I first took my son on an airplane when he was barely four months old. I remember having just said goodbye to my husband and feeling awfully scared: how am I going to manage with a baby on the plane? Alone! What if my baby starts crying inconsolably? Sixteen months later I can tell you one thing — I survived. And yes, travelling with a baby can be fun. With a bit of planning ahead you’ll get the best out of it, guaranteed!
Planning the trip
Start early. Look for a baby-friendly airline and try to reserve bassinets and bulkhead seats (they are not the same, although some airlines have the bassinets in front of the bulkhead seats). Most airlines accommodate families with young babies by offering bassinets that hook onto the wall. ‘Priority for the bassinets goes to babies weighing less than 12lb (5.5 kilos),’ says Zelma Demeter, a travel consultant from Vancouver. The bassinet seats have enough room to accommodate you and your baby paraphernalia. The bulkhead seats have more leg room but the armrests are fixed, so even if there are empty seats next to you, you cannot lie down.
Many people decide to purchase an extra seat and bring along the car seat. Safety-wise it is preferable but paying for an extra seat can put a strain on the budget (usually half the price of the adult fare). Your baby might even refuse the car seat given the new setting. You can easily hold the baby on your lap and save a load of money. If the flight is not fully booked, chances are you’ll get a courtesy seat.
Travel pros recommend that you travel during off peak times. That means avoid the weekends and opt for midweek. Book a night flight, if possible — your baby is more likely to sleep and you may catch a wink, too. If it’s a short flight, aim for nap time.
You know this too well: babies need a lot of stuff, especially when travelling. If you are the type that travels light, this is a good time to change your strategy. List everything that you’ll need, starting with the items you and your baby cannot do without. The nappy bag, which you can take on board, should have an inventory to rival a survival kit — baby style, of course.
Nappies — enough to get you by and then some. If you like a certain brand, load up. Leaking nappies are not worth the stress. Take plastic bags for soiled nappies and the best wipes you can possibly find — all natural, no fragrance, and with the shortest list of ingredients. This is particularly important if you’ll have a long flight. Delicate baby bottoms can easily get rashes when travelling. Word to the wise — changing nappies in the tiny airplane bathroom can be cumbersome, but take a toy along to entertain the baby and work quickly. The transparent plastic cups were a real hit with my son.
Clothing — take enough spare clothing on board for you and your baby to face any mishap with dignity. Accidents happen, babies throw up and no diaper is seal-tight.
Feeding supplies — if you are exclusively breastfeeding, make sure you eat and rest well before your trip so that your milk supply will not be affected by the stress of getting everything ready. Start packing early so you’ll avoid the craziness of the last minute preparations. If your baby is bottle fed, consider buying enough cans of ready-to-feed formula instead of dealing with messy powder. In any case, bring along some disposable bottles to make things easier.
Your favourite baby carrier — of all the things I took with me there was one I couldn’t do without: my sling. Baby carriers are invaluable in soothing crying babies and helping them fall asleep. Not to mention getting around the airport. If your baby is too young for an umbrella stroller (you can take these on the plane), a regular stroller can sometimes be stashed in the cabin.
Some pain medication — either homeopathic remedies or children’s Panadol in case of unexpected pain.
Other essentials — baby blankets, wash-cloths and favourite toys completed my list.
Your list can be longer but you should be able to fit the diaper bag in the luggage compartment.
Up we go!
You probably know the golden rule of travelling with babies and toddlers: bring something for them to suck on during takeoffs and landings. Breastfeed or offer a bottle. The change in atmospheric pressure can make little ears hurt badly. A pacifier can work too but it is less effective given that your baby needs to swallow to equalise the pressure. This could be the only time when your toddler can have a lollipop. They too work well for relieving ear popping. If you hold the baby onto your lap you will be given a baby belt. Get comfortable with it before takeoff so you can give your full attention to the baby.
Whispers in the air
For most parents, travelling with a baby can be a breeze. Kind smiles from your travel mates can definitely make your day. But what if you get frowns and rolling eyes instead because your baby is having a crying spell? It’s simple — don’t mind them. That’s right, keep your cool and don’t take it personally. The most important thing is to soothe your baby. Walk the aisles with your baby and try to softly sing her a lullaby or simply whisper loving words in her ear. Don’t hesitate to ask the flight attendants for help.
Ultimately, keep in mind that your little one feels your distress and acts in consequence. Be calm and your chances to have a content baby will definitely increase. My husband’s words in response to my travelling worries were, ‘All he needs is you. He feels safe with you no matter where you take him.’ No need to say, those words have become my travelling mantra.
Kindred’s top baby-friendly airlines
(based on crew and staff attitudes and helpfulness, amenities, pre-boarding, stroller handling and meals)
Published in byronchild/Kindred, issue 13