Just the thought of flying to the other side of the world with children would put many people off but believe me, there are ways to make it quite bearable. Good preparation is the key and after numerous trips to Europe with my kids, I've picked up a few tips that should help you survive the long-haul flight, too. (Updated May 2016)
Here are just a few of my essential tips for surviving the long-haul flight to Europe with kids.
Preparation is key
Regardless of the age of your children, preparation is the key to surviving the flight to Europe. If you are travelling with a baby or toddler, you need to be even more prepared.
Children under two years of age are not entitled to their own seat on the plane (unless you pay the child fare for them) and they must be seated on the lap of an adult or be placed in the aircraft bassinet during take off and landing (and when requested by cabin crew). The number of bassinets per aircraft is limited so you should pre-book a bassinet at the time of making your flight bookings. Bassinets usually have a weight limit of around 11kg.
When travelling with an infant or younger child you'll also need to pack a good supply of nappies, milk, change of clothing, etc. to last you for the duration of the flight with allowances for unexpected delays.
Keep the kids amused
Most airlines flying long-haul sectors nowadays provide personal entertainment systems in every seat, and these include on-demand movies, TV shows and music, sports and news, and the ever-popular game consoles. My kids (aged 8 and 5) were in their element on their first long-haul flight to Europe, and took a little persuasion to take a break from the multitude of games available and actually have a sleep!
For younger children, packing a small ‘surprise’ activity bag for them is a good idea. Why not pack a new colouring or puzzle book, some coloured pencils or a story book and when they start to get bored, you can bring one of these out to amuse them?
If your child has a favourite toy or blanket that they always sleep with, make sure that is packed in your carry-on bag, too.
I recommend pre-booking childrens meals with the airline before your departure so you know your children will actually eat something on the flight. If they are served up a regular adult meal they may not eat it and then you have to deal with the "I'm hungry Mum" chant for the remainder of the flight!
A packet of lollies and snacks such as muesli bars in your carry on luggage will help to to deal with those mid-meal munchies.
Break the journey
Breaking the journey with an overnight stopover is also a good idea. A direct flight from Australia’s east coast to Asia takes between 7 and 10 hours, and to the Middle East around 14 hours, by which time both you and the children will be ready for a change of scenery. Most of the international airlines have special stopover packages that can be pre-booked and pre-paid and include return airport to hotel transfers and your accommodation. Some packages also include other options such as sightseeing tours.
Whilst many hotels in Asia and the Middle East will only accommodate a maximum of three people per room, meaning you may require two rooms, the additional cost could save your sanity. After a break, you may even find your children are keen to get back on the plane for the next leg of the journey, as the memories of the game consoles are still fresh in their minds!!
TIP: Whilst giving your children limitless time on a DS or iPad may not be the norm in your household, they are invaluable when travelling. Our kids were kept amused during those long waits at airports and on long car trips. We still tried to restrict the time they spent on them but at times when even the adults are bored, it can be worth letting your normal rules slip for everyone's sanity!
Most airline websites, including the Qantas website, provide information for parents travelling with children.
For more tips on planning a family holiday to Europe, grab a copy of my eBook "Europe with Kids - How to travel Europe the easy way". The 80 page book is packed full of useful tips and information to help you get the most out of your European family holiday.
What tips can you share for surviving a long-haul flight to Europe or elsewhere with children?