How to Prepare your Kids for a Red-Eye Flight


We just finished our first red-eye flight as a family of 4. I was worried about it and there were definitely some hitches, but the kids did great! Fantastic really! Here’s why we took the red-eye and what we did to prepare them.

Tips for a red eye with kids

Why Take the Red-Eye?

To maximize time at the destination.

In our situation, taking the Thursday night red-eye meant Chris didn’t miss work Thursday or even need to leave early. We arrived Friday which gave us a comfortable buffer so we didn’t have to worry about flight delays causing us to miss the Saturday wedding we attended.

Sleeping kids make for easy flights.

Once the kids fell asleep on the plane, that was it until we disembarked for our layover. The lights went off as soon as the plane started moving and everyone was asleep before take off.

To minimize the carry on luggage needed.

Since the children would be sleeping, we packed fewer toys and distractions for the plane than usual. We also didn’t need as much food, and really enjoyed traveling so light.

Why Not Take the Red-Eye?

What if the kids don’t sleep?

I can’t imagine anything much worse than being exhausted on a plane while trying to keep an overtired toddler quiet. You have to really know your kid to know if this would likely be an issue. If so, I would avoid the red-eye like the plague. Personally, I knew my kids would sleep and I took steps to ensure it (see below!)

After the flight, their schedules will be wrecked.

True, but we were switching 3 time zones anyway and were going to struggle no matter what. In actuality, the red-eye kind of shocked their systems and made them more open to a new schedule upon arrival.

What if the adults don’t sleep?

Chris and I definitely got less sleep then the kids and were absolutely exhausted when we reached North Carolina. We knew we were visiting family who could help with the kids while we grabbed a nap and everything turned out OK.

What if the flight gets delayed?

We loaded up for our midnight flight all ready to close our eyes immediately, only to disembark because the brakes were broken. We took off on another plane at 2:30 am. Both my kids were awake at 2:30 am. It was rough but they handled it like rock stars.

HJ and Jess on the plane
HJ was still awake at 2 in the morning! As soon as the lights went out, so did she!

How to Prepare your Kids for a Red-eye

Push for a later nap that day

My kids usually nap from approximately 1-4. I took them to a playroom they’d never seen before and let them play until 2. My son passed out on the way home and slept until 5. My daughter napped from 3-5:30. This ensured their energy would last beyond their usual bedtime.

If your kids don’t nap anymore, this is still a great day for an extra-long quiet time.

Wear them out

Activity, activity, activity. For us this meant we spent the day at library storytime, exploring Wal-Mart, playing at a playroom, and splashing in the pool. Outdoor activities are best for wearing them out and the pool is especially awesome.

Dress them in their pajamas

Bonus if they’re cute and matching! Just make sure they are comfy and warm. Overnight flights can get chilly. Pajamas also set the mood for the flight: sleepy!

Take the shuttle

Or have someone drop you off. We took SuperShuttle and saved some money over long term parking for our trip, but the big benefit was we got dropped off at the door and didn’t have to navigate the parking lot with all our stuff.

Get TSA PreCheck

When we went through security at 10:30 pm there was a 20-30 minute wait to go through the normal security line. We walked right through the PreCheck line with no line at all. It was late, we were tired, and waiting in line was the last thing we needed.

Bring comfy blankets and pillows

Overnight flights are cold and it can be hard to get comfortable on a plane. Travel pillows and blankets go a long way in making a little tot more comfortable.

If your airline offers blankets on overnight flights, take advantage of them! Since we switched flights, our family of 4 ended up with 8 blankets. I shoved them in every nook and cranny I could find.

Talk about sleeping on the plane

We spent several days leading up to the flight talking about how we wouldn’t have any screen time on the plane because we would be sleeping. We specifically told them that the coloring books, etc. we had brought were for the second flight. This set the expectation before we ever set foot on the plane.

Schedule a non-stop flight

We didn’t do this because of cost and availability, but we wish we had. The kids did great on the whole trip, but they would have slept longer if it had been one 5.5 hour flight instead of broken into two pieces. K and I snagged some sleep during the layover but HJ was awake the rest of the trip after the first flight.

K sleeping in the airport after a red-eye
I snapped this picture before I joined K on the floor.


All in all, the trip went great! The kids really rose to the occasion and I’ll be less nervous about book red-eyes in the future. What’s your experience with red-eyes? What should I be adding to my list?

If you’re interested in more of my travel tips, check out Tips for Flying with a Baby and Toddler or my Hands-Free Carry-On Packing List.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: