I was so nervous before I took my first flight with my daughter. She was just ten weeks old, and I was convinced that she was going to scream the whole three-and-a-half hours from Singapore to Hong Kong, leaving me in a state of nervous undoing and the rest of the passengers wanting to push us both out of the emergency exit.
Of course she didn’t scream the whole way, and just four weeks later we undertook a 12-hour long-haul flight to London, when she also didn’t scream the whole way. Despite my deepest fears, travelling with a baby was so un-traumatic, that by her first birthday we had ticked off twelve more relatively stress-free flights.
So if you are about to undertake your first flight with a baby – firstly: don’t panic. Secondly: read my ten tips for surviving the flight with your nervous system intact.
Book the bulkhead seat
You should be able to book this when you book your flight – it usually takes a phone call to the airline. This gives you extra legroom for storing all your baby paraphernalia and means you get a bassinet that bolts onto the wall. Even if your baby won’t sleep in the bassinet – it gives you extra storage space for all the additional toys, bottles, blankets and books that will inevitably be cluttering up your seat. You do need to put all hand luggage in the overhead locker for take-off and landing, but it is a price worth paying for the extra room you get. Also worth noting is that you usually can’t put the armrests up in the bulkhead seats, which can be a pain with toddlers but not really an issue with small babies.
Try to arrange flights to coincide with sleep/nap time
Try to arrange flights to coincide with sleep time, because it is way easier to entertain a sleeping baby than an awake one, when you only have a limited supply of toys and space. This is particularly important during a long-haul flight, when, if you’re lucky they will sleep around nine hours of the twelve-hour flight. Job done.
Check your buggy in at the gate
Check your buggy in at the gate rather than with your luggage. This means you don’t have to carry the baby along all those long airport corridors – or if you do end up carrying the baby, you can use the buggy to carry all your hand luggage (which you inevitably have way too much of when you travel with a baby). You usually then pick up the buggy at the plane door when you arrive at your destination – but it is always worth double-checking this at check-in, as sometimes it will end up on the conveyor belt with the luggage.
Use a baby carrier
A baby carrier can be a lifesaver, particularly if you are travelling on your own, or if for some reason you can’t check your buggy at the gate. It frees up your hands to look for passports and carry all that extra hand luggage – and can be a real help in trying to get the baby to sleep while you walk up and down the aisle (and up and down, and up and down…)
Pack changes of clothes for everyone
We recently flew home to Hong Kong from Phuket. It was only a three-hour flight – we didn’t all need a change of clothes, right? Well, before we had even got on the plane, my son’s nappy had leaked all over his jeans. We put him in his change of clothes, only for him to throw up all over himself and me a few hours later. So we put him in his sister’s change of clothes and I had to use a wet wipe to clean down my jeans and t-shirt. An hour later my daughter wet herself while asleep on her dad’s lap. Very amusing for me – but not so funny for my daughter whose clean leggings were on her brother, or her dad who had no change of clothes, and had to go through immigration with a large wet patch on his jeans. Moral of the story? Pack a change of clothes for everyone (maybe two or three for small kids on a long flight).
Pack extra of everything
Did you hear the one about the Etihad Airways flight that spent 12 hours on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi airport because of fog? No, this isn’t some bad joke; this was the reality for hundreds of passengers on 4th January 2015. All I could think when I read the headlines, was “what a nightmare for parents travelling with small children”. Pack more clothes, milk, snacks, wet wipes and nappies than you think you will ever need.
Bring a favourite teddy or snuggly
Yes you already have a ridiculous amount of things to carry, but if you want your baby to settle on the plane, bring their favourite cuddly toy – it’s no use to you in the suitcase in the hold.
Eat before you get on the plane
Another one of my best tips for flying with a baby is to eat before you get on the plane. You know how cramped it is trying to eat your dinner on your little tray on the plane? Now try to do it with a baby on your lap. Especially a baby who wants to grab the hot food container, then take hold of your glass of red wine and throw it all over you and your neighbour. It’s so much easier if you have already eaten and you can just skip this experience altogether. Plus, who wants to eat plane food anyway? Ugh.
Feed during take-off and landing
You’ve probably heard this before, but baby’s ears have a hard time adjusting to the pressure changes during take-off and landing. The swallowing motion of drinking can help them with this, so try to get them to feed during this time. I have found that they are particularly sensitive during the descent. I have also found that a pacifier works just as well, if the timings don’t work with feeding.
Be prepared for nappy changes
Put your nappies/diapers into a zip-loc bag, along with your wet wipes and nappy sacks and keep it in your seat pocket or underneath your seat. This will save you from having to delve around in your bag or rummage around in the overhead lockers every time you need to do a nappy change. You can just grab your bag and go.
And lastly – if it all goes wrong, and your baby does scream for the whole flight. Just remember – you never have to see any of these people ever again!