Travelling with a baby is no small feat, it requires a lot of planning, a lot of mental strength and the patience of a saint! Sarah Thompson shares her top tips on surviving a long-haul flight with a baby.
I am originally from France and we recently went back with my 9-month old baby girl so she could finally meet her grandparents for the first time. Our first flight was 10 hours long from Auckland to Hong Kong and our second flight was over 12 hours from Hong Kong to Paris. Oh and did I forget to mention I was travelling with miss baby on my own (hubby was to join us later)?! So needless to say before we departed on our adventure I was determined to prepare for this flight like a General prepares for a military operation!
Before you fly - plan, plan, plan!
Make sure you request a bassinet at time of booking with your travel expert.
The most important thing to know, however, is that this is only a request as the airlines will not guarantee a bassinet in advance. But make sure your travel expert does include the request in your booking as the airline will not automatically give you a bassinet.
How it works is that the airlines usually prioritise bassinets for the smallest babies on board. So for example if they have a total of 4 bassinets on board and 6 babies on the flight, they will pick the 4 youngest babies to have the bassinets, and this usually happens on the day of the flight which is why they cannot guarantee you a bassinet.
There are exceptions such as Air New Zealand who offers you to pay an extra fee to guarantee your bassinet. This is what we did as I wanted to make sure we had a bassinet - no way I was going to fly 22 hours with miss baby on my lap!! The fees probably get updated from time to time but to give you an indication we paid $25 per flight (so $25 from Auckland to Hong Kong, etc).
Make a list of all the things you will need on the plane in your hand luggage.
Luggage wise I was allowed a 7kg bag and miss baby was allowed a "small bag of food and nappies for consumption on the flight."
Make sure you check with your travel expert how much luggage you and baby are allowed as they all have different rules.
So in her bag I packed all the things we needed at our feet which we would use throughout the flight.
And in my bag I packed a few things for me and other things for miss baby that we would not use all the time as my bag would be in the overhead locker. For example a change of clothes in case of spillage or any other little incident. Oh and when I say a change of clothes I mean one for baby and one for you too. This worked a treat considering on landing in Hong Kong she vomited her whole lunch all over both of us and I needed a complete change (top to bottom and all layers!!!).
In baby's carry-on bag I would recommend taking the following items:
- Baby bottles (if you are not breastfeeding) - I had 4 of them so I was sure to have enough clean ones for the whole first flight. You can actually also put water in the bottles before security as there is an exception to the liquid restrictions when travelling with a baby - please make sure you check this out first as regulations change all the time!
- Formula (again if you're not breastfeeding) - I took a whole can of the stuff as I really didn't want to run out! And by the way it is completely fine to take a whole can, even an open one, through security.
- Sippy cup or baby bottle filled with fresh water - babies, just like us, get very dehydrated on a long flight, so get them drinking as much as possible throughout the flight.
For us, even when baby was sleeping, I would give her little sips of water in her sleep and she would actually drink quite a lot like that. Obviously if you know you'll wake baby if you do this, stay away - don't poke the bear!
- Food pouches - Now, depending on the airport you may get security asking you to check these.
In Auckland they just asked me to take them all out and they checked that they were closed.
In Paris, they also asked me to take them all out and they had a snazzy machine which could tell the content of each pouch without opening them - very impressive! They even checked the content of the baby bottles were indeed water.
Also in terms of food, make sure you ask your travel expert to request a baby meal at time of booking. We did this but I still took a whole lot of pouches in case she didn't like the plane food. They will give you normal baby food in jars so you should be fine, but if you have a fussy eater, take your own food too! Also when getting on board make sure you ask the cabin crew to prepare the baby food for you as it takes them a while to warm it up.
- Dummies - even if you're not an advocate for dummies, hear me out!
Dummies are an essential on a flight, as they will help baby to equalise their ears on takeoff and landing. This is because babies don't know how to yawn to help with this process and consequently it can hurt their ears very badly. The action of sucking on the dummy is the equivalent of us yawning to equalise our ears.
What I suggest, if you're not an advocate for dummies, is to get your baby used to a dummy in the 2 or 3 weeks before you fly. This is because if you give a dummy to a baby that has never had a dummy before, on the day of your flight on takeoff, they will not know what to do, or worse they will spit it out!
So get them used to it, even a few minutes a day - I'm not saying get them hooked on the stuff!!
Note that breastfeeding or feeding baby a bottle works as well, but I found that she wouldn't be necessarily hungry at that exact moment of takeoff and landing so the dummy worked best for us.
- Nappies - obviously!
I counted how many hours we would be on each flight and made sure we had enough nappies compared to how many nappies we usually use in one day (and added a few extras on top!).
On some of the flights (not all of them) the cabin crew gave us a little baby kit with a couple of nappies, wipes, change cream etc. This was a luxury and I loved the extra touch, however they only had one-size fits all nappies and it happened to work for us but it may not work for your baby.
- Wipes - Ok, so some people don't like wipes as they are not eco-friendly, which I totally agree with, HOWEVER when travelling these are a must!! They are so handy and not just for changing - for spillage, for dirty mitts, even to wipe food off spoons and put them back in your bag, etc.
- Baby spoons - I took about 3 or 4 for each flight in a little zip lock bag so they would stay clean and so I would easily find them in the bag. Also note that the airline might give you plastic spoons if you don't have your own.
- Toys - I packed a few toys but with space being tight I didn't pack too many as I knew I could also distract her with a few objects from the plane such as plastic bottles, plastic spoons, warm towelettes, packets of nuts (NOT open!!), or even little bits of my onboard meal etc - yes babies get distracted easily!!
One tip with toys, is to also bring either a piece of ribbon or, if you have one, a lanyard to attach to the toy and that you can tie to something as they constantly drop toys. That way you don't have to bend down every 5 seconds to pick them up!
- Cuddly - this is an obvious one too - take baby's usual cuddly and don't wash it just before you go! It needs to have their usual scent as it's very comforting to a baby. Also pack a few of them - we have 3 of the same cuddly. She will never know they're not one and the same, hehehe (evil laugh!!).
- A blanket - I packed a thick cotton blanket as it gets really cold on some flights (I say some because on our first flight it seemed they went for the "tropical heat" air con setting!!). Also you can use the blankets on board but they are usually polyester and miss baby gets too hot.
- Travel-size bottles and pots - these are really handy to put whatever you may need on the flight. For example, I took some nappy balm in a little pot so I didn't have to carry the whole jar. I also took some Pamol in a little bottle in case she got a fever while we were travelling because the normal bottle is over 100ml.
I just bought these from the 2-dollar shop so they were nice and cheap too!
- Front pack or baby carrier - another essential!
I strongly recommend using a collapsible pram for the airport (and for the rest of your journey) as you can keep it all the way to the gate.
BUT once the ground crew takes the pram at the gate you will need a front pack (or carrier) so you can use your hands to carry your luggage to board the plane. This is especially true when you're on your own like I was. And man I wish I actually had more than 2 hands to carry it all!! Thankfully some lovely passengers helped me out and once on board the crew did as well.
Also you can use the front pack on board the flight to walk around if your baby likes it. Miss baby does not like the front pack as she thinks she is way too independent for that, so we only use it to board and to get off the plane. But plenty of babies love the front pack and it may help you to get them to sleep.
- Kiwiherb Kid's Calm - this is not an essential, but it may help baby to relax. Kid's Calm by Kiwiherb is 100% New Zealand made. It is an organic herbal extract - made from chamomile flowers and containing natural blackcurrant and strawberry flavours.
We used it throughout the flight (only a few drops needed) and I have no way of proving it worked but after a while she did relax and went to sleep in the bassinet for a few hours (5 hours on the first flight which is short of a miracle!!!!).
- Warm and light clothing - I took a few different items of clothing so I was prepared for all occasions - ie a cold flight or a hot flight.
So I took some long and short-sleeved bodysuits, some socks and a few pyjamas (or all-in-ones). And with those I highly recommend the ones with zips rather than buttons as you'll want to make sure changing baby doesn't take an hour in the tiny plane toilet!!
- On-the-go change mat - make sure you take one as the change tables are literally just a metal table, very hard and cold on baby's back! Or if you don't have one just use a plane blanket (oh well, they wash them and if baby has an incident you can ask for a new one!).
- A black wrap or a "blackout" wrap - you can buy these online (the Sleep Store has them under "Muslin Blackout"), so make sure you pack one. Or you could just use a black blanket or pashmina even.
I used one on some of the flights on the bassinet (as these vary between aircraft or airlines). For example on our Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Paris, the bassinet had a little hood so I used my blackout wrap on top of it so miss baby would be in the dark and sleep better. This is especially good when they turn on the lights for breakfast or if you're on a day flight so baby can be in the dark.
Plus you can use it on the pram in the airport, on your travels, etc.
- Bibs - this is obvious too, but take a few as baby will be eating several meals on a long flight.