Are you thinking of bringing your little one on his first plane ride? Worried that your baby might not be able to cope with a long flight? Read on for useful strategies on surviving baby’s first flight.
1. The younger, the better
Both our boys went on their first plane ride when they were almost 4 months old. Both times, I wanted to squeeze in a family trip before returning to work at the end of my maternity leaves. Both times, we decided to fly to Australia. Babies are the best travel companions because the only thing they do is to sleep, feed, pee and poo (in no specific order). Probably the most eventful memories on our flights were the episodes of hubby changing a poop-laden diaper in the tiny airplane toilet. We flew on a no-frills carrier hence I don’t recall being given an option for a bassinet. On hindsight, it would have been wiser to book a flight with bassinet as that would have made diaper changing a breeze.
2. Feed baby on take off and descend
Babies need to continuously suckle during take off and landing to reduce ear pain caused by the difference in air pressure. Remember how painful and annoying this could be? Time baby’s feed so that his suckles can help ease the pain. If you are still breastfeeding, that makes it even simpler as you have no bottles to sterilise, no hot water to request from the crew, no hungry squeals waiting for the temperature to be just right. Grab a nursing cover, position, latch. Definitely a perk to continue breastfeeding!
If your kid’s older, you can feed him biscuits or snacks to keep him chewing. Our boys get gummy treats and that keeps them happy and contented. Not recommended if your kids get too hyperactive with sugar overdose. You would want them to rest and preferably sleep for most part of the journey.
3. Delay nap time as much as possible
We usually try and keep our boys awake before the flight, just so they will be tired and fall asleep easily in the plane. Of course you need to know your kids very well as sleep deprivation can also lead to cranky babies.
If you are flying off at night, get your baby to take his naps earlier in the day and keep him awake till you have boarded the plane. This strategy works well for us so far. More often than not, our boys will be asleep for a good part of the flight. Now that they are bigger and get their own seats, they usually sleep through mealtimes as well. We’d rather them sleep than wake them up for their meals anyway.
4. Bag full of stuffs
Each time we fly, we will have a bag full of stuffs we might need in the plane. When the boys were younger, pacifier was an important source of comfort for them. Hence pacifiers (yes we usually bring a spare in case we lose one) were critical items. (By the way, pacifiers can help to reduce the pressures in the ears too!) We would also bring whatever toys our kids fancy, be it a ball, rattle, soft toys, teethers, etc.
When the kids were slightly bigger, we brought along story books, colouring materials, play doh, toy cars… anything the boys fancy playing. The trick is to take out one item at a time. Our boys have short attention span, hence we needed to ensure that our stash can last us throughout the flight! I learnt this from a friend, back when I was not married and I was travelling with her and her 2 year old toddler. She had a bag full of everything to occupy her son, it felt like she was performing magic tricks – “ta dah! Here’s a toy!” When we travelled on budget flights, we will also make sure we have one or two videos in our phones for emergency purposes, in case our bag of stuffs couldn’t appease them.
Now that #1 has his own mini luggage, we get him to pick and choose his own books and toys that he wants to bring along on the trip. And this mini luggage goes into the plane with us, and supplements our bag of stuff.
5. Arrive at the airport early
Be at the airport minimally 2 hours ahead of your flight. The earlier the better as this will give you ample time to settle yourselves and baby before a flight.
When overseas, you might want to reach the airport as early as 3 hours ahead of your flight, as you will need to orientate yourself in a foreign airport. Some airports are huge, and getting from one place to another could easily mean a 10 min walk (or 20 min with kids in tow). At some airports, there could be multiple bag checks and at others, the bag checks could be so thorough, it will take a while before you can clear the immigration and board your flight.
If your kid is slightly bigger, you might want to bring him to the viewing gallery and prep him for the flight. Our boys love watching the planes take off and land.
6. Infant travel perks
Some airlines provide preferential treatment to families travelling with an infant. We’ve been ushered into fast lanes, family queues and given boarding priority when we were travelling with our infant. We have had lesser of these perks once our boys upgraded to child seats.
Travelling with infant also means that you can get away with bringing in filled water bottles, hot water flasks and baby food. At least for us, we do.
It also helps that infant fares are a fraction of a child’s fare, another perk of travelling with your child before he turns 2.
7. Babywear and strollers
If you bring along a stroller, you have the option of pushing your stroller all the way to the flight gate or checking it in with the rest of your luggage. If you check in the stroller, you’ll most likely retrieve it at the baggage zone when you arrive at your destination airport. If you push the stroller with you to the gate, you might want to ask the crew where is the stroller retrieving point before you disembark from the plane. That’s because different airlines seem to have different arrangements. Most times, the stroller will be parked at the exit galleys from the plane. But there were occasions when the stroller got sent to the baggage retrieval zone. At one of our trips, we totally forgot about our stroller and it ended up lost in transit. We had to wait over an hour for the stroller to be identified and transported to the airport terminal that we were in.
When the kids were younger, we usually travel with the carrier instead of the stroller just because it is much more convenient. Take note that you might be required to remove baby and the carrier at the baggage screening counter, which can be a hassle if baby is sleeping. But it has to be done. Also, some flight crew allow me to continue babywearing in the plane as long as the infant belt is safely strapped around baby’s waist. Some flight crew demand that baby be removed from the carrier at take off and landing. I used to angst over these demands, but I have learnt to accept that the crew is just doing their job and following their flight protocol. No point arguing over it, but on my end, I would make a mental note on the airlines I like and don’t like travelling with.
8. The Infant seat belt
If you are travelling with an infant, you’ll be given a seat belt that needs to be attached to yours. If it’s your first time on the flight with your baby, let the crew know and they will assist you to put it on. You can still cradle your baby, nurse, carry over your shoulder etc with the infant seat belt on him. So it is really not restrictive at all.
We have heard of families bringing along car seats on the plane and strapping their child on the car seat. We have never tried doing that. For us, the infant seat belt suffices. If you are bringing in a car seat, you will need to buy a child ticket so that your baby gets a seat of his own.
If you requested for a basinette, you need to remove baby from the basinette and strap him with the infant seat belt at take-off and landing, as well as during episodes of turbulence. So you might want to familiarise yourself with the belt so that you can buckle up with ease.
9. Appeasing the cranky baby
There was one flight we were on where the boys took turns to be cranky and made a fuss in the plane. It all started because they were over-tired after our plane (and their sleep) got delayed by 2 hours. It didn’t help that the crew insisted that I remove my carrier even though my 4 month old was fast asleep. In the midst of the transfer from carrier to arm, he woke up and cried his lungs out. It was our first time flying with 2 kids, and with hubby occupied with #1, I had to remain calm and try and appease my baby. The crew in this instance did nothing to help the situation. Baby calmed down only after I put him back in the carrier after take-off.
For obvious reasons, I’ve chosen not to fly with the airline anymore because of their inability to empathise and make concessions.
10. You know your baby best!
Whatever the situation is, remember that you are the best person to appease your own baby cos you know him best. We have had a number of unfriendly glares from fellow passengers in our flight upon seeing our young kids. We have heard of people who will ask to change seats because they don’t want to be seated next to a baby. We have had someone telling our son off for kicking his seat.
Rather, what keeps us travelling are the friendly and encouraging smiles from fellow parents who are also working hard to rein in their kids during flights. Then there are also the older parents who oft give us a reassuring “been there, done that” look. Our kids have received wonderful goodies and toys from air crew, chocolates and sweets from fellow passengers, there was a flight where me and another mum with a nursing baby shared breastfeeding tips and stories.
Don’t let the actions of others affect you. Remember, airplane rides are made accessible to everyone. You are not doing anything wrong by bringing your kids onboard flights. The key is to prepare yourself – physically, mentally and probably emotionally too – before your baby’s first flight. And you (and baby) will be just fine!
Have a safe flight and enjoy your holidays!