Note: These are all based on our experience flying with our baby and what has worked for us. You know your baby best!
A few weeks ago, I was looking at the ceiling with deep thoughts: long haul international flight with Benjamin, then a few days shy of becoming 20 months old. How will I hold up? How will he hold up?
Actually, it’s not my first time flying with a small companion. I took Pristine to the Philippines when she was 16 months. Our travel back then looked like this: a 3 hour bus ride from Nagano (bus left at 3 am), a 4 hour flight from Narita to Manila, 1 day hotel stay in Manila and finally, an hour and a half flight to the south, where my parents live.
Ben is older this time but why am I very nervous about this trip? It’s because Pristine is a girl and Ben is not. If you have a toddler boy, you know what I’m talking about or what I’m nervous about!
Well, we survived and now here to tell our story! Here are few of my best travel tips for flying with a baby or toddler!
BEFORE YOU GET TO THE AIRPORT
Choose a flight at night so it wouldn’t have to change your baby/toddler’s sleeping routine. For this recent flight, we chose a flight that left Dubai at 10 pm. We had a three hour layover at Doha International Airport (Qatar) before we changed planes for Japan but big sister Pristine as well as little one Benjamin were both asleep, just like when they’re at home…
…err, only a bit uncomfortable and wee too cold! Don’t forget to bring your jackets as some airports (especially in the Middle East…Doha and Dubai at least) are too cold.
Use lots of imagination when you pack. Imagine you’re in a confined area and you are not allowed to go anywhere (that could happen inside the plane during turbulence!). Make sure that all baby essentials is inside the diaper bag, stowed under your seat or the seat in front of you.
Don’t forget to pack extra basic clothing for yourself too! Accidents can happen around little children! Dress strategically.
If you are still breastfeeding, choose a top with easy access to the mobile cafeteria!
Bring your children’s favorite toys – in our case, the iPad.
Entertainment only for a limited time – this was before they discovered a whole new world outside of the iPad. Once we arrived in Narita (and during our entire stay in Japan), they could care less about the gadget other than when they are inside the car, strapped in for a long road trip!
Check-in ONLINE as soon as possible. This will will allow you to choose the best seats (even if you’re flying economy) and if you’re flying with your partner, it will guarantee that you’ll be seated together. On our flight to Narita, we didn’t use the online check-in service and ended up having seats away from each other. Good thing, kind passengers gave up their seats so we all can sit together. On the way back to Dubai, we checked in online and chose the first row seats of economy or the bulkhead: better leg room + first to be served meals!
Just a little bit more leg room in the bulkhead seat
AT THE AIRPORT
Stay off the plane as long as you can! When the boarding gates are open and you’ll hear a friendly shout, “Calling passengers with small children!” – don’t be tempted!
Actually my husband is smart on this and he is right. We stayed behind, near the gate to allow our toddler to run around to expend all his extra energy and boarded the plane last. That way, there’s no reason to entertain your baby in your tiny little space until the plane takes off!
The smallest in our group woke up very refreshed an hour before landing!
On our flight back, we let him loose in Narita. He ran as much as he wanted and once the plane took off at 10:30 pm, he was fast asleep. He slept for 9 out of the 11 hours flight back to Doha.
INSIDE THE PLANE
Make sure that the diaper bag with all the baby essentials is tucked in safely and within your reach.
Babies and young children do not know how to clear their ears to reduce the pressure during takeoff and landing. Have your child chew on something when the plane takes off. This can reduce pain in their ears due to cabin pressure. Now is the time to feed if you are breastfeeding.
If you are breastfeeding, NEVER CHOOSE AN AISLE SEAT! I know it might be convenient when you want to go to the toilet or when you need to get items from the overhead cabin BUT when the baby’s head is sticking out the aisle when you’re feeding (and you fall asleep) – the flight attendant’s trolley could hit your baby’s head! Ben’s head sticks out when I feed him because he is not a tiny baby anymore so I had to switch places with my husband so I am in the middle and big sister Pristine is on my other side.
The baby bassinet is only useful if your baby can’t sit by himself yet. Beyond that age, it is actually dangerous! There is no strap on the bassinet to hold the baby and though it’s placed in front of you, you could fall asleep, especially on long, red-eye flights and the baby could fall!
The flight attendant on our way back to Dubai offered a baby bassinet with good intentions but I immediately I knew Ben is too old for it. The bassinet is short and true enough, when I placed him in it, his ankles were up and sticking out. I could not sleep while he was in the bassinet because I know he could wake up anytime, sit, look for me in panic and fall. The bassinet is at least a meter off the floor. I am wondering why the bassinet is placed that high!
ADVICE: As per other traveling families’ stories, it would be more convenient to buy your baby/toddler a seat on the plane (if you can afford it – and then bring a car seat!). Then you can use that empty seat as a makeshift bed. You can be more secure catching up on sleep yourself if your child is within your reach AND buckled up!
TIP: Once the plane has taken off, I try to look around for empty seats, at least 2 seats without anyone on it. If I find one, I transfer there with the permission of the flight attendant so I can have extra space for me and the baby. But of course this only works when the plane is not full!
On our way to Japan from Doha, Qatar (our flight was via Doha from Dubai), Benjamin was asleep while we were on our 3 hour layover. I was terrified. What if he will wake up and in turn wake up everyone on the plane when we board that 11 hour flight to Narita? Thankfully, only after an hour mostly spent looking at the small entertainment screen in front of us, he was asleep and only woke up an hour before we landed!
IF I COULD DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN
The next time we travel, most probably, Ben is not that small anymore. Say, next year, he will be turning 3 and it would be easier BUT, here’s a list of things that would’ve made our flight better and yours too!
1. Pre-order special baby/child meals – I say ‘special’ because Ben is allergic to some food. I thought he could share with my meal and eat the basic stuff that he is ok with: potatoes, rice or any meat and fruits but small children are served first and the airline people arranged bottled baby food! A 20 month old child is not a baby anymore and has graduated from bottled, pureed baby food! The adult meals come much later.
2. Bring a baby carrier – we brought a light stroller which was convenient until Ben decides he’s got enough of being rolled around and want to walk, walk, walk! Toddlers can be very rebellious. At least when’s he’s in a baby carrier, he can be in my eye level and I can talk to him closer. It’s also easy to walk around with two free hands when your baby is on a carrier. Something that looks like this: * It would have been easier too to take around Tokyo’s busy train stations and streets rather than a stroller!
3. Invest on a Sit ‘n’ Stroll – The next time we travel when Ben can have his own seat on the plane, I’d love to have him sit on a car seat that can be expanded into a stroller. It would make my life easier. Period. 4. Take a few photos inside the plane – I was too preoccupied thinking how to survive the long flight (useless thoughts like, what if the baby poops during the time when the fasten seat belt sign is on?) that I wasn’t able to take a photo of him playing on the plane or sleeping. I remember taking photos of Pristine before and she is delighted to see it again when she was older.
If we come to think of it, babies and toddlers are simple creatures. They have basic needs: sleep, food and comfort (security and warmth from mom or dad). However, expect that traveling can’t be always easy even if all their needs are met. The new environment (planes! airports! people!) can excite them and make them go crazy (I’m almost tempted to buy a leash after Ben ran like the Flash and disappeared during our layover in Qatar Airport!).
I read somewhere that parents MUST plan the trip with the youngest traveler in mind.
After all, your happiness will depend on their happiness! If he is not in the best mood, chances are, your mood won’t be as perky! But, relax! It’s better than you imagine it to be. If it’s not, then you have a good survival story to share!