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We are embarking on a midnight flight, accompanied by our three little ones, all under the age of 6. We could really use some helpful advice on how to best organize their sleeping schedules both before and during the flight. We want to ensure they are well-rested and comfortable throughout the journey.

The flight itself is direct with no stops and is about 12 hours in length. The time change between the departure and arrival locations is 7 hours and when we arrive it will be late morning/early afternoon.

Firstly, regarding their pre-flight sleep routine, what are some effective strategies to help them with the late departure time? Also, given the excitement and unfamiliar environment of an airplane, the kids might find it challenging to fall asleep. How can we create a sleep-conducive atmosphere for them onboard? Obviously, we will be bringing a blanket from their beds and their teddy bears but is there anything else?

We are open to any other advice or personal experiences you can share with us, as we want to make this midnight flight as smooth and enjoyable as possible for our young ones. Thank you in advance for your support and guidance!

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    I have never medicated my children for the purpose of sleeping during travel, but I know lots of doctors (and non-doctors) who have. There are some relatively benign products that cause drowsiness and decrease jet lag. You might want to ask your children's primary care provider. Our longest air travel was only 8 hours, though. Aug 1, 2023 at 14:20
  • Before drugging your child, be sure to tell your child's doctor that you plan to drug them and get on a plane for 12 hours, because what could go wrong? Of course you might find yourself turned in to Child Protective Services (in the US), because drugging a child and getting on a plane for 12 hours could be dangerous, not to mention bad parenting.
    – user42851
    Aug 4, 2023 at 18:43
  • Its a side issue, but read the luggage allowances carefully. You may find that a child safety seat can be carried "free" if it is underneath the child. Each child gets a full luggage allowance, and so on. Aug 7, 2023 at 14:17

1 Answer 1

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We did this a lot with our 3 little ones when we were living in country A but family in country B. In fact, our daughter had her first free flight on her own frequent flyer miles when she was 4. Overall we had very good experiences and the kids did enjoy the adventure. Fun stuff

Before the trip

Talk about the trip and what's about to happen. Make it an exciting adventure. Watch some movies or look at books with airplanes and travel. Let them pick a special object that they may want to bring (within reason), maybe get a cute backpack for their own stuff, etc

At the Airport

Go early so you don't get stressed about missing the flight. Stay relaxed and positive as much as possible.

Tell them up front about security and check in and that there will be some standing around and waiting. Develop a routine for "attention everyone, look at me" and "don't wander off" and explain why it's needed "We don't want the plane to leave without us". Once you are at the gate, let them run around and explore (within reason and capability). Many airports do have a play area in some terminals. Check whether yours has one of those. Put them into their PJs half an hour before boarding or so. That's also mandatory bathroom time.

There are plenty of games you can play: plane spotting, "who has a red suitcase", "who has the funniest looking shoes" etc

Don't worry if they lay on the floor and get dirty. It's going to happen anyway and you can always hose them down after arrival. Watch their food intake, plenty of water is good but go easy on the sugars.

With any luck they can stay awake until boarding and are ready to conk out when they hit the seat.

On the plane

Let them settle in and get comfortable. If possible, have them in the middle with adults in the aisle (good old DC 10 had rows of 5, some 777 still have it too). Bring activities that are calming: coloring books, picture book, books that you can read, etc.

Most planes these days have seatback entertainment, so make sure you have what you need (headsets) and set rules and strategy up front. It can be a great resource but also the source of argument and melt-downs.

Meals can be messy, depending on what your kids can do on their own. The trays with all the wrappings and packaging materials can be hard to maneuver and sometimes items are hot. Make sure you have a trash bag handy to immediately collect everything that's not needed anymore so you can get it out of the way quickly. The trays also sometimes sit there being in the way for a long time after the meal. For some kids it's easier to skip the meal services and just you bring your own food like sandwiches, which are easy to eat and you also have full control of the timing. These days, offering on planes are quite sparse, so you need to bring some snacks/food anyway.

Bathroom planning is important, especially if you have one that's just out of diapers and has a fairly short fuse. Do bathroom trips, when its convenient and there are no lines, even if they don't have to go. Ask the flight attendants to give you advanced notice if they will block the aisle for an extended period of time.

Do a mandatory bathroom trip about 1.5-2 hours before arrival. Soon after this, they will wake up everyone and start the final breakfast service. At this point everyone will need to go to the bathroom and there will be long lines even if you can get past the service carts.

Time zone change

It's best to hard switch to the new time zone. Don't let them go to sleep before their regular bed time in the new time zone. This can make the first day challenging especially for a morning arrival. Take them to the park, throw them in the pool, let them run around the yard but try to keep them awake. If you arrive really early, let them take a nap, but do wake them up after an hour or two.

All-in-all this can be great fun for all parties involved and the more you relax, the more relaxed the kids will be.

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    I am on the plane while writing this. So many things you write now are a must. Thank you for giving such clear and detailed advice Aug 2, 2023 at 6:22
  • Very good tips in general. I would add that because you are in a special situation it is fine to break family rules about things like TV-time, sugar intake or similar. Normally you are only allowed to watch a single 15 min video per day but because we are on a plane today you can watch more than that. Use at parents discretion of course but being flexible there can make parents life much easier if needed.
    – quarague
    Aug 10, 2023 at 12:40

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