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How to Survive Long Flights to Hawaii with Kids: Secrets from a Parenting Pro

Are you heading to Hawaii with kids this year? Find out how to survive the long flight without losing your mind!
This list of tips for flying to Hawaii with kids was written by Hawaii travel expert Marcie Cheung and may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

Ah, Hawaii.

Just the word makes you think of sunny beaches, lush landscapes, and… long flights with kids.

As a mom of two rambunctious boys and a veteran of over 40 trips to the Aloha State, I’ve had my fair share of airborne challenges. We’ve also done a ton of international trips, so I know about LONG flights.

But fear not! I’ve picked up some tricks along the way that can turn your dreaded hours in the sky into part of the adventure.

Let me unveil how you can survive (and even enjoy) long flights to Hawaii with kids.

Image of two boys playing Nintendo Switch at the airport
My kids love playing their Switches at the airport. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Before the Flight

Pack Smart

My number one rule is to pack a dedicated carry-on for the kids. Include snacks, water, favorite toys, and new activities they’ve never seen before (hello, dollar store treasures!). Trust me, the novelty of new items can be a lifesaver.

We’re also pro-screens, so each kid has a fully charged device and the right charger!

You can check out my full packing list for the airplane.

Dress in Layers

Airplanes can go from toasty to chilly in no time. Dressing your kids in layers ensures they stay comfortable, no matter the cabin temperature. Plus, a cozy hoodie can double as a pillow!

You’ll also want these layers if you visit Haleakala Crater on Maui, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, or Waimea Canyon on Kauai.

Prep Your Tech

Load up tablets or smartphones with games, movies, and shows. Don’t forget to pack headphones that fit your kids’ ears comfortably and are volume-limited to protect their hearing.

If you’re flying an airline with its own in-flight entertainment app (like Alaska), be sure to download it before you get on the plane.

Image of two boys on an airplane
We like it when airlines have the mini cans! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

During the Flight

Break Out the Snacks

Snacks are not just for hunger; they’re a fantastic distraction. Pack a variety of healthy options and maybe a few special treats.

I usually go to our local Asian grocery store to get some fun snacks that my kids don’t normally get.

Snacking can also help with ear pressure during takeoff and landing.

Get Creative with Entertainment

Beyond tech, bring out those new toys and activities at intervals. Sticker books, activity books, and travel games can provide a welcome change from screen time.

If your kids are old enough, pack a book or two. My kids are really into manga and graphic novels.

Stay Hydrated

Airplane air is notoriously dry. Keep your kids hydrated with water or juice. It’s a simple tip but crucial for avoiding crankiness related to dehydration.

We let the kids pick out something at the airport because I want them to have something with a lid. I’ve had WAY too many spills on me mid-flight. But you can also bring a re-usable water bottle and fill it up at the airport.

Image of Marcie Cheung and her son at the airport
It’s crucial to find some seating if you have a layover. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Managing Layovers

Explore the Airport

Use layovers as an opportunity to stretch those legs. Many airports have play areas for kids. If not, make up a scavenger hunt or simply walk around to check out the shops and artwork.

Pack a Layover Bag

Include a few items in your carry-on specifically for layovers, like a travel-sized board game or a new book. This helps make the wait something to look forward to rather than dread.

Use Technology Wisely

Save some of those downloaded movies or games specifically for layovers, especially if you have a long wait. This can be a great time to recharge devices, too.

Image of two boys in an Alaska Airlines cockpit with the pilot
My kids have been invited to check out the cockpit on several flights! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Ensuring a Smooth Experience

Talk About the Trip

Before you leave, talk to your kids about what to expect during the flight and layover(s). Discuss how they should behave, the importance of staying close in the airport, and how exciting the trip will be.

I also like to prepare my kids that we’ll be sitting on the plane for quite awhile before it even takes off.

Encourage Sleep

If your flight aligns with bedtime or naptime, try to maintain your routine. Bring along a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Eye masks and neck pillows can also make sleeping in a seat more comfortable.

Seat Strategy

When booking your flight, think about seating. Some families prefer the aisle and window, leaving the middle seat free (it’s often the last to be booked). This might give you a little extra space if the flight isn’t full. But these are getting to be more rare.

Our family tends to split up so we have one parent and one child in one row and then the other parent and child either in the row in front of behind. We like to separate our boys to minimize fights and loud chatter.

Alternatively, sitting toward the front of the plane can mean less engine noise and a quicker exit.

Image of a boy throwing a peace sign in an airplane
This kid is now a pro at flying! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

What I’ve Learned from Countless Flights with My Kids

Patience is Key

No matter how well you plan, there will be hiccups. Kids will have meltdowns, and drinks will spill. Take a deep breath, and remember that this is just one part of the journey. The paradise awaiting you is worth every moment of chaos.

Engage With Your Kids

Use this time as an opportunity to connect. Tell stories, play games together, and talk about what you’re excited to see and do in Hawaii. This can make the flight feel shorter and much more enjoyable.

Try to Take Some “Me” Time

I know this sounds crazy when you’re trapped on a plane with your kids, but it’s sort of possible.

I always travel with noise-canceling headphones, so sometimes I’m able to listen to an audiobook or watch a movie while my kids are on their iPads.

Another option is to arrange your seats so that one parent is away from the family and you and your partner can swap mid-flight.

Be Prepared for Anything

Always pack extra clothes in your carry-on, not just for the kids but for yourself too. Accidents happen, and being prepared can prevent a lot of stress.

And try to mentally prepare for stuff to go wrong so you’re happily relieved when it’s not as bad as you think!

Seek Support

Don’t be afraid to accept help from flight attendants or even fellow passengers. Most people understand the challenges of flying with kids and are more than willing to lend a hand or a kind word.

I remember how amazing it was to have a fellow parent offer my kids a prepackaged snack when I ran out and they were hangry!

Final Thoughts

Flying to Hawaii with kids doesn’t have to be a dreaded part of your vacation.

With a little preparation, creativity, and patience, you can make the journey an enjoyable start to an unforgettable family adventure.

Remember, every trip is a chance to learn what works best for your family, and before you know it, you’ll be a pro at navigating long flights with kids, just like me.

So pack your bags, load up on snacks and activities, and get ready to soak in the beauty and fun of Hawaii. Aloha and happy vacay!

Looking for more Hawaii tips and tricks? Check out Is Hawaii Overrated? What Families Wish They Knew Before Going, 10 Hawaiian Experiences That Are Better Than Disneyland, 10 Secrets No Travel Agency Will Tell You About Hawaii Family Vacations, and The #1 Mistake Every Parent Makes When Booking a Hawaiian Vacation (And How to Avoid It)!