My baby boy at a year old is extremely well-travelled, for the sole reason that he is an expat. Otherwise I’m not sure I would have dared take him on a plane by now. As it was, my best friend was getting married when he was two and a half months old so we flew long-haul for seventeen hours to get the the wedding (we were also dying to introduce him to his grandparents).
Not through any conscious planning we flew with him at around three months old, six months, nine months and then a few weeks after his first birthday. Not all long-haul, but we covered some fair distance! So I thought I would share my experiences, mostly because I would have loved some reassurance before setting off on that first flight!
Firstly, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting. Actually, the younger you travel with a baby the easier it is in many ways. I was (and still am) breastfeeding which meant up until six months old I didn’t need to take any food for him, he had an instant source of comfort, and he had absolutely no problem with ear pain as I fed him on take off and landing (he was a lazy feeder when he was little and took his time so we managed it all the way down.) Now I take water and snacks which take a long while to eat for landing (and as entertainment on the plane), and jars of baby food for meals although on our last flight he refused all of his and wanted my plane meal! I take plenty of food in case of delays, but as they get older they can eat parts of your meal too. A feeding cover was my best baby buy, as it stops anyone getting offended and also prevents the baby from getting distracted while breastfeeding. It’s a good idea to practise with it before you fly, I hadn’t used it for ages before my last flight and my son thought it was for playing peek-a-boo! Luckily he soon remembered it’s real purpose.
Entertainment options are more limited on flights due to the amount you can reasonably take with you (on top of the spare clothes, nappies, food etc.) Small babies need very few toys, and you can utilise things already on the plane when they get a bit bigger like the magazine and cards with what what to in an emergency. The window blind and tray table are a source of endless entertainment (but annoying) and you can walk up and down the plane looking at things (and people) for quite a while. For our last flight I bought some new, small toys and took them out at intervals – a mini wooden jigsaw (he couldn’t do it but liked playing with the pieces), some Duplo, flash cards with pictures on and some paperback books. The best option is to fly overnight with a bassinet seat, which you can also put them in when you need to eat (especially if travelling solo). This also gives you more legroom and a little play area if you are by the window.
My last tip is to just take plenty. Changes of clothes, nappies, wetwipes… Anything you might need for your travel time, plus extra for delays. I always pack enough to get me door to door so that I don’t have to go through my suitcase for spares when I land, though I guess this isn’t always very practical if you have more than one child! I’ve given up taking things on for myself, I haven’t watched a single film or read anything on any flight since I had my son so that saves some space and the airlines have never questioned my hand luggage when I turn up with a full changing bag plus a bag of my own. If you take your pushchair to the gate then you can balance the hand luggage on there around the airport, and we have a baby sling so that we can be hands-free any time we don’t have the pushchair. Depending on which airline you fly with, the crew are generally very helpful (though often busy), and are happy to hold the baby or fetch things down from the overhead locker if you can’t manage them. Other passengers can also be very helpful, and may even entertain your baby for a while, though be prepared for the groans of some when they realise they are sitting near you (very rude I think, given that most of the disturbances on planes come from the grown-ups).
And if all else fails, remember it is only one flight, it will eventually come to an end, and hopefully the baby will sleep before then!
I would love to hear how other people cope with flying. Does having another child change everything? Or have I just been incredibly lucky? Please let me know!