Being both an airline pilot and a momma, I can tell you that I have seen a lot when it comes to babies and children on airplanes! My general rule of thumb is that ideally, you want to travel before your baby is mobile or after your child is past the toddler age. In general, they are much more mellow as infants and like to stay put in your arms or car seat. When they are children, they can be entertained, reasoned with and bribed with rewards for good behavior. Between about ages 1 and 3 years old, traveling can be much tougher because they want to exert their energy and curiosity. Sitting still for hours and listening to airplane rules is a nearly impossible ask of them. But, you can manage well for any age with these tips from us mommies in the sky!
- Rest. Make sure you and child are rested as much as possible before you fly. Do not ever fly if baby or child has a head cold. It is not worth the risk of injury since pressurization can be very tough on all of us, especially tiny precious ears and sinuses. You do not want to take the chance of blowing out sinus or ear linings.
- Hydration. You and child need to be well hydrated since the air is very dry at altitude and this will create some discomfort. If baby is on formula or medicine, make sure to bring enough with you onboard for the flight to account for any long delays or possible overnight stays if there is a cancellation. I always had 24 hours worth with me!
- Food. Bring plenty of food and snacks for child. Some flights have no food onboard, (especially not baby food) so make sure you have plenty and give baby some food every 3 hours to keep their blood sugars stable.
- Entertainment. Children need entertainment so bring items that are their favorites and give them comfort! Stuffy, blankie, binkie, etc. along with electronic shows you know they like are a must. New toys they have never seen before keep them happily distracted and you can relax a bit! I know it can be rough if baby is teething so bring chewy toys they like, some gum numbing ointment and baby ibuprofen (always follow label dosing). I use to make a little bag of small, wrapped items (even things hidden in the back of their closet or little toys long forgotten) mixed with new quiet activities like a small stuffy mobile, string art, dot to dots, mazes, etc. for them to open each hour of the flight as rewards if they behaved.
- Car seat. Under 2, they are allowed to sit on your lap but I will tell you that it is miserable trying to keep a toddler on your lap for more than an hour, confined between two people who do not want to be sitting next to a squirmy child. There is also a big safety factor. You have to weigh the risk of not paying for an extra seat with what it will cost you in price. If there is a situation of a high speed rejected takeoff or a very hard landing, baby can become a projectile if they are in your lap and not strapped in to a car seat properly.
- Benadryl. If you are very concerned about being able to pull this off at all, several pediatricians recommend a proper dose of Benadryl just before the flight to calm child and allow them to possibly nap a bit. It also helps keep any inflammation down from allergies or colds. Make sure they have eaten and are hydrated since this may drying.
- Patience. Toddlers are the most difficult to fly with since they are so active. They want to get up and wander while having a hard time understanding why they need to be restrained in harness or belt for takeoff, turbulence, and landing. There is no way to logically bribe them unlike older children so you really need to bring you’re “A” game of patience and bring the “tool kit” from above if you must fly during this age. Know that this will be a bit of a marathon so try and bring things to help you stay calm too! (I recommend “Remove Before Flight” book!)
- Sucking. It is very important, no matter the child’s age, (and even grown ups) that once your flight has begun the descent (30-45 minutes before arrival time, when you hear the engines spool back, feel the cabin angle move slightly downward and hear the pilots make a PA about arrival), make sure your baby is sucking on something whether it is a breast, bottle, pacifier, lollipop, gum, candy, etc for the duration. This will help keep their ears from blocking as the pressurization of the airplane begins its equalization back toward ground level. It is this reason you usually hear babies who were quiet the whole flight begin to cry, whine, and squirm. It is because they are in pain from the ear pressure they are experiencing and possible trapped gas in their tummies.
- Diapers. Bring plenty of wipes, diapers, and baggies for 24 hours. Extra wipes you will need for clean up of spills! Many jets now have fold down changing tables in the lavatories. It is a very small space but manageable if you have all things you need ready to rock and roll. Whatever you do, do not hand the flight attendants a dirty diaper! Wrap them in several baggies so that it is smell proof and put it in the lavatory trash bin. It is crafty to try and wash your hands while having baby on a micro table so bring so also bring anti bacterial wipes or gels to keep both you and baby’s hands clean.
- Time plan. Get to the airport with plenty of time to spare so that you can change your baby and run them around if they are mobile. This way, they are a bit pooped out (pun intended!) before you board the flight. Clean and content are some key components in this mission!
- Germ free. If they will want to touch everything at the airport and airplane while putting fingers in their mouth, nose, eyes and ears, try to have them wear their “special pilot gloves” or mittens. They will feel like big boys and girls while you reduce their exposure to viruses, bacteria and germs! (To read more to help you avoid, read “Holiday Travel”, “Cold, Flues, Virus” and book “Remove Before Flight”).
- Over Stimulation. Try to look at this whole experience from your baby’s perspective. Lights, sounds, people, and new things are everywhere! After a few hours of all this, who wouldn’t meltdown? A trick that worked for me with my babies was to try and keep a blanket over the stroller or car seat and sometimes even use safe, wireless headphones to keep the barrage of stimulation to a minimum.
As Dr. Phil once said, “Children join your life, you don’t join theirs”. Please do not let having children hinder your sense of adventure or your family visits out town because of fear or concern. You can do this, Parents! Yes, you will be exhausted but you deserve a change of scenery and some fun too!
Thank you for flying with me! Blue Skies,