Flying with your infant is like the contact sport of parenting: you feel like you have to plan, train, know the rules and then proceed through the airport dodging people both well-meaning and mean-mannered. And that’s not to mention the stress of boarding, getting settled and wondering if you can keep your baby, and yourself, happy for the next two to six (or more) hours, all the while praying you don’t disturb the entire plane and have to endure the death stares of your fellow passengers.
Rest assured that many parents have been there, done that and lived to tell the tale. And with a little forward planning, these things are far easier to navigate than you think, and matter not at all once you’re safely at your destination enjoying the world with your little one. Follow these top tips to help you and your baby cruise through any in-flight turbulence.
Take care of yourself
Your happiness matters to your baby. However you are feeling, your baby will feel it too – taking care of yourself will help you both remain calm and cool throughout this experience. Do one thing before the flight that will allow you to smile in the face of scowling strangers and coddle your baby for hours on end; take a jog in the morning before going to the airport or spend a quiet minute with your coffee. Finding moments like these when you have a small child is challenging to say the least, but, if you want a stress-free trip, you need to be in tip-top shape.
Don’t forget to pack all of your carry-on needs. The days of kicking back with your creature comforts and endlessly binging on your favourite TV shows on long-haul flights are sadly behind you, but you should still have a well-stocked carry-on. Pack your favourite snacks and a water bottle, which you can fill once you are through security. Wear your most comfortable clothes and bring an extra shirt for yourself. The last thing you want is to be covered in baby sick for hours.
Travelling through the airport
Since most airlines offer to ‘gate check’ strollers, it is a no-brainer to bring yours. But should you bring the big one or the small travel one? Some intrepid parents wouldn’t dream of going anywhere without their giant, load-bearing buggy, and with good reason; it has a basket underneath for all the stuff, and most of them are big enough to transport an infant and an older sibling. With all the gear required for travelling with kids, having a ready-made cart to wheel through ever-expanding airports is a dream. And if you have twins, there really isn’t a good alternative.
Some parents try to be minimalists, however, and prefer a lightweight travel stroller. The Uppababy G-Lux is a popular choice for a variety of reasons, including the fact that it's durable and will last through many city breaks and airports escapades. When researching options for yourself, choose something that has a seat that can recline, is lightweight and has a good sunshade. Finally, look at the age limit for kiddos; most umbrella strollers aren’t recommended for children younger than six months, but the Uppababy allows for three-month-olds.
The tricky question on the minds of every jet-set family is whether or not to bring the safety seat. The vast majority of airlines allow for children under two to be held on parents' laps for the flight. However, the US's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also recommends that all young children be restrained in a safety seat. As a parent, the decision is yours. Travelling through the airport and carting an FAA-approved safety seat on and off the plane can be cumbersome. However, having a familiar seat can be a relief for both the child and the parent.
For infants and babies up to one and a half years, there is a new product called the Doona. This two-in-one car seat/stroller goes seamlessly from an infant safety seat to a stroller in seconds and can be used on the plane and in cars once you’ve reached your destination. It doesn’t grow with your child and is expensive, but if you’re planning on travelling a lot with your infant, it may be a worthy investment.
When choosing seats on the plane, don’t pick the bulkhead. There is no place to store snacks, bottles, teethers etc, all of which you will most certainly need. Window seats are your friend. Not only is looking out the window really exciting for babies, but it also just feels a little cosier for you both.
Place things you may need right away – like books, small toys, snacks, wipes, and a burp blanket or extra swaddle – in an easy-to-reach place before shoving everything else you may want under the seat in front of you. Keep organised by thinking about your baby’s schedule and anticipating what they are going to need next. Just because you are confined to a small space doesn’t mean you can’t keep to your normal rhythms. It's slightly more challenging, but you can feed them, change them, play with them and coax them to sleep just as you would at home. Meet their regular needs and it will be an easier flight for everyone.
What goes in, must come out
Whether your child is on formula, mother’s milk or solid food, feeding can be one of the biggest stressors of travelling with your child. Every baby is different, and whatever your child’s particular brand of crazy, it feels impossible to honour it on a plane. Don’t forget to breathe; it's all going to be okay.
Whether you are carrying formula or breast milk on the plane, the US's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not have to open your bottles or bags of milk. At certain airports, they will ask – just say no; they can swab everything, but they don’t have to physically open anything.
Parents of formula babies have a couple of choices. Pre-made formula comes in sealed packages so you don’t have to buy additional water once you are through security. Another plus (if your baby isn’t picky), is that they come with nipples packaged and sealed, so you avoid strange fingers touching what will go in your child’s mouth. Alternatively, you can pre-measure formula into bottles and source water once you are through security. This way it is your bottle and your nipple, which is necessary for some babies. It’s also a great way to cut down on single-use plastic.
For nursing mothers, it is important to note that in many places breastfeeding in public is a protected right, but that is not true everywhere. Be mindful of both the laws and societal norms of the country you are visiting; a little internet research can help a lot when deciding what is most comfortable for you and your baby. That being said, most airports have nursing rooms. Look online in advance to find one located in or closest to your terminal. If you don’t feel like you need a room to nurse, but are still modest about nursing in public, there are some great cover-ups that double as car seat covers, infinity scarves, shawls, blankets (you name it!).
Feeding your baby during take-off and landing can help reduce stress from cabin pressure and has the added benefit of soothing your baby during the most difficult parts of the flight.
But what goes in, must come out! And changing babies on an aeroplane isn’t easy. Change your baby right before boarding, and once you are on the plane ask the flight attendant if the bathroom has a changing table in it (most do, but some don’t or only have one). Be nice to flight attendants and get them on your side – they can be allies.
If you happen to be on a flight in which the toilets are not equipped with a changing table, ask what the flight attendant would recommend. This way you aren’t encroaching on their space without being invited (and the floor of the galley could be your only option). Bring along some disposable changing pads so you can change in these less-than-ideal locations. This scenario is only likely on shorter domestic flights, so chances are you’re going to be just fine, if a little cramped.
When the flight gets too long
This is bound to happen. Wear a teether necklace and come well stocked with your baby’s favourite toys. Smaller, soft toys that are stackable and sturdy (and bangable) are perfect. These bath toys from Elegant Baby come in a huge variety of shapes, are perfect for small hands and don’t make any noise.
Bring books that are engaging like Pat-the-bunny or a Crinkle Book, which your baby can touch and feel. Make it either a new thing, or something trusted and loved. Sing songs, talk about what you’re going to do when you land or what is happening out the window. You can absolutely entertain your baby for this long (and there is always the option of baby shark videos on your smartphone or tablet).
When the baby finally sleeps, you should close your eyes too. Or read. The best new-parent gift is a Kindle Paperwhite. You can hold it and turn the pages with one hand, and can read no matter the light without disturbing your little one. Get one and read that book you’ve been meaning to. Hey, maybe you do get a little me-time on the plane after all.
A successful landing
This part is tricky. Remember that everything takes longer than you expect, so plan accordingly. Just like everyone else, you are probably more than ready to get off that plane, but if you have been successful so far, there is no need to rush. That antsy longing for freedom will reach your baby, who will, in turn, get anxious. Take a deep breath and relax into this last leg. You may need to wait until most people are off before you can properly and safely pack up and disembark. That’s okay. You will get where you are going. If your baby is content, let them be and get off last. If they are crying like a banshee and you are ready to pull your hair out, this is where staying organised and anticipating needs will help a lot. Hopefully, you can grab everything and use that goodwill you’ve been fostering with flight attendants and fellow passengers to slip quickly, if not quietly, off the plane.
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