Eight tips for maximum air-travel pleasure with a baby … Last week, we took our first family vacation – a five-day trip to New York. This was DamBaby’s second time on a plane, but the first long haul trip. It’s a very different experience to short-haul. Here’s my advice for time-zone hopping with a baby.
1. Get to airports early
As expats, we fly a lot. I have always driven my husband mad with my last-minute airport arrival escapades. I’m usually sprinting towards passport control as he (im)patiently sips his Starbucks caramel frappuccino near the departure gates and waits for me. Airport brinkmanship with a baby would be lunacy. For one, running is out thanks to the volume of baggage. I like to think we pack light, but our enormous entourage this trip included DamBaby’s bassinet and wheels; our baby carrier; her change bag; a multitude of blankets, swaddles and her sleeping bag. Add to that our suitcases and two large coats, in preparation for freezing temperatures, and we were loaded like human donkeys. Every part of the airport process was an incredible faff — we had to use six trays to get our belongings through the x-ray scanner. Without plenty of time, we’d have been enormously stressed.
2. Take advantage of baby priority
Everyone knows airports are basically one painful queue after another. That’s why they’ve devised means for wealthy people to avoid them all. Having a baby is a little like an everyman’s first class treatment. By flashing our little one we were ushered past every line, from check-in to boarding. We took full advantage, asking staff if there was a short route every time we saw a line (“sorry, but our baby needs feeding and is about to start screaming. Is there any way we can get through quickly?”).
3. Use a baby carrier
I used our ERGObaby carrier to transport DB around the airport and onto the plane when we travelled short haul. For some reason, we thought the buggy would be easier for a long-haul flight as you can take it all the way to the plane door before it’s stowed in the hold. The problem is, when you arrive you have to wait for it to be brought back up to the plane door again, which meant more or less waiting for every other passenger to disembark first. Another time we’d check the buggy in and stick to the baby carrier.
4. Request bassinet seats on board
Ah to be flying in first or business class. But we weren’t, so we needed somewhere flat for DB to lie during the flight. I’ve heard many horror stories of parents forced to carry babies on their laps for 10 hours. The not always foolproof answer is to phone the airline in advance and request the front row of seats plus a bassinet. Then phone again 24 hours before you fly to re-confirm. Then ask again at check-in.
Fortunately, we were given these seats on both flights. Shortly after take-off stewards arrived with our bassinet, which was fastened onto the wall in front of our seats. Our outbound flight bassinet, courtesy of Delta airlines, was a bit medieval-looking with a funny mesh cage across the top. It alarmed DB. As a result she slept less than two hours in it, the remainder spent in our arms. On the way back, KLM had a much more modern, friendly solution and we achieved four hours of peaceful slumber.
I’d say a bassinet isn’t essential for day flights. We enjoyed the on-board playtime. But the extra leg room you get with those front seats is a huge bonus.
5. Think how you will handle crying
When I took a short-haul flight with DB, she slept throughout. I knew we wouldn’t be so lucky on an eight-hour flight. She needed feeding, multiple times. She wanted to play. And, she wanted to cry right in the middle of a red-eye flight when every other passenger was soundly asleep.
Being the parent with the screaming baby was probably my biggest flight fear. In honesty, that first moment when DB woke from her peaceful bassinet slumber and launched straight into full-lung screaming was quite horrendous. My husband and my first response was panic. We rushed to comfort her through feeding. When she continued crimson-faced crying at my proffered boob we knew we were in trouble. We tried a pacifier, which was spat out in disgust. A stewardess hurriedly asked if we needed anything. I could hear the irritated mutters of woken passengers. My husband shot up from his seat with baby to do the trusted calming shoulder-bounce around the plane – which also meant spreading the noise further.
The screaming lasted less than five minutes before she calmed down enough to accept a feed. It felt like a lot more. It definitely wouldn’t put me off flying long-haul again. We did everything we could – the only thing I’d change next time is to try to relax. I’m sure she sensed our panic, which made it worse. My advice is to think in advance about how you’d deal with crying, particularly on a night flight. But don’t let the thought overwhelm you. You could always take a leaf from this family’s book and give out earplugs and sweets to fellow passengers.
6. Bring a feeding apron
If you’re breastfeeding that is. Feeding DB in my narrow aeroplane seat required Olympic levels of contortion to avoid her body lying uncomfortably across the metal seat arms. An apron allowed some small level of dignity.
7. Make sure your change bag is fully stocked
At risk of sounding like the worst parents in the world … although we packed far too many nappies in our suitcase, we forgot to restock DB’s change bag. This meant we had hundreds of nappies stuck in the hold, and one on the flight to last eight hours. Let’s just say the lack of ‘code brown’ during the journey was a big relief.
8. Plan your onward journey
Not only did we have the ton of luggage to get from destination airport to hotel, but we also wanted a car seat. So, we pre-booked a large airport pick-up car. This was nearly a disaster as they didn’t turn up on time and lost our reservation. A few angry phone calls from my husband later and we got our ride. -x-x-x- Do you have any advice to add for long trips? Or any brilliant / disastrous family travel experiences?