Our little one has been on over 25 flights. That’s more than most people we know… and he’s only a toddler. He’s a proper little world traveler! On his first flight he was only 3 months old. After 10 months of travel, 25 flights and 32.645 miles, it’s time to share some of our tried and tested tips for flying with infants.
We have some experience in flying with a baby, but most of our flights so far were when our son was between 1,5 and 2,5 years old, so we’ll focus on that age. During our 10-month travel adventure around South East Asia we took a lot of domestic flights. But also some slightly longer flights, for instance from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo and Kuala Lumpur to Manila. The longest flight we’ve ever done with our little one was from Bangkok back home to the Netherlands (12 hours). Flying with an infant really isn’t as difficult as it may seem. A lot of things change when you travel with kids and flying does too. That’s why we’re more than happy to share our lessons learned so you don’t have to make the same mistakes we did.
Generally, our experience with the airlines we used was pretty ok. Since we were traveling on a budget we used a lot of budget airlines for shorter flights, and it’s true you get what you pay for. We wouldn’t recommend Sriwijaya Airlines in Indonesia but all of the others were fine. I guess everyone has their preferences. For long haul flights we usually prefer Emirates or an Asian airline like Malaysia Airlines or Cathay Pacific, but this trip we were pleasantly surprised by KLM and Etihad.
These are our tips for flying with infants and toddlers.
1. Break up lang haul flights with a long stopover
This has helped us tremendously. When searching for flights, we now actually prefer a flight with a long stopover (min. 12 hours) about half-way. Of course this only works for long haul flights. I’d say for us a flight would have to be over 8 or 9 hours. Even if you only spend one night at your stopover location, it’ll help shorten the flight time per day. In our experience it’s so much easier to do two 6 hour flights than one 12 hour flight. It’s especially useful if you’re going to a different time zone as it will also help you adjust to the time difference much faster. When we were traveling from Dahab, Egypt to Bali, we did Dahab – Cairo – Dubai the first day. We arrived in the afternoon, stayed the night in Dubai and traveled from Dubai to Bali the next morning. Once in Bali it only took our little one two days to adjust en have a normal sleep routine again.
2. When the parents are relaxed, the kids are too
We both generally feel at home at airports and have no problems flying. I think this makes a big difference, because kids feel your energy and your tension. Because we were relaxed, our son was too. Flying with infants or older children can be stressful. We’ve seen a lot of families where the parents were frustrated and sometimes even shouting at their children. It doesn’t make life fun at home and it certainly doesn’t help ensure an easy flight if kids are stressed. So try to stay calm and collected, give a good example.
3. Take your time
Nothing stresses you out as much as being late. And we all know leaving the house with a child ALWAYS requires more time. Wet pants, dirty diapers, phone missing because infant thought it was fun to hide it in the trash can… we’ve all been there. And kids don’t respond well to stressed out parents. So, make sure you have plenty of time to get to the airport and plenty of time to get through customs, have a drink and a snack and find your gate.
4. Keep your hands free with a baby wrap or baby carrier
I’ve never been a big fan of our 5 meter long baby wrap, but it definitely made flying with our baby a lot easier. I could keep him close to me, he could sleep whenever he wanted, being close to mommy made him feel secure and relaxed and it was really easy to carry him on and off the plane with my hands free for some luggage. When we started using a Manduca carrier later on (check our Manduca review here), it was even easier as it just clips on and off. We wouldn’t be the first parents to lose a child in a busy place like an airport. One second of not paying attention, of fiddling with your luggage, and you child is off wandering around. Besides, the crowd can also be a bit scary for a small child. So it was both practical and safe to just carry him on my back. Some airports offer complimentary strollers, but somehow they were never available when we needed them and you still have to carry your child off the plane with all your hand luggage. A wrap or carrier definitely makes flying with a baby or infant a lot easier!
5. Feed your baby or infant
I was still breastfeeding while we were traveling (definitely recommend, so easy!). Our son used to fall asleep while feeding, so that made travel very easy. I fed him everywhere and he loved sleeping while on the plane, in a car, on the train, in the bus… Milk usually makes small kids relax. Make sure you have a breast or a bottle handy during take off and landing. Pressure on their little ears may feel uncomfortable and swallowing helps them to equalize.
6. Timing it right & keep to your routine
I’ve heard friends say they prefer night flights because the kids will sleep during the flight so it’s less stressful for the parents. If we have a choice we would never book a night flight. When you’re not a very frequent flyer, there’s a high risk your kids won’t sleep (a lot). And if your child doesn’t sleep, you don’t get to sleep either and you’ll all be cranky when you arrive. So we prefer to travel during the day. Our toddler doesn’t take naps anymore, but when he still did we’d try to take a flight that coincided with his nap time as much as possible, so he’d at least get some sleep during the day. Skipping his nap wasn’t an option yet at that time. Sometimes we had to stretch it a bit or he’d sleep while we were waiting for our flight to leave (in which case we sometimes left a bit earlier, so he’d have enough time to sleep at the airport). Keeping our schedule as much as possible, even on travel days, has helped our son a lot when he was younger. Know your child, find out what works for you.
7. Don’t expect any me-time during the flight
Now, I know on longer flights most of us are used to watching a bit of inflight entertainment if available, read a book, listen to music, nap a bit. You have to accept that once you have a child, the way you travel changes. And flights are no exception. If you’re extremely lucky your child will sleep a bit, but don’t count on it. Kids love to get your undivided attention and your flight will go much smoother if you’re prepared to give them 100% of you. Talk about your next destination, sing songs, tell stories, draw together, play games… Keep them entertained.
8. Take some books, toys & games
While our nr. 1 travel tip is not to pack too much (and definitely nothing you can’t part with), you do need to entertain your kids during the flight. Think lightweight and small though! For instance: travel games, colouring books and some crayons, small toy cars or dolls, finger puppets, stacking cups, window stickers, duplo, magic sketch board, busy books, magnet games. Buy some new toys and pack them in wrapping paper. Unwrapping is so exciting and fun 🙂
9. Food and snacks
Our son isn’t a fussy eater, so he was happy to eat the food that we were given during flights. But do you homework so you know what to expect. Will there be complimentary food or do you have to pay for it separately? Do you only get served drinks? We had one flight where we expected there to be some food available and it wasn’t. Luckily I packed some crackers and we found a banana hiding in one of our daypacks. And, on another flight the baby food they served had so much sugar in it, we were really happy we brought some healthier alternatives. If you think your child might not eat the airplane food (or there is no food available), bring something else for him or her to eat. Make sure to check the airline’s guidelines on what you can and cannot bring on board. Hungry kids really aren’t fun to be around and it’s so easy to be prepared. Some snacks might also keep them occupied for a while.
10. The iPad might save your flight
I know, I know, responsible parents limit screen time… But if all else fails or you really need a few minutes to recuperate, give them an iPad or your phone. Of course, it’s even easier if there’s inflight entertainment, but we’ve only had that on a few of the longer flights. A few episodes of their favourite TV show will keep them busy for a while, or you can surprise them with a new movie. Especially if your kids don’t get to watch too much TV at home, this will be a great treat. Make sure your electronics are charged and you have some games that work in flight mode. Also works like a charm when there are long lines at check-in.
Of course not all of these will work for everybody, but they’ve worked wonders for us so I really wanted to share. I hope this gives you some inspiration and makes your flight(s) a bit easier. If you have any more tips to add, please let us know in the comments!