We're planning an international trip with our 4 kids who are between 5-11. Any ideas on how to keep them entertained, comfortable and happy on a long flight?
Years ago I was on a flight to the west coast. Due to an overbooking mishap I wound-up sitting next to an eight year old boy, while his parents sat a few rows behind us with his two younger sisters. My first thought was, "I'm screwed!" However, that couldn't have been further from the truth.
The boy sat and stared at me with a Cheshire cat grin. Finally, I introduced myself, and he told me his name was Jason. I asked him if this was his first time on an airplane. He said it was, I decided to take advantage of that. We studied the safety cards together, listened to the safety announcement intently as a team.
Then, I did what I could to recall my days as a neighborhood baby-sitter, and brought that to bare. We played Fighter Pilots as the plane took off. We played What Do They Do; making up short bios for each person who passed by us on the way to the lavatory. Being back in the day when you could still get playing card on an flight, we played acey-deucy for pretzels. I listened to his plans for eventual world domination, and we toasted the same with some cola.
Periodically, his mother would come by asking Jason if he was OK. Eventually he tired of her interruptions and told her sternly, "Mom! I'm talking to my friend Sean!"
His mother said, "Jason, you should call him Mr......", suddenly realizing she had no idea what my name was.
I calmly reassured her, "My friend do call me Sean, Ma'am."
Jason nodded in firm agreement and turned his attention back to me.
During the flight, Jason turned out to be no problem at all. In fact, he was easier to travel with than some of my adult friends. As we prepared to disembark, Jason and I shook hands and wished one another a pleasant journey.
In the terminal, Jason's father approached me and asked what I did for a living. It was banking. He then asked me how many children I had. It was none. He then asked, "Then how the hell did you do it?"
"Do what?", I asked.
"Keep him calm all that time. He's hell on a family trip!" He walked away in disbelief, as Jason's mother came up to me thanking me profusely. I told her it there was no need for thanks; was cool, and that he was cool.
My sister has used a technique that worked well for her. Several days prior to their flight, she and my niece would go to the store and buy one of those children's activity books. After purchasing it, my niece was not allowed access to it, or even look at it until after the plane left the ground. By that time she was so focused on it, her attention was occupied for hours.
Among other things I've heard is to include children in preflight settling-in rituals. Let them help sanitizing surfaces with disinfectant wipes. Go over the safety card and announcements as a family.
Also keep in mind that the change in air pressure that can cause discomfort to an adult, can cause maddening pain to a child. As adults we understand what's going on. A child only understands their in pain. Gum and snacks go a long way in alieving this situation.
I don't know how you feel about video games, but perhaps....
If you're taking an overnight flight you'll have sleepiness on you side too. Maybe forgoing naps that day can work to your advantage.
Finally, don't forget liquor. Not for the children, but for you!
1. Schedule flights to coincide with bed/nap time. That way they'll be more likely to sleep on the plane and better adjust to time changes.
2. Bring plenty of books, small board games, cards, video games, movies, TV programmes, etc. to keep them occupied.
3. Bring your own food. Hit Trader Joe's on the way to the airport and bring their favourite snacks, and also substantial, nutritious items like nuts, dried fruit, energy bars, etc. But keep the sugar to a minimum. They'll like what you bring on board much better than the feces the airline serves.
4. Buy bottled drinks after you pass security. Water, vitamin water, juice, etc. to keep them hydrated. Again, keep the sugar to a minimum.
5. Have them wear comfortable clothes, especially shoes that can be easily slipped off when they're at their seats.
6. Make sure they understand the difference between inside and outside voices. That way they won't annoy other passengers, which raises everyone's stress level and can lead to confrontation.
7. Befriend the flight crew. They'll appreciate the gesture and you'll get better service.
Walk one at a time back to the Steward area and have them exercise for 3-5 min/hr. Stretching touch toes. Reach for sky. Side bends etc. Whatever your tv service is download their app and download the kids fav movies, 2-3 per each child. Colored pencils and the new detailed coloring books. Pages of math for each level. Easy crosswords. Actual work with calculator. Dominos. I never traveled with toys. My kids had to be satisfied with their own space and they invented. You can do the whisper game. Whisper a message in the ear and see how it turns out at the end. Write poetry or journal travel experience.
Action figures and lots of them. New books. An iPhone (just kidding). Movies. Don't open anything until you're on the flight.
I have traveled on various length flights with children and grandchildren but most of the long international flights were with grandchildren age 12-13. The strategy varied depending on the child. One boy was sent (by his mother who knew him well), with multiple video entertainments and with a packed lunch as he was a picky eater. He was entertained the whole flight. His sister who flew to Australia with me just went to sleep (it was a flight that started about midnight LAX time) in spite of the fact that I told her to eat dinner first. With one of the boys I spent the time telling him about what his parents were like when they were his age. And he watched the in-flight movies and played the video games.
One of the boys didn't really like flying as he had an altitude problem (he would get a headache) and I don't really know what to suggest for that.
When my parents took us on a long trip (by car in those days), I spent the hours writing in a diary, and also I would ask my sister to give me three words and I would make up a story using those words. (There was one about a magic hairbrush).