and Surviving Intercontinental Flights with Children

WHAT HAPPENED? 

Tokyo airport has got to be the most kid-friendly airport in the world!

Tokyo airport has got to be the most kid-friendly airport in the world!

Our family took a long trip from Central America to South East Asia for our company’s bi-annual gathering/employee training.  We traveled from SPS-SAL, 30 minutes; SAL-LAX, 6 hours; LA-TOKYO, 11.5 hours; TOKYO-BGK, 7 hours, BGK-Chiang Mai, 1 hour (2 ways).  Our seats were not all together in the same rows for most of the flights.  Most of the flights went smoothly; nevertheless, our recently-turned 3 year old son threw a MAJOR fit on the 7 hour flight from Tokyo to Bangkok (kicking, screaming, biting, hitting – yes, we have been through it all) after waking up from a long nap. It was sad, embarrassing and tiring; but it eventually ended and we were thankful to be on ANA (All Nippon Airways).  The Japanese flight attendants were the most gracious, polite and calm flight attendants I have ever been around in my life. どうもありがとうございました!  I can’t say flying literally to the other side of the world and back was easy; but I am hoping, with this post, to give you a few ideas and give me a few reminders, just in case we have to do it all over again!

WHAT WOULD WE DO ALL OVER AGAIN?

  1. I packed plenty of snacks in little zip-lock bags.  These included: raisins, dum dums, cut up apples, goldfish, fruit snacks in little packages, and others.  Of course, these were in my bag to distribute at my discretion.
  2. We allowed our kids to watch as many child appropriate movies as they would like.  On this trip they were introduced to Big Hero 6.  Now we own it and they still like it. We did make sure to set the parental controls on each screen so that we would not be worried about what they were choosing.
  3. We paid for movies on a short 5 hour United flight back from LAX to SAL.  Unfortunately, on that flight, screen time was not free.  But paying for it saved us about an hour of screaming.Belkin RockStar 5-Way 3.5-mm Headphone Splitter (White)
  4. We took kid sized headphones for each kid and a headphone splitter.  This saved us money on having to purchase an extra screen at another kid’s seat.  They could all watch from one screen for the price of one.
  5. We only traveled with airline approved carry-on suitcases as baggage. It was enough to fit our clothes for two weeks, it gave the kids some sense of ownership and they felt “grown-up” with their rolling carry-on suitcases.  It also saved time when arriving at airports.
  6. Each child had an extra set of clothes, complete with underwear, handy in their back-packs.  They all took a light jacket, their favorite blanket, one or two books and one or two toys with them.
  7. I packed a few things for the kids to do.  I had colors and small coloring books and mini Lego sets that came in small little packets.  Eventually, though, kids are not interested in any of this when they are exhausted.
  8. During layovers, we would buy them ice-cream or a snack, enjoy the moving walkways, find the bookstore and buy children’s books in the local language, look for the family play areas, buy more snacks.  During our long layover at the IAH, we took the kids on several train rides back and forth from one terminal to another.  Just for fun.
  9. We had very low expectations on how our 3 year-old would behave.  We knew it was a long journey.  We knew it would be exhausting.  We had to be very flexible.
  10. When our 3 year old had a major tantrum, we took turns taking the hits.  Rather than throwing a tantrum ourselves, we tried our best to remain calm.  We didn’t always succeed, but we tried.  We took him to the back of the plane, held him and prayed until he calmed down.

WHAT WOULD WE DO ON A NEXT TRIP THAT WE DIDN’T DO ON THIS ONE?

  1. IMG_2015Buy an iPad with movies and games already installed in it before hand.  This would have avoided having to pay the airline extra on that short flight in which we had to buy screen time and you would get to use it for many, many more trips.
  2. Have a contingency plan for tantrum throwing before we even set foot inside the plane.  We knew we had to be flexible and have low-expectations; but a good rehearsal of what to do would have helped us even more. We are so glad the tantrum was not on United where we could have been kicked out of the flight.  Here are two sites that may help in formulating a contingency plan: Tantrum Survival Strategies and Flying with a Toddler.
  3. Having had sufficient funds, we would have stayed a little bit longer at the place of our destination.  It was such a long trip, such long flights, tiredness, jet lag, time changes, really cut our trip shorter than it was really intended to be.
  4. Or… we would have traveled half-way and stayed two or three nights in a country in-between our home country just to get a good nights’ sleep and ease the jet-lag a bit.  It would have been nice to get to have stayed in Tokyo for a day or two.  But.. the downside of that would have been arriving even later to our home and our own beds.
  5. And NEVER forget to check your passport expiration dates.  Some countries will not let you in or out if a passport expires within six months.

I hope this post helps you out in that preparation.  So, buckle up and enjoy your flight!  Are there any other tips you would like to share?  What has been the most kid-friendly airport you have ever been to?  We really loved the Narita International Airport!

“the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:8

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