Tips for Overnight Flights with kids

Taking an overnight flight with kids sounds like it COULD be amazing. If you and your kids could sleep through the whole boring, long-haul flight and arrive at your destination well-rested and ready to go, life would be perfect. But traveling with kids is never THAT easy, is it?

But an overnight flight with kids also doesn’t have to be THAT hard. It can be a little bit intimidating to book that flight because it feels like the stakes are SO high (what if no one sleeps the entire flight?!). But sometimes it’s unavoidable. Some routes are almost exclusively overnight flights. Or prices are MUCH cheaper for the overnight flight.

And with these helpful tips, you’ll be totally ready to handle your next overnight flight with your family like a pro!

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1. Dress comfortably

Before you board your overnight flight, make sure your kids are dressed as comfortably as possible and ready to relax. Overnight flights tend to be even more casual than during the day flights, so don’t feel guilty about sweats, pajamas, or loungewear for anyone in your family.

I’d also recommend wearing, or bringing, layers. Temperatures in the airplane can vary. Make sure your kids are ready to handle a variety of temperatures comfortably. Overnight flights are hard. So do everything you can to keep everyone comfortable! It can make a HUGE difference in your flight!

2. Bring Comfort Items

Don’t forget your child’s favorite lovey, pillow, or blanket for the flight. Even if they don’t have a favorite sleep item, sometimes a little something that feels like home can help with sleep association.

Some people (myself included) feel that sleeping without a blanket seems unnatural, even if a blanket isn’t required for warmth. So if your child is like this, make sure you bring a small comfort blanket. Even though the airline will often have a blanket, with the pandemic, services are still a bit limited. And even outside of a pandemic, sometimes there aren’t enough blankets to go around. Or the blankets may not be to their liking, etc.

I love this wool blanket because it’s thin and light, but also warm and cozy (I’m telling you- wool is magical). It’s perfect for travel, home, and everywhere.

3. Bedtime Routine

At the airport, or on the plane, absolutely EVERYTHING feels different from home. But bringing a little bit of your normal bedtime routine on your trip can bring a little bit of stability and comfort to your tired kids. Bring a bedtime story or two to read, sing a good night song, brush teeth, and change into pajamas. Whatever you normally do at home, if you can figure out a way, do it on the plane or at the airport before you board.

For my routine-loving kids, that little bit of normal routine can really help them understand what is going on and feel much more secure and relaxed.

4. Don’t stress over sleep

This one is tough. You want to sleep. You want your kids to sleep. Even for long-haul, overnight flights, it can be tough for your kids to get in their normal 9-10+ hours of sleep. But airports are full of super bright lights, and airplanes are full of unfamiliar sights, smells, and people. So sleep may not come easily to your kids.

You CAN help create a relaxing, somewhat comfortable environment for your kids, but you CANNOT force them to sleep.

So try to go in with a relaxed attitude. Resting on the plane is better than nothing. And a little sleep would be great.

You know your kids, and probably know best how to help them sleep. So you probably have a pretty good idea what to expect, if you REALLY think about it. But be sure to keep your expectations a little LESS optimistic for overnight flights.

5. Bring Something to do

Even though you WANT your child to sleep from take-off to landing, that might not happen. So make sure you have some things for entertainment, just in case.

Need some airplane toy suggestions for your younger kids? Check out our post with tons of great, creative ideas!

We do tablets with shows that are familiar/somewhat boring for your kids (plus maybe a couple of more exciting ones) and games, a stuffed animal, a few quiet toys, and an activity book just in case they are not sleepy.

6. Try a footrest, if allowed

Check out these amazing (budget-friendly) inflatable footrests or this really cool combo in-flight bed and ride-on suitcase. Both can essentially convert your child’s airplane seat into a small bed. For smaller children, it can mean they lie down and sleep in a fairly normal sleeping position.

However, both come with a huge caveat- many airlines will not allow them. Or will only allow them in certain seats. For airlines that allow them, the typical rule is that they cannot be an obstruction for other passengers. So for a non-exit row seat, typically only the window seat can use them. For the center row (aisles on both sides), the center seat(s) can use. However, rules do vary by airline, so you’ll want to check in with your airline to understand the rules.

7. Remember, blue light keeps them up!

Tablets can be a really great tool to get wild kids to hold their bodies still, and start winding down. But blue light, emitted by tablets, can impact sleep. So, you may want to take screens away, at some point, so your child can fall asleep.

On an overnight flight that took off many hours after my son’s bedtime, I let him watch some shows, thinking he’d fall asleep pretty quickly. An hour later, he still wasn’t asleep, so I finally told him to take a break on the tablet. The kid was asleep no more than 5 seconds after I took the tablet away. He just needed that screen off so he could finally fall asleep.

All kids are different. My other son can easily fall asleep with the tablet on. But it’s important to recognize that it can be keeping your child up, even when they really do want to be sleeping.

8. Expect the unexpected

Overnight flights can mean time changes, weird schedules, and general confusion for kids. They may end up ravenously hungry in the middle of the night, wide awake, exhausted but unable to sleep, or just cranky and confused. Be ready to improvise, and don’t be shocked if your kid’s first overnight flight isn’t 100% filled with quality shuteye.

On the other hand, maybe your kids will sleep wonderfully, and so will you. You just NEVER know

Pray for great sleep! But there are no guarantees

9. Consider Pull-ups

If your child is recently potty trained or periodically has accidents (especially when they are VERY tired or sleeping really hard), AND they’ll tolerate it, think about using Pull-Ups, Goodnights, or Ninjamas. Having a potty accident on the plane isn’t fun and getting cleaned up is next to impossible. That extra layer of protection might help you and your child relax a little bit and not have to worry about making it to the potty quite as much.

10. Bring a change of clothing

Potty accidents can happen, as discussed previously. Or drinks or dinner spilled. Sometimes clothes get dirty or wet and can be quite uncomfortable. It’s really nice to have something for your child (and maybe even yourself?) to change into just in case something happens. I pack a spare outfit in a reusable wetbag. That way, if clothing gets soiled, I have a place to put it so that it won’t get everything else in my bag dirty or wet.

11. Keep the next day low key

There is a pretty good chance at least one person in your family will get less than their normal amount of sleep on an overnight flight. Lots of long-haul flights are only about 8 hours, so if your child fell asleep right at takeoff, and woke up right as you were landing, it’s still probably not enough sleep.

Still, days after an overnight flight don’t have to be a total waste. But you might NOT plan on doing an epic hike, or your huge activity RIGHT after your overnight flight.

We actually find that an overnight flight with an arrival time sometime in the morning local time can be a great time to quickly beat jet lag. Just somehow keep everyone awake until local time bedtime, then everyone is going to be SO exhausted, they’ll sleep well, and wake up in the morning ready to thrive on local time.

12. Prepare for tears

For babies and toddlers who don’t have advanced language skills, an overnight flight can be disorienting and confusing. Even for older kids, feeling disoriented is to be expected. Typically, long haul, overnight flights can mean big time changes and generally not really knowing what time it is. You might be chasing, or avoiding the sun so the day, or the night, can feel super long. And schedule just generally feels off.

Keep an already disoriented, frustrated kid up a couple hours past bedtime, and you’ve got a recipe for tears. Don’t panic. Just be prepared with whatever might comfort your kiddo. Maybe a special treat. Maybe you are ready to sing a song, or hand them their favorite stuffed animal. You know what works best for your child. Just be prepared to pull a trick out of your hat just in case things get a little tense.

13. Consider melatonin

If your doctor has ok’ed it, and your child has tried melatonin before, melatonin can be a good tool for an overnight flight. If the airplane is a bit too stimulating, or just doesn’t feel like home, melatonin can help them finally get a little bit of sleep.

However, it is important to note that melatonin hasn’t been tested sufficiently to be approved by the FDA for children. And there can be some side effects. Don’t test melatonin, or any drug for that matter, on your child during an overnight flight, if you can avoid it.

What has worked for your family on overnight flights? Let us know in the comments.

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