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October 09, 2019

Advice on flying with babies from a seasoned traveller and mum of 4

It’s the stuff of nightmares. A full plane with a screaming baby. Even worse - the baby is yours! From the moment you consider taking a flight with your baby, images of angry passengers and cranky air hostesses might come to mind. You can picture yourself losing the will to live as your child screams and you have no idea how to make the screaming stop, while the people sitting close to you are contemplating the best way to lock you and baby in the cabin.

Relax. Take a deep breath. And continue reading. These 12 tips for flying with a baby will get you prepared and feeling confident. Parenting is full of ups and downs - and so is flying with a baby (literally!)

1. Fly when baby normally sleeps

Try to book a night flight so that baby will be fast asleep for most of your time in the air. If your baby is more of a day sleeper, then a day flight may be best for you. For long-haul flights, try to plan for the majority of your time in the air to be during your baby’s longest sleep time.

2. Book an aisle seat

Be sure to book an aisle seat for yourself when selecting your seats. This is essential - having to manoeuvre past three or four people to get to the aisle is tortuous. And trust me, you’ll be needing to get out of your seat a lot!

3. Get a separate seat for baby

Children under 2 years of age generally travel for free if they sit on an adult’s lap. While this might be a tempting choice, it should generally only be taken for an infant who can be held comfortably for the duration of the flight. If possible, buy a separate ticket for your baby and rather try to save money on other aspects of your holiday.

4. Reserve a bassinet

Babies up to 9 months are eligible for a bassinet. If you’d like to use a bassinet, remember to call the airline ahead of time and schedule a front row bulkhead seat. There are limited bulkheads so getting your request in early is important. Bassinets may not be available on smaller airplanes.

5. Pack light - what to take on board

This is one of the most important aspects of your planning. Take it from someone who packed WAY too much on their first flight with babies... you’re not doing yourself any favours by taking everything but the kitchen sink on board with you.

My fear of upsetting fellow passengers clouded my vision when I was planning for my international trip with my then 9-month-old and 2 year old. In my defence, the baby bag was packed so neatly and I believed that I had taken everything I would need for any eventuality. The result? I ended up tossing everything out less than 10 minutes into the flight... trying to find the tissues (which were right at the bottom) to clean up my baby’s runny nose. It’s not as easy as it sounds - crying baby, cramped space and a baby bag that won’t co-operate equals near-meltdown before take-off.

Each of us was allowed a carry-on suitcase plus hand luggage. I took advantage of this and packed us to the limit. At our stop-over in Dubai, my husband and I were like two pack horses with overflowing bags and tired kids. Never again.

My advice: buy a medium-sized backpack with multiple outside pockets. Use these for things that you might need to get to in a hurry like wipes and tissues or dummies. Pack clothes and toys in the middle and remember: less is more!

For babies:

  • Enough bottles to get through the flight. If the baby drinks every three hours and your flight is 6 hours, pack three (one extra to be safe). Remember to alert the air hostess that you will need use of the kitchen area to prepare bottles.
  • Wet wipes
  • Nappies
  • A change of clothing - two sets for longer flights. Extra socks, bibs, beanies,
  • Plastic bags for soiled clothing and nappies

For toddlers:

  • A change of clothes - two sets for longer flights. Extra socks, underwear, pull-ups
  • Wet wipes
  • Plastic bag for soiled clothing and nappies

6. Boarding tips

Some airlines offer priority boarding for families with small children. This might seem like a great idea at first. But once you’ve boarded the plane and then realise that you’ve got to wait another 30 minutes for everyone else to get on board, it becomes evident that it’s not. Parents with babies who are mobile are better off boarding last or at least somewhere in the middle. The longer you can allow your little one to have freedom of movement the better.

7. Dress comfortably

I can’t say this enough - you should be aiming for comfort and accessibility. Baby might look adorable in those dungarees from Aunt Sharon, and it would be great for him to be wearing them at arrivals when Sharon's there to welcome you. But do you really want to be fighting with 14 buttons and arm straps inside a cubicle that’s smaller than your pantry? Opt for clothing that is easy to change and comfortable for baby. The same goes for you.

Pack a spare set of clothing in your hand luggage for yourself in case baby throws up or messes food on you.

8. Entertainment

Depending on the age of your baby, you’ll need to bring a few things along to keep those little hands busy. For younger babies up to 4 months old, you should get away with a rattle and a few teething rings. For 5 months and upward you will need to pack a few extra toys to keep bub occupied. Bring some old favourites with you and consider purchasing a new toy or two for the flight. Snacks that are normally forbidden are also a good idea for distraction. Take a few small pieces of plain milk chocolate for baby to suck on during those moments when you just don’t have any more tricks in the bag.

9. Avoid flu season

If you can help it, avoid flying with smaller babies during flu season. Planes carry a lot of people - and germs. Make sure your little one is up to date with all vaccinations before flying.

10. Take off and landing tips

Pressure might build up in your little one’s ears during take-off and landing, and this can be uncomfortable and maybe even painful. To relieve the pressure, give baby a bottle to drink or a dummy to suck on.

11. Dealing with grumpy passengers

Most people are very understanding and will realise that you are doing your best to keep your child calm, but there will always be that one person who gives you dirty looks and mumbles under their breath about your parenting skills. A popular trend is to hand out goodie bags to fellow passengers with a note apologising in advance for any disturbance that your child might cause. While this is a sweet idea, it also sets a precedent that people should be rewarded for not getting angry with kids who are a little cranky. Babies cry. It’s a fact of life. You don’t need to feel anxious when baby is causing a disturbance (easier said than done!), and you don’t need to reward people for showing common decency. You can only do your best. Try not to let any angry stares get to you, and remember that the flight will land, and any grumpy passengers will be ancient history.

12. Try to enjoy it

Flying with a baby is all part of the parenting experience. Your baby may be too young to get excited about being on an aeroplane, but you can still enjoy the time spent together and the moments when they are calm.

There will be moments where you are counting down the minutes until you land; where you feel like you won’t be able to cope if baby cries one more time. But before you know it you’ll be at your destination - probably looking a little worse for wear. You can do it!

Written by: Kim Mangiagalli: Mum of 4, wife of 1, writer.


Over to you

Have you flown with your baby? Let us know if you have any extra tips and tricks. We’d love to hear from you! 

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