Five Tips For Flying With Kids on a “Red Eye” Flight

Mar 8, 2014

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This is the year that my daughter’s travels get a bit “more advanced”.  She’s probably been ready for it for a while, but now as parents we are ready, too.  This travel evolution will include some longer flights as well as some flights at challenging times of the day.  Last night she had her first “red eye” flight.  It wasn’t exactly a red eye by definition, but it wasn’t far off, and I can assure you our eyes were red.  Our flight took off at about 9:30 PM, and arrived at its final destination at about 2:30 AM Houston time (12:30AM local time).  By the time we went through passport control, got to the hotel, etc. it was after 3:30AM Houston time.  It was asking a lot of our little traveler, but we all made it in one piece.  Here are a few tips we picked up along the way…

Go into the trip well rested:

If you know you are going to be asking a lot of your kids (or yourself) in terms of travel at awkward hours, then be sure to go into the trip as rested as possible.  We had a normal week leading up to the trip, so everyone was starting without a sleep deficit.  This was very helpful as the evening drug on.

Prepare your kid ahead of time:

This is really a mantra for life, but the more you can prepare your kids for what will happen and where they will be sleeping the better.  Our daughter knew full well that she could watch a movie on the plane, but then needed to go to sleep as it was past her bedtime.  She also knew that she would have to sleep sitting up, which she wasn’t excited about, but at least she knew the plan.  Additionally, we had also prepared her by giving her a bath and putting her in comfortable clothes (which we called her pajamas for the night) before we left home for the airport.  That way she was ready for bed as soon as sleep came.

When we turned off her iPad after an hour or so into the flight, she starting trying to go to sleep immediately as planned.  However, the chair wasn’t quite as comfortable as we had hoped so there was lots of tossing and turning.

First class may not be the best choice:

We were seated in domestic first class on this particular flight, which is marginally more comfortable for sleeping for adults than coach, but it may have been a worse situation for our kiddo.  She could curl up in the seat, but she would often then start slipping on the leather and ended up on the floor, or awake and uncomfortable several times.  I tried holding her for a bit with the seat belt sign off, but she is really too big for that to be practical.  She couldn’t just stretch out onto us from her seat as there was a big divider between the first class seats.  If we had been in coach seats we could have just put up the armrest on many planes and let her sprawl out on us.  I’m not sure that would have been a better solution, but it might have helped.

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The four year old seat pretzel sleeping position

Be ready to help upon landing:

One of the hardest parts of the journey was when we landed, our daughter had to get up and walk through the airport and then stand in the passport line.  Asking a four year old to wake up at 2:30AM their time and calmly and efficiently walk through an airport to stand in a line is a recipe for a challenging event, but since she was prepared, and we were patient(ish), it went okay.  We held her as much as we could and carried her bag for her.  What really saved the day was waiting behind a dog in line.  This perked her right up!

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Book an airport hotel:

Again this is just good advice in general, but even more important if you are flying with a young child on a red-eye or late night flight.  If one is available, you want to book the hotel that is physically attached to the airport so that you have as little distance to go as possible once you land.  Hotels located in airports like the Grand Hyatt DFW or Fairmont Vancouver are ideal.  If there isn’t one attached, you want the hotel that is the closest to hopefully avoid having to wait for a hotel shuttle and dragging the night out even longer.

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Grand Hyatt DFW attached to the airport

I would also be careful with what you plan the next day as it is pretty much inevitable that there will be a wall of exhaustion that everyone will probably hit at some point.  However, with some advance preparations and strategic decisions even pretty young kids can handle late night flights like pros!  Their parents may or may not fare as well…

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