Monday, 12 May 2014

Flying with babies

We've done 2 long-ish flights with Doof now - one to Vegas at 5 months and one to Boston at 13 months. I keep seeing people asking for baby/toddler flight advice so thought I'd finally share our thoughts/opinions.


Young babies (0-6 months) - i.e. pre-crawling/walking

Their lack of mobility and smaller size make young babies pretty ideal travelling companions. Unless you're hoping for the chance to sleep for 8 hours or watch a couple of uninterrupted movies...

Top tips:

1. Follow routine for bed

If it's a night flight then stick with your usual routine - we stuck to the same old:
meal, bath & nappy change, into pyjamas, breastfeed, swaddle and bed. The only difference was a bit of imagination at times. So the "bath" was actually a wash with wet wipes in the plane loo and the swaddling was more of a token effort as there wasn't much room for D to move in the bassinet anyway. The most tricky bit was the whole "blackout room" bit as even when the lights are off in the plane there are still some lights on and Doof was actually ready for bed long before the cabin lights went off!! So instead we rigged up a cover for the bassinet with one of his giant muslins and a couple of airplane blankets. I obviously would never have gone to sleep myself with him covered like that in case they fell in on his face etc but they were a godsend until the cabin lights went off and then I took them away. Sticking to his same routine definitely helped Doof realise when it was time for bed despite all the new things he'd seen and done that day

Giant muslins are an essential part of life with a baby!

2. Stick to your time zone

Different people will tell you different things. We stuck with our original time zone until we reached our destination. So when flying London to Vegas we stuck with GMT during the flight and only changed to American time when we landed. The main reason for doing that was it's much easier to keep Doof in his usual routine timing-wise - he was always going to need food after 4 hours followed by a sleep followed by a play etc. So the actual time made no difference except when it came to "bedtime". And again here it was much easier to stick with the current time as he was tired at that clock's bedtime so it would have been pointless to try and 'switch' him to a completely different time zone in advance. We also banked on the fact that he wouldn't sleep for nearly as long "overnight" on the plane as he did at home in his cot, so when we landed in Vegas in the early afternoon he hadn't actually had a full nights sleep so was happy (ish!) to go to bed again a few hours later. 

3. Use the bassinet

If at all possible reserve the bulkhead seats and request a bassinet from the airline ahead of time. At this age nearly all babies will still comfortably fit in bassinet - whether it's to sleep or even just to lie them there when you need some hands free time (bathroom break, to eat supper etc). Be aware though that every time there is turbulence and the seatbelt sign goes on you do have to take baby out of the bassinet and strap them to you - very annoying if you've just got them to sleep, but safety first and I completely understand why they have that rule

Just fitting in the Virgin cot at 5 months

4. Breastfeeding

If you are breastfeeding then wear an easy-access top and breastfeed during takeoff and landing. Doing this helps their ears to "pop" (or the pressure to neutralise) - thus avoiding the horrible ear pain unequalised ears can cause. I also offered a BF whenever Doof looked like he might vaguely want one as the air can be quite dry on planes and it can make you, and your baby, more thirsty than usual

5. Don't skip meals

We had only just starting weaning Doofy and I wasn’t sure whether there was any point in bothering to take purees, bowls, spoons, bibs etc on the flight with us as he was still getting most of his nutrition from milk. I’m really glad I did though as the whole process of getting him ready for a meal, him eating and then tidying up afterwards entertained him for at least 20 minutes (and it was only an Ella’s kitchen mango breakfast pouch!).

6. Carrier for pacing up and down 

I can’t even express how valuable our Ergo was. Even if the holiday was the only time we ever used it (which isn’t the case at all) it would have been worth buying! It was great for the airport – carrying Doof around easily without having to worry about having a bulky buggy to manhandle and was perfect for when we arrived at the other end – we didn’t even take a buggy with us on this holiday. But on the flight… I definitely couldn’t have lived without it. Our flight back to the UK was a night flight so no problem with Doof sleeping but our outbound one to the USA was during the day and there was no way he was going to lie napping in the bassinet when there was exciting daytime “stuff” to do L but after 10 minutes walking him around the emergency exit area/galley in the carrier and he was fast asleep. The only downside was I was too scared to sit down in case he woke up but it was no big deal as I just loitered in the bulkhead and read my book standing up!


Older ones (10-18 months) - i.e. cruising/toddling

The combination of increased activity, knowing what they do (and most definitely *don’t*) want to do and the fact that they are no longer satisfied by just being plugged onto a boob for hours on end means travelling with toddlers needs a little more preparation.

Top tips:
1. Small toys

Doof was still too young to really be interested in watching the inflight TV (but I imagine this must be worth its weight in gold if your kids are into TV!) so instead we had to think of other things to entertain him, especially as one of the flights was a daytime one. I packed a small drawstring bag with lots of small toys (all his happyland farm animals came), a few cars that he could push around the floor and 3 hardboard books that we could either read together or he could flick through on his own - due to limited space in carry-on luggage, size was definitely a prime concern. I tried to only get one toy out at a time and when it was time for a snack or meal I put all the toys away so we could then make it a game when they came out again. I’ve heard other people recommend wrapping lots of little presents up so the child gets to unwrap each one separately – this sounds like a great idea for a slightly older toddler or child (and also means if they happen to look inside the toy bag it will still be a surprise what toys are in there!).

The 3 minutes during which he was entranced by "Finding Nemo". Sadly didn't last long!

2. Familiar food

Bring food with you from home if possible. Although some flights say they provide kids meals Doof was not given one on either of our flights – I’m not sure whether that’s because the airline messed up or because he was under 2 and didn’t have his own “seat”. The main reason I decided to bring food with me was in case he didn’t like what the plane offered (and hungry toddler = very grumpy toddler!) but I was even more glad I had when I realised they weren’t going to give him any! So for the journey from London to Boston I took a cheese sandwich, “pudding pouch” and cereal bar for one meal and a “main meal” pouch, “pudding” pouch and a banana for the other. For the journey back I bought similar food from Wallmart and Doof seemed equally happy with that. You can always supplement what you bring with anything on the plane that you think they will like - Doof ate most of my bread roll but to be honest there wasn't much else in the inflight meal he would've happily eaten.

3. Snacks, water cup for takeoff

Takeoff can be the hardest bit, especially if there is a long taxi, as toddlers don’t tend to like being strapped to your lap, unable to get down to explore… As with most boys I found the way to Doof’s heart (and therefore the best way to keep him quiet) was with food! I had a bag of organix crisps and he slowly snacked on those over about 20 minutes. I think he really enjoyed the novelty of being allowed access to a whole packet and this definitely helped distract him. The other critical bit was his water cup so he could suck on that to help his ears “un-pop”.

4. Own seat!

This is a no-brainer obviously but most people enjoy taking babies on holiday precisely because they don’t have to pay for a separate seat for them. We were lucky enough for there to be a spare seat next to Daddy on one of the journeys though – awesome result!

5. BA carseat

BA have a “car seat” which you can use for toddlers too big for the bassinet. It sits up on the same shelf that the bassinet does and is a really useful place to park your toddler when you’re eating, just need to stretch your legs out or (added bonus if your child does this!) when it’s time for their nap. Sadly Doof didn’t sleep in his at all – we resorted to the Ergo again (see baby tips above) – but if he had it would have been in a perfect location – keeping him off the floor, within easy reach and sight, all whilst still allowing you the ‘luxury’ of all the legroom that your seat affords… To use this, as well as the bassinet, you do need to make sure you reserve a bulkhead seat though (or if the airline screws your reservation up, like they did with one of our journey legs, hope that there are some very nice other passengers who are happy to trade seats) as the shelf they sit on is only available in those seats.

He only really sat in this seat long enough for me to take this photo :(

6. BA bassinet bigger than virgin

Obviously this might not help you if you’ve already booked a flight but it’s useful info to know if you’re still choosing a carrier. Doof aged 5 months just fitted in Virgin bassinet. Doof aged 13 months managed to squish into BA one!

Just squidging in at 13 months...

7. Make up the milk when you first board

If you are still using formula milk then have a pre-measured amount in a small container and ask the cabin crew to fill your beaker/bottle with boiling water as soon as you board. Make up the milk straight away and then stash it somewhere – by the time you need it, it should have cooled to a nice temperature and you don’t have to stress about running it under cold water/dumping it in ice etc. By the time we flew Doof was actually on cow’s milk but I thought it would be much easier to do the above for the flight rather than trying to find fresh milk after going through security and it actually worked really well. I had small 100ml containers I’d used for expressing in the early days – a perfect size for the amount of formula needed for a 180ml Tommee Tippee cup :)


I hope some of these tips are helpful to anyone else thinking of long distance travel. On our next transatlantic flight Doof will have just turned 2 and Doofette will be 3 months so anyone with tips on how to manage two children please comment below!!

Happy travelling :)

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