Flying with babies is, let’s be honest, a bloody nightmare! We do it because we are cool and our life will not be changed by little people. Except that the days of gliding around duty free followed by a bottle of champagne, a casual stroll to the gate, and a relaxing and slightly hazy flight are no longer. Now you have fifteen bags, grumpy airport security and tired children to contend with. Not to mention all the things that can be spilt and dropped from your aeroplane seat. I can’t help with that, but I can help you with how to break up the flight. I’m going to assume it’s a 3-hour flight (any longer than that and you’re mad) with a baby and a toddler and a Daddy (though he is totally interchangeable with Wife, Auntie, Nanny, Uncle etc in this scenario). Here are the things we do to make flying with babies that bit easier…
Don’t board the plane first, board last. Flying with babies is hard enough. Why would you sit in a warm, confined space with two giant maggots any longer than you have to? I think the airlines try and make you do it so they can take your pram away and have it all stowed and ready to go. Airports are spaces for running and crawling, aeroplanes are not. Stay in the open space as long as you can. Do last minute toilet runs and nappy changes. Don’t forget a shot of calpol at this point to help with hurting ears.
The first half hour – Faff
Arrive at your seat and get organised. We book a row relatively near the front seating toddler by the window setting her up with an iPad and her headphones. I sit in the middle. And husband on the aisle with the baby. She then has people to flirt with, we can easily escape for nappy changes, and Husband can make a bed for her with his arms using aisle space if he needs it. We always take bottles for take off and landing, the sucking helps unblock their ears. I stow all the bags around toddlers feet as she doesn’t need the leg space, making sure I can easily reach food and, more importantly, wet wipes.
30-60 mins – Eat
Food serving time. Whether it’s yours or theirs, serve it one piece at a time on to their tray. You can really string this one out. If you fancy a tea of coffee, it’s at your peril. I use it to try and have 5 minutes peace – you know the ‘I-can’t-hold-the-baby-right-now-as-I-have-a-hot-drink’ face and gestures. First hour down people!
60-90 mins – Sleep
The baby should sleep for an hour, exhausted from routine interruptions and from all of the stimulation. Don’t let them sleep in the airport. Make sure you have warm milk and comforters. And Daddy’s arms! The toddler should be content with the iPad for a little longer. If you’re not a screen-friendly parent or they don’t sleep then read on…
90-120 mins – Play, Draw, See
Two hours down nearly. This is the toughest time. You’re losing stamina and the little ones have had enough of the 30x30x30 space allocated to them. Pack a bag with wrapped up toys in. Allow one for every 10-20 mins depending on your childs’ attention span. They don’t have to be new, they can be old things and new, just exciting as they are unknown. I would remove all the packaging from anything new before you wrap them saving time and space – you don’t want to be crammed in your seat with hard plastic shells scraping your knees because the air hostess isn’t walking past with a plastic bag. Include a book or two so you can stop and read and talk about them. Think about little card or travel games if they are old enough to understand. I Spy is also an old classic. We play a colour version with Girly no1 as she isn’t there with letters yet.
120-150 mins – Snack and Change
Same as food – do it slowly. One piece at a time so it cannot be swept onto the floor. Use this period to take them each to the toilet and change into destination clothes (see below)
The last half an hour – Prepare to land
You’re on the home stretch. Make a game of gathering all the rubbish ready to go in the air hostess’ bag. Start looking out the window for signs of land. Make bottles and drinks ready for landing and pack as much as you can into as few bags as possible.
Get Husband out of his seat to hold some aisle space. Put baby in his seat while you ferret around on the floor picking up toys and other forgotten items. This is the most glamorous part – arse in the air gathering up toys amongst trodden in food. Lovely. When you have it all, disembark as early as possible. Buses and airports abroad tend to be more ‘first come first served’ rather than needs-based. Once you’re through passport control (run a mini HIIT session for the toddler in the queue containing star jumps, twirling and high knees), station yourselves on a bench and send Husband to collect bags and prams. Let little ones sit on the floor and crawl or play away from the crowds…you can wash them later.
Don’t forget to take these things when flying with babies…..
Snacks – Lots of them. I like rice cakes and raisins as they last a long time.
Bottles on take off and landing – Buy the ready-made milk or whatever your little person is drinking and have them to hand in a receptacle they can suck (boob also works!). Don’t give to them too early though, we have often run out before we’ve made it to the runway. Rookies.
Extra nappies – I read somewhere before no1’s first trip abroad that something in take off and landing makes your small person….how do I put this politely….completely evacuate their bowels of all contents. Take extra nappies, nappy sacks and a fresh pack of wipes. Oh and don’t forget the changes of clothes for likely leakages.
Destination clothes – If you’re going somewhere that is a different temperature, take them some appropriate clothes to put on before landing. They don’t just survive like us and a hot and bothered child is an angry and difficult one. It will not make for a relaxed start to your trip.
Toy Bag – One that can be easily open and closed without dropping everything. We use a back pack with lots of accessible pockets. I also liked this little thing – a pillow and iPad holder in one. It doesn’t hold much though so we took an extra backpack of things.