It’s probably easy to believe I was not excited about the prospect of flying long haul to Australia from the U.K. with a 10 month old baby. In fact, I was so anxious, I nearly cancelled the trip. But I’m so glad I didn’t. It wasn’t a complete barrel of laughs, but a long-haul flight with a baby wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
Here’s my experience of flying with my son; what worked, what’s definitely did not and what I’d recommend to other moms.
Check out more tips for stress-free flying with little kids.
10 Tips for Long-Distance Flights With A Toddler
1. Choose Your Flight Carefully
Some airlines have a good reputation for accommodating young children and if they work with your route and budget, choosing them can make a big difference. Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Qantas are known to be pretty good, and all have bassinets available on bulkhead seats.
Note: Even if your little one is too big for the bassinets, it’s worth requesting those bulkhead seats for the extra space.
Once babies are asleep they tend to stay asleep for a while, especially after all the stimulation of the airplane’s new environment. So it can help to book a flight that maximizes your night.
We also looked into less popular times and alternative airports thinking we might have more space to spread out if the flight wasn’t booked-out.
Flying to sleepy Adelaide mid-week meant we had the whole bulkhead row to ourselves. It was infinitely easier than the busier return flight from Sydney.
2. Buy the Baby a Ticket
I’m happy to save the money and keep my child on my lap for flights that are, say, 5 hours or less. But if it’s at all in your budget to buy that extra airplane ticket, don’t fly long haul with a baby in your lap.
The constant squirming from your lap to your partners will make you crazy. And you won’t be able to eat or sleep or read if you literally have your hands full all the time.
You can loosen a toddlers seat belt a bit and let them curl in their seat to sleep, maybe with a blanket and their head on your lap. For babies, consider bringing the car seat, even if you normally wouldn’t. The familiarity will help them to sleep longer and better.
3. Pack a Carrier
Slings are very useful, both on the plane and around the airport, both to keep the baby contained and your hands free. They can also be handy for helping your baby nap.
Portable canopies that you rig up over the bassinets can help babies sleep, but you can easily improvise the effect with a baby blanket or light towel. The Turkish towel we packed was useful for this (and a number of other things to) without taking up too much space in the diaper bag.
4. Pack Snacks
Our motto for these 23-hour flights was, “What baby wants, baby gets” and you just can’t predict what the magic lifesaver will be. For us it turned out to be raisins. The plane is taking off– give him a raisin to chew on. He’s getting over-tired– give him another raisin. And so on.
If your child is drinking milk, having some on hand is a necessity. The airline staff will be helpful when it comes to preparing and warming up milk or water for formula, but don’t count on the airline having milk. Many don’t stock it.
Note: A bottle, sippy cup, pacifier or lollipop is great for preventing air-pressure changes from bothering your little one at take-off and especially on landing.
5. Realize that planes are very interesting places
We packed lots of great toys to entertain our baby on this long haul flight, but in the end nothing we packed was as interesting as random bits and pieces on the plane. The seat buckles were a particular highlight, as were the trays that fold down (and up, and down, and up, and down…) and everything he could pull out of the seat pocket in front of us.
When those things are no longer entertaining, see what you have in your pockets. Keyring fobs can be fascinating, too, especially if they do something.
6. Other passengers won’t hate you
If you have a little social butterfly, there are lots of people to interact with. To my surprise other people were bored and looking for the distraction a smiling baby can provide.
People will not resent you for bringing your baby on board if they see that you are trying to be considerate towards other passengers. Many people have had children themselves and understand that babies do what babies do.
It doesn’t hurt to maximise your baby’s cute-factor. Sleep-suits are not only practical, they also do a good job of reminding people how little your little-one actually is.
If people do grumble or give you a sharp look, ignore it. Recall all the inconsiderate things you’ve seen adults do on planes that don’t earn the withering glare a fussing baby will. But if we don’t bring children to public places, how will they learn to behave in public?
7. A baby makes the flight go quicker
There are only so many inflight movies you can watch on a long haul flight before you’re ready to never watch another film again. Sometimes the hardest thing about long-haul travel can be the sheer boredom. Hours and hours to fill, sitting in the same cramped space, next to the same people.
We didn’t take in nearly as much in-flight entertainment as we did flying sans baby but the upside is that we were so busy keeping our little one entertained, the flight seemed like less of a drag. I can honestly say that an 11-hour flight to Africa without a baby felt longer than a 23-hour flight to Australia with one. Though admittedly the former flight was less exhausting!
8. Your baby will sleep on the flight
In parenting, there are no guarantees, but chances are, if you’re on a very long flight, your baby will sleep for part of it. Even my hyper-alert son crashed eventually. Use every trick you know to help them relax: milk, TV, a bedtime story, a pacifier, a cuddle. But if all else feels exhaustion and boredom will set in at some point.
Some kids do sleep deeply and for a long time on planes. But don’t count on your child sleeping as much as they usually would, just like you probably don’t sleep soundly on a plane yourself. That’s OK. They’ll make up what they need to (probably at the least ideal time but you’ll roll with it).
9. Jet lag won’t destroy your baby’s routine
Parents taking babies across time zones worry it will permanently disrupt their baby’s routine; that after all that hard work getting them to sleep through the night their baby will forevermore be waking-up at 3:00 AM ready to party.
Well, you should expect a few days’ disruption, but our baby returned to his routine eventually—whether we wanted him to or not. Yup. After a week of jet lag he went back to waking like clockwork at exactly the same times he always had before we travelled.
Note: These tips for dealing with baby jet lag will help you plan ahead.
10. It’s all totally worth it
In the end the flight is just a fraction of your time away together. Being in Australia together was an absolute joy. It really was worth all the planning, fatigue and playing peek-a-boo for the umpteenth time.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to travel, even long haul, go for it! You won’t regret it.
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Photos are by Sarah Hanney