The flights you pick can make the difference between joyful travelers and jet-lagged disasters. Depending on the age of your child, an overnight flight when traveling from west to east can be a friend or a foe. Babies generally do well, as they sleep through noise and movement, but older kids have a tougher time missing a proper night's sleep. Sitting upright, falling asleep for a few hours, and being rudely awakened makes for one seriously cranky kid. If time allows and you don't want to ruin your first days of vacation, opt for a day flight. Flights leaving major US east coast cities for Europe leave early in the morning and land after dinner local time, just in time for a good night's sleep.
If you take a red-eye, hit the ground running. Napping will only further throw off schedules, so keep kids moving, out in the natural light, well fed, and hydrated to reset their clocks.
A few other jet lag tips when flying from west to east: start resetting kids' internal clocks three days in advance with earlier bed times, opt for carbs in-flight to induce sleep, and go for a protein-laden snack upon landing. As a general rule, allow one day per time zone crossed for a full jet lag recovery. Flying east to west is much easier on kids, as the body adjusts to the new time zone more easily and there isn't as much lost sleep.
When booking long-haul flights, opt for bulkheads with bassinets for babies and consult Seat Guru for the low-down on everything from legroom to in-flight snacks. And always pack a change of clothes for the flight. There is nothing like a cold night flight with a juice spill (or worse) down junior's front. Eight hours feels like an eternity when you're soggy.