13 tips for travelling long-haul with a baby
Former flight attendant and new mum Alice Cranfield offers 13 tips for travelling long-haul with baby.
Before becoming a mother, I had worked as a flight attendant and over the years I helped hundreds of parents who braved long-haul flying with their baby. I left the industry a few years ago but found myself harking back to some of that old wisdom when my husband and I recently boarded a flight with our then 10-month-old daughter. Despite my previous professional experience I boarded the plane anxiously, wondering if we were going to be “those people” with a bawling baby.
Flying from Auckland to Sicily, the three of us set out on our first overseas family adventure. Our destination was a mere 25-hour flight away. I’m not going to beat around the bush here – flying with a baby is hard work. Forget selecting movies you’d like to watch or sipping on a glass of wine while reading a trashy magazine, this is not flying as you’ve come to know it. Don’t despair though. With a bit of preparation, you’ll make it to the arrivals lounge in one piece. Here are 13 of my top tips (some learnt through bitter experience) for travelling with the youngest international jet-setters:
Whenever you can, book flights with an evening departure time so the bulk of flying happens through the night. A day flight means passengers and your child will be awake for much longer periods of time. We ran into trouble when we booked a 14-hour day flight home from Dubai. This meant our baby demanded entertainment for much of the flight, and resulted in two very exhausted parents by touch down.
When booking your tickets, be sure to check your airline’s bassinet weight restrictions as these vary between carriers. Air New Zealand will allow a baby up to 11.8kgs to use a bassinet whereas Emirates only allows a baby up to 10kgs to use them. We managed to just squeeze our 10-month-old into the Emirates’ bassinet.
During my flight attendant training we were told a baby should suck during takeoff and landing. Unlike adults, babies don’t know how to equalise their ears, so feeding (breast or bottle) naturally helps a baby to do this. I found feeding my daughter during taxi and takeoff also provided a good chance to calm her before the flight ahead.
If you are breastfeeding, be sure to look after yourself during the flight. Like you, your baby will be thirstier than normal on a plane. I misread bubs’ thirst for water as hunger and totally exhausted myself on the first leg by con-stantly breastfeeding. It’s important to keep yourself hydrated and offer a water bottle to your baby regularly, too. Once I cottoned onto this, I found the next flight a lot less physically demanding. The same applies if you’re bottle-feeding. Keep a water bottle or sipper cup on hand for both you and baby.
I kept a large muslin cloth close by and this became an essential item on the plane. We used it for privacy when feeding, blocking out light while baby was sleeping, and of course, to play peek-a-boo!
All airlines allow families with young children to board the plane first. Use this time to get onboard early and organise yourselves. During boarding, a flight attendant should introduce themselves, show you where toilets with change tables are and give you an infant seat belt. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions. No question is a dumb one when you’re traveling with a baby and your family needs to be comfortable.
It’s policy on airlines that children don’t sit on the floor in front of you. This can seem a bit unfair when you’re sitting at a bulkhead with enough room for your child to play at your feet but this is for their own safety. Should you hit turbulence, the floor is not a safe place to be.
Have a few toys on hand to keep your child both entertained and distracted during the flight. You don’t need a whole bag of toys, but a few objects to keep them occupied for a while are essential.
I packed an old wallet and stuffed each pocket with different things – old cards, small photos, finger puppets, hair-ties, pegs and receipts to name a few. This was a great distraction for my daughter as she rummaged her way through the wallet and ripped everything out for a good look.
It’s also a good idea to pack one or two toys that are new to your child. Think objects that provide distraction for as long as possible.
Remember that when your child is not in the bassinet, she will be on your knee. Front packs are wonderful for both the plane ride and traveling through airports. As well as keeping baby happy and close to you, you’ll have your hands free. Our front pack also doubled as a great sleep aid in busy places or when settling in the onboard bassinet didn’t work.
Whenever our daughter became scratchy and restless, we would take turns wearing the front pack and set out on a walk. Up and down the aisles we would go, stopping and looking at things as we moved. Use your imagination – opening and closing ashtrays and filling cups under the water fountain provided my daughter with plenty of entertainment. The plane is filled with fascinating lights and knobs for a curious baby – just keep away from the doors.
Many people love seeing a baby on board and often they’ll want to say hi to your little one. My advice is to let the flight at-tendant or lady who is stretching her legs have a cuddle with your child if they want to. It’s nice to give your arms a break for a few seconds and your child will love the interaction with someone new as well.
When I was a flight attendant I loved chatting with babies whenever I could. I cannot stress this next point enough – a flight attendant is there to help you, so call on them if you need help with anything at all.
There are times when a flight attendant is very busy, namely directly after takeoff or during a meal service, but in between these times there is often a lot of down time when they can happily help with things like heating a bottle or getting an extra blanket.
While many airlines have some baby food available it is limited, so it is best to pack enough food and snacks to last the flight and connection times, then some extras just in case. You’ll also need to pack a decent supply of nappies and items such as Pamol or teething gel. You never know what could happen onboard. During our first flight our daughter’s two front teeth decided to finally break through!
When you take off, keep your watch on your departure country’s time until you land. By doing this, you will be able to figure out where your baby is at with meals and sleeps during the flight. Just because the lights are out, doesn’t mean your baby won’t want breakfast at the normal time. I felt like I maintained some sense of control by keeping tabs on the time during the flight. I could stay one step ahead and anticipate her needs for the most part. Once we reached our destination, we would switch to the local time and continue as normal. We were amazed how quickly our little one switched to the new time zone.
If you can, have a stopover. On our way to Sicily we stopped for a night in Dubai but on the way home, we flew straight through. One way was tiring but manageable; the other was simply exhausting! It is worth the money to stop and give everyone a chance to stretch their legs and rest in a bed.
Most importantly, remember to cut yourself some slack. I exhausted myself trying to have the “perfect” baby on each flight. Over the miles we travelled, I realised that while some flights are okay, others are hard and there are bound to be tears. Sure, it’d be awesome to have a perfect baby for the entire journey, but eventually they’re going to (shock, horror) cry! Do what you need to do to calm them and try to forget about all the other passengers. You’ve paid for your seat too and you have every right to be there with your little bundle.
Alice Cranfield is a freelance journalist who is navigating her way through working from home with a little one in tow. She lives in Piha with her husband Johnny and daughter Lily.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 28 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW