Traveling by plane with small children is certainly not easy, especially if it is your first time. Here are several tips to help you prepare for this great adventure!
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Your baby is only a few months or even just a few weeks old and you already need to travel by plane. You may have had to go back to your home country to deliver or you want to go ‘home’ to present your adorable cherub to your family. And even if you are ‘only’ leaving to go on vacation, here is some advice to help you travel by plane with small children with more serenity with one (or more) little ones under 3 years old!!! Effectively, from approximately that age, your children will reach a stage where any expeditions will be easier or at least less complicated…
The major topics:
First of all, most considerations will depend on the length of the flight. It is obvious that a 2 or 3 hour flight will not have the same impact as an 18 to 20 hour flight. But do not under estimate our dear little ones. If they suffer from earaches, a need to giggle or an aversion for traveling, just a few hours will suffice to bring you down! That being said, a large part of staying sane will be based on YOUR capacity to stay calm… So breathe deeply and here we go!
On the civil aviation website, no minimum age is specified for baby so you need to rely on your pediatrician’s advice. With newborns, it is up to you to decide based on your physical condition and the length of the trip. It is certain that the risk of hearing a baby crying in a confined space is a reality and a little terrifying, but newborns are often soothed by the noise of the plane engine and it can actually be very easy to travel with one.
Nevertheless, it is very important to make sure your baby drinks very regularly during the whole flight. It is of special importance to make the baby drink during take off and landing to allow the baby to swallow and consequently to avoid the earaches (which adults suffer from too). Some children will not need it. Good for you if this is your case, but it is better to be aware of it!
Until the age of 2, buying a seat ticket is not mandatory (but be careful of the luggage limitations!). In this case the baby must travel on your lap and is entitled to a small “crib” (usage is very limited for big babies because the so-called crib is approximately 70 cm long and the weight is limited to 10 kg) made available by the airline company. Do not forget to state that you would like a bassinet when you reserve your ticket. Generally, you will get the first row of seats in a section, with the bassinet right in front of you but hanging cribs are also available (above your head, believe it or not). Enquire when reserving…
During take off and landing, you will probably need to take the baby on your lap (baby seatbelts are available depending on the airline), which is why you will be authorized to travel with only one infant at a time. So for twins, you will need to have two adults available…
When you are on long trips and/or you have restless children and assuming it is a viable economic option for you, do not hesitate to buy a ticket for a separate seat for your little angel as soon as possible. It is a lot more comfortable and a lot less tiring for everyone.
Depending on the civil aviation rules in effect, if you choose an individual seat for your child you may be able to use an officially recognized car seat in the plane. This can be a saving grace for a little one that does not fit in the cribs anymore. However, during landing and take off, the staff might ask you to take baby out of the seat to hold him/her in your arms. This may seem strange as one usually believes that the baby is more securely attached in the car seat, but that is what happened with my daughters.)
The stroller: of course you would like to keep it until the plane’s door, as this is so much easier when you have a lot to carry. This is even more of an issue if the baby is sleeping as it is preferable to leave the baby in the stroller… But it is all a question of available room in the cabin so this is left to the discretion of the airline personnel on board. I have recently heard of many mothers who were not allowed to keep the stroller until the entrance of the plane on flights from Tokyo… If it is too complicated, the baby carrier (‘kangaroo’) is a good solution when the stroller is checked in.
First up, you have to be ready for any contingency, which to your horror might mean carrying a 10kg bag… No! I have done it and I know what I am talking about. After a 12 hour of flight with my three children (5 years, 3 years and 1 year old) I was told that my stroller which I had left at the door of the plane was put in with the luggage and that it was waiting for me at the luggage carousel, very far away, after meters and meters of hallways (it is far at Narita … and everywhere I am sure), I had a moment of discouragement!!! From that day, I have always been careful not to carry too much.
Based on the length of the trip, the needs are variable. Consequently we are going to assume a pretty long trip, you will be able to adjust accordingly.
Food: for the little ones, plan to take one bottle per feeding as the cleaning of bottles is NOT easy on board, and enough formula (on long flights there is often cow’s milk, but check before departure if necessary). Usually you will not have any problem finding mineral water on board. Just in case, add one or two extra servings of powdered milk to avoid the stress of a spilled dosage!!!
In case you are breast-feeding, it is so much easier as there is no changes from the regular routine. It can also help to reassure the baby during the trip.
For older children, ask when making your reservation about an infant meal, which will entitle you to baby jars, but enquire with the airline company because this option does not exist with all airlines. If not provided, you will have to bring your own baby jars or ready-made meals. The true problem is warming up the food. This is often done using a water bath, which can be quite long and is not very effective for solid food.
The oldest children will be entitled to a child-meal (to be ordered at reservation as well) and served more or less on time and more or less warm… Lately, I have noticed a real improvement in these. The problem is with a take off at 11:30pm, the dinner – even with all the effort possible – is served at least an hour later… With my kids, they were all asleep by then, but for those who have a hard time sleeping, it is very much appreciated!
Clothes: with a little one, it is good to plan for at least one change of bibs and clothes but chose clothes that are easy to put on and take off such as overalls and pajamas. Changing a baby in the plane is a lot less practical than at home!!! Moreover if you have a small mat to change the diapers (baby bags often have a small mattress) or a thick piece of cloth which you can use, you will need it to change your baby. Use your own judgment regarding additional diapers (keep in mind that all of that can be heavy and cumbersome) but above all do not forget the wipes because they can be used for everything (changing the little one, cleaning the big one’s face, wiping everything that can potentially spill…).When the risk of vomiting has abated, you will not need so may changes of clothes.
Since we usually travel at night, my children loved to put their pajamas on, I guess it was one way to be at ease in the plane before the big trip. Now that they are older (8, 6 and 4 years old) I have bought them sportswear/sweat suits which work great and avoid an extra bag of clothes.
One last thing: do not forget to take some paracetamol or the equivalent to help calm your baby in case of disturbance, fever or excitement.
Of course, it is always a hot topic because this depends entirely on the people you are encountering… Some will preempt your demands (yes, it has happened to me) and others have a hard time tolerating the children. Between the two, you might find some common ground to get enough help when needed (help to enter and exit the plane, fill and warm up the baby bottle, etc.). That being said, be prepared to experience crazy – even surreal – situations due to in-flight regulations. Remember nonetheless that you are a customer of the airline company with the same status as other passengers and that the staff is also there for you. Do not hesitate to ask for help. So, one more time, just breathe deeply and go for it!!!!
This is not always self-explanatory as when they absolutely insist on serving you a meal just as you are feeding the baby or they stick a tray in front of the older child who is on your lap while you are pregnant… Here again, only humor helps. Even in economy class they can certainly come back later and serve you your meal. When I was 6 months pregnant and my oldest daughter was only 16 months old, the flight attendant on a Paris-Vienna took the oldest one and kept her occupied for a good 10 minutes so that I could eat my lunch… It does happen (did I look so pathetic?)
Here we are talking mainly about the terrible period when children are aged from about 12-18 months to 2-3 years, when they want to see everything, run or climb everywhere and inevitably not sleep when we would love them to. That is where our patience is put to the test.
For the new-born, no toys are needed. The lullaby will be probably be from the mom (or dad if he is there). The baby’s pacifier and his security blanket if he already has one are all that are needed. But arm yourself with patience, you have no choice!!! Do not look at the other passengers nearby if the situation deteriorates: it is stressful enough to try to calm your baby, and your neighbors can always put their ears plugs on!
They will probably give you some games or toys depending upon the ages of the children and the airline companies, but it is rarely sufficient!
For the little ones, some favorite toys (not the biggest ones obviously), soft toys for the smallest ones, stuffed animals with lullabies or rattles, toys in plastic for the babies that are teething, small books in fabric… And once again arm yourself with patience …
Older children will like a book as well, some crayons and paper to color or draw, a small doll (small of course!) some matchbox cars, legos or any other toys easily transported, and card games. And finally there are the cartoons, more and more usual on the long flights … assuming that the video works…
Of course the parent traveling with children often becomes overstretched, so do not hesitate to read stories (OK, even for 12 hours, I know that it is wearisome…), sing little songs, nursery rhymes to play with the hands, and you have to let them run in the aisle from time to time…
A hot topic that bothers all of the mothers… The airplane restrooms are unanimously disliked! So, some ideas gathered from those who have gone theough the experience: the use of wipes or peeing standing on the toilets (acrobatic but effective).
For the children just out of diapers or almost out but not quite, the diapers or pull-ups will assure you a trip without stress and will not make your little angels regress. They will probably feel reassured (especially if the flight is long or at night)!
All right, I am not going to tell you stories, difficult to know ahead if your child has the soul of a sleeper on the plane! There is the possibility of using homeopathic syrup or something similar to help your baby relax or even sleep: personally I am not too much for this, unless it is to relieve air-sickness. Check with your pediatrician but most importantly do not forget to test the treatment on your child before the departure because sometimes the effect can be the exact opposite of what the medication is intended for!
So, there you are, ready for the big adventure!!!
I hope that this reading will have been useful as well as pleasant. If you have first-hand stories of your own or additional advice you would like to share on this topic, do not hesitate to contact us.
Last updated: June 2017
Translated from French by Sophie