Don’t be surprised if your baby travels very well indeed. Plane vibrations and constant hum make him relaxed and sleepy. Your in-laws smile (but only slightly) and whisper “How Nice.” A long silence follows.
With such a high percentage of the population originating from other countries, it is not surprising that many new parents fly overseas so they can show off their wriggling bundle to their parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters and long-lost childhood friends. Usually these travelers find that flying with an infant is not as horrendous as it sounds, especially if you do your homework in advance.
1. Organize the paperwork first
Get your travel agent to find out exactly what documentation and immunization are required for the trip. Even the smallest of passengers must face his share of red tape – passport photos, visas, consent forms, shots, re-entry permits, and so on.
2. Pick your departure time carefully
Book a flight that leaves either late afternoon or, even better, early evening. That means you’ll be doing a good part of your flying during the baby’s normal night sleeping time.
If you choose a flight leaving in the morning, it is likely that you will have started your day very early. Once onboard, you will have to try to settle the kid down to a nap in a bright, noisy room, in a contraption which any sensible baby knows is not his bed.
Other advantages of a late-day departure are that you have all day to gather up those last items and there is no panic about oversleeping and missing the plane. A calm, cool and collected you will rub off on your child.
3. Plan your carry-on baggage carefully, it can be crucial to a successful flight
First, consider yourself. If you know you have everything you need, then you can turn your whole attention to the baby’s needs.
If you are traveling as two adults and one child, by all means, carry on board two bags: a baby kit-bag and an adult flight bag. But if you are traveling alone, combine your gear with baby’s. Don’t burden yourself. It will be much easier to keep track of one bag and one baby.
For yourself, you’ll need money, passport, plane tickets, comb or brush, basic cosmetics, toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturizer, perfume, and maybe some lightweight reading material. Most essential is a fresh top to change into before you land – blouse, sweater or T-shirt. Confident that you will arrive clean and fresh (and not in a chucked-upon, drooled-upon, very rumpled shirt), you can now start to sort out things for baby’s end of the bag.
4. Nearly everybody packs too much for baby travel
Just because there is a limited supply, it doesn’t mean that baby is suddenly going to demand 10 diapers in 15 hours. Ring the airline and ask exactly how many hours’ flying time is involved. Add an hour of airport time at both ends of the journey. You then have a traveling time. Consider those hours during a normal day and to your diaper count, add two. All international airlines carry some disposable diapers, so you’re not completely out of luck if you miscalculate. (Needless to say, disposable diapers are the only way to fly!)
If your baby is bottle-fed, do your bottle count much the same way; add one for good measure, or possibly two if you face a long trip between your arrival airport and final put-down-the-bags destination. Of course, breast-fed babies have the game sewn up when it comes to traveling.
For all babies (breast-fed or bottle-fed) be sure to include a large bottle of water or juice. The atmosphere on planes is rather dry and even though it isn’t at all hot, the baby can become dehydrated. Nursing mothers should keep this in mind and take extra liquids when they are passed around.
5. Offer the infant some liquid while the plane is climbing to cruising height and on the descent
Adults know how to swallow to overcome “ear-popping” but babies don’t. Keep in mind that the initial descent can begin as much as an hour before the actual landing. When you feel the pressure build up in your own ears, you’ll know the baby is feeling it as well.
6. Lean toward light meals of easily digested foods
The amount of food you take on board depends on how old your child is and how long the trip. All international airlines have some baby-food on board, but it is best to carry your own. A four-course smorgasbord is not necessary; lean toward light meals of easily digested foods (cereals, fruit, custards) and don’t force the issue.
If your child isn’t heavily into solids yet, don’t be surprised if he goes off his food entirely. Many babies are quite happy with just the breast or bottle while flying. If the baby is up to the stage when he puts things in his mouth a few teething rusks are good for a bored kid.
A metal, screw-top canister (available from your local camping supply store) can be very handy while traveling. Being metal, the canister quickly heats the contents, even when held just in a wash-basin of hot water. Flight attendants are more than happy to warm food and bottle, but try to time your request during a lull in aircraft activity.
7. Take one lightweight blanket, shawl or bunny-rug
All airlines have piles of blankets if you need them, so one personal blanket is quite enough. A supply of pre-moistened towelettes is useful as well as a small bottle of baby-moisturizer for cheeks and lips. Because of the dry plane atmosphere, you are liable to disembark with a child who looks as though he has spent 50 years baking on a rock in the outback unless you use moisturizer.
8. A complete change of clothes for the kid
It’s best to have a long-sleeved, long-legged romper suit with feet for the babe to wear in-flight: airliners tend to be cool rather than warm. For your own peace of mind, carry a complete change of clothes for the kid, either a spare romper suit or an “arrival outfit” suited to the climate on the other end. Then you can confidently present “the baby beautiful” at the journey’s end – not a bedraggled infant decorated with dried cereal and smelling slightly high.
9. Take a collapsible stroller on board with you
During the flight, the cabin crew will stow it away for you, so it won’t be underfoot. A stroller is invaluable during stopovers (often 45 minutes to an hour of wandering around a transit lounge) and while you’re wrestling your luggage off the baggage roundabout.
Probably the biggest problem of traveling with a baby under one is where to put the child during the journey. Each airline has its own interpretation of a small tuck-away device that will comfortably hold a baby on a long flight. There are boxes with handles and hood, fold-out bassinets, and hammocks.
You are responsible for the safety of the child at all times, but this is especially so when the “Fasten Seat Belts” sign is on. During that time all airlines ask that you hold the baby in your arms. It is also a good idea to support the back of the baby’s head during take-off and landing.
At the seat allocation counter always mention that you are traveling with an infant and ask if there is any chance of a vacant seat next to yours.
If the worst comes to the worst and there is no bassinet and no seat-room, make the kid a bed on the floor between your feet. Make a mattress of airline blankets – and warn your neighbors. Unless you are a martyr, do not attempt to hold the baby for 15 hours.
Do not be surprised if your baby travels very well indeed. The slight vibration and constant hum are fine for relaxing and snoozing. An infant’s life is already made up of nap-wake-food-nap; for this reason, babies are often less subject to jet lag than adults.