Ten Useful Tips For Travelling Long Distances in a Plane with a Baby

Travelling with a baby can be difficult. Very difficult. Some parents would rather avoid travelling altogether just to save them the stress. But it doesn’t have to be so hard! — (read “Having a Child Doesn’t Have to Stop You From Travelling“) — Me and my little family have travelled tens of thousands of kilometres (by air) over the past year, and these are some things Laura and I found helpful during our flights with Ayla. You may find one or all of them useful as you prepare to take your little tike on an airplane:

#1. Consider your flight options before booking anything

Keeping Busy on a Night Flight
Keeping Busy on a Night Flight

If it is a short flight (i.e. 4 hours and under) with no layovers, then these next few things will not apply to you. Should you take the red-eye or do a day flight? This question can only be answered by knowing your baby:

  • Is your baby a good sleeper at night?
  • Does he or she stay sleeping through noises?
  • Does your baby sleep well on you?

If you answered yes to these things then, first of all, lucky you! Second — it might be worth considering taking the red-eye. That being said, if you answered no to the above questions then you might want to think twice before booking a night flight. There is an added expectation to keep your baby quiet when flying at night, and you may feel more pressure or judgement if your baby is tired and fussing. We have flown by day and night with Ayla and found it much better to fly with her during the day. Yes, she is busier—but busy-ness is manageable for us.

Also consider the layover time. We have found that sometimes the shortest flight (i.e. the ones with the quickest layovers) are not always the best choice. Ayla likes a change of environment so by the end of the first flight she is usually ready to get off the plane. When we’ve only had 35 minute layovers it was stressful because we would be trying to find our connecting gate in time while also stocking up on more snacks, going to the bathroom and giving Ayla a moment to stretch her legs. When we have had 2 hour layovers, the whole energy was much more relaxed — we were able to have a sit down meal at the food court and let Ayla play in the kids area in the airport. By the end of those two hours it was not hard to convince Ayla to get back on another plane. So for us, I think what works best when flying long-distances with Ayla is to book day flights that give us a couple hour layover at our connecting airport.

#2. Think twice before paying for an extra seat for your baby

Free Seat on the Plane
Free Seat on the Plane

Children under the age of 2 are allowed to fly for free if they will be sitting on a parent’s lap. I understand the temptation to book another seat so that you have more room to negotiate a busy child—I have almost done it myself—but I have always been glad I restrained myself because 90% of the flights we’ve taken have not been full. And in those cases we have just moved to a row where there was an extra seat for free. I realize this is a bit of a gamble, so if having that extra seat and room is really important to you then don’t take the risk and pay for the extra seat. All I know is that I would have been pretty annoyed at myself for coughing up the cash for a whole extra seat only to realize I was getting on a plane that had free seats for the taking.

#3. Bring a Thermometer and Drugs*

*Disclaimer: Obviously, check with your child’s doctor or pediatrician before giving him/her any medication — I’m not a doctor, and I’m only sharing what works for us.

We would always bring a thermometer, baby Tylenol and infant Benadryl with us on our carry-on. No, not to drug our child to sleep on the plane. Perhaps this is very “first-time parents” of us but we figured if Ayla were to get sick during the long flight we would not have to wonder if she had a fever; we could simply check and if needed give her infant Tylenol. The same logic applies to the Benadryl. Ayla was little when we started flying with her we were not fully aware if she had any allergies and we figured that if, on the off chance she had an allergic reaction due to exposure to a specific food while we were flying, then the last thing we would want is to be stuck in the air with a child having an allergic reaction with nothing to give her. So, easy enough, we just pack infant Benadryl and that takes away any potential worry.

#4. Buy Random Dollar Store Toys to Save Cash

Getting Toys at the Dollar Store
Getting Toys at the Dollar Store
Playing with the Dollar Store toys
Playing with the Dollar Store toys

Before our first big flight with Ayla we went to a dollar store and spent about $10.00 and bought a bag full of random things for her to discover during the flight. We did not limit ourselves to kids toys, we actually looked for anything that had a neat texture that we thought she would want to play with (i.e. a duster, a scratchy hair curler, a nail file, etc.) Once we bought these things we put the bag away until we were on the airplane. We didn’t let her play with them until the flight because we figured that if they were new to her then hopefully they would hold her interest for longer.

#5. Bring lots of Snacks

Baby food pouches are great for travel
Baby food pouches are great for travel

Babies (and adults alike) love passing the time by eating. Something we found very handy were those little baby food pouches. These allowed us to forgo packing spoons and she would suck the food straight from the pouch. I realize these are more expensive than jarred baby food, but when travelling the extra expense was worth it for us to not have to try to spoon feed Ayla while she was on our lap.

#6. Walk Up and Down the Aisle

Walking up and down the aisle of the airplane
Walking up and down the aisle of the airplane

Once your child is sick of playing with toys and eating then don’t hesitate to walk up and down the aisle. The change of environment from the seat to walking the aisle was usually enough to buy us some more time with her being happy.

Most people are bored on planes and are happy to see a cute baby. If your baby enjoys socializing then take advantage of these moments and talk to the people who show interest in you and your child. We found these types of interactions very helpful with Ayla. She would be getting cranky and then someone would talk to her and try to make her smile and it would change her mood around for the better.

#7. Take Advantage of Play Areas for Kids

Kids Play Area in St. John's Newfoundland
Play Area in St. John’s Newfoundland

Most airports will have indoor play areas for children. Take advantage of these because the busier they are while off the plane, ideally the more tired they will be when they are on the plane.

 

#8. Take Turns Watching the Baby

If there are two parents and one kid then take turns watching the baby. Laura and I would switch off in 30 minute increments and it was nice because it would allow one of us to take a mini-break (watch a TV show, read, or nap) while the other one roamed the aisles with Ayla, made conversation with other passengers, or fed her, etc.

#9. Breastfeed During Take-Off

Breastfeed during take off
Breastfeed during take off

We heard this from other parents and it worked for us as well: breastfeed your baby during take-off (I’m sure the same logic would apply to bottle feeding). When Laura would do this, Ayla would fall asleep almost every time. Also, the sucking motion is said to help the baby’s ears from popping during take-off.

#10. Don’t Stress About What Others Are Thinking

It’s really important that you don’t stress about what you think other people are thinking of you if your baby is crying. Your job is to keep your child happy while flying, your job is not to keep everyone happy while flying and I think it is important to remember that. You will obviously be trying your best and the reality it that most people are on your side and are not judging you. A lot of people have ear phones and aren’t even paying attention to what the kid is up to 2 rows back.

In my experience, travelling with a child is a whole new ball game! And while you can pretty much can say goodbye to the days where you get to sit back and watch a movie on the inflight entertainment system, there are some major benefits:

[well]

  1. You have an awesome child that gets to share in these eye opening travel experiences.
  2. You basically get to go to the front of the line for security screening when you have children. It’s amazing!
  3. We have found that crossing borders is way more pleasant; as soon as people see Ayla they soften their demeanour.

[/well]

What are your experiences travelling with a child?

Have you ever travelled long-distances with a child, or even multiple children? Do you have any stress-reducing tips? I’d love to hear your experiences — please share them below in the comments section.

Bon voyage!

Brad

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  • Brad,

    GREAT GREAT points here! This past January my wife and I took our two kids (3yr and 1yr old) from Michigan to Chennai India. That was a CRAZY trip, but wouldn’t change it for the world. I loved your points and read them in retrospect I found most to be very true. A tip for you if flying internationally is that Emirates rocks, especially with kids. They bring them toys and are very understanding. Plus for traveling with babies they give you the bulkhead row and they have bassinets that hang on the wall to lay them down in (super helpful).

    Happy travels!
    -Mike

    • Hey Mike — thanks for sharing! That’s a huge flight from Michigan to India, wow! I never knew Emirates was so great, thanks for those tips. I know who we’ll be flying with should we ever go to India.

      Cheers & happy travels,
      Brad

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