How to survive a flight with a baby

Dear parents – Let’s tune in.

This Tuesday Tune-in continues our summer-transportation series. (Last week, I gave you a playlist to use in the car. Go here to check it out). Today, let’s talk flights.

Keep reading for my tips or watch this video of my kids and I on a flight.

Listen, if anyone is your go-to source about flying with babies, it’s me. Since my parents and my husband’s parents all live in Israel, we’ve been doing a god-awful, 12- hour flight every year since my first was born. We’ve done the flight at all ages, at all times of the day.

The other day, we did it again. Aside from not sleeping much, not receiving our kids’ meals and some puking along the way; I would say it went as smooth as a summer smoothie. But they haven’t all been that way.

You see, I’m over the hellish-flight hump. Once your youngest is at least 4 years old, flying is a breeze. You know how I know? Because these days I don’t think twice about packing TWO hats in a carry-on hat bag. (Y’all know I have a hat fetish, right?) Would I have done that a few years ago? Hell no. It was wear it or ditch it.

Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot. And now I’ve divided it all into a few sections for easy, pre-flight scanning. This includes expectation setting, timing, dressing, eating, packing, playing, seating – and a few bonus secrets.

Are you braving a journey on a jet plane with your diapered companion? This one is for you.

How to Survive a Flight with Baby

Expectation setting:

  • Plan for it to be a bit hellish. Do your best to get through it peacefully but also know that it is just going to suck for a day and then its over. Also, know that the older they get, the easier flying gets. So you’ve got a few years in the bunkers (depending on how many kids you have) and then you’ll be cruising.
  • Loosen the rules. Allow stuff you wouldn’t otherwise. For me, that means unlimited screens, more junk food and less sleep.
  • Don’t expect to watch a movie or read a book. With little babies, you’ll be bouncing them to sleep in the carrier. With new walkers, you’ll be walking up and down the aisles feeling terrified with every turbulent bump that your baby will crash into an arm rest. You’ll also hope your neighbors don’t mind seeing your cute baby walking by. Again. For the thousandth time. As they are trying to sleep.
  • Surrender to jetlag. No matter how much you try to time the naps just right, it won’t really matter. Jetlag is a bitch. But it only lasts 5 days or so. Knowing this helps you to not stress about whether they sleep or not on the flight. Sometimes it is even better if they don’t because they start adjusting early.

Timing:

  • Avoid traveling when baby is 10-18 months. This is because of what I said above re: walking up and down the aisles.  Doable, and I’ve done it, but not ideal.
  • Aim for a flight time that takes off 2hrs before we want them to sleep. This timing is particularly for long flights because there is a lot of activity in the first two hours (takeoff, drinks, food, etc) and when that’s over it’s their usual bedtime. Plus, the cabin will be quieter for them by then. Our preferred time is a 5:00-7:00pm flight.

Dressing:

  • Wear slip-on shoes. Baby is in the carrier; bags are on your shoulders; and then they tell you to take off your shoes. No problem. Just slip them off. Same with bathroom trips while wearing the carrier.
  • Wear pants with big pockets. This is a life saver. Try not to wear yoga pants or tight pants that won’t store key items like a boarding pass, pacifier, tissues and EVERYTHING else.
  • Wear socks. It gets cold on flights and you won’t be able to fix yourself that perfect blanket/pillow cocoon that you once could before baby.

Packing:

  • Pack lots. Lots of pacifiers, three bottles, an extra change of clothes on top of the extra change of clothes, an extra blanket. Whatever you can reasonably carry.
  • Prep relief for ear compression. Two age-appropriate ideas have worked for us:
    1. For younger babies – Nurse during take off and landing to make sure your baby is swallowing often which will relieve ear compression.
    2. For older babies – Bring lollipops for take off and landing. My kids still ask for them even now that they are older. It is a ritual that helps them through the transitions. Sort of a mini-party during the worst parts of a flight.
  • Store wipes. And have them in every bag and pocket ready to go.
  • Carry on a box of empty plastic bags. These will be for diapers, garbage, etc.
  • Mission critical: Snacks. For long flights, your child will need lots of options. And, perhaps more importantly, so will you. Flying with a baby is exhausting. Pack your favorite snacks for yourself to give yourself mini pats on the back.
  • Remember the changing pad. It is almost impossible to do it in the tiny bathroom cabins. I’ve done it but it isn’t a picnic. So if you can, it’s best to do it on your lap in your seat. If your baby is very young, even the poop won’t be that offensive. So have a lightweight changing pad ready to go.

Playing:

  • Stickers. These are the best because they are a clean activity and don’t have things that roll away and get lost.
  • Painters tape. My favorite trick was always to bring painters tape and put little pieces all over the seat. My babies would spend hours taking it on and off.
  • Markers or pencils. If you do bring these, have them in a zippered case and be prepared to lose half.
  • Water-marker books. These are genius.
  • Books. Lots of them. Soft cover are ideal so you can fit more in the bag and they’ll be lighter. (Not sure if I need to say this but I mean books for them. You won’t be reading much.)
  • Shows. Obviously, if your baby is older then screens will be your savior. Remember that not all planes have a place to charge your device so bring a few. Headphones are key. Download all programs and movies your child loves. They’ll go through many.

Seating:

  • Car seat vs. Carrier. We always went with carrier. Our babies didn’t want to sit in the car seat anyway and fell asleep easily in the carrier. But it meant hours standing by the flight attendant area bouncing. Again, it’s all in your expectations. If you plan for those moments by the bathroom (and snacks), you won’t mind it.
  • Bassinet. For international flights its very nice to have the bassinets for babies under 6 months. Book your ticket way in advance for that because they tend to fill up.
  • Anywhere but the back. Book a seat not too close to bathroom because of noise/odor/light
  • Aisle vs window. If there are enough of you, then you’ll be lucky to have both options in a full row. Put baby toward the inside and sit on the aisle. If you are traveling solo with the baby, go with aisle so you can get up to soothe, etc.

Bonus: Secrets

  • Music. Yes, I am biased but music has saved me many times on a flight. Here are some of the ways:
    1. Lullaby. You know by now that I believe in the power of the lullaby. It is portable; it acts as a behavioral cue; and it is soothing in and of itself. On the flight, take your baby aside and use your voice to create a bubble around you and your baby. Use your voice to recreate your normal environment.
    2. Soothing song. If you have taken my classes, then you know exactly what I am talking about and how to use it. If you haven’t, you can find the song on Spotify at Vered and I will explain it further in a future blog. But the idea is – bounce, let your voice resonate, use a repetitive sound. Hold your baby with your voice.
    3. Classical. If you are really desperate and your baby is not calming down, then you might want to try classical music in headphones. It has worked for me before.

Are you nervous? Don’t be. You can do this. Most of the time you will be pleasantly surprised that it was easier than you thought it would be.

It is a short run and then you’re done.

YOU CAN DO THIS!!

I know because I did it. Seriously watch the video of me doing it alone with my three kids. Smooth travels!

What has been your saving grace on a flight with a child? Comment below to add to this list.

Know someone flying to visit friends, family or just for vacation? Send them this post if they love lists as much as I do.

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