You’re relaxed and about to start your vacation. You board your long awaited flight, find your seat and then you see them. The dishevelled parents with the baby in the row behind you. You tap your partner on the shoulder and shake your head. You won’t be getting any peace on this flight, you think to yourself.
But the tables have turned. And now you’re the dishevelled parent planning a trip with a baby-who’s-threatening-to-scream the whole flight long. You wonder, is it worth it? Should you wait until he’s older?
But you love traveling. And you promised yourselves before you had kids, your adventures would continue. They’d just come along for the ride and travel would do them good, you thought.
So, how do you take a flight with a baby without losing your mind? And without becoming the least popular person on the plane?
We’ve been there. We like to call ourselves global nomads, having lived in four countries across the globe in the last decade. To say we’re addicted to travel is an understatement.
We started travelling with our son when he was 4 weeks old and he took his first 13-hour flight from Canada to New Zealand at six months. With adventure pulsing in our veins we were relieved when the experience was better than expected. And has been ever since. Our toddler is now a seasoned traveler who loves hotel rooms and is relaxed on planes.
We’ve learnt a few natural parenting tricks along the way which have made all the difference. Hopefully they’ll help you too.
1. TRAIN FOR THE PLANE
Your upcoming journey is a marathon of sorts and being healthy is vital. The last thing you need is a sniffly, grumpy baby when you’re flying. So a few weeks in advance focus on strengthening your family’s immunity to ensure you’re healthy before, during and after your vacation.
Here are our favourite remedies to ward of colds and flu:
- Elderberry Syrup – super sweet, rich in vitamins A, B and C and well known for its antioxidant activity, Elderberry syrup boosts immunity and protects against coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsillitis. If you’re breastfeeding the benefits will pass through your milk to your baby. If you have a toddler they should like taking it.
- Vitamin D – also known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D, is crucial for your immune system to function properly. But over 40% of us are deficient. Boost your reserves before your trip with a supplement. Mushrooms, egg yolks and fatty fish are also excellent sources of Vitamin D. Doctors suggest babies should be supplemented – the standard recommendation for a breastfeed infant is 400IU daily. It’s important to check with your doctor as this dose can vary based on individual factors including geography and age of baby.
- Probiotics – over 80% of your immune system is in your digestive tract which is why it’s important to maintain healthy gut bacteria. Breastmilk contains probiotics but you can supplement babies as well. We use this product as it has a great mix of the essential bacteria babies need. And I take Ultimate Flora by Renew Life.
2. SCOUT YOUR TERRITORY
When booking your trip tell the airline you’re travelling with a baby. Request your seats in advance even if you have to pay extra for it. We prefer an aisle seat for easy access to the bathroom and for getting up and down for a change of scene. The back of the plane tends to be stuffier and louder so the closer to the front you can get the better.
We avoid bulk head rows as we like to put items under the seat in front of us. The armrests in bulkhead rows are often fixed. If you’re traveling with your partner you’ll want to be able to lift the arm rest between you so your baby can stretch out to sleep.
Taking advantage of the “fly free under 2 years” is brilliant. But when our little man was around 18 months we decided to pay for an extra seat to get a row of three to ourselves. It hurt to pay the extra money but it was well worth it.
3. CARRY YOUR BABY
Take your favourite carrier and ditch the stroller (seriously!). Especially if you’re traveling on your own having your baby in a carrier means you’ll have your hands free to deal with luggage, filling in documents and carrying last minute items. Our little man has slept through a lot of fuss at airports – check in, security, passport control – without needing to be removed from his carrier like he may have in a stroller.
Mr G. and I like to be super efficient at airports. Using a carrier we can zip around the airport quickly. And if you need pace the aisles to get your baby to sleep on board a carrier can be a lifesaver.
4. NURSE, NURSE, NURSE
Breastfeeding shines on a plane. No need to carry formula or wait for air hostesses to bring you hot water. When we fly I nurse my son on take off and landing which calms him and protect his ears.
Think in advance and wear something comfortable for nursing as well as something that allows you to be discreet. I’ve never used a nursing cover and don’t use one on a plane either. When we fly I wear a loose fitting top, a cardigan and a scarf which I find is a good combination for being discreet and I’ve never had an issue. Take spare clothing for yourself as well as your baby.
If I could give only one piece of advice for flying with a baby it would be to bring your nursing pillow. The seats are narrow and it’s impossible for a baby to lay comfortably propped up with airplane pillows and your arms will get sore quickly. My nursing pillow fit perfectly between the armrests and he slept as if we were at home. On our first flight to New Zealand our little guy slept for 9 hours on the pillow with intermittent nursing when he’d rouse.
5. ALWAYS BRING THIS
On a trip home from Hawaii our flight was delayed by 5 hours and then finally cancelled….at 3am. They took us back to a hotel and we flew out 24 hours later. Without a baby it would’ve been an inconvenient adventure. With a baby it can be a disaster. Thankfully our little man is fairly laid back and he nursed and slept on his pillow (hint, hint) for most of the initial delay.
But, what we wished we’d brought was our car seat. We hired one with our rental car so when our flight was cancelled (having returned the rental car and seat) we had nothing for our baby for the hour long trip back to the hotel. My mama bear instincts took over and fearing for their lives the airline finally found a car seat for us in lost and found.
It was a lesson to always bring our own car seat. It’s a pain to have the extra piece of luggage and goes against our minimalist philosophy but it’s essential. Car seats are checked baggage and the airline shouldn’t charge you any extra for it.
6. PROTECT THEIR EARS
The thought of your little baby’s ears hurting on the flight may be your biggest fear. It was for me. So, I researched and have a bunch of remedies to share. They worked like a charm, no screaming baby.
- Something to suck on. For us this is breastfeeding. Make sure your baby hasn’t nursed for a while before the descent starts so he’ll be ready to nurse when you need him to. If you don’t breastfeed a bottle or pacifier will work.
- Homeopathy. Chamomilla is well known as a remedy to help with teething pain but it also works wonders with ears. Our homeopath made up a specific dose for our little man and we gave a dose every 5-10 minutes on descent. If you don’t have a homeopath you can find Chamomilla for babies here.
- Breathe. On our first flight to New Zealand the air hostess gave us a tissue soaked in eucalyptus oil to help clear our son’s nasal passages. We’ve used an inhaler since then and it helps me and my husband too.
- Hydrate. Dehydration can exacerbate ear pain. If you have a young baby breastfeeding should be enough but if you have an older baby take their favourite cup and make sure they drink water on the flight. And always take your own baby food.
Ascent is usually fine but nursing and giving remedies won’t hurt. The descent is when the pressure drop really affects the ears. Start giving remedies before the plane begins to descend. The length of descent will vary with flights but with most long haul flights it’s usually a 30-minute descent.
7. FEND OFF JET LAG
Easier said than done but if you can bank some extra sleep before your flight jet lag will be easier to deal with.
Our homeopath made a liquid solution for us which helped reduce our baby’s jet lag. If you don’t have a homeopath No Jet Lag is a remedy that’s safe for children of all ages (dissolve in water for a baby). Another option is Calm Forte by Hyland’s which helps promote sleep.
Epsom salts are full of magnesium which can aid relaxation. Add them to a night time bath, as well as some essential oils like lavendar or chamomile and your baby may fall sleep easier.
Flying and new time zones are bound to mess with nap and sleep schedules for a little while. Let your baby nap whenever they can and bank the sleep rather than worrying too much about sticking with the usual routine.
8. PLAN YOUR DAY
Reduce stress on the day of your trip as much as possible. If you have pets to take to kennels take them the day before. Write a packing list in advance when you can think clearly to avoid forgetting something at the last minute.
And if you have the choice try to fly early in the day or over nap times.
9. SOMETHING NEW
Buy a few new toys your child hasn’t seen before for the plane and stagger introducing them over the course of the flight. If you have an iPad always take it on the flight for older kids, rather than relying on the in flight entertainment and download a new kids TV show or movie to surprise them. Both of these tactics have worked wonders for us.
If you’re traveling within the U.S one genius tip I learned from another traveler is to order a few plastic toys for the beach (and anything else you can need) from Amazon to be delivered directly to your hotel. It will minimize your luggage and save you paying high prices at a resort. And at the end, you can give them to another child at the beach.
10. BE POLITE
Our little man is excessively friendly and on a plane he has a captive audience. He plays peek-a-boo with the people behind us and he charms air hostesses with smiles and giggles. People love him. And for the first five minutes they happily play back, pulling funny faces and talking to him. But after an hour people want to watch their movie and relax.
So, I try to be excessively polite. I talk a lot more to people on a flight with my son than I would otherwise. I introduce him, tell them how old he is and how excited he is to be going on an adventure. These people are going to be our very immediate neighbours for the next 5, 10 or 13 hours. So, I try to befriend them early to ensure some empathy down the track if things go wrong.
If your baby does cry or your toddler has a tantrum on the plane, don’t panic. Tend to your child but try to offer a brief apologetic nod to those around you. If people receive acknowledgment that’s often enough to turn them from being angry to wanting to help you and showing some sympathy.
YOU’LL BE FINE
It’s nerve racking but you, your partner and your baby will be absolutely fine. Making it through this challenge will give you even more confidence in your parenting…and survival skills.
And remember, to your baby this is one big adventure. Something different. New people to talk to. New things to look at. They’re not counting how many hours of sleep they’ve had and they won’t self destruct from a couple of missed naps.
It’s difficult, especially for parents, to surrender some of our control. But it challenges us to dig deeper and be rewarded. So, prepare, relax and enjoy your vacation.