Flying short haul with a baby

Flying above the east coast of Australia

Where there’s a will there’s a way. Right? Mostly. All bets are off when it comes to kids but we up for giving anything a red hot go once or twice. Flying is no different.

We hoped we’d be able to continue our gallivanting lifestyle when we welcomed our little adventurer. Nine months in, we’re lucky to report that our tot (who first flew at 7 weeks) has an appetite for adventure and has racked up double figures in domestic flights to date.

Although we are far from expert, recently I’ve had quite a few Mums reach out to me personally for tips on flying with a baby. We’ve flown as a family and also as a Mama/Daughter duo. There’s a bunch of standard tips for flying with a baby that your medical professional, early childhood nurse, or even the plane crew can advise you on, so do speak to them to get the gamut of regular baby best practice (eg. feed to help their ears adjust).

Below is a bunch of other general tips we’ve learnt on our baby air adventures so far:

CHOOSING YOUR FLIGHT

  1. Departure time
    Depending on the flexibility of your circumstances, strategise about the best time to fly for you all. You know your babies personality and pattern, so work this to your travel advantage. For us, we fly in the morning around nap time (no more getting the last evening flight back to maximise time in our destination). We find choosing a flight time just a bit earlier than the little one’s nap time is more fluid: once in the air we can do her go-to-bed routine at her leisure, rather than her getting agitated if she wants to get to sleep but she can’t because departure is delayed and all the commotion of the crew is too distracting. Just sayin’.
  2. Seat allocation
    If you are flying with an airline that will let you choose your seat prior to departure, have a go at picking a spot that works for you. Consider your baby’s personality/temperament/settling tactics. We choose a window seat because our curious, alert little tyke is easily distracted and will wake quickly if her eyes crack open at all and she seems something interesting (aka. EVERYTHING). If your little one needs to be rocked/walked around or otherwise, another seat might be a better option. It’s trial and error. We’ve tried both and found what works for us.

ON THE GROUND

  1. Get to the airport early
    Even when you’re moving at (what feels like) light speed, time simply evaporates with babies. Apart from the lengthy list of stalls a baby could request at any time (‘I’m hungry!’/‘I need a nappy change!’/‘I want out of this baby carrier!’/‘Yeah, but I don’t want YOU, I want the OTHER ONE!’/ ‘STOP. What’s the cool big red thing! Let me stare at it!’ etc), it just takes longer to bag drop (or check-in if the airport is old school), clear security and walk to the gate. Let’s face it, trying to rush through any of the former just doesn’t happen anymore. Well, it could if you really had to, but parental exhaustion equates to lack of speed anyway. If you get to the airport earlier than needed, you’re building in said time evaporation, and the lower your haste (nerves) or flapping (stress levels) are as you approach the gate the better. Babies sense your mood.
  2. Stretch their legs
    Once your baby is more than 10 weeks old, we’ve found that playtime is essential in balancing out all the sitting (hopefully sleeping) the little one is about to do up in the air. We carry a muslin wrap or blanket and a few little toys with us so we can set up a small play area in a corner of the airport for our little adventurer to have a kick about/roll about/sit and rattle before we board. Whether it works because it tires her, it interests her, or it just provides variety; who knows. Who cares? Only the three of us probably because the baby is a happy camper.
  3. Fresh nappy pre-flight
    It was a crew member who advocated this to me after boarding our first flight with the baby. The nappy change on the plane is in the toilet, the size of a mouse’s cupboard, and not only are you on the move, a baby can be freaked out in there by the small room/weird noises/unfamiliarity. As part of our fit-to-fly routine, we always get a fresh nappy (that’s Australian for diaper, my American friends) on the baby to reduce the chance of a mid-air change. That’s regardless whether it’s 5 minutes old or 2 hours old, she gets a fresh one. Because we’ve done one plane change, and our happy-go-lucky lass was not too sure about that weird room AT ALL.
  4. Board last
    Yes, airlines invite you to board first with a family before the stampede of other travellers. But no, we aren’t a fan of this as then it’s just more time on the plane to entertain your tot. We lurk at the gate like someone’s long-lost cousin and then stroll towards the plane at final call. Then, by the time you’re seated, the plane is pushing back and the crew are demonstrating their safety procedures before the baby has even had a chance to stare at the lights for a really long time. WIN.

IN THE AIR

  1. The entertainers
    Without being a travelling circus, have a few entertainment items that your baby really responds to in your bag. It might be the favourite toy at the time, or a favourite book, or even simply an empty water bottle. They are handy to whip out if your baby only sleeps one sleep cycle (d’oh) and you need a sequence of tricks up your sleeve to get through to wheels-down.
  2. The sleep curtain
    If you have an older baby, or a super inquisitive one, we’ve found that stealthily hanging a muslin wrap, pashmina or scarf from behind Mama’s shoulder to the seat in front helps to create a sleep curtain. It’s enough to add a bit of darkness (especially upon descent when the window blinds MUST open), or a bit of privacy for the sleeping babe.
  3. Mama snacks
    Whether you’re in the air 15 minutes or three hours, a mama is gonna get a-hungry. Especially if you’re breastfeeding (gimme all the food). With a baby sleeping in your arms, on your chest, or however they can get comfortable on your lap, you’ve lost your food tray. Some airlines will try to help out with offering a snack (cheese and crackers; pretzels; a cookie), but to avoid disappointment pack something you can eat one handed. And if you’re travelling solo with a baby, something you can stash in the side of your seat and pull out to eat, one handed, when the tyke is counting sheep.
  4. Ear situations
    It’s only happened once but it was the longest 15 minutes of our life. We got through it by trying (and failing with) a bunch of different tricks to settle her. She tried each (breastfeeding/cuddling/toys/songs/water bottle), and we tried each a few times, and eventually Mr Travel Tales pulled a funny face that entertained her for the last 5-10 minutes we needed. I guess the tot tip here is to just try and try again until something works!

ARRIVAL

Wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care, you’ve arrived! Regardless whether you had a textbook experience or a calamity of occasions, you’re at your destination and onto fun things. Oh, the places you can go! (Thanks Dr. Seuss).

____________________

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