I can’t tell you how many eyebrows raised when we told people we were taking our 7-month-old to Spain with us. The first sentence out of every one’s mouth was either “How do you think he’ll do on the flight?” or “Good luck on that long flight!”
I get it, 11 hours is a long time for a little person to be on plane. Screaming seems to be more intense, and even a minute of it feels like an hour. Confined spaces and upset babies are a bad combination. There’s always a risk to flying with an infant.
I knew most of the outcome would be due to careful prep and planning, and then there would also be some luck to it. We have a generally pleasant child who is mellow about half the time, and maybe that version of our child would board the plane. We also have a stubborn child who doesn’t know what patience is, and who is trying to become mobile and hates being constrained. So the fear that that child would take over the other version of himself was prevalent.
I’m going to go out on a limb though and say the luck is only less than half the equation, there are so many things completely in your control as a parent, and so many ways to make sure you have a smooth flight with a happy baby! We’d asked for a lot of tips and researched some things we could do to prep, and today I want to share our list of tips for surviving a plane ride with an infant.
1. Make sure they get a great 24 hours worth of sleep before you go. I know you may be busy packing, you may have a million errands to run, and you may be a little jazzed about the trip and transfer some energy. However, the airport wait time, the late/early times flights leave, the noisy places, etc. are going to be inevitable. The 24 hours before you go won’t be- you can make sure you schedule everything around nap and bed times and help them get a great 24 hours of sleep before you start to mess up their schedule.
2. Find a quiet corner of an airport or spend the money on a lounge during a layover. Even an hour of a simulated crib to get in a nap can be such a life-saver. If your baby is just past the sleep-anywhere phase, a quiet space with a simulated bed can make all the difference in them getting in a nap before a flight and being a pleasant baby.
3. Do a trial run. If you can afford it, do a shorter flight to somewhere closer before your big flights. Let you child experience what it’s like when there’s little at stake. Jacob had a business trip in Vegas we tagged along with while I was on maternity leave. That 45 minute flight was the perfect trial to see how he’d do. It went so well I felt completely confident flying solo with him to Salt Lake (about an hour and 20 minute flight) a few months later. Those trial runs let us know what scared him, how he’d react to the airport, and how well he may do during take off and landing. If you can’t do a flight, test a car trip, train ride, or something similar. It helps immensely!
4. Plan ahead and pack for the flight as well as trip. We knew what medicines he may need, what toys bring him comfort, and what temperature he prefers. We packed for the most comfortable trip we could! We also made sure those comforts came on the plane with us.
5. Buy some new toys. If your baby is old enough to be interested in toys, a few new ones go a long way! We went cheap on this and bought exactly $4.00 worth of toys from the dollar store. A package of stickers to stick on dad’s nose and mom’s arm saved us for about a half hour. A puzzle was played with for about an hour, and the other random toys were looked at, chewed on, and kept him distracted when we needed it most. I also love that we could throw these out if our packs got too full. If they got lost or dirty no problem- they were so easy to replace. And a new distraction goes a long way!
6. Nurse or feed a bottle during takeoff. This helped with ear popping and pressure change so we didn’t have a baby in pain the whole trip. Also, if your baby is older and this isn’t a concern, it still helps them feel comforted. It’s definitely not a bad idea to do the same during landing if possible.
7. Pack snacks like your life depends on it. I think an entire bottle of puffs and bag of Cheerios were packed and consumed on the flight there. I was a little afraid on the flight back when we only had half as many snacks. Luckily, we made it! Everyone knows what is age appropriate for their kid, but I’d plan some fun snacks (or more milk at the least) and more than you normally have on hand to help them stay distracted.
8. In flight entertainment for the win! We decided early on we didn’t really want our baby to experience television until he’s older. He’s our only child right now, and we know screen time will be a thing and a battle before we can believe it. So for now, I leave the TV and restrict my phone use around him. When I turned on an in-flight movie and he watched Charlie Brown without any sound for the first time you could see the transfiguration. Perhaps he identified with the large head and few hairs? I’m not sure, but he was happy as could be and paid attention for about a half hour! I did this when he did start to cry on our flight there, and it suddenly calmed him. I applaud all parents in their choices, but if you’re like me and decide to restrict it, this is one time when I’d let your kids just go for it and watch as many cartoons as you’re comfortable with to get through the flight!
9. Let technology help. In addition to limited TV, presenting an iPad (or screen of any kind) with a downloaded baby friendly app or movie can go a very long way! We purchased a Baby Einstein (even though I never thought I’d do that), and low and behold he loved it! We got a lot of use out of that movie on the flight there and the flight home.
10. Remember kids get hangry too. They need more than snacks, and it’s easy to neglect that you’ve missed a feeding, they didn’t get their solids, or they just need a full meal too. We shared a lot of our meals, I offered to nurse more often, and all this seemed to work well to make sure he was a pleasant little soul.
11. Take a small field trip on the plane if possible. I’m so glad they let us walk up and down the aisles for a few minutes here and there. I’m glad there were changing tables in the bathrooms we could walk to. I’m grateful we could let him look at other people, walk while we held his hands, and get a little change of scenery now and then. It only took a few minutes, but sometimes just letting the baby reset changes their mood. Make sure your flight attendants are okay with it, but at the right times most are just fine with a little movement for a few minutes.
12. Remember to bring whatever helps them sleep. At this time our baby still liked being a little swaddled and sleeping in a sleep sack. Don’t forget these things for the plane! Make sure they have what they need to adjust to a new place and still know it’s time for sleeping.
13. Don’t get too caught up in the travel to give them some quality attention. Some smiles, some snuggles, some playing with him, and just letting him know we were still there and happy to see him seemed to make a big difference. Talk to your kid about the trip, talk to them while flying, and let them feel your love and attention and not like an accessory you’re carrying, even when it does feel like they are an accessory you’re carrying.
These worked well for us, and I’m happy to report less than 20 minute of crying total, even with 15 hours of flying, each way.
Any other traveling families out there have any advice of what has worked for them? I’d love to hear!