I've written a few posts about flying with kids over the past few years but thought I'd consolidate it all into one comprehensive guide.
Being Australians living in London, far far away from Grandparents means we've taken our fair share of flights to reunite Maddie with family and friends over the past two years.
We took 42 flights with Madeleine in her first two years, and so I feel a little qualified to give some tips which may help to reduce some anxiety about flying with kids.
I'm by no means an expert, but other than one or two bad flights, I've been pretty proud of the number of times air hostess' comment on how well behaved our little traveller is.
I will say, when you start travelling with kids you really feel like your life pre-kids couldn't be further away than when you're boarding a plane!!! Gone are the days of enjoying a drink, hot dinner, and a couple of movies mixed in with a couple of hours sleep. You are now the most despised people on board. You will eat, but it's likely to be cold, and spilled on you. You will rest, but never actually sleep, and not with a movie on in case the bright lights wake the baby. Your only task on board now is to be at your baby's beck and call, responding to their every need before they have realised they need it! It is always easier to prevent a melt down than it is to reign one in, while on board!
My experience with flying looks a little like this....
Travelling with kids can be really nerve-wracking but doesn't have to be horrible! With a little planning and a lot of expectation-setting you can definitely continue to explore the world, babes in tow! Here's my comprehensive guide to flying with kids, based on our experiences. I'd love to hear your tips too, so include any in the comments below!
Brew yourself a hot cuppa and settle in, this is not a short post!!!
It definitely pays to be organised when travelling with children. Bringing extra diapers, wipes, nappy bags and a change of clothes (for both of you) can make such a difference to your trip. Particularly on long-haul trips, you just never know what's going to happen, it pays to be prepared!
With regards to whether to take a stroller or baby-carrier or not, we've done it both ways and favour having time without a baby on us when in transit! The rule used to be that it had to be one piece, fully collapsible, but I've seen many large prams in the lounges, so check with your airport.
When we flew to Australia when Maddie was 3 months old, we had an 8 hour lay-over in Singapore on the way. We checked into the airport hotel (the minimum check-in for most airport hotels is 6 hours) and had showers, put Maddie down and just chilled out for a while. For long lay-overs I highly recommend having somewhere to just flop for a while. Unless you're in a Lounge, otherwise, enjoy and don't tell us what its like!!!
Jetlag is fun for nobody. Particularly little babies. Expect around 5 days to be the time it takes to get on local time, so you may have some rocky nights when you arrive. We tried to keep Maddie up for as long as possible during the first day and it seemed to really help get her onto local time.
Expectation setting. Lower them. And now lower them further. If you expect things to be pretty tough, you'll either be meeting or exceeding your expectations!!!! Its totally worth the extra effort, just plan a little more and the world is your oyster!
Travelling with infants is the easiest time to travel with kids. Although you'll be anxious about the first flight for sure, they really are so easy to travel with so make the most of this 6 month window and get some big trips in now!! We took Maddie to Australia/New Zealand from London when she was 3 months old and then New York when she was 6 months old and we couldn't believe how easy it was!!
Being seated in the bulkhead with a bassinet seat is crucial to the ease of your flight, particularly for long haul trips. Most airlines have bassinets on "first come first serve" basis, so it pays to check in really early! Our experience with American carriers is that it is up to the staff at the gate, so get to your gate as soon as possible and request your bassinet. Being able to put the baby in the bassinet for them to sleep will make the flight so much easier.
The most important thing to know about travelling with an infant is that you want to feed them during ascent (and descent, but its not as crucial at the other end). This is when the pressure in their ears becomes painful, so the sucking motion will help pop their ears and relieve the pressure. We had one flight where the staff on an Air New Zealand flight wouldn't allow me to nurse Maddie (she was 3 months at that time) and so for the entire 4 hour flight she was in a lot of discomfort and made such comfort levels known to all! I would try to avoid feeding for about 2 hours before taking off, so that they are really wanting a feed while you're taking off, it really helps them out so much. Its a good idea to have a pacifier handy too, just in case, because this still provides the sucking action required!
If you are flying long-haul or on a night flight, don't count on it being dark when you're baby is trying to sleep! And being in the bulkhead right near the toilets means there is a lot going on near you, most of the time. I used to take a lightweight blanket and tape with me, and created a little tepee over the bassinet to block out the light and distractions to help Madeleine settle into slumber. Bring a big roll of tape, your neighbours are going to want to borrow some!!
From here it's just a case of changing their nappies and letting them snooze the hours away, with the white noise of the engine soothing them into high-altitude-slumber!
Crashed out at Brisbane International en route to New Zealand, 3.5 months
Bassinets are the way forward. Singapore to London, 4 months
Tepee in action over the bassinet. What you can't seat, baby is snoozing. For 8 hours straight!!
As soon as your baby is on the
move, things start getting a little more colourful, and lot more challenging when flying. Not impossible at all, it just requires a bit more organisation and a lot more patience!
The big change though is when to board.
With a baby I liked getting on first and getting myself all set up, but with a crawler, the least possible time to restrain them, the better! Unless you don't have an allocated seat already, I'd recommend hopping on as late as possible.
As with travelling with an infant, it is so important to make sure your baby is sucking during ascent and descent to help relieve the pressure in their ears. At this age you can probably try food pouches if they are interested, or stick to nursing/bottle feeding.
I have listed below some suggestions for entertainment ideas for toddlers, and they apply to some crawlers, but the key is to really be patient. And lower your standards!!! They will crawl down the dirty airplane aisles, they will probably touch something in the bathrooms when you are changing their diapers, and aside from cleaning their hands regularly with wipes, you'll find it easier if you just embrace it all for the time being!!
Consider separate seats.....this tip is a little scary but we did it on one of our long haul flights by default and it worked out so well!! The airline botched up our seats and had us sitting behind each other rather than side by side, which we at first thought was utterly devastating, but actually kind of loved it. It meant one parent could zone out for an hour or two, eat a hot meal, go to the bathroom, heavens, even watch an episode of Modern Family (its my zone-out show that makes me happy!!) while the other parent handles baby for a bit. And then you swap over and you've had a break so you have a little energy and enthusiasm to play and explore while you allow your partner the same luxury (although Pete wouldn't ever admit to watching Frozen in his free time). I LOVED this arrangement, and felt like the trip wasn't so bad, because we'd divided and conquered!
Crawling (& standing) at Heathrow bound for JFK, 6 months
Flying with a toddler has its challenges but also has lots more rewards now. Toddlers can be fussy, but they can also be very easily distracted, and there's actually quite a lot to distract a toddler with on a plane (you just need to be a bit creative).
Much like with crawlers, I would highly recommend ignoring the pre-boarding calls for parents with small children! Sometimes there's 20 minutes between this call and the final boarder, and wouldn't you rather your toddler burning off some of their energy running around the gate, rather than jumping up and down in your lap?!
You are likely to have more time at the airport when you're checking in with children than in your pre-kids travelling life, and probably avoided play areas like the plague. And then you had kids and realised that said play areas are little gifts from above, sent to provide you with 30 minutes of heaven before caging in an active toddler. Seek them out and let your kid play, play, play!!
Its likely that your toddler won't be needing milk at this age, and if they are anything like Maddie, wouldn't get excited to slurp on water for the ten minutes while you're ascending, and so we swear by Ella's Kitchen food pouches. Even now we have them with us when we're out and about. They are all natural, easy and clean and I've never met a kid who doesn't love them. The timing is a delicate balance though!! You want them to be hungry and thirsty so that when the pilot puts his foot down your toddler is chomping at the bit for the Ella's, but don't want them to cross that line into starvation mode which is of course the pre-cursor to an epic meltdown!
I like to pack a bag of things for Madeleine, but never give it to her. It has to last the entire flight, so I give her a new thing to play with each hour. But aside from a few new books/toys/sticker pads, I always bring in a few of her favourites to make her comfortable too. She has a little bunny, a favourite book, and her favourite sippy cup at that time. It seems to help her settle in the unknown surroundings.
Wired for sound! London to Mallorca, 2 years
Getting ready to fly, Zurich airport, 20 months.
Breaking up the hour into three segments is just a way to keep yourself from going crazy!
Here's some ideas that we used for Maddie when she was a crawler/toddler.
The keys to snacks for toddlers are ones that are: low sugar, low mess, long lasting and ones that takes a while to consume!! We don't give Maddie much bread at home, so its an entire treat for her to sit and munch on a baguette for 20 minutes! Now is not the time for strict rules, its a time for just doing what you need to do to get through. But this doesn't include sugary treats that will hype your toddler up and then make them crash. Nobody needs that!!!
I can't recommend the Galt Water Magic books enough. We've been using them for travel ever since Maddie could hold a crayon. There is a pen that you fill with water, and when it makes contact with a page, the colours appear as if by magic. It is clean, there aren't crayons everywhere, and even still Madeleine loves making the colours appear.
Headphones are fantastic. But make sure you get them used to them BEFORE flying. They don't feel entirely natural to a child, so we'd do a few sessions a week letting Maddie watch a show on the iPad with the headphones on. It took a little getting used to, but now she loves them! Its unlikely that you'll have your iPad up loud enough to annoy other passengers, but its nice to be considerate.
Maddie is obsessed with stickers! I don't give her stickers at home, they are saved up for travel times, so she loves playing with them on board!! We always end up completely covered in butterflies, but hey, it keeps her amused for ages (and whats a little at-home-hair-removal compared to that hey Pete?).
If you don't have an iPad or LeapPad or an equivalent, I really would recommend getting one if you are going to do a long haul flight with a toddler. You can't rely on the in-flight-entertainment, what if its not working, there's just no coming back from that!!! There are so many educational apps that you can put on if you're worried about their exposure to technology. This is another case of lowering your standards to get by!
Here's where to find some of these items:
Toddlers have such wonderful imaginations you'll be surprised with what things you view differently on a plane now! A simple game of peek-a-boo with the curtain in the back galley chews up more time than you could ever foresee possible!!! And never rush the diaper change, its valuable time to chew up! Make faces in the mirror, take a few tissues to play peek a boo with, play with washing your hands a few dozen times and just let your toddler be for a while. Running up and down the aisles isn't ideal, but it does tire them out, and hopefully you won't have too many grumps that give you "those" looks!
if (when) it goes badly...
And it probably will if you fly enough, you're sure to have one or two rough flights. Out of 42, we had two horrible flights! One from London to Malaysia, and another from Australia to New Zealand. At her worst, Maddie was cutting FOUR teeth, the flight was delayed by 4 hours (with us stuck on board) and she then proceeded to cry for 8 whole hours. It was brutal. We had strangers offering up drugs, for Maddie, and the air hostesses were wondering why we hadn't drugged our baby too. I won't enter into a debate into the morals of sedating kids, but I will say, we do have a bottle of Phenergen for long hauls now that's she's two, just in case. But talk to your GP first!
The bottom line is, no matter what, its just one day of your life. Even if it is a horrible flight, it's just one day, and is still totally worth doing to be able to still explore the world with your family.
I hope these many (many) tips and advice is helpful to you if you are a bit nervous about flying with a baby. We're
kind of excited to be travelling more with our 2 year old who has her own seat and extended attention span. Here's to lots of adventures!!
London to New York, 15 months
Oh and for as many trips as Maddie has been on, we have very little experience of car trips, but my friend