So, you’re considering a long haul flight with a baby. First thing’s first, take a breath. It IS possible for this experience to be less horrifying than you’re imagining right now. With a bit of planning and a generous reining in of expectations, overseas trips with your little one can be unforgettable family memories. Good ones of course!
Liquids and security
Let me say off the bat that the strict rules around liquids on planes are not applied as harshly to baby foods. As a parent of a child with multiple allergies, this was a major concern of mine. It turns out that you CAN take liquid baby food on board, you CAN take formula and you CAN take these things in your carry on. We packed over 40 sachets of baby food in our luggage and although we were subject to several random drug tests on the stash, at no point did we have an issue getting the (sealed) food through security or customs. At each airport, keep an eye out for ‘family friendly’ lines which are often wider, faster and manned by staff who are well practised at handling groups, strollers and the like.
In the air
The hugely important moment for bubs on planes doesn’t end after takeoff. At ALL times when the plane is gaining or losing altitude (ascent and descent), get your bub sucking as much as possible. If they are breastfed, feed them. Bottle fed, feed them. Will take a dummy, use it. Enjoys water, put it in a bottle that encourages deep sucks. The purpose of this is to prevent painful pressure build up in their ears. Firmly rubbing the part of the cheek where the jaw meets the ear can also help prevent pressure which may cause headaches and result in lots of crying. Crying + long haul flight = you do the maths. Make it your mission to keep bub comfortable and pressure free until you hit cruising altitude. As bub needs to be buckled in your lap during takeoff and landing you will be in perfect position to manage the pressure.
Bassinets are available on most long flights, with bub paying around 10% of an adult ticket. Availability is not guaranteed before check-in/seat allocation and depends on demand, make sure you confirm at the check in desk. Depending on the size of your bub these can be brilliant. Some 6 month olds will already be too big to lay flat, while on the flip side our 1 year old could still squeeze in. Ask for sizing and weight limit from your airline, ahead of time, so you know what to expect. As babies are not allowed to sit or play on the floor, the bassinet can still be used for play even if it is too small for sleep. Make sure you buckle the restraint panel if you do manage to get your bub snoozing in the bassinet. Babies can travel in a car seat but you will need to book and pay for their own seat. Look up the FAQ of the airline you are travelling with as requirements vary widely between different companies.
Pack a collection of small toys, preferably ones that don’t make too much noise. Your fellow passengers will not thank you for bringing a gadget that sings the same song 453 times. If possible, bring new toys that bub can explore from scratch. Alternatively, stash some favourites away a month before you leave so that bub is excited to see them again. Wrap them individually in newspaper so that each one is a little present with the added bonus of unwrapping fun!
Small laminated images of loved ones or familiar places are a great resource for babies of all ages. Punch holes in the corner and attach them to a key ring for a great, compact mini picture “book”. Other handy items include teethers, lamaze style toys, animal figurines, items with wheels and, of course, lots of little books.
At meal times, flight attendants are usually pretty well practiced at serving one parent first and then serving the second meal 10-15 minutes later. If this doesn’t happen for you, make a request for the next meal time. There’s a feeling of bliss around pausing to eat a hot meal while the other parent is on full baby/kid duty (and then swapping!). Trying to co-ordinate both carers eating at the same time in a tiny space then adding a food grabbing baby… don’t do it. If you are flying alone you may be offered your meal before other passengers if baby is asleep. If you do get a snooze break from your little one, ask attendants if this is possible. Bringing lots of varied snacks for older bubs is a great plan for entertaining mini people between milk meals.
Last but not least
– Be prepared to walk around. There’s only so much your well packed snack and toys can do. If all else fails, go for a lap of the plane. Walk slow. There is often space near the bathrooms where you may find other parents bouncing their own little bundles.
– Pack spare clothes for baby AND you. If you get baby vomit in your lap in the first hour you have a long, smelly haul ahead of you without spare pants.
– Planes are often quite cold. Ensure bub has snuggly layers ready, even if your arrival and departure climates are warm.
– Be as friendly as possible with your flight attendants. They have a lot to deal with and it is always best to have them on your side. They will be a big part of how your journey goes.
– Babies cry. If yours happens to cry on the flight, go easy on yourself. The unfamiliar noises, feelings or faces can be nerve-wracking for little ones. If other passengers grumble, remember that families travel for many reasons. Every family member is entitled to use transport services, even the smallest ones.
Good luck! Every minute is a small victory and one closer to landing. Many little ones find the hum of the engine and movement of the plane quite soothing and actually sleep well during the journey. With a little preparation and a lot of cuddles, you’ll arrive at your destination with your new little world adventurer in no time. Well…not much time anyway! Bon voyage!
Coming up: Cruising with a baby
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