Surviving an Overnight Flight with Kids

There's no question that embarking on a far-flung adventure with your children is worth the hassles involved. There’s no substitute for such life-changing -- and family-bonding -- experiences. But there is one drawback: Such world-girdling odysseys often involve an overnight flight, the dreaded red eye.

When you’re an adult traveling alone, this is no big deal. But when you’re a parent traveling with kids, it can be nightmarish. Assuming you have no other flight options, here are a few things you can do to make the experience as painless as possible.

Get good seats

Many people think bulkhead seats are best for sleeping. I disagree. In my experience, this row is invariably near the galley or the bathrooms. In other words, it’s noisy and busy all night long. I also avoid the non-reclining back row of the cabin. A row with a window seat is a good choice, since kids can lean on the window, but if you have more than one child, and they’re like mine, they’ll fight over it. Negotiate who sits where in advance to avoid in-flight tears.

Wear soft clothes

On overnight flights, I’ve seen parents escort their kids to the bathroom to change them into pajamas. This is so unnecessary! Instead, just dress them in soft, nonbinding clothing that they can sleep in – like loose leggings or sweatpants. Do the same yourself -- if you can bear to look that frumpy. There’s a time and a place for denim, and trust me when I tell you that this is definitely not it.

Eat breakfast

When the flight attendants offer food before landing, it’s going to feel like 3:00 am to you and your brood. But make sure your kids eat it anyway. If you can’t stand to wake them up, grab their servings and stash them in your bag. A little juice and carbohydrates will give your kids the energy they need to survive the process of landing, collecting your luggage, and getting where you’re going.

Say uncle

On a recent flight from San Francisco to London, my kids settled into their seats, pulled down their eyeshades, and tried to fall asleep. My 13-year-old daughter eventually drifted off, but my 11-year-old son just couldn’t. Every 15 minutes, he would poke me in the ribs and whisper, “I can’t sleep!”

After about two hours of this, I let him stop trying because it was that or an inflight meltdown. I was pretty wound up by this point too, so we both sat up, took an ibuprofen, and watched movies for the rest of the flight.


Geo Ex offers a full range of trips for families of all ages. For more information, check out our Family Adventures


Jamie Pearson is a freelance writer, a mother of two, and the publisher of the independent family travel blog Travel Savvy Mom.

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Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle and Salon.com, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don has published eight books, including Travel Writing, A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and Tales from Nowhere. E-mail him at don@geoex.com.

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