Flying with Young Kids: Short Hops or Long Hauls?
When you are flying with kids, is it better to try and break the flight up into short hops with layovers, or just get it over with in one long haul? Daytime flights or red-eyes? Here’s what we’ve tried
When we went to Hawaii in 2015, our first hop was in the evening, and very short – about one hour. We had to do this short flight to meet up with our in-laws, who we were traveling with. The kids were 3 and 9 months, and we were worried that our son would be scared by all the unfamiliar situations, so we purposely scheduled the first flight for the evening before the main flight. We overnighted in Calgary. Our Hawaii flight left early in the morning, which wouldn’t have been our first choice, but it was the most affordable option. The flight itself was approximately 4.5 hours, and the kids napped for a fair chunk of it; it worked out fine.
Coming home from Hawaii, our flight was in the evening, scheduled to depart just after the kids’ usual bedtime. While this would have worked out quite well, and the kids would have (well, did, actually) slept all the way home, we didn’t plan for flight delays, and ended up stuck for four hours in an airport with no open restaurants and two over-tired kids. Our son (who was 3) had a complete meltdown. The next time I book an evening flight, I will be sure to have plenty of snacks and activities that are suitable for the airport, for this sort of situation.
Short Hops and Layovers
On our trip to Costa Rica, we broke the flight up into three short hops – Saskatoon to Calgary (1 hour), Calgary to Houston (3.5 hours) where we overnighted, and, the next morning, Houston to Liberia (4 hours). This worked quite well in that the children did not get too restless on any of the flights, and did not feel too cooped up.
The downside of this is the amount of time we ended up stuck with children in airports. The Calgary airport had a little play area that the kids found quite entertaining, but we did not find anything similar in the Houston airport. With most of the flights being international, we were showing up the recommended three hours prior to departure, which is a lot of time to be entertaining toddlers and preschoolers in airports.
Overnighting in Houston did work out well in that we were able to get out of the airport, stretch our legs, and have a sit-down meal. However, it added two days to our trip (or subtracted two days from our time in Costa Rica), and added the expense of more airport meals, a hotel in the US, and, as I mentioned, left us trying to entertain small children in airports for an extra six hours.
Red Eye Flights
We have not tried this with our kids, yet. Personally, I have a hard time sleeping on planes, and end up extra-jetlagged when I take overnighters that cross many time zones (Calgary to London UK beats the heck out of me, every single time). However, the kids do sleep quite well while flying, so it might be an acceptable trade-off for flights of 6 hours or more, especially if we are not hopping over too many time zones.
In the end, we never really seem to have all that many options for how to book our flights, anyhow. The direct flights are often either at awful times, or are twice the price of a flight with a layover. From our experience, flights of 4 hours and under are quite easy with our kids (and our nephew). Even up to 5 or 6 hours, I suspect direct flights would be better.
Longer flights would be worth breaking up, but I would shoot for a very long layover (12+ hours) that would let you get out of the airport for a meal and a sleep. Keep in mind, if you have a choice in flight times, that a 9 am international flight means checking in at 6 am, and shoot for afternoon flights unless you and your children are morning people.