Personally, I find flying with a baby so much EASIER than flying with kids, and as you can read in my post Flying With Kids. It’s No Big Deal! (Including My Ultimate Tip), flying with kids doesn’t even need to be difficult.
So, while I am going to share my main ‘tips’ to make long haul flights with a baby easier and less stressful, I also want to try and simply explain how and why flying with a baby is also NO BIG DEAL!
When our third child was 3 months old we flew from Melbourne to Los Angeles. When our fifth child was 4 months old we flew from Queensland to London, stopping in Kuala Lumpur and Frankfurt. We flew home from London when he was 7 months old. We have also flown domestically on several occasions with our older kids when they were babies. On each of these flights our baby was (close to) a dream. We even had several passengers commenting each time on how amazed they were at how ‘good’ the baby was. And I can tell you now, this is not because the baby is “just a chilled” baby. Trust me! Especially baby number 5, who we often refer to as our most difficult yet.
I think the main issue is that there is a preconception that a baby on a plane is going to scream the whole time. Why? Does your baby scream the whole time at home? I certainly hope not! Sure, with kids I can understand the worry – at home they have so much more freedom and ways of being engaged and entertained than in an aeroplane, but as far as babies go, well, they eat, sleep, ‘play’, repeat. Things done almost as easily on an aeroplane as in a house (or anywhere else really). And I think this is why people constantly comment about our ‘good’ babies on flights. Their behaviour is nothing out of the ordinary, it’s just that when people see them boarding a plane they instantly think “Oh no! A baby! It’s going to scream and cry and ruin my flight.” and so when that baby doesn’t, they are shocked and very pleasantly surprised.
You see, with kids, you need to actively entertain them. Babies, not so much. So long as they are warm and comfortable, fed when hungry, able to sleep when tired, and ultimately, loved, they will be happy. Generally. Obviously not always. After all, crying is their way of communicating, trying to tell us they are in pain, hungry or they need something. I do believe however, that the ways to care for and deal with a baby on a plane, can be fairly straight forward.
Here are my tips for flying with a baby:
1. Try to secure a bassinet.
Trust me, this is a lot easier said than done. ‘Requesting’ a bassinet does not by any means guarantee one. I would say that for 50% of the flights we have taken with babies we have not had a bassinet and instead spent many, many hours holding them (which actually is not always a bad thing). Three of the main reasons we have missed out on a bassinet have been:
A. We have flown with a budget airline which does not offer the option of a bassinet. Nothing you can do about that. At least you have saved money on a cheaper flight!
B. There were more babies on the flight than there were bassinet fixtures and unfortunately we checked in later than the others. Note – try and check in early to secure a bassinet.
C. The airline has sold these spots to passengers wanting more leg room at an additional cost. *When we flew from Melbourne to Los Angeles with United Airlines we were not given a bassinet, despite being the only passengers with a baby. When I questioned this I was told the seats in the bulkhead (where the bassinet attachment points are) are sold at an extra cost or offered to UA frequent flyers. Knowing this, when it came time to checking in for our return flight, I voiced my disapproval of this VERY strongly and was given the bassinet seat. I have since heard from several sources though that I was very lucky and United Airlines will rarely if at all prioritise families with babies.
To me, the main advantage to having a bassinet is not so much having somewhere for your baby to sleep (mine always sleep better on me in an aeroplane regardless), but having somewhere to ‘put’ your baby. Holding a sleeping baby is one thing, but when they are awake it’s nice for them to lay on their backs, stretch and kick around for a little while, in turn giving your arms and back a break.
2. If you don’t get a bassinet, don’t let it ruin your flight.
Very often with a bassinet you will have just got your baby off to sleep when the seatbelt light comes on and you have to pick them up, potentially upsetting them and their sleep pattern greatly. All babies love to be held and, if anything like mine, will happily sleep solidly for hours in your arms. That said, on several flights we have brought with us the foldable bassinet insert from our pram. Once baby has fallen asleep we transfer them into this and simply lay it on our lap, freeing up our arms and making it easier to shift position.
3. Bring a carrier.
If you use a carrier at home or when out with baby there is no reason why you can’t use one on an aeroplane as well. In fact, I recommend it! For a start, it will come in really handy when boarding and disembarking the plane. Squeezing past people as you walk down the narrow aisle, carry-on in one hand and possibly another child’s hand in the other, it’s pretty difficult to be holding a baby as well. Having your baby in a carrier makes it so, so much easier. If you do regularly use a carrier, chances are your baby is used to it and actually really enjoys being in it. It is familiar and comfortable. Walk up and down the aisles for a little while with your baby in the carrier and more often than not they will be asleep before you know it. We use a Baby Bjorn baby carrier which we find to be comfortable, lightweight and sturdy.
4. Feed/nurse your baby upon take-off and landing.
We all know that the change in cabin pressure during these times can play havoc on your ears and can actually be really painful. The way we try and combat this is by chewing gum or sucking a sweet, which causes us to swallow more frequently and in turn equalises the pressure in our ears. Well, the same goes for baby. Be it breastfeeding or having a bottle, this constant sucking and swallowing will greatly reduce the chances of them feeling pain in their ears.
5. Plan and prepare for a nappy change like your life depends on it!
Aeroplane toilets are tiny. Just using one on your own requires agility and great skill! Add a fidgeting, dirty baby and things can turn very ugly, very quickly. In these toilets, with the change table folded out, there is just enough room for you and a nappy bag (provided it’s no bigger than a shoe……). You can’t move around, you can’t lay out everything you need and you definitely can’t afford to drop anything. My suggestion is, bring only the bare essentials you need with you and have them organised in a way that you can access each item in the order that you need it.
6. And now for my ultimate tip – FLY AT NIGHT!
(This also applies to flying with kids) After many flights, at all different times, we now ALWAYS try and find a flight at night. And it is THE BEST! Children/babies are extremely adaptable and when it comes to sleep, if they are tired they will sleep anywhere. Sure, if they are not in their own bed (or in a bed at all for that matter) it will probably take longer for them to get to sleep, and their quality/length of sleep may not be as great, but ultimately THEY WILL SLEEP. They may be a bit tired and cranky the next day, but I assure you that is a small price to pay when it means you haven’t spent the last 10 hours trying to keep them happy. Very often I end up actually having to wake them up for landing. And an added bonus – I also find this approach actually helps in combating jet-lag too. As they have slept, and then had an action packed start to their holiday, whatever time you decide to put them to bed they will sleep. Truthfully, when we fly this way, jet-lag is not even an issue we factor in. It all just works!
And that’s about it! Yes, at times flying with a baby can be stressful. As can doing anything else with a baby! Just try and follow these few tips and ultimately, enjoy the experience with your little one.
One final point: Sometimes babies cry! Sometimes babies scream! They do this at home, at the shops, waiting in line at the bank. It’s not fun, it’s not pleasant, but it’s not the end of the world. And it doesn’t last long. Try not to stress. Try not to feel like a bad person. You do not need to ‘offer’ fellow passengers something to make up for them having to ‘endure’ being around your baby. Obviously do your best to keep them ‘happy’, but don’t beat yourself up when they do cry. I mean really, did the man with horrendously bad body odour in the seat in front of me on the way to Los Angeles apologise or offer me a nose plug? No! Or did the man snoring his head off in the seat across from me on the way to Frankfurt, hand me a note warning of such a possibility accompanied by some earplugs? No! As if! So you don’t need to apologise for flying with a baby. You have every right to be there as do they. And remember, whatever happens, you are about to have an amazing holiday, or are returning home with the memory of one. Enjoy!