As an expat, flying is something that definitely doesn’t stop once you’ve had a baby. We first flew with Tali when she was 4 months old (from Hong Kong to Australia for a wedding) and after it became a regular activity. Even if it’s not regular for you, you might well find yourself at the airport with your junior, so here are a few things to keep in mind.
AT THE AIRPORT. Depending on the airline and airport you might not be able to check in online, so allow time for the check-in procedure. If you have a stroller/buggy/pushchair with you you can most likely keep it until you get to the gate.
Find out if there is a children’s play area at the airport – if there is, make use of it, it will help stop boredom and meltdowns and give you a chance to sit, watch them and relax for a short while.
If junior is walking, get a Trunki. These cases can be pushed, pulled or ridden and are a great source of entertainment, not to mention a practical carry-on bag that is designed specifically to fit on planes.
Get a seat in the waiting area with a view of the planes. Instant distractions.
Security & Passport control: Look out for ‘family’ channels. These will be reserved for people travelling with kids where the aisle might be wider and fellow passengers are in the same boat as you. They can also be a bit quicker than the normal lines, however, NOT during school holidays!
Liquids: Baby food and milk are allowed as liquids over 100ml, but you might be asked to test it in front of the security people. Not tasty, but at least you can feed the wailing child quickly!
Bags: Try to minimize the number of bags you have – junior can’t carry their own, so you’ll be sherpa and fewer bags means quicker security checks. Whatever the bags, being hands free will help, so think backpacks and over the shoulder bags.
Try to fly direct whenever possible as on the plane, off the plane with a small, potentially tired, cranky child is not ideal. However, sometimes that’s just not possible. If you are stuck in transit, remember the above tips and that…
Kids (and adults) can sleep anywhere. If you have a late flight or are in transit pull a couple of chairs together and let the little one stretch out. If there is a quiet area of the airport, put a blanket or coat down on the floor and let junior nap there. If you are not the only adult, take it in turns to sleep if you need.
What to take on board. Your carry on is essentially now for Junior and not you. I used to travel with comfy socks, book, i-pod, toiletries, pillow, etc. Not any more. I keep my things to a handbag. For Junior you will need the following:
Nappies for sure until definitely, totally potty trained. We still put Tali in a nappy when she falls asleep on long haul flights to avoid anybody having a wet patch. If you are still in the nappy stage, take enough for a few changes for during and after the flight, but know that most airlines will have some on board too if you run out.
Changes of clothes and underwear in case of accidents. There are times when you can’t take junior to the bathroom (boarding time, take off, landing, passport control etc) or they just spill their food (or yours). For long haul flights I generally pack 2 spare sets of clothes.
Comfy pyjamas for sleeping for long haul or overnight flights, if your flight leaves very late, change into sleeping gear at or even before you get to the airport.
Favourite snacks and food. In-flight meals are unlikely to coincide with Junior’s normal meal times so take some food in your carry on to avoid sitting next to a ‘hangry’ little monster. Food that works particularly well are rice cakes, dried cereal in zip lock bags, biscuits that won’t melt, dried fruit, pureed fruit (make sure the packet is less than 100ml as it might count as a liquid). The packets state that you shouldn’t let your child suck the fruit straight out of the packet, but during take off and landing this is actually a good way to distract and ease any ear-ache. You don’t need to pack your whole kitchen as there will be food and snacks on board, but it helps to have something to hand.
When selecting your seats at the booking stage of your journey, do click the “Child’s Meal” box. Children’s meals often arrived first (well before the adult ones) and with some airlines come in a bright box with child friendly snacks. These provide not only food, but entertainment. Emirates and Qatar Airways had awesome child meals. Qatar Airways ones even came in a large Spongebob shaped box!
Have a nappy, wipes, bottles and snacks easy to hand. It’s useful to be able to quickly lay your hands on the essentials without having to unclip the seat belt and fish around in bags above you. Keep these in a bag at your feet and other less essential items in the overhead bin.
A children’s water bottle or the like for drinks. One that won’t spill if and when it’s dropped.
Spare clothes FOR YOU. Kids get messy at the best of times, and on a flight, definitely and this will transfer easily to you. Being a bit dirty for a few hours is not the end of the world but after hearing a story from my mother-in-law about a flight during which not one, but two of her children threw up on her and she arrived dripping in vomit, I pack a spare set for me too. I put in thin clothes that won’t take up space and put them in the trunki which goes into the overhead bin.
Plastic bag for wet/dirty clothes (see above tip)
Dress junior in layers as the on-board climate can go from boiling hot to freezing.
Flying with a baby: Don’t worry about junior wailing during the flight. People are extremely understanding of a baby crying. I’ve always found the flight attendants to be brilliant, kind, understanding and helpful. You will have a bassinet for the baby to sleep in, but know that if there is turbulence Junior has to come out of it as soon as the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign is on. On one flight I found that T. only really settled sleeping on me, finally I gave up on the bassinet, hugged her on my chest and we both managed a few hours of shut-eye.
Airline blankets are very synthetic, causing static, so it can help to bring your own lightweight cotton blanket for Junior’s comfort. Although I have to say that the static does produce some hilarious hair-dos on soft baby hair!
If you are formula feeding, put the formula pre-measured into travel containers, then as soon as you get on board ask a flight attendant to fill a bottle with hot water, then you will be ready at any point for feeding, even if it’s on take-off. Feeding on take-off or landing can help to ease any ear trouble too.
Flying with an early walker – be prepared for lots of accompanied walks up and down the aisles. As they tend not be engaged by in-flight cartoons at this age, load your phone, tablet or ipad with junior’s favourite apps or videos that don’t need internet connection. Andrew had T’s favourite youtube clips saved onto his tablet and this was brilliant as they could still be accessed whilst in ‘flight mode’.
A light blanket can be used to make a ‘tent’ for additional entertainment.
A couple of toys (one favourite for comfort and a new one for novelty) and an interactive book will also help to pass the time.
Flying with a toddler – Bring some activities such as toys, crayons, stickers and drawing books (airlines often provide these too, but they can be poor quality). For drawing – triangular crayons are a must. They don’t roll off tables so easily so you won’t spend the journey crawling around on the floor looking for them.
A new activity book will keep them occupied for a while. We found an educational sticker book in which there are sections for letters, numbers, colours etc. You have to find the ‘correct’ sticker so it’s great for image, shape, colour recognition. They are all numbered to help you find the right one and it builds into a picture dictionary. Tali has loved it and it provides long stretches of entertainment both on and off the plane.
The ‘tent’ thing will also work wonders for entertainment. Though be prepared to spend time bending down to ‘go in the tent’ too. Not great for your back!
Once they are old enough to be entertained by the in-flight entertainment (from about 2 years on) then fix them up with the headphones if they want them [you might need to get creative to get the headphones to fit], let them choose the cartoon they want, and you should have a bit of time to eat, read, snooze or watch something yourself. Though don’t choose a film you are desperate to watch – there will be lots of interruptions from the little person next to you as they want to eat, have dropped something, the headphones have fallen off etc.
We also pack child paracetamol (in 100ml size bottles or pre-measured sachets if available – brilliant invention, those!). Should Junior develop a fever, headache – whatever, this will be a lifesaver. This is about as ‘medicated’ as I’ve gone for Tali. Many parents have suggested ‘medicating’ Tali to get her to sleep, but it’s not something I’m personally comfortable with. On late, overnight flights, Tali has generally slept for parts, if not most, of the flight anyway.
ARRIVAL: At the other end give your toddler a chance to run around somewhere and stretch their legs before you load them into a taxi or car for another journey. If your stroller/buggy could not be picked up as you got off the plane then it will either at baggage reclaim with the other luggage or at the ‘oversized’ luggage counter – you might have to go on a hunt.
And you’ve done it! Flight completed and hopefully it all went smoothly, or at least as smoothly as it can!