Flying with a baby
Even if our blog is clearly focused on travel and photography since the beginning, we recently decided to add the topic of traveling with babies and children! Indeed, it is a subject that is close to our hearts and that we know perfectly well as we have traveled with our eldest child, Louis, since he was very young. Today, to follow up on the article mentioned in the link above, and to get to the bottom of things, we are talking about flying with a baby.
Because, apparently, it’s a topic that comes up a lot and seems to stress and occupy the minds of parents-to-be quite a bit. If you are a couple and travelers at heart (like us, in fact), the idea of having children and traveling with them has surely crossed your mind, right? And when you think of travel, you often think of “airplane”, even if more and more people consider alternative means of travel with more ecological ones… No need to worry, we can confirm you right from the start: it can be done very well actually.
We’ll only tell you about our personal experience and our feedback. We traveled by plane with Louis from his 2 months here in French Polynesia, then to Easter Island, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and of course many islands in French Polynesia, not to mention the round trips to the mainland that I did alone with him. And Teo took the plane when he was a newborn since he was only 1 month old. I think that only during Louis’ first year, we took the plane about ten times, not very ecological, sure, but we do have experience in traveling with baby by plane!
So, let’s go. Nothing to fear, just get prepared and everything will be okay! We’re going to talk about infants until 2-3 years old, after that, things are easier on many points in my opinion (child’s autonomy, equipment, diapers, food, activities, etc.).
1. Traveling with your baby by plane, what preparation is needed?
Let’s start with the basics: how to get prepared to take the plane with baby?
a) Documents not to forget
We already talked about it in the article about traveling with a baby but clearly, as soon as you are going to take the plane, you will have to think about the paperwork to add in your hand luggage. In addition to the classic identity card (if traveling locally) or passport (for abroad), you will have to think about bringing the family booklet, the health booklet, the prescriptions of medicines if the baby takes any and the papers of your insurance, for example.
b) Vaccinations and medical visits
Not everyone will have the same opinion on the subject, but obviously, for those who agree to have their child vaccinated (like us), make sure that he/she is up to date with all the mandatory vaccines. We also generally advise you to bring your baby to a pediatrician just to make sure that everything is fine with him/her and there are no contraindications to fly with him/her. Louis, for example, was used to acute ear infections (to the point of piercing his eardrums) and we preferred to ask for a specialist’s advice before embarking on a 21-hour flight…
c) Prepare for the flight
We are convinced that even if the baby will never remember the trips he took as young, they are still beneficial for his personal, emotional and character development. So, we don’t agree with the idea of not traveling with your baby when he is a toddler (though if you are reading this, you must probably think the same, right?). There are tons of advantages of traveling with a baby, and you can think about savings too. Flying with a baby is more economical than traveling with a toddler once he/she is over two years old. For the little anecdote, we went to Rangiroa atoll when Louis was two years old. Unfortunately, we had to pay the full price for the trip. As a reminder, before 2 years old, you only pay the airport taxes! And be careful, if your child turns 2 before the return trip, he will pay full price for his ticket!
You will also have to get ready according to your flight, its duration, the number of stopovers and the time difference. You can’t prepare for a “Paris – Montpellier” flight the same way you would for a “Tahiti – Paris” flight! Generally speaking, I would say that if you can avoid stopovers, it is even better. For very distant destinations, you may not have the choice, but if it’s possible, and even if it means paying a little extra, then do it. This will save you from customs, endless queues at airports, check-ups for small pots, etc.
As far as jet lag is concerned, I often tend to say that babies handle it much better than we do. Our personal philosophy is to adapt our rhythm directly to the local time. This avoids several days of complications where baby won’t know when to eat, sleep, nap, etc. Depending on the time difference and your arrival time at your destination, try to either force the little one to sleep, or on the contrary to keep him awake so that he easily falls asleep at night…
Finally, the length of the flight will influence a lot of things, in particular the equipment you’ll take in flight, the toys, meals, etc. For small flights, there is no need to load up at all. For a long-haul flight of 12 hours, it’s a different story since you will need more diapers, more activities, more toys – well, you get the idea.
d) The equipment to travel by plane with your baby
What are we going to talk about here? First of all, meals, then hygiene and accessories (strollers, car seat, baby suitcase, baby sling).
i. Meals with baby on the plane
Regarding meals, you should know that on most short flights (from less than an hour to a few hours), you do not necessarily have meals or snacks for you and your child (it depends on the airlines too). For long haul flights, you generally have the meal included (note that it is not mandatory, for example on a Tahiti – Paris flight with the low-cost French Bee). If nothing is included, you will have to provide what is necessary according to the age of your baby. If it’s before the diversification of food (say 4 months), it’s quite simple, especially if you breastfeed your baby as you won’t have to take much more than yourself, haha! If your baby is bottle-feeding, then you’ll need bottles, powdered milk, a measuring cup to store the milk (and prepare the quantities in advance). You can consider taking water with you especially for short flights (it will be tested at customs), although you can always ask the flight attendant to give you a bottle of water. On long flights, they know you have a baby and usually provide you with a 1L bottle to prepare the bottle and feed the baby. Once the bottle is ready, ask the stewardess to heat it up directly. It’s as simple as that. (Pay attention to the temperature of the bottle, as it often comes back boiling).
If your baby is at the period where he eats baby food, you can simply bring it with you on the plane with a spoon. They will also be tested at customs. Also remember to bring diapers/towels/cloths to avoid the mess! If baby eats a normal meal (so, like you), there is not much to worry about really, except picking up anything that falls on the floor!
Finally, one last piece of advice, whether it’s for powdered milk or baby food, I really recommend you take a little more than you need. Why? Simply because of plane delays and/or cancellations. Taking off 6 hours after the initially planned time may happen, and it is really important not to be stuck or lacking meals for your baby. For Louis’ first flight, we were stuck in the airport for 5 hours… fortunately I was still breastfeeding! Depending on where you are, it can not be always easy to find milk. But between us, if it happens, don’t be shy and just go find another mom to whom you can ask for help! Between parents, we often help each other!
ii. Hygiene accessories and clothes for the plane
I am not going to detail all the contents of the hygiene accessories that you could take in the plane as it depends on you and the duration of the flight essentially. In a general way, I advise you at least diapers (number to be chosen according to the duration of the trip), wipes to clean baby, some spare clothes, all in a diaper bag.
About clothes, we personally always dress him with jogging pants (to be comfortable) and a double layer sweater, with a long sleeve bodysuit as first skin. It often freezes on the plane, and clearly, if the baby is not covered, chances are he will be quickly sick at arrival. Louis had an ear infection on his first return flight to France…
iii. Carrying accessories on the plane
It is not the aim to detail everything here in this article, but globally, I see several possibilities. First thing, the stroller. I reassure you: it won’t be on the plane! Of course, it depends if you need it during your trip or not, but for flights with stopovers (like coming back to France from Tahiti), it is very practical and we brought it every time. First of all, you’ll get priority at customs, which is cool. It also avoids you carrying your baby during a 2-hours queue at customs… It will be placed in “ACC”, that is to say accompanying cabin, and you will get it back as soon as you leave the plane (either stopover or arrival), which is very useful. By the way, if you are looking for the ideal stroller for airplanes (small size, light, foldable, etc.), I recommend you the GB Gold models from Pockit, the one from Safety 1st or the Yoyo +.
On the plane itself, the only choices you have are:
- Your arms: haha, for these ones, no worries, you have them with you, but they do get tired quite fast!!!
- A baby carrier: I would say that it is very practical to put your little one to sleep and walk around the plane with it, as long as your baby starts to weigh,
- A baby sling: it is for me the ideal way to take the plane with your baby and carry him during several hours in a flight. It’s very light, easy to store/fold and doesn’t take up any space. Ideal for infants! We actually wrote a full review of the Love Radius slings if you’re interested!
Please note that even if the baby does not pay for a plane ticket, you are generally allowed to take a carry-on bag for him/her. We systematically bring a special cabin suitcase for the plane in which we store everything (we will talk about it below). Knowing that as soon as baby grows up a little, say 1 year/2 years, he will be very happy to pull his own suitcase and have his own stuff!
e) Forget about people's looks and do what's best
I think this is one of the best pieces of advice I can give when preparing your travel with children: the psychological preparation. This will obviously depend on your temperament, but be prepared to be judged, stared at, and to hear grumbling from people whenever your baby cries. The fact is that, whether you like it or not, your baby may cry, either during take-off or landing! Indeed, the cabins are pressurized in the plane and even an adult can have an earache during these phases. On our side, Louis had quite a few ear problems (repeated ear infections and vegetation surgery), so it was clearly never perfect, especially during take-off and landing.
Even during the flight, your baby may cry for various reasons. Well, like in normal time at home, but you are here surrounded by more than 300 people who generally do not want to hear any baby cry. You have to be patient, take care of your baby and try to understand why he is in pain. As long as you take care of your baby, you shouldn’t really care about what other people may think, right?
2. The airport with a baby
And yes, after the preparation of your trip mentioned above, comes the famous waiting time at the airport, the so dreaded one, haha!
a) Checking in at the airport
According to our personal experience, you are often given priority at the airport check-in with a baby, but to be honest, it may not be always the case, especially in New Zealand. Anyways, we advise you to arrive early, earlier than “Mr. and Mrs. Everybody”. The idea is to be able to reserve the bassinet, especially on long-haul flights. Obviously, on a flight of 1 or 2 hours, this advice falls apart. I’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of cribs on airplane trips later. Be careful too, if you choose the crib, I advise you to take the one on the window side, the one on the corridor side being directly under the air conditioning and I find it not so great for babies.
I learned another point while doing my research that I didn’t know: the accompanying person for a baby must be of age (normal huh!), but most importantly, an accompanying person can only accompany one baby. If you have 2 babies, you can’t take the plane alone with both!
Good to know anyway… During our trips in France, we often make the outward journey together with Sylvain and I often come back alone… Phew, fortunately I did not have twins ahaha.
b) Customs with a baby
I might as well say it right from the start: as an adult, it’s already a real pain in the ass to spend hours at customs in an airport, but with a baby, it’s even worse. I’ll have some great anecdotes to tell you about traveling with Louis as a baby and going through customs, but this article is already going to be long. Well, let’s just tell you three little anecdotes anyway:
- We were voluntarily kept (under the sad eyes of Louis) a plastic gun that Santa had brought him. In the United States, when we went through customs, this is one of the objects forbidden on the plane, and even if our little one went crazy because they seized his toy, the guy didn’t want to know anything,
- We were once asked to take the soother out of Louis’ sleeping mouth and to separate the comforter and the soother (because we usually hung them up together). Kind of useless, but anyway. What do you want to hide between a comforter and a soother?
- On the other hand, once at customs in New Zealand, Louis was sleeping in a baby carrier, and the customs officer accepted to leave him in it to pass under the famous gate, which obviously rang since the whole baby carrier is made of iron. He just asked us to empty the baby carrier. So, there are good people too finally, ahaha.
Apart from these funny anecdotes, you have to expect that your baby luggage will obviously be searched like yours. So, you’re going to say that it’s not the end of the world, and you’re right, but you have to know that they will generally test everything: the water you brought, the little cakes for the little munchies, the powdered milk, the little jars for the meals, etc. Depending on who you run into at customs, it clearly can take some time, so be aware of that!
So, a few tips for going through customs with a baby: with a stroller, we have always had priority so for me, it’s worth taking it. When you’re in the queue like everyone else, pinch your baby hard to make him scream, haha. Of course, I’m kidding, but it’s always something I wanted to do and test when I’m in a 6km queue in an airport to attract attention with my miserable look, but would it work? When it comes to clothes, keep it simple for you as well as for the baby. We are not in a fashion show and it is better to have practical clothes that are easy to take off on demand than a beautiful belt, a nice vest with buttons, etc. For baby food, everything is usually grouped in a single pouch so that everything can be tested directly at customs.
c) The boarding room
I wanted to give my personal point of view on this issue, but I would tend to say that there are two ways to look at it. If you go through priority before all the other passengers, it gives you time to organize yourself in the plane without being in the middle of everyone. This is often the technique we choose, but it is a very personal choice!
Another technique that can be nice if you have rambunctious babies is to wait until “the last moment” to get on the plane with them. It allows you to tire them out, and even if it won’t allow you to be quiet for a 12-hour flight, you will surely be quiet for a few hours after the departure, haha…
Last advice for travels with baby, think of changing him shortly before getting on the plane. It’s easier to change your baby in a dedicated room at the airport than in the airplane’s bathroom, even if they are often equipped with a changing table.
3. On board the plane with your baby
Once the preparation is done and on board, the serious things begin!
a) Choosing a bassinet for the plane or not?
Everyone will have their own opinion about it, and it depends a lot on your habits but especially on your baby. Personally, we are conquered by the idea and our little one has always slept very well in it, so we are not going to complain. For a child under 2 years old, you have this possibility. The weight and the maximum size can vary, but we are on proportions of 76cm and up to 14Kg.
Personally, I would say that the bassinet has a lot of advantages: when the baby sleeps in it, you are free to move, eat, relax in the plane. You also have a lot more room for your feet since you are in the first row. Our little one often played for hours in the bassinet, so it was frankly pretty great! As for storage, it’s also much easier because it’s within easy reach.
However, you should know that it is not perfect: you will have to take your baby back as soon as there is (big) turbulences. The person on the window side will be stuck by the bassinets (a bit of a problem). You should also know that you are close to the toilets and there are people passing by (you are less quiet). Finally, the armrests are generally fixed, so it’s a pain to put the baby to sleep on you if necessary, and the bedpan is only put in place one hour after takeoff, which means that you have to keep him on you while waiting, taking the risk that he falls asleep if you’re for example on a night flight. A matter of taste then?
b) Beware of the air conditioning
Yes, it’s a silly advice and I’m not going to write two tons about it, but it’s important enough for us to still say a few words. Every time we fly, we dress the little one with a sweater that goes well up to the collar and very often, a neck warmer (the type of thing you wear when hiking), bought in New Zealand. If you can avoid it, don’t choose the bassinet on the aisle side, especially because of the air conditioning. If you have the baby on you, it’s the same, I would rather choose the porthole side (even if it means pissing off the people next to you, haha).
c) Be careful with your ears
We are the specialists of earaches on planes. As mentioned above, Louis had many ear problems and it was not always easy to take the plane with him, being always afraid that the takeoff would hurt him a lot. On the advice side, first of all, I absolutely recommend having your baby nurse (or give him a bottle) during the whole take-off phase. Even if you give him a bottle of water or a pacifier, the idea is to make him swallow… (you as adults take candy or gum, don’t you?).
Secondly, we always made sure to clean baby’s nose before boarding the plane. Knowing that the nose and ears are connected, this is not a bad thing, I think. During the takeoff phase, if your baby’s ears hurt a lot and nothing is getting through, don’t hesitate to call a stewardess. I’ve heard that some flight attendants suggest putting a plastic cup with a cotton ball soaked in very hot water on each ear. Apparently, this works well! Even today, I still have a nose spray to moisturize the little one’s nose.
d) Keeping baby busy on the plane
Of course, this will depend on the age of your baby. If you are traveling with a 3-month-old baby, the activities will be quite limited. I can think about two things, depending on the age.
- Before 2 years old: I will tend to favor toys like shapes/colors, little books, games for the awakening, toys for teething, a music box (that doesn’t wake up the whole plane) or even stickers, for example.
- After 2 years: we often brought small cars, exercise books, coloring pages, books, or dolls for the girls…
Finally, I personally remember that Sylvain spent a lot of time walking in the hallway with Louis. He was then 1 and a half years old. It kept him busy, he was saying hello to everyone, and I even remember him playing in the back of the plane with another child from his school. It helps to pass the time for them and not let your baby get upset in his seat for hours (too long for him!).
e) Changing baby
I’ll end with this: it’s a detail, but it’s good to mention it. Generally, even on a long-haul flight like Tahiti – Paris, I plan on 10 diapers or so. I’ve never been short of them and you have a bit of a margin. Even if I’m a fan of homemade liniment, I still find it much more convenient taking wipes for the plane. In fact, it’s almost the only time I clean my little one’s bottom with them in everyday life. It’s more convenient. I also suggest you take a plastic bag to put diapers, tissues, and close it well, haha. Finally, know that you will have access to the toilet to change your baby. Between us, for a little pee, you can very well change baby in the basin.
That’s it, I’m coming to the end of this article. It’s rare that I write on the blog, but I enjoy giving advice on traveling with baby. I think I will write all the articles related to this topic in the future. I hope you’ve learned some things and this was a helpful article! Flying with a baby now should be a breeze, right?
I’ll see you soon for a new baby article,
See you soon,