Overnight Flights with Young Kids

For years now, we’ve been putting off overnight flights with our kids simply due to fear: would they sleep? Would they keep everyone else up? How would we function [as parents] on very little sleep? Would they adjust to international time change? So MANY questions…

We chatted with other families who had done these flights before and discussed their do’s and don’ts. The interesting thing was that no two experiences were the same. Some young children slept through the entire flight and other’s didn’t sleep for more than 20 minutes; some kids easily adjusted to jet lag while other bambinos took nearly a week to flip their sleep schedules.

That said, there are a few common tips that kept arising and that we adopted for our trip from Toronto to Italy. The near nine-hour flight was much easier than we anticipated and I’d like to think it was (in part) thanks to the preparation and research.


  1. Dress comfortably. This is not the time to think about who is greeting you at the destination airport or what resort you’ll be arriving at. So forget the toddler-sized skinny jeans and trendy shoes. For overnight or long-haul flights you’ll want to ensure that if your child falls asleep in a bizarre position, he or she will be comfortable (with no zippers, buttons or tightness digging into their skin). We usually opt for light sweat pants and cotton shirts. PJs (especially onesies) might be a bit tricky for washroom breaks) so two-pieces are often better for planes. You also never know if the flight will be hot or cold so bring a hoodie for each child, which can also then double as a pillow or cushion if the flight is warm.
  2. Re-create your child’s favourite sleeping scenario on the plane. Does your child like to sleep in the car in a car seat or laying down on her tummy in bed? Know how your child prefers to sleep and figure out how to best to make that happen. Neither or our little guys will sleep sitting upright so we knew we’d have to create a flat surface for both of them to sleep. You can bring a carseat on the flight if it’s approved for flights (check the back of the seat of the flight symbol) if your child likes to sleep sitting up.
  3. Release yourself from all pressure and expectations. Assuming your child will follow bedtime schedules while you travel is one of the first expectations that needs to be tossed out the window. If you’d kid stays up snacking all night on the plane, so what? There’s honestly no harm done. The key is to get to your destination with everyone happy and healthy — that’s it. So don’t stress over bath, books, bed, sleep etc. If your children are tired, they will eventually fall asleep. It’s as simple as that.
  4. Pack lots of snacks. Some parents figure if the flight is at 10 pm they don’t need food because it’s bedtime. WRONG! If your young children end up resisting sleep, there’s a strong change he/she will feel odd hunger pangs because his body isn’t used to being awake in the middle of the night. You might notice your child hungrier than usual. So plan for it. Bring lots of salty, sweet, protein packed and carb options. Variety will help pass the hours.
  5. Prepare yourself for an all-nighter. We often forget about how PARENTS factor in to this experience. Remember, you might not get any sleep. So what do YOU need to function? Caffeine? Headache medication? Snack bars? Protein shakes? Plan ahead and assume you might not get the rest you need.
  6. Stalk seat maps until departure. Never underestimate a little extra room. Finding an extra open middle seat and taking that row can be a game changer. If you’re traveling in the off-season (which we recommend when your kids are under the age of five and not yet in grade one) you’ll likely have more options for seat selection. Don’t just check in and forget about it. As other’s choose their seats, new and sometimes better family-friendly options become available. You can always switch.
  7. Bring good-quality children’s headphones. Ear buds don’t work that well for kids nor do adult-sized headphones. Prior to your flight, we recommend getting each child a kid-sized pair of over-the-ear head phones. Try them out and see how they fit. Are they squeezing your kids ears (you’ll know this is happening if your child’s ears are bright red after use)? Is the volume to loud or quiet? Make sure you have a decent pair that can be heard over the droning hum of the aircraft. We’ve tried and tested many brands. It’s essential for your sanity to get something that your children will like.
  8. Pack a change of clothes for everyone. Mistakes happen. Bathrooms are dirty. Coffees spill. This tip is as simple as that.
  9. Convert your small space into a bed. Using the foot space (which often goes totally un-used with small children) for a bed is an incredibly smart idea. You can either get an inflatable cushion to fill this gap and give your child more room to spread our OR get the JetKids by Stokke Bedbox. We ordered two of them (and were skeptical to be honest…debated the price, the value etc) and what a game-changer. As soon as we were safely cruising at altitude, we took them out and set them up. We put two of them side-by-side and created a double bed situation. Both of our boys passed out on the overnight flight. You double your space with these. There’s a little mattress and bumper pad inside the JetKids box. The airlines provide pillows and blankets. It’s really a no-brainer for traveling families. On the return flight, we set up one so the kids had more space to play.
  10. Cash in your miles or points for the good seats. If there ever was a time to use your hard-earned air miles and points, it’s a long-haul flight with young children. Extra room, the ability to lay flat and all of the extra benefits of first or business class seats come in quite handy when you’re traveling for 8+ hours with little kids. So if you’re sitting on a bunch of points….do it! Upgrade and enjoy your trip!

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