Flying with a baby: 5 top tips
Flying with a baby doesn’t have to be a negative experience
The thought of having to cope with a long-haul flight is the reason why many parents won’t travel with their kids at all. The fact is, it’s much easier than you’d think to travel with a baby and if you do it when they are tiny it gives you confidence to continue travelling as the kids get older.
If children are under 2, domestic travel is free and you only pay 10 per cent of the adult fare for international flights. So it pays – literally – to start when they’re young.
For nervous new parents who are still coming to terms with looking after their baby, however, the stress of a long-haul flight can be too much. The truth is, every flight has its good bits and its ugly bits, but with a little bit of planning you can give yourself the best chance of surviving with your sanity intact.
I’m often asked for my tips and tricks, and my first response is always the same: the best thing you can do to reduce the stress of air travel is to change your attitude, and think like your kids. As they become toddlers and pre-schoolers, flying and all that’s associated with it – from soaring above the clouds to meals in trays – becomes a fascinating adventure.
Travelling with babies is easier than travelling with toddlers. For a start they are generally immobile (you’re not likely to find yourself chasing your six-month old down the aircraft aisle), need less entertaining and usually sleep well on planes.
One of the greatest challenges for parents travelling with babies and small children – and something they cannot control – is the attitude of their fellow passengers. I’m always astounded by how resentful and almost aggressive some people can get about having to share the aircraft with families. It’s as if they feel they have more right to be there than people with children. (I’m already steeling myself for the onslaught of abuse in the comments section below.) What’s interesting is that most airline flight attendants will say they can clearly remember obnoxious adults on flights but rarely do they remember obnoxious or difficult children.
I set up Travel Without Tears to empower and inspire parents to experience the joys of family travel. I was tired of hearing people say how difficult it is to travel with babies and children. The reality is it’s not really much harder than staying at home – you’re just in a different location. Preparation and planning are the keys to success. Here are a few tips.
Having a bassinet available for your baby can make a long flight tolerable, but bear in mind that no airline guarantees them – they’re assigned “according to availability”. There are often more babies than bassinets available, particularly during peak travel times such as Christmas. Book early and reconfirm before you fly and when you check in. And keep your fingers crossed. On every long-haul flight I’ve taken, demand for bassinets has always outstripped supply, and some poor parent misses out.
An important thing to note however is that when it comes to bassinets not all airlines are created equal. Singapore Airlines’ bassinets take babies up to 14kg; Qantas bassinets support a maximum weight of 11kg; Virgin Australia’s international long-haul aircraft take up to 18kg, but their A330 aircraft only take 11kg; United Airlines and Air France bassinets have a maximum weight of 10kg; and Air New Zealand has a maximum bassinet weight of 11.8kg.
Some airlines strictly enforce the rule; others are more lenient. I once had a major tussle with an Air France cabin attendant who announced that “ziz bebe will not fit in ziz bassinet”. She had a point, Lulu was a little large, but I squashed her in leaving her little feet sticking up over the edge. (Clearly French babies don’t get fat. And they certainly don’t get long.)
It’s worth doing your homework before you book, and being aware of code-share arrangements where the restrictions vary from one leg of the journey to the next.
2. Feeding time
When you’re travelling, and especially when you’re flying, breast is definitely best. It’s the simplest thing to do. If you know you’ve got some long-haul travel coming up and you’re considering weaning, wait until after you’ve completed your trip. The hassle of sterilising bottles on the move is best avoided if possible.
If you are breastfeeding, make sure you feed your baby when the aircraft is taking off and landing. The change in cabin pressure at these times can cause a great deal of discomfort and distress to babies but the sucking and swallowing actions can help them adjust.
If you are bottle feeding, carry plenty of bottles pre-prepared with distilled or boiled water and formula in pre-measured containers.
Be sure to give the bottles to the flight attendants well before you need them, as they can take a while to heat. You might also need to let the bottle cool or mix in some cold water to get it to the right temperature.
If your baby drinks cow’s milk, you can buy hot milk from a café after security but before you board the plane. Have three bottles – one for hot milk, one for cold and one to mix it to the right temperature on board.
If your baby’s on solids, bring enough food for the journey. Some airlines provide commercially produced food for infants but not all of them do.
3. Changing places
Instead of carrying a bulky nappy bag up the aircraft aisle with your baby, consider packing a whole lot of single nappy changing kits: a large zip-lock bag with a nappy, disposable change mat, and some wipes in a smaller zip-lock bag. For each visit to the loo, take one change kit with you (rather than the whole bag) and afterwards you can throw the whole lot out. It’s not particularly environmentally friendly – but then again nothing about airline travel is environmentally friendly.
4. Negotiating the airport
Always allow much more time than you think you need to navigate the airport. Projectile vomits and explosive poos usually happen when you least expect (or need them) and can take a while to clean up. Carry several changes of clothes for the baby and at least one for yourself.
The easiest way to move through the airport is carrying your baby in a pouch or sling. Practice getting the baby out of the sling and removing it, which you’ll have to do at security checkpoints. It’s fine if you’re travelling with a partner who can help but if you’re on your own it can be tricky especially as security personnel are not supposed to hold babies while passengers sort themselves out.
If you are travelling alone and need help the best thing is to ask a fellow traveller who looks sympathetic; the most likely person to come to your aid is a parent who’s been there before.
And make sure you’re wearing slip on shoes in case you need to remove them too while carrying the baby.
5. The kit
Carry a favourite sleeping toy and a soft blanket for comfort, and a sleep sack bag if your baby uses one. The familiar smells will help them sleep.
Attach a cord to your baby’s dummy and clip it to his or her clothing. That way it’s less likely to fall and get lost.
A lightweight collapsible umbrella stroller (that’s small enough to fit in the overhead bins on board) can be a godsend. You can wheel it right to the gate and you won’t have to carry your baby in your arms if you’ve got to kill a couple of hours during an airport layover.
For more travel tips and tricks get your hands on a copy of Travel Without Tears: 645 ways for families to take on the world.