For most of us, the thought of flying with a baby or toddler is as appealing as a trip to the dentist! The fear of your child crying for hours while your fellow passengers tut-tut and shake their heads judgmentally is enough to make any parent break out in a cold sweat, but it doesn’t have to be this way. With some simple planning and preparation, you and your child can board your flight confidently.
I have been flying with a baby or toddler for eight years now, with great success. Here are my tips for an enjoyable trip.
The best way to avoid earache from pressure changes on take-off and landing, is to ensure baby is sucking – breast- or bottle-feeding or with a dummy/pacifier.
Most airlines have bassinets available on longer flights on request, but they must be booked well in advance and priority is given to the youngest infants. Maximum age, weight and length vary between airlines, so check when booking. Even if your baby won’t sleep in the bassinet, it provides a safe place to put them down while you eat your meal. For safety reasons, the baby must be removed from the bassinet each time the seat belt sign comes on and the bassinet will be packed away by the crew for landing.
Although airlines carry baby food and nappies/diapers, it is best to bring plenty of your own to ensure you have the preferred type. Crew are usually happy to warm a bottle on request, just allow plenty of time.
A diaper/nappy wallet or small bag avoids the need to take an oversized bag into the toilet for nappy change. It is already challenging enough in such a confined space. Make sure to bring a complete change of outfit for both baby and yourself. You don’t want to spend hours covered in pee, poo or vomit. Baby wipes are an essential item for a multitude of reasons – wiping down questionable surfaces, clean up messes, freshen up, “wash” hands and so much more. I love these biodegradable aloe vera wipes for sensitive skin.
Depending on your destination, you may want to bring a stroller. A lightweight umbrella stroller which is easy to fold/unfold and to manoeuvre in crowded places is ideal. Check that your destination has footpaths – small wheels do not work well on cobbled streets or gravel paths. Some airlines will insist that it is checked with your luggage, while others allow you to take it to the gate. Keep in mind that it will most likely be handled roughly by the baggage handlers, so think twice before bringing your valuable iCandy or Bugaboo! You may wish to protect your stroller from dirt and rain with a gate check stroller bag such as this one. An ergonomic baby carrier is invaluable for hands free negotiation of customs, immigration, baggage claim etc. There are many types available to suit different body shapes and budgets. I highly recommend the Ergobaby 360 or, for tropical climates, the Beco Gemini Cool, which has a mesh section to keep baby cooler. You will have to remove it to go through security however, so practise taking it off and putting it on without help before you fly.
I’m not promising uninterrupted movie watching while sipping champagne, but you and your toddler can survive a long-haul flight with your sanity intact!
Before your trip, read books and watch videos about flying on a plane and discuss how, just as in the car, the seat belt must stay on at all times, as well as expected behaviour (e.g. aisles are not for playing or running, keep feet off the seat in front). You may like to set up some chairs and role play with your toddler and their toys.
Entertainment is the key to a happy toddler in-flight. Older toddlers may be happy watching some familiar television shows on the in-flight entertainment system, or playing electronic games for a while, but a short attention span means you will need other options. Many travellers recommend stocking up on small toys from a charity or dollar shop and gift wrapping them for the child to unwrap at intervals. Toys which don’t have multiple small parts to get lost are best.
Some ideas are:
Painters or masking tape can be used for making roads, race tracks, fences or noughts and crosses (tic tac toe) on the tray table and is easily removed without leaving a sticky residue.
A child’s meal can be ordered when you book your flight, but mealtimes don’t always coincide with the times that your toddler is hungry, and they may be unwilling to try new food is such an unfamiliar environment. Packing your own supply of snacks will avoid the inevitable hungry toddler melt-down. Try to minimise the amount of sugar since they won’t be able to burn it off. The crew can supply drinks and warm your bottle on request. If you are flying without another adult to help, ask the crew to hold your meal until you have finished helping your toddler with theirs.
When it is time for bed, try to follow your bedtime routine from home as closely as possible. For example, after dinner take your child to the bathroom for a “bath” (wash hands and face with warm water), brush teeth and change into pyjamas. Back in your seat, read a story together then snuggle down with blanket and pillow. Most children are amazingly adaptable and can sleep in odd positions. Once your child is asleep, don’t be tempted to catch up on all the new release movies that you have missed over the past two years. This may be your only chance to sleep!
Being organised and maintaining a positive attitude will go a long way to ensuring a successful flight. With these tips you and your child will be happy jetsetters!
For tips specific to overnight flights, check out my post on Surviving Overnight Flights with Kids.
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