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Family at Airport

Testing the Gear Desperate Parents Buy for Long Flights with Kids

With 12 in-flight hours to spend in a three-seat configuration starring a four-year-old, a six-year-old, and me, I knew I was going to need backup. My goal: To have everything I needed to keep the kids entertained when they were awake, and to pull off six hours of sleep (both to make the flight seem shorter and to make sure they could handle our noontime arrival).

The additional challenge on this long flight with kids: Packing light enough to travel overland between cities once we arrived for our three-week trip. Here’s what to include when packing space is tight and flight time is long.


Kid-Sized Travel Pillow

Kid-Sized travel pillow

Does the BCOZZY for kids look kind of like a snake that is trying to casually strangle you? Yes. Does that actually make it cooler to kids? Yes—so much so that my four-year-old had me draw eyes on it and then started calling it her “snake sleep necklace.” There are not a lot of kid-sized travel pillows, but this pint-sized version of the BCOZZY is ideal for propping up little heads for upright plane sleeping.

Stuffed Animal Travel Pillow

Stuffed animal travel pillow
Bed Bath & Beyond

This dual-purpose, U-shaped neck pillow from Kikkerland magically transforms into a stuffed animal, giving you two travel necessities in one on long flights with kids who won’t leave home without a cuddly toy. The U-shaped pillow isn’t sized for a small child; it will be better for a kid who is seven or older. Even when it’s in its bear shape, it’s soft and snuggly enough to double as a pillow.

Super Comfy Pillow for Grownups

Super comfy pillow for grownups

The Lucy Pillow is the inflatable version of the always-popular-on-Amazon Daisy Pillow, which offers adult travelers an ultra-comfortable, head-cradling neck support. Bonus: Since it’s inflatable it packs down to be significantly smaller than the standard foam version, freeing up space in your carry-on for other items you need on long flights with kids.

Sleep Gear

Inflatable Foot Rest with Pump

Inflatable foot rest with pump
Penguino Travel

Adults need legroom to stretch out. But kids whose feet don’t yet touch the ground in an airplane seat may be more comfortable with a flat surface that extends out at the height of their seat. The PlanePal inflatable cushion fits into the space between seats, inflates and deflates quickly, and doesn’t interfere with reclining seats. It comes with its own small hand pump, which makes inflating it a breeze, but adds bulk to the travel bag. The bag comes with a sling-style drawstring, though, so if it won’t fit in a full bag it can be worn onto the plane as a kid-sized personal item.

Foot Rest

Foot rest

The HOMCA Travel Foot Rest Pillow is a smaller-stowing footrest that requires minutes of huffing and puffing to inflate, but if you’re on a long flight with more than one kid and you want to give them each an inflatable cushion, this is a great second one to pack.

Small Blanket

Packable blanket

While the tiny-folding Pocket Blanket from Odoland isn’t particularly cozy (it feels more like a tarp) it will protect two kids from the chill of the airplane cabin. I had originally purchased it with the intent of creating a sleep tent that would shield the kids from some of the sound and light of the plane cabin, but that ended up being far too complicated. Instead I handed them each a sleep mask and used the blanket as a windbreaker against the chill of the ventilation system. Bonus: Not only is a packable blanket useful on long flights with kids—it’s also a great blanket for picnics while traveling.

Eye Mask

Eye mask

Eye masks can be tricky, since everyone has a different eye-nose-width ratio that leads to light leaks with most masks. But I had better luck with the PolarBlack Bamboo Sleep Mask, which is soft and comfortable while also featuring a moldable nose bridge that blocks out light. I could adjust it not just for the shape of my nose, but could also make small adjustments when I changed positions and the mask was pushed in slightly different directions.


No-Stain Paintbrush Pens

No-Stain paintbrush pens

I first embraced the glory of these bizarre will-only-mark-on-special-paper Crayola Color Wonder Paintbrush Pens at a vacation rental with three kids under age five. They colored happily for hours, and the grownups didn’t sweat the security deposit because we knew these pens weren’t going to leave a mark if the kids got a little too enthusiastic and made a scribble that missed the paper. On a long flight with kids, these pens keep kids busy and stain-free.

Headband Ear Phones

Headband ear phones

Kid-friendly CozyPhones headband-like headphones stay squarely in place when they’re on, provide enough volume that they can be heard even over the hum of the airplane cabin, and provide a barrier against sound (or white noise if you have a preferred app) for sleep on the plane. The only pain point was that the earphones themselves aren’t anchored within the sleeve, so every time they were put back on we’d need to adjust the position of the headphones.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Christine Sarkis on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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