There’s been a whole lot of negativity in the media of late about babies on planes. My guess is that the people whining are the same loud mouths with an inflated sense of entitlement and the obnoxious drunken yobs that I’ve been stuck next to on many a flight. And who, incidentally, are more irritating than any baby I’ve ever encountered at 30,000 feet.
My own fly babies chalked up more than a few air miles in their respective infancies and though their baby days are a thing of the (not too distant) past I still get asked by many a sweaty-browed new parent what they should expect when flying with a baby. Given the aforementioned naysayers it’s a reasonable question and one I nervously asked myself way back when.
You see to Mr Eats World and I travel once meant picking some random destination, finding a bargain deal, chucking a handful of clothes, a camera and a toothbrush in a backpack and buggering off into the great unknown. But when two became three, travel suddenly required actual thought and planning and to be frank, had me soiling my cargo pants.
Prior to that first flight, the thought of juggling a squealing baby at 30,000 feet whilst dodging the death-stares of unsympathetic passengers sent chills down my spine. But our worries amounted to nothing and our compact travel sized companion charmed his way across the skies, leaving a trail of besotted attendants and passengers in his tiny wake. In fact, so well behaved are both our offspring in the sky that we often consider living on a plane…
Of course, in typical Eats World fashion I didn’t make my first flight as a new mother easy for myself with a wee gallivant to somewhere sunny. No, I opted to drag my five-month old firstborn across four countries, through four climates and four time zones in as many weeks. We hit repeat and did the same thing a few years later when Sugarpuff rocked her sassy way into the world, only that time we packed a toddler to add to the excitement. Since then we’ve racked up 18 countries with a baby, a toddler or both in tow so you could say we’ve picked up a tip or two.
The most important of which is to have realistic expectations – babies can have fractious days even at home so don’t expect miracles. And the other? That most people are nice and those who aren’t? Stuff ’em!
Here are my secrets to surviving a flight with bub…
1. Seems extremely obvious, but some people don’t realise that a baby needs his or her own passport for overseas travel and you’ll need to leave plenty of time for it to be issued. No passport. No holiday.
2. On long-haul flights try to book a night flight and a bassinet so your baby can stay as close to possible to his or her normal routine. Most international flights provide them but be sure to put in a request when booking as numbers are limited and the bassinets are generally allocated to the youngest babies on board first.
3. Take bub to the doctor for a check-up before you fly and don’t be caught unprepared if your baby should fall ill mid-flight. At a minimum, pack baby paracetamol, nose drops, chest rub and a thermometer.
4. Layer clothes on bub as cabin temperatures can change and stow a change of clothes in your carry on luggage in case of spills.
5. Allow extra time for checking in for your flight. Everything takes longer with a baby in tow, and travel is no exception.
6. Most airlines will allow you to keep a lightweight umbrella stroller with you until you board your flight so leave your enormous pram at home – it will only end up in the hold and become more of a burden than a benefit.
7. Baby carriers are freaking awesome! Not only do they free up your hands for handling tickets, passports and older children they also come in handy for calming an unsettled tot on the plane. If they’re not already, get your baby used to one before you travel.
8. For light packers like us the addition of one baby was a shock. Two babies? Jeez, we actually had to start behaving like civilised adults and bought suitcases. Quel horreur! But still there is no need to over-pack check-in luggage. I met a mum on a flight to London who had packed one entire suitcase with a six week supply of nappies, it not having occurred to her that British babies also poo. Baby supplies are easy to find in most cities – and if you don’t know how to ask in the local lingo, it’s a pretty easy one to mime.
9. Carry-on luggage is the one exception to the packing light rule. You’re better off carrying more than you need than being caught sans nappy mid flight. Managing this within size and weight restrictions necessitates a degree in physics, but it is doable. Pack more nappies, bags and wipes than you’d usually need in the same time frame – many airlines supply them but on a long flight they can run out. Then pack more wipes. I can’t live without wipes. Put everything you need for a nappy change in individual disposable bags before you go so you don’t have to hunt for all the bits and pieces mid air – that way they’re all ready to go and you can use the empty bag to dispose of the old nappy. Voila.
10. Throw out the rule book. No matter what your parenting philosophy, be prepared to walk, coo and cuddle your baby to sleep.
11. Getting an infant to sleep in an airplane can be tricky but we found that draping a dark muslin wrap over the bassinet helped to block out light and other passengers poking at bub.
12. Get your boobs out. And not just for the entertainment of the other passengers. Plan ahead with feeding times and make sure your baby is ready for a feed during take-off and landing. Alternately have them suck a dummy as it will relieve the discomfort of changing air pressure in their ears.
13. As flying can be dehydrating you may find your baby wants to feed more often so keep yourself hydrated. If you’re formula feeding make sure you pack enough sterile bottles and formula for the duration of the flight. Keep it simple by packing pre-measured formula sachets and request boiled water from the airline staff (just give them enough notice so there’s time for it to cool).
14. If your baby has started solids most airlines offer infant meals but personally I’d advise parents to BYO to ensure bub gets something you know they’ll eat and that fits in with your nutritional comfort zone. Call me precious but there was no way I was feeding my baby the packet chocolate custard we were offered.
15. On the odd occasion that tears did flow, we found that making an obvious effort to calm our babies also soothed fellow passengers so be sure to put on an Oscar winning parenting performance if your bub starts howling. And as for that cranky git tut-tutting over his G&T while your screeching cherub is making his or her presence felt, don’t worry… while your climbing up the Eiffel Tower or punting down the Grand Canal in a gondola you’ll have forgotten he ever existed!