It seems one of the most anxiety-producing parts of parenting small children is flying with them. Reality almost always turns out to be far better than imagination but it’s still a good idea to be as prepared as possible. Here are a few ideas that have helped make our flights more enjoyable.
Newborn to 9 months
Flying with very small babies is in some ways the easiest time. So long as your baby is fed, dry and close to mom or dad she is more or less happy. Although we have not yet met anyone who has actually had problems with their babies ears during take off or landing, this is a good time to nurse or give a bottle to make sure your baby’s ears pop. Here’s our packing list for this age group.
- 2x as many diapers and wipes as you think you’ll need.
- 2x the formula or food (if baby is eating solids) you think you’ll need, plus any needed bottles
- Nursing cover if you are breastfeeding (also helps keep your baby asleep if the plane is brightly lit)
- Lots of burp cloths
- Basic baby meds including infant tylenol, Hyland’s teething tablets and saline nose drops. Even if your baby is healthy before you board the flight, it’s Murphy’s law that if you don’t bring these items, your baby will start teething or develop a terrible cold mid-flight.
- Several changes of clothes for your baby (in case of major spit-up or blowouts)
- Change of clothes for you (for the same reasons)
- Baby wearing device (sling, Ergo, etc). If your baby sleeps well when worn outside the plane chances are she will on the plane. Both the sling and Ergo have saved us on many a flight.
- 2-4 small toys and board books for babies old enough to enjoy them, although with all the loud noise many babies sleep really well on the plane and need little entertainment.
- Plastic changing pad. Not all airplanes are equipped with changing tables in the bathroom. A plastic changing pad (the kind that come with diaper bags) laid across a toilet seat makes a decent place to change your baby if no changing table is available.
- Until they’re old enough to grab things, bring along your ipod or a small magazine or book. Once your baby has fallen asleep you may be able to enjoy one of these. We say a “small” magazine or book because, if your baby is asleep in your arms, you will be holding the book or magazine with one hand, which quickly becomes painful with a thick issue of O magazine.
9 months to 18 months
As babies get older they become more mobile and more alert. This means they can be more easily entertained and distracted and it also means they must be entertained and distracted. Here’s our packing list for a carry-on at this age for a 4-8 hour flight. For a longer flight we’d pack twice as much.
- Ergo or other baby wearing device. At this age your child may not want to be worn while you sit in a seat but we still always use an Ergo during boarding and deplaning so both of us have our hands free and we can move quickly.
- 2x the diapers and wipes we think we’ll need for that time period
- Changing pad
- 2 changes of clothes for baby (with one being pajamas if flying close to bedtime) plus one change of clothes for each parent
- 2 bibs
- Non-staining, low-mess, nutritional, baby-pleasing foods such as applesauce, whole-grain graham crackers, goldfish crackers, cheerios, string cheese, Clif bars, freeze-dried bananas, and 2% milk in individual serving size boxes (no juice – it’s free on the plane).
- Meds including infant tylenol, Hyland’s teething tablets, Oragel, children’s benadryl (helps with upset stomachs as well as allergic reaction or, in desperate times, to sleep), and saline nose drops.
- 2 take and toss sippy cups
- 4 favorite board books including one Lift-the-flap book (such as Fisher Price Busy Town books)
- 6-8 small toys such as small dolls, cars, flashing plastic balls from Dollar Tree, water-painting cards (the picture on the special paper appears when wet but disappears again when dry – no paint to run off)
- One favorite stuffed animal
- Many parents swear by the portable DVD players, even at this young age. We haven’t tried that yet although probably will as Grace gets older.
- We don’t even bother bringing entertainment for ourselves at this age except perhaps one magazine each. The most we’ve been able to do even on the longest flights is read a few pages of a magazine. Our time is pretty much completely absorbed with keeping Grace occupied, even with two parents traveling together.
We keep all of the above except our changes of clothes in one backpack-type diaper bag under the seat in front of us. Here it can be easily accessed throughout the flight. Our changes of clothes are kept in a rollerboard suitcase in the overhead bin. These are rarely needed but can still be accessed overhead in an emergency, such as our recent flight home from Buenos Aires when Grace vomited all over Beth immediately after boarding.
We have found ourselves falling into a helpful routine on long flights with Grace. We call it the “snack, toy, book, walk, nap” routine. Essentially it’s exactly what it sounds like although the “snack, toy, book” part is usually repeated 4-5 times before one of us walks with Grace up and down the plane a few times, perhaps changes her diaper in the bathroom, after which she generally will fall asleep for 1-2 hours if during the day.
Helping Your Child Sleep On The Plane
Here are a few ideas, both our own and from other parents, on how to help your child sleep, especially on very long flights during the night.
- Get a good night sleep the night before. This is as important for you as for your children, since you are the least likely one to sleep much on the plane.
- Bring familiar bedtime items such as favorite pajamas, blankie and stuffed animal. Don’t get any of these out until the time you want your baby to go to sleep.
- Do your same bedtime routine as at home. Read her favorite bedtime story, sing a song, have a glass of milk, nurse, whatever you normally do at home do on the plane.
- Find ways to block out the light if you can. For smaller babies, drape a blanket or nursing cover over the baby. Older babies and toddlers will probably pull the blanket away but you may still be able to drape a blanket over baby, leaving plenty of room for air circulation, once she’s asleep.
- Try not to sit right under a flashing TV screen. It’s hard to know where these will be but your travel agent or desk agent when checking in should be able to tell you where the TV screens will be. You can also get some clues from seat maps on seatguru.com. Some babies (ours included) have a hard time settling down when an action film is flashing in their faces.
- If you can afford it, buy a seat for your baby. He’ll sleep better in his car seat than in your arms, especially if he still fits in his infant car seat that reclines.
- Bassinets are still available for very small babies on long-haul flights (and big planes), so long as you are seated in the bulkhead row. You will have to take your baby out if the fasten seatbelt sign comes on though.
- Talk to your doctor for advice about using medications or supplements such as Benadryl or Melatonin to help children sleep on very long flights.
- Know that some children (like adults) just don’t sleep well on the plane. One night of poor sleep will not harm a child for the long-term. The main goal of the flight is to keep the baby comfortable and happy, and help her sleep as much as possible. Don’t fret if she doesn’t get as much sleep as she normally does at home. She’ll make up for it quickly with naps once you get to your destination.