Congratulations! You are now the proud parents of a little munchkin. While making sure the little one is fed, changed and not screaming his or her head off is already hard enough, there might come a moment where you will ask yourself: are we ready to go on our first flight as a family?
We’ve all been behind a crying baby on the plane, with flustered parents not knowing how to keep the small one calm. Unfortunately, infants have no fixed routines or knowledge of social conventions for that matter. As new parents, we can’t really claim to be experts on this matter yet, so I have asked a few experienced travel bloggers with kids on their take and bundled it with our own experiences so far.
Here are a few tips on how not to make rookie mistakes while taking your baby on the plane for the first time.
Baby’s first flight
Before the flight
Try a short flight first
It’s hard to make assumptions with a small child. You hope for the best in new situations, but you never really know how things pan out until you try it. That’s why I would advise starting with a short flight of, let’s say, an hour or two. If it’s hell, at least it’s not hell for 6 hours 🙂
Bring multiple outfits for your baby
We’ve been flying with our daughter since she was four months old, when we took her from Budapest to Iceland and on to Canada. Right around the time she hit her first birthday, she took her 19th flight to her 9th country. And on each of these 19 flights, we gradually got better at packing for her, entertaining her, and ensuring the experience was as smooth as possible for everyone involved.
Our top tip for a baby’s first flight is to bring multiple outfits for the baby, even if it’s just a short flight. On one particularly notable short flight, our daughter ruined three outfits in the span of 45 minutes. And on a recent flight from Greece, we sat across the aisle from a toddler who wore only his diaper (nappy) for most of the flight, having had trouser-ruining accident 15 minutes after takeoff.
Don’t buy priority boarding…
There are definitely different opinions on this matter. Some people just have the urge to be the first on the airplane. Even when I was a babyless traveler, I found that being one of the last people on the plane was much more relaxed, as all the awkward shoving, pushing and waiting in the aisle has already taken place, and usually you can just walk to your seat and put your carry-on luggage under the seat in front of you. Using that same logic also seemed to work pretty well with a baby, as spending more time waiting and generally getting annoyed on the plane doesn’t really benefit your mood, and by proxy your baby’s.
…but do get a lounge pass
I traveled with an 8-week-old on two flights from New Zealand to the USA and one of the things that made life “that much easier” was having access to an airline lounge. So if you don’t get one, it’s worth paying the extra. So why does it help?
- Babies come with a lot of things, so you can easily put down all your extra baggage without having to worry about it being taken when you’re in the bathroom, or that you have left it unattended for a few minutes. Notify the staff however to prevent any unnecessary commotion about unattended luggage.
- You have access to showers, great for a messy change, for you and the baby.
- You can arrive early if you want to, let the baby sleep in the stroller at their natural nap times so they are fresh and happy for the plane.
- Lounge staff are always extra helpful with young babies
- If the mother is breastfeeding, there is plenty of food and drink to sustain her, or you can easily have a bottle heated.
- It’s just much quieter and less chaotic
- Free coffee, food, and wifi. Do you need anything else?
Request the bassinet seat
Did you know that most long-haul flights have a bassinet available for babies? It is a cot that attaches to the bulkhead, where your baby can safely sleep (or play!) through the flight. Baby does not need to have his or her own seat – you can have the bassinet seat for your lap infant! Most airlines offer the bassinet for free.
You will be seated in the bulkhead, which some people do not like. But as a family traveling with a baby, having extra room to spread out is amazing, and having a place for your baby to lay (that is not on you) is a lifesaver!
In order to request the bassinet, you’ll need to call the airline as soon as you book your flight – the sooner, the better! There are height and weight restrictions that vary widely by airline, so be sure to google your airline + “bassinet” to find all the details.
Fly during nap time
During the first six months of our toddler’s life, we had the opportunity to fly with him at different times of the day. We do not consider ourselves experts, but we know one thing for sure – the flight is much better when the baby sleeps. If you can choose the time of your flight, select the ones that coincide with your baby’s naps. And even though our toddler does not sleep regularly, the most convenient for him was the late evening and night flights, as well as early morning ones. Also, don’t try to omit the earlier naps, hoping that the baby will fall asleep faster. One of our worst flights was when our little one was so tired that even the late hour of flying did not rock him to sleep.
Bring hand sanitizing wipes
After 2 years of flying with our son as a baby, now a toddler, there’s one thing we won’t fly without. For us, it’s not about the fancy travel gear or toys, but hand sanitizing wipes. (Super glamorous, right?) Any time we get on the plane, we wipe down everything around the seats and tray table that either us or our baby could touch. Our son was only 7 weeks old on his first flight, so he slept the whole time and didn’t touch a thing. For us though, it’s just as much about not getting sick ourselves and passing that onto him. When our son became more mobile and active on flights, the hand sanitizing wipes were key in helping limit the germs he was coming in contact with on the flight. We also use the sanitizing wipes to clean off any toys that drop on the floor and to keep our cell phones and other equipment as germ-free as we can.
Bring a spare top for yourself in your carry-on luggage
By Sinead from Map Made Memories (follow on Facebook)
Flying with a young baby involves so much planning, preparation, and sorting of equipment that it is easy to forget yourself in the ‘what to pack for baby’ process. I would recommend that any parent or carer traveling with a small baby should pack at least one spare top for themselves into their carry on bag. So when you unexpectedly get covered in baby vomit (or worse), you do not have to spend the rest of a stuffy, enclosed flight in a sick stained, foul-smelling top! I learned this invaluable traveling with kids tip very early on in flying with our then baby and unfortunately learned it the hard way!
Use a backpack diaper bag
By Diana from The Elusive Family (follow on Instagram)
A backpack diaper bag is a lifesaver when traveling with a baby. There is already so much to think about, so being able to have your hands free is necessary. There are many backpack diaper bags to choose from and each one is unique for different reasons. Whether you have twins, need one with insulated pockets, numerous pockets or a laptop compartment, here is a complete guide to choosing the best backpack diaper bag.
Backpack diaper bags are especially great for fliers; most backpack diaper bags fit carry-on requirements and fit easily under the seat in front of you. Many have plenty of organizational pockets and even quick access pockets to grab the necessities and some even have padded shoulders and chest clips for extra comfort. No matter which bag you choose, a backpack diaper bag will be a game-changer.
Buy an inflatable nursing pillow
We took each of our three children on international flights in their first five months. Although we generally try to avoid travel-specific products, our one invaluable purchase was an inflatable nursing pillow. It fit into our carry on, and we could easily inflate to the desired firmness as soon as we boarded. Even when not nursing, our infant could comfortably lounge in our laps with protection from the metal armrests. This small travel item made traveling with lap babies so much easier.
Pack teething gel and baby medicine in your hand luggage
I took my first flight with my baby when she was just six weeks old and since then she has been on countless flights. My top tip I’ve learned from all these flights is always have baby medicines packed in your hand luggage and in a pocket that is easy to reach mid-flight!
Changes in air pressure can hurt babies ears, so having some pain relief for them can really help soothe their ears! A dummy or feeding on take-off can also help!
And if there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that babies always teeth at the worst times so don’t forget to bring some teething gel for that too!
At the airport
Wear your baby
The number one thing we bring to make a flight go well with a small baby is a baby carrier. The baby carrier will allow you to get through security holding all your bags instead of trying to juggle everything while holding your baby or pushing a stroller. It also means that if your baby falls asleep before boarding you won’t have to wake them up taking them out of the stroller when you get on to the plane. It also helps if your baby is having a hard time falling asleep because it makes pacing back and forth with them a lot easier.
Be creative with what you have
It’s not necessary to bring a thousand toys on a flight if you have a little bit of creativity in you. Two bags and a hanging toy with velcro makes a (mobile) baby gym, and a sling or a few muslins can make for a nice playmat on the airport floor. Most airports have plenty of space to find some space for some personal entertainment, so why not keep your baby happy with a song and a dance?
Wear your baby out before boarding
Before boarding a flight, allow your baby to crawl (or run) around the airport as much as possible before boarding the airplane. This will encourage your baby to wiggle their energy out, which will hopefully wear them out before your long journey. When we fly with our daughter, we try to find an open space in the terminal where our daughter can run freely. We also allow her to pace back and forth in the walkways as many times as she would like (we stay right by her side, of course). You will want to be mindful of other travelers, so try to find a place where your baby will not be the way of hurried travelers (some airports even have designated play areas for this). Avoid keeping them cooped up in your arms or in a stroller, or you’ll most certainly have an active, squirmy, and possibly unhappy little one when your flight is about to take off.
Gate-check your stroller
One of our absolute musts when traveling with a small baby is to gate-check your stroller. It’s especially worth if you have a long layover!
Having the stroller available in a large airport means you’ll move much faster, and you won’t have to carry your baby, leaving you hands-free (and not sweaty from a carrier). It will also give your little one somewhere to sleep if needed during a layover, and keep you mobile while they’re sleeping.
The downside of gate-checking your stroller is that you have to wait for them to bring it to the door at the other end. It usually takes a few extra minutes and if the plane unloads outside you’ll have to wait for it in the elements. I just take my time getting off the plane so we don’t have to wait long for it.
If you’re on an international flight, this automatically puts you to the end of the customs line. Usually, there’s an express lane for families though, so this isn’t that big of an issue.
One note of caution: be sure to double-check whether the stroller will come back to the door on the other end. Some airports will send any gate-checked items through with the checked bags on arrival, and you’ll pick up your stroller from the baggage claim area. This is always worth checking because you don’t want to end up standing at the airplane door waiting for something that isn’t coming! (If you forget, just ask the gate agent at the arrivals airport).
Do a diaper change before take-off
While changing a diaper in an airplane bathroom is a bucket-list experience in itself, it might not be something you would like to deal with on every flight. The changing facilities at the airport are usually much, much better, so make sure you have an extra poop-check before you board the plane!
During the flight
Feed your baby during take-off and landing
The difference in air pressure during take-off and landing makes our adult-sized ears pop and feel uncomfortable. It’s the same for babies and they, of course, have no idea what’s going and might start crying. Swallowing helps reduce the pressure in your head, and you can help your baby doing this by (breast)feeding him or her during takeoff and landing.
Be ready to entertain
While I personally think that and iPad or iPhone shouldn’t be a fix-all for all entertainment-related problems of a small child, I have experienced firsthand how it can instantly calm down even the most upset child, grabbing their attention and glueing them to the screen. A powerful tool, but to be used with caution. The more basic ways of entertaining a child, such as singing, playing with toys, making faces or reading a book can still work magic.
Focus on soothing your child
Keeping a screaming child calm in an airplane can get a bit awkward if you use some of the quirky ways you would use at home. For example, we have noticed that a combination of three things almost always calms our munchkin: wearing her in a sling, rocking back and forth while standing, and playing Abba’s dancing queen. You can imagine that this can would get you some looks on an airplane. But on the other hand, what would your fellow passengers rather have: a screaming baby, or someone rocking back and forth playing Abba?