No Flight Risks
When to fly
This is the first and most important part of any successful long-haul adventure. Depending on the age of your child, an overnight flight (otherwise known as a “red eye”) when traveling from west to east can be either a huge success or a total disaster. Babies generally do well, as they can sleep easily regardless of position and airplane movement, whereas older children have a harder time missing a proper night’s sleep. If you have the luxury of time, definitely opt for a day flight whenever possible. Flights leaving major east coast cities bound for Europe depart at approximately 8 a.m. and land at 8 p.m. – just in time for supper and a good night’s sleep. You may never have considered “wasting” a whole day on an airplane before having kids, but trust me when I say this is a great investment in the overall tone of your trip and happiness of your travelers.
Dealing with jet lag
If you do opt for an overnight flight, then it is best to hit the ground running and get as much natural light as possible on your first day. Start resetting children’s internal clocks three days prior to departure by adjusting bedtimes (earlier when traveling eastward), and keep everyone well-fed and hydrated to fend off jet lag. When heading west, make sure to get plenty of exposure to natural light later in the day in order to keep kids awake longer. Regardless of direction, opt for carb-laden foods in flight, since they tend to induce sleep. Resources such as Virgin Atlantic’s Jet Lag Fighter app ($1.99 on iTunes) is full of handy tips for getting the family on local time. As a general rule, allow for one day per time zone crossed for a total jet lag recovery. For even more help, check out Babble’s tips for keeping your child on schedule while traveling.
Finding the right flight
From both a cost- and sanity-saving standpoint, you’ll want to fly at off-peak times whenever possible. Flights to Europe double in price during the busy summer months, while bargains abound in winter. Search sites such as CheapFlights for last-minute deals and comparisons of everything from the airlines and other aggregators (you’ll find American Airlines, JetBlue, Expedia, and Orbitz all in one place). Two other sites to search for deals – TravelZoo and Kayak – both offer a wide array of affordable flight options.
Be flexible regarding alternate airports (London’s Gatwick works just as well as Heathrow and is often more manageable) and travel days (Tuesday-Thursday are the cheapest and least crowded travel days). Try to book early for savings and consider discount airlines where possible. In addition, search individual airline sites for last-minute deals as most are trying to compete directly with lower-cost carriers, which translates into savings for you.
When booking flights, consult with your carrier to secure the kind of seating that will work best for your family. Many airplanes offer bassinet seating in the bulkhead area of the plane that will fit babies up to 20 pounds. However, bear in mind that if you sit in the bulkhead, you will not be able to store any of your personal belongings under a seat. So this option may not work as well for those with older kids who will want access to carry-on luggage during the flight. SeatGuru is an excellent resource for info on legroom, aircraft configuration, meals, and other in-flight amenities.
And finally, when traveling on any long-haul flight, always pack a change of clothes – for you and for baby. It’s Murphy’s Law: something will be spilled, dripped, or spat upon, and a night flight to Europe can feel like an eternity in soggy, smelly clothes.