planes work.


Getting there

Ready to take off? Check out our National Geographic Family Journeys tours here.