Last week we flew to Penang, Malaysia on an overnight flight with Air Asia. Sounds easy enough, right? Not quite.
I booked a too-good-to-be-true deal on flights from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia. (For tips on how to find amazing flight deals check out my article Cheapest Flights guaranteed.) The cheapest flights often depart at the least convenient times – usually very early morning or late in the evening.
We started out with a 3.5 hour drive to Sydney airport, arriving in good time to check in and find some dinner. Then we had an 8 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, which departed at 9:30pm, followed by a two hour layover and then a one hour flight to Penang, arriving early in the morning.
Let’s just say it was a learning experience! Here are my tips to survive an overnight flight with kids and arrive refreshed and ready for your holiday.
Prepare your kids
We had several discussions in the weeks leading up to our trip about what would happen and what our expectations were on the flight. Immediately after take off there would be a meal served (which we were not having, since we had already eaten in the airport), then the lights would be dimmed and everybody would be trying to sleep. The children knew that there would be no in-flight entertainment and they wouldn’t be allowed electronics or books since it was past their bedtime.
We talked about how it might be difficult to sleep comfortably sitting up in their seat, having to keep their seatbelt on even while sleeping and generally discussing the order of events. In my experience, it’s difficult enough to deal with half-asleep overtired kids without springing surprises on them in the middle of the night.
Keep to normal routine (as far as possible)
Before the flight, we had dinner at Sydney airport, brushed teeth and changed into comfortable warm clothing (which we called pyjamas). We had brought along the essential bedtime stories for our two year old (currently Brown Bear Brown Bear, The Very Itchy Bear and Where is the Green Sheep) to read during the meal service, as her cue that it was sleep time once the lights were dimmed.
Create a comfortable environment
The air-conditioning in planes can be very cold, especially when you are tired. On a full service airline, blankets are often provided, but if you are travelling on a budget airline you will need to be prepared with warm clothing.
Ensure clothing is comfortable and non-restrictive. Sleeping upright often results in pretzel-type manoeuvres – you don’t want the further complication of getting tied up in clothing!
Make sure your children have had a good dinner and have water accessible and that they’ve used the toilet before settling down to sleep.
You may like to consider headphones and an eye mask to reduce distraction but my children were not comfortable with them. They were, however, grateful for their travel neck pillows which minimised uncomfortable head droop.
Gentle Wake Up
As we all know, some people are larks – bright and breezy in the morning, others are night owls. My two older children definitely fall into the latter category and more closely resemble grizzly bears than any kind of bird in the morning. Add in a late night, restless sleep and a dash of anxiety about a new environment, and you have a couple of pretty unhappy travellers. For that reason, I made sure to wake them up half an hour before landing, to give them time to wake up properly and adjust to their surroundings before attempting to exit the aircraft and face immigration and security.
Have a quiet first day
This is where we didn’t do quite so well. Having arrived in Malaysia early in the morning, we arrived at our hotel at 9am but were unable to access our room until 2pm. Five hours of roaming the streets in the heat and humidity with tired, grumpy children is not the ideal way to start a holiday! We rectified our mistake with a long afternoon nap in the air-conditioning as soon as the hotel was ready. Early to bed that night, and we were raring to get exploring the following day.
Although overnight flights with kids can be challenging, the benefits of reducing expenses of both flights and accommodation, as well as maximising your holiday time, are worth it. By following these simple tips, I hope you survive your overnight flight with kids and make your travel dreams a reality.
For tips and tricks to manage day time flights with young children, have a look at my Ultimate Guide to Flying with a Baby or Toddler.
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