After hearing how often we’ve traveled to Walt Disney World with young children, the most frequent type of question I find I’m asked is regarding the long-haul flight. For many people, the biggest obstacle in taking their young children to Florida (outside of cost!) is the thought of dealing with a toddler meltdown during a 9 hour flight. While the prospect of 9 hours in a flying tin can can cause difficulties for adults, let alone asking your young children to take it in their stride, deciding to take young kids on a long haul flight doesn’t necessarily have to be one you’ll later regret.
We’ve now travelled long-haul three times with infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. I’ll not lie to you and tell you it’s a simple thing to do, but with a little experience and some coping mechanisms, you can travel easily enough with young kids on long distances. If the thought of your young child on a plane for such a long period of time is the only obstacle between you and your magical Walt Disney World Holiday, have a look at our personal experiences below to discover how to overcome the barrier of the dreaded long-haul flight.
2013 – 20 Months
Our first trip to Walt Disney World with kids was when our eldest son was only 20 Months Old, and I must admit that I was nervous at the thought of how well he would or wouldn’t cope during our 9 hour flight. Having traveled a number of times on shorter flights with him (less than 2 hours), I knew he didn’t seem to have any ear troubles etc…but I packed some calpol in our hand luggage just in case the longer time in the air caused any difficulties. Whilst the calpol wasn’t used (this time!), I always find it reassuring to have some to hand – sometimes that mid-air meltdown during a long-haul flight is just a kid trying to let their parents know that they’re sore, and even a half dose of calpol can help take that edge off and restore some calm.
My other big concern was in trying to ensure I warded off boredom; generally occupied kids tend to be well behaved, and mischievousness tends to creep in out of boredom. I packed a colouring book and crayons and some easy to transport toys, as well as some books. However, our biggest life-saver was our Ipad. We cleared a lot of stuff off it before our holiday, and filled it with a lot of age-appropriate games (take a look at the Fisher Price apps for this age group!), along with TV shows and Movies we knew our son enjoyed and would keep his attention. Given that he didn’t get the Ipad often at all in general, the novelty of it was a huge help in keeping him occupied. It was also fantastic for helping him to sit when the seatbelt sign was on and he didn’t have the same opportunity to play at our feet or have a walk up and down the cabin. At 20 Months, our son also still napped during the day, so we let him sleep as he needed during the flight. Whilst the near 3 hours he napped was a lot longer than he would normally get, it certainly helped to pass the time, and also give me and my husband a little down time from trying to keep him occupied.
Overall, with two of us against the one young toddler, and armed with a bag of food and activities I knew he’d enjoy, I must admit both the outbound and return flights passed well, with only one or two more stressful moments which were hastily averted with the help of well-packed hand luggage! It is also worth nothing that the return flight was much easier than the outbound; as it is a night flight, our toddler had his dinner and slept the whole way back.
2014 – 3 Years 3 Months and 7 Months
To take advantage of another Free Dining offer, we booked our 2014 trip nearly 18months in advance, and as such didn’t even know I was pregnant with baby no 2 when the planning and booking began! Thankfully, it was relatively easy to add our new addition onto our booking, so we took a (huge) plunge and decided to continue with our 2014 plans; this meant preparing for a long-haul flight with a just-turned 3 year old and an infant only 6-7 months (it turned out he was 7 months, child refused to arrive in a timely manner!). I was a lot more relaxed about the travelling capabilities of son number 1; having flown a number of times before, including long-haul, I knew that as long as we had a bag of tricks to occupy him he should cope relatively well, especially given that this time he would be in his own seat, with space to be able to occupy himself. True enough, my 3 year old took this 9 hour flight in his stride. He watched more TV than he’d get away with normally and enjoyed sitting and colouring in. He also needed a few walks around the plane (who doesn’t?) for a change of scenery, but overall his behaviour was better than you could expect given what we were asking of him.
I was however, a little more unsure of how my newest little addition was take to the idea of a flying tin can. I knew that technically he should be easier to occupy as he was still at the eat/sleep/poop stage, but I didn’t know how he would cope with the pressure of flying. I choose to give him a small dose of calpol (half the stated amount) before the flight in the hope it would help ease any pains the take-off would cause in his ears. This seemed to do the trick, and I therefore didn’t need to top up his dosage during the or flight for landing (as I would have done if he had reacted badly) Again, I packed a bag of appropriate toys and made sure I had enough milk and bottles with me for the duration of the flight, and he seemed to be quite happy with the arrangement of eat/sleep for most of the 9 hours. On a few occasions that he got restless, a walk up and down the cabin for a bit of a change of scenery seemed to content him.
My husband and I took it in turns to watch both boys to allow the other to get a little rest, but I certainly found that travelling with 2 young kids was a huge step up in difficulty to travelling with 1, and we were both a lot more tired upon arrival in Florida. I think it is worthwhile to be prepared for a long-haul flight with kids to be more exhausting than one without. even if your children are both perfectly behaved for the whole 9 hours! Just like our previous holiday, our return flight was a night one and both boys (who slept anyway) had their dinner after take-off and slept until we landed (Night Flights have definitely worked out the easiest for us!)
2016 – 4 Years 7 Months and 2 Years
After the success of how boy boys have travelled, we had no concerns in booking to go back to Walt Disney World for 2016 (when they offer Free Dining, I feel it’s rude not to book!), this time travelling with a 4 1/2 year old and a 2 year old who celebrated his second birthday in the middle of our holiday! By this stage, I felt like a true pro at flying with young children and really wasn’t concerned or stressed at all about how the boys would handle the flight. I filled a bag each with plenty of bits and pieces to keep them entertained, including an Ipad each (you don’t need to buy your kids new Ipads, my boys have older hand-me-down ones and you can buy older, reconditioned ones at the fraction of the price of new ones.) Realistically, any type of tablet with appropriate shows, games etc…is very handy at keeping children entertained, particularly if they aren’t used to playing with one as the novelty of it really helps to pass the time for them. They also had plenty of reading books, colouring books, crayons and “learning” books (educational activity books) for my 4 year old.
With each of my boys getting their own seat (and access to a seatback TV), my husband and I opted for a “divide and conquer” strategy for this flight; we took one boy each, occupied them, and rested when they did. For this trip, this worked like a dream, with both kids being very settled throughout the flight. However, I do honestly believe that the stress you feel affects your children and part of the reason why both boys coped so well with our flight is due to the fact both my husband and I were relaxed and settled in the knowledge that they’d flown well before so there was no reason for them not to fly well this time! Our 4 year old was very happy in his own seat, colouring and watching movies. I had so much packed into his hand luggage that I don’t think I gave him the opportunity to even think about getting bored, but it worked very well. Our 2 year old did start to get a bit distracted mid-flight, but this was mainly due to his unwillingness to settle for a nap; once he settled and slept we had no further issues.
Just like our previous trips, we arrived in Orlando tired, but I must say that I found this flight a lot less exhausting than our previous one in 2014. With slightly older preschoolers who could occupy themselves for short periods of time, it give more opportunity for a little rest, which is very beneficial was travelling long-haul. Fortunately, our return journey was another night flight, and again both boys had their dinner and slept until we arrived back in the UK.
Our experience of long-haul flights with young children has generally been positive. In my experience the key to travelling long-haul with preschoolers is to ensure you are armed with plenty to keep them occupied, and to remain clam as your stress tends to have a negative effect on them. Yes, it is tiring, and you will spend both weeks before and hours during the flights being as creative as possible to make sure your kids stay occupied as boredom really is the killer. However, it is only 9 hours and I feel that a small amount of creativity and a well organised backpack is more than worth it to make your long-haul flight as easy as it can be – after all the reward at the other end really can’t be more magical!