We found ourselves taking our 2 year old son on a 34-hour flight from Hawaii to Venice last summer. This included a 6-hour flight from Hawaii to LA, an 11-hour flight LA to Amsterdam, and a final 2-hour flight from Amsterdam to Venice. The idea sounded scary at first but with some careful preparation, the trip went very smoothly.
The key with little kids is to never let them get too tired, so a comfortable space for a nap is a must. Our son had just turned 2 so we had to purchase an airline seat for him anyway, as required by the airline. But if he had been younger, we would have still spent the money on a seat for him despite the expense. Having 3 seats together allowed him to take naps lying down and he had his own space for dining and entertainment.
Bringing your own food is a good idea because your child will probably not like the salty airline and airport food. We brought bread, sandwiches and apples but unfortunately they were confiscated by the Hawaiian agricultural authority because fruits and vegetables are not allowed in or out of Hawaii.
A Tablet Packed with Shows and Games
An iPad packed with entertaining shows was a must. We also brought crayons and paper but the iPad was the best distraction.
We brought along our Bob jogging stroller. Although it's large, it folds easily and it's so sturdy that we can take it anywhere - on a sandy beach or on a city bus. Our son feels cozy in it and with the shade down it was easy for him to take naps in airports whenever he needed to. We took the stroller to the gate where a gate agent checked it so that it waited for us as soon as we got off the plane.
The Car Seat
We checked the car seat so that we could have it waiting for us in Venice. Most airlines will let you check it for free. Although some parents bring the car set on board, strapping our lively two year old in it during the flight wouldn't have worked. The car seat would have taken up too much space and he wouldn't have been able to sleep lying down. If you have images of your kid running up and down the plane during take-off or landing, don't worry. Most kids will understand that it's not allowed if you or the flight attendant explain it to them.
During Take-off and Landing
During take-off and landing, we gave our child a piece of bread to chew on which worked quite well in preventing the uncomfortable pressure feeling in the ears.
Naps During the Flight
The first leg of the flight, from Hawaii to LA was at night, so we all slept at least a little bit. Once in LA, our son explored the airport and took a short nap in the stroller. The 11-hour flight from LA to Amterdam was the longest and he managed to sleep quite a bit, stretched out between both grown-ups.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
Make sure that everyone is dressed very comfortably and bring a change of clothes not only for your child but also for yourself because spills are nearly certain.
Bring plenty of diapers so that you don't run out during the flight. Even if you can find some at the airport where you'll be waiting for your next flight, your child may not feel comfortable in a diaper he doesn't know, or even worse, develop a rash
Once you are done packing all the gear, clothing and food, you won't have much space left for toys. Items that have been proven to hold your child's attention for a long time are the best choice. Soft cover books are lighter to carry and take up less space than hard cover ones. A young child will appreciate having familiar toys with him when he wakes up in an unfamiliar place.
At the Airport
Once we landed in Amsterdam after an 11-hour flight and cleared immigration and customs, we were all ready for a good rest in a cozy bed but we still had a flight to Venice ahead of us. Our son tried to nap in the stroller but could not. He slept much better on the plane where the steady noise of airplane lulled him to sleep. We tried looking at new things at the airport but he was too tired to be interested. Once we boarded the flight to Venice, he was asleep again.
At the Final Destination
Be sure that once you arrive at your final destination, everyone can have some good food and a cozy bed. Call the hotel ahead of time and confirm your reservations. You may have to splurge on a cab rather than taking public transportation to get your tired family settled as quickly as possible. The jet lag lasted several days, but after that our son settled back into his regular napping schedule. With some careful preparation, a long airplane trip with a baby, toddler or a small child can go quite smoothly. Browse our favorite family vacations and plan your next trip.