We're traveling from SF to Paris (direct) with our 20-month old soon. What are tips for surviving the flight and not having everyone hate us?
Here are the best things you can do from my experience:
1) Do whatever you can to get bulk-head seats. These are the seats in the front of a compartment that have a bunch of extra space. This is great for when your child is awake and wants to walk around for a few minutes. It also allows you to stretch, stand with your child, and change diapers much easier if you need to.
2) Pay for a seat for your child (if you can afford it) and bring a carseat. A child is much more likely to sleep in their seat when they're buckled in to a carseat.
3) Bring a bunch of toys (new ones are best as others described because it captures their attention more)
4) Bring a handful of new books.
5) Bring an electronic device that you can play movies on. Turn down the screen brightness so that it lasts longer, or better yet, try to get a flight with power plugs.
6) Schedule a flight that overlaps with their sleep time.
7) Bring plenty of snacks.
Buy a bunch of cheaps toy that the child has never played with.
Bring something like a travel etch-a-sketch or some craft things that can be played repeatedly
Ensure he has his midday nap, this usually knocks 2 - 3 hours off.
Try and find other young children on the plane that they can talk to. This works like a miracle.
Portable DVD player if there is no in-flight entertainment.
Plenty of snacks. We bring instant noodles as this is not junk food and takes my son at long time to eat.
Regular (once every 30 minutes) take them for a walk. This is limited in where you can go, but it helps a lot I found. You can take them to bathroom once an hour and every half an hour just take them for a loop either forward or backward through the kitchenette. The flight staff don't mind as long as you are not going into a different class section of the plane.
In addition to @Squidly's answer, we found that it helped to let our son do what he wanted (within reason) and let him climb up the chair and crawl around. People generally didn't seem to mind and he was happy. Had we tried to "make him behave" (by which I mean, keep him in his chair) the flight would have been much, much worse.
Also, book an overnight flight there and an evening flight back so he'll have had a whole day to tire himself out before boarding the plane.
Make sure you have something for them to suck on (pacifier, lollypop, gum if they can chew it) or their thumb - Just in case the pressure causes pain in their ears. My 7 year old has that happen about 50% of the time when we fly, and a piece of gum makes it better within a few minutes.
As nobody has mentioned it yet, Take care of yourself. A tired jetlagged parent will not effectively parent to a 20 month old.
See also a useful Question on Travel.
Bring lots of toys for your child to play with, books, activities. If you can food. Basically just keep your child busy and entertained the entire flight. Also with that long of a flight you will have to be prepared to find a way for him to nap, if you can get a darker area of the plane that would be good for that. Also movies on a laptop tends to help as well.
We travel with low expectations, and everything seems to go better than expected. Make them run around the airport a lot before getting on the plane. People don't mind b/c they know what you're trying to do.
If its overnight change them into their sleeping clothes and give them clues its time to sleep soon.
99% of other passengers are great. We've had people move seats so we get an extra seat (and they get away from the kid!) And hopefully there will be some other kids nearby, the best distraction ever for a kid.
Pack carefully. Preferably with a cabin bag that has lots of separate, easily-accessible compartments. Don't try to do anything for yourself when the baby is asleep, apart from sleep.
My experience is (so far) mostly with a younger child (3-6 months) and while at that age they're less mobile (and therefore generally easier to travel with) one of the biggest (and most avoidable) problems we had was that all the toys, feeding equipment and changing paraphernalia were distributed across three different bags, stuffed into the overhead locker. Inevitably, whatever you need to placate / clean / feed the child will be stuck behind somebody else's bag, if you can even get up to the locker to open it (as typically the seatbelt light will come on / the drink cart will block the aisle / something else inconvenient will happen five minutes before your child needs something).
Therefore if you can minimise the amount of stuff you need to pack so it will fit into one bag (ideally something that will fit under the seat in front of you) you'll find travel less stressful. We ended up with no possessions of our own in the bag that we had in the cabin, after several trips where I'd over-optimistically packed reading material, a laptop to work on while the baby was asleep, and so on, none of which were any use until after we'd disembarked.
I do not know how old your kid is, but I had to travel 12 hours with my 2 year old and his mother, and this worked well:
-Travel during the night, so the baby is tired and willing to sleep
-Make enough activities before the flight to ensure that the baby get tired enough to sleep well
-Sometimes you can have sits where there is an extra place to attach a baby sleeping chest, so you might ask your airline if they have this as well.
Phenergan may be an option, though consult a doctor first. My daughter travelled to Turkey when she was 18 months. The combination of planes and buses took about 40 hours - of which she slept for about 4. This is not fair on the kid and rather hard on my missus (she travelled alone).
My daughter did not take Phenergan since our daughter and son are in the small number of kids for which antihistamine make them hyperactive rather than sleepy.
My son was 6 months when he went to Japan - he slept the entire trip. Sometimes you are just lucky.
Just a small tip, big lollypops keep my 2 year old son busy (quiet) for a good 45 minutes. Also a gadgety thing to hold is good. My son loved his sister's pink sparkly hand fan to open and close. DVD players are mandatory, of course.
Stickers. A giant sticker book.
Someone gave me this tip for our first flight when my son was 21 months after they had flown international with their son.
If people will hate you or not depends on if the kid will hate flying or not. My daughter for some reason loves going on a plane, and eitehr sleeps or jumps up and down trying to get the attention of other passengers, which they usually thing is fantastically cute.
I've seen other kids that hate flying, and they will scream and be a pain throughout the whole flight, and obviously everyone will hate them.
So the recommendation here must be to make the flight fun for your kid. And intercontinental flights are long, so that will be difficult. Many other recommendations here for things to bring to keep your kid entertained are good, so I won't repeat them. :-) You know better what to bring for your children anyway.
I don't want to repeat others' tips so just a few that worked for us. So far 3 international flights with 6-20 months old girl. And she is an active child. It's a difficult task to keep her on seat. If she sleeps at all, during 11h flight, we are happy. Flight is an exhausting experience, I have a feeling more for us then for her.
- If possible, choose your seat to be next to a window and...
- Try to take a full row only for you and a toddler. Then you can seat next to the aisle and easily control the way in/out.
- If you got random seat, try to ask staff for a change after take off. It happens that there are empty seats so you could change arrangement.
- You could try to politely ask a stranger next to you to change a seat if that would give you a full row. Now, this may seem selfish but sometimes a little politeness works wonders. Not to mention that it's win-win for the other passenger, too - no kid around.
- Buy inflatable airplane bed for kids. You can put it in legs space and it will give your kid flat surface to sleep or play. We have Fly Tot and it works great.
- Every kid has his favorite totem. Either a toy, or a blanket, or cushion. Our girl hugs her fluffy blankets and a bunny toy all the time. Take it with you if possible. New cheap toys may be fine for a moment, but nothing will comfort your kid better than favorite totem.
It's worth to note, when you travel twice a year, that 6 months is a huge gap for a toddler. They change a lot during that time so you may find some of the tips not working anymore or, maybe, you'll get some new ideas. Every kid is different.