The first flight with baby can be daunting. Here are a few suggestions to make the process smoother and to help you anticipate what may occur.
Booking tickets: whenever possible we try to book a bulkhead seat and get a bassinet (for babies that can’t sit up on their own). Otherwise we leave a blank seat in between us and hope that no one books it. This gives you a place to put baby down, and also room for toys, blankets, carriers and whatever else you feel the need to have out (and in a pinch, you can do a quick diaper change on this seat if they’re still really little NOTE: we did get in trouble for doing this once, so be warned). For short-haul flight a bassinet is normally not available; if you’re flying a short-haul solo – a sling in this case is a must.
What to bring on board: most airline company we’ve traveled with allows you to take an extra carry-on for the baby, which is basically the diaper bag (Easyjet is an exception to this rule). Make sure you have small containers of all your liquids – this is a great time to use all those free samples you got from various companies when they found out you were pregnant, and keep all your liquids together in a clear bag so you save time going through security (I actually only did this for my first flight, and I have never been hassled, but I’m sure this will nip me in the butt one of these days).
Take-offs and landings: a great way to deal with popping ear-drums in babies is to breastfeed them during the ascent and decent. This has the bonus of calming the baby with all the clatter going on around you. But between baby seat-belts, breast-feeding covers and an uncooperative baby, this may not be possible. (If formula feeding you can give them a bottle). There are timing issues as well – what if he can’t wait any longer and you’re still stuck on the ground? Our solution has been the dummie (soother/pacifier) – we give it a gentle tug if he appears to be losing interest in sucking on it ensuring that he’ll give it some solid attention lest we should take it away from him.
All airlines have their own procedure for holding babies during take-off/landing and turbulence. The three we’ve encountered are: the baby seat belt, your arms holding him upright (also difficult for breastfeeding), and allowed to keep him in the sling. Note: I asked another airline about keeping him in the sling and they said it wasn’t an FAA approved method or device – that said, I think I have a better chance of keeping baby close to me in the sling rather than relying on the strength of my own arms – but that’s just me.
Entertainment: Toys – take two favorites and one ‘random’ one – they’ll be easier to keep track of, and babies also find noises (clapping, tongue clicking, raspberries) and songs comforting if they aren’t enjoying the airplane environment (or you can’t play with them due to take-off/landing procedures). In a pinch – if you can move – bathroom mirrors are amazing. Just be careful – toilet flushes can seriously freak a baby out (if your baby reacts to hand-dryers, you’ll know what I mean). Read about improvising techniques when you’re in a pinch.
Diapers: bring at least one diaper for every hour of flying time. I don’t know if it’s the pressure on their weak behinds, but they can poop like crazy on flights.
Change of clothes for EVERYONE: while we on the topic of what comes out their behinds – just as much can come out their mouths. Both poop and vomit will put a damper on a long journey – bring tops for everyone to change into and a spare set of clothes or two for the little one.
Milk – breastfeeding: if you bring an extra bottle with you – you will be asked to open this bottle and drink some of your milk. My husband actually took one for the team (after looking at my face, and knowing that I don’t deal all that well with the extremes security has become, he jumped on this grenade) and did this the first time we flew with Daniel. But by now tasting my own breast-milk isn’t a big deal; it’s actually quite sweet and creamy.
Milk – formula: A tip is to pre-order formula to the pharmacy inside the secure area of the airport. Otherwise, the security measures vary; I’ve been told that I need to open half of what I bring and taste it (pre-prepared) and other security guards have told me I have to test each bottle. Another option is to put the formula powder in the bottles, then purchase either a bottle of water (this is not necessarily sterile) or ask a coffee shop for some boiled water, wait for it to cool, and add it to the formula on the other end.
Slings/Carriers: These are a great option, especially if you are told to check the pram early. This is a must if travelling alone without a bassinet. When you’re on-board, it gives baby a place to sleep and you can still have a reasonably easy time with food and drink service. You can also use the loo in a pinch. Prepare to sit back and enjoy 10 uninterrupted minutes of that movie you wanted to watch.
Strollers: we found these really useful for travelling to European cities, but a complete waste of effort to bring to North America. For travel in the US or Canada bring a car seat (or borrow one when you get there) – most cities there aren’t designed for much walking. Most airlines let you bring them right up to the plane doors (Norwegian doesn’t). An odd point – if you travel with a large pram – locals will assume you are one of them and ask you for directions.
Stroller Pack: I really didn’t want to pay to buy a stroller pack for our stroller, but almost every time we’ve flown, our pram has come away with some damage (first a torn button, then the cup holder disappeared, the handle was deeply scratch, and finally a lever was half snapped off). A stroller pack is worth questioning if you spent a lot of money on your pram. We bought ours second-hand at a very reasonable price. To do it over again, I would have purchased a used lighter/simpler pram for travelling.
Car Seat: We actually don’t own a car seat, so I can’t give any advice here. If you have experience with a car-seat on a plane, please let me know and I can update this section.
Carry-on: find sample diaper bag packing lists here.
Read about our trip to Heathrow via the tube here.