Flying long haul with a baby – Samantha Crowe shares her experiences of flying to America and suggests that with some careful planning and self belief you can easily take a long haul flight with a baby.
People said we were mad. Mad to be taking a three month old baby to California to introduce him to his cousins. But it seemed as good a time as any; our baby was breast fed and wasn’t on the move. He was the most portable he was ever going to be. However, on the day of departure I began to think they were right, until my husband reassured me that the planning I had done would pay off. We knew our baby and we were confident we could handle most eventualities. He was right.
I looked for help before going away but couldn’t really find anything so I went with my instincts and drew on my own travel experiences. Below is what we did. I hope this is useful in some way to anyone considering flying long haul with a baby, however far. Of course this is based on one holiday and one baby. Maybe we were lucky but my best advice is plan what you can control and believe in your parenting skills and instinct to manage what you can’t.
1. Choose a baby friendly flight time
Go for a late afternoon flight as your baby will be ready for his evening feed and longest sleep soon into the flight. When you book, ask for a basinet at the bulk head, small babies get priority. Set yourself a reminder to check in online as soon as it opens to get the best choice of seats. If you can choose seats go for the four seat centre aisle which has more room. If you are allocated the narrower triple window seat ask to be on the aisle side or swap when on board, as it makes getting in and out to change and stand up and bounce much easier and less disruptive for the passenger beside you. I cheekily asked for an upgrade at every chance we had, sadly we weren’t lucky, but if you don’t ask…
2. Going through airport security with a baby
Some airports now have family lanes, but with a small baby and some organisation you can get through any lane – probably more quickly. If your baby is asleep they won’t make you wake him. They will do a sweep with a wand after you walk through the detector. If she is awake be prepared to carry her through and put the car seat and buggy frame through the scanner. Make life easy by having all liquids in one plastic bag at the top of your hand luggage, and perhaps all electronics in one place so you can easily put them into the security trays. You might also want to think about how you dress for the flight so you don’t have to worry about taking off belts and shoes. Every little helps when it comes to reducing the faffing while holding a baby!
3. Flying with a 3 month old
Make full use of your right to get on first and don’t be afraid to ask to take the car seat on (if that’s your buggy combination). You will be given a choice of basinet: bouncer style or carry cot. We went for a carry cot so our baby knew it was ‘night time’ and couldn’t be distracted. You’ll be given a seat belt adaptor for the baby for take off and landing. I got the baby strapped in close to take off so he didn’t get frustrated and I tried to feed him at take off and landing to manage air pressure, though the time he didn’t feed he seemed unaffected. Turbulence can be a pain for a sleeping baby in a basinet but we just about managed to scoop him out of the cot into the belt without waking him.
We tried to keep to our routine for the flight, changing his nappy, feeding him and putting him to bed at the usual time. This worked well for us on both flights as he slept for 7 hours uninterrupted.
4. Surviving the flight – worrying about other people
Don’t. I found this hard. But my husband made some good points: People next to you will have acknowledged they may be seated next to a young family when they bought their bulk head ticket. Everyone has entertainment headsets and the sound of crying doesn’t carry as far as you think because the noise of the aircon and the engines. (This makes perfect white noise for sleeping.) You’ve also paid a large sum for your ticket so have every right to manage things your way. Stewards will take a baby for a walk so use their services if you need to.
5. Breast feeding on a plane
This was probably the most uncomfortable part, as feeding in a narrow space is tricky so be prepared to be versatile with position – I wish we’d perfected feeding jockey style. I swapped seats with my husband when I fed on the side that would otherwise be closest to a stranger, and I wore a Miriam Stoppard bra under a ‘Boob’ feeding top which was more discrete. If food service starts mid-feed then stewards will hold hot meals until you are ready, and will bring extra water, just ask.
6. Arriving in a different time zone
I think if you can use any conditioning from your routine to help ease into the new time you will reap the rewards. Our little boy slept for 7 hours on the flight, effectively to his 2am feed, and an hour before landing. We then kept him awake for the next 5 hours, which was a bit tricky but the day light, changes of scene, travelling next to him in the car and playing with him all helped. At dusk we bathed him and used this as a cue to sleep. He then slept through the night, with a middle of the night feed, until 6am California time by which time we were awake anyway and decided to start our day. We put him straight into his daily routine and he adjusted very well. A few mornings he woke early but a feed in the dark, sometimes in bed with us, got him back to sleep.
7. Managing jet lag after a long haul flight with a baby
Travelling home (west to east) is the killer. The advice I was given by a friend who has flown to and from Australia several times was to allow a day for every hour or time difference. If you think like this you’ll be prepared. It was tough but we used our routine and all things considered our baby did very well to adjust over the fortnight for someone so small.
I’m really pleased we were bold enough to do it. It was a very special first family holiday and I’d do it again!
Samantha and her family flew British Airways to San Francisco.
Samantha’s experience shows that long haul travel with a baby needn’t be off limits – have you got any advice about flying long haul with your baby which you would be willing to share?