Baby Takes Off

If you think your traveling days are behind you once you have a baby, think again. With a little advance planning, traveling with babies is not only possible, it can be enjoyable for you and your child.

Admittedly, it is extra work. Just because you leave home doesn’t mean you leave your parental responsibilities behind. As with almost all travel situations, planning ahead is key. Here are some things to think about before you take off:


Where Will You Sit?

As a general rule, the aisle seat is not a good idea for a small child. They have a startling capacity to grab at anything that passes by – skirts, luggage, drink carts, etc. They can also get their little fingers squished by a passing drink cart and you’ll spend at least 20 minutes consoling a screaming babe. The only exception to this rule is for the toilet-trained toddler. A newly toilet-trained child (ages 2 to 4) may need quick and regular access to the potty. It is unfair to have your anxious child scramble over some poor soul every hour for a potty break. Consider putting toilet-trained toddlers on the aisle if they can be trusted to keep their hands out of the aisle traffic.

What about bulkhead seating? This subject brings up quite a debate in parenting circles. The bulkhead is the first row of seats on the plane where you are facing a wall, generally behind first class. There is more legroom and extra space for movement. Newer model planes and European airbuses often have fold-down bassinets in the bulkhead that are ideal for infants under 30 pounds and less than 27 inches long. For the older toddler, the bulkhead may be more difficult since there are no drop-down tray tables. Instead, tray tables come out of the armrest and lay across the seat. Some toddlers may find this restricting and once again, little fingers can get caught in these specialized tray tables. Also, there is no convenient under-the-seat storage for bulkhead seating. The bottom line is that you know your child best, so make seating arrangements according to their needs, not yours! Check out the website www.travelwithyourkids.com for more seating info. Back to top


Consider Buying a Seat for Your Child

Most airlines allow children under the age of 2 to fly free as a “lap baby”. This is a bad idea, for two reasons:

  1. First of all, you will have to hold your baby in your lap for the entire flight. That means no eating, sleeping, or reading magazines for you. Prepare for this by trying to restrain your child in your lap for two hours in your living room (not too much fun, huh?).

  2. Secondly, heavy turbulence may result in a lap baby being plastered to the ceiling of the plane. A rough landing or an emergency landing are both very dangerous situations for lap babies. For those of you who are scientifically inclined, my physics-oriented husband explains that a 20-lb child going 600 mph has the inertia of a 400-lb man going 30 mph. Try holding on to that much weight during a crisis!

The FAA strongly recommends that you buy your child a seat and bring an infant car seat for safety. Most airlines sell seats for children at a discounted rate for overseas flights (10% to 30% off the regular price). Check with the individual airline. For more details, try the website www.airsafe.com/kidsafe/chldseat.htm. Back to top


Dirty Diapers: A Never-Ending Problem

Where to change the baby is a difficult dilemma on an airplane. Unless you are flying on a newer model airplane, it is unlikely that there will be baby-changing tables in the restrooms. Trying to change your baby on top of the toilet seat will be like trying to strangle an angry octopus in a telephone booth. Your best bet is to find a row of empty seats or put a blanket on the floor. I have seen desperate parents use the fold-down tray tables for changing small babies, but this is risky for two reasons: 1) Some of those tray tables aren’t too sturdy; and 2) People eat their food on the fold-down tray tables – yuck!

It’s always a good idea to do a diaper change before boarding your flight. Bring along enough diapers to get you through the flight and the following day, just in case of airport delays, long layovers, or basic heavy-diaper usage. It goes without saying that disposable diapers are the best way to go. There’s no need to pack seven days worth of diapers. You should be able to buy disposable diapers in most countries, but be sure to check on this before you leave.

By the way, according to FAA guidelines, flight attendants cannot handle soiled diapers. Flight attendants touch a lot of food, so this makes sense if you think about it. Therefore, don’t make the mistake of trying to hand a dirty diaper to a flight attendant for disposal. Find the garbage yourself. The book Have Kids, Will Travel by Claire Tristram offers more helpful hints. Back to top


Milk, Bottles & Food

As always, breastfeeding is the best way to go. Milk is always ready at the right temperature, and you don’t have to worry about sterile bottles or nipples. Because flying can mean tight quarters in a public situation, consider investing in specialized nursing clothes for easy access with an emphasis on discretion. Try websites such as www.onehotmama.com for great nursing fashions. If you can sew, patterns for nursing mothers are available at www.elizabethlee.com.

Life with bottles can be a lot more difficult. If things are not too busy, the flight attendants may offer to warm a bottle of milk or baby food for you. However, approaching them with this request during the middle of the dinner service is generally not a good idea. Some formula companies make formula in a ready-to-use bottles specifically for traveling. These are spectacularly handy as long as your baby isn’t fussy about trying a new nipple. See websites such as www.rosstore.com/pediatric.cfm for an example of the Similac Ready-to-Feed Bottle.

Unfortunately, these pre-made bottles can be quite pricey and heavy to carry. If they are outside you budget, measure the correct amount of water into disposable bottles and keep a proper measurement of powdered formula in little baggies. When the time comes, just add the formula to the water and you’re ready to go.

If your child is taking solids, bring along some of their favorite jarred foods (mid-air is NOT the time to introduce new foods) and a favorite spoon. For older toddlers, be sure to request a children’s meal when booking the flight. If you’ve got a picky eater, bring your own food as a back-up. I discovered that disposable bibs were invaluable while traveling. I use the Safety 1st Disposable Bibs available at www.babyproofingplus.com/itm00160.htm. Some folks also recommend PIBs Disposable Bibs, at www.pibsonaroll.com.

A final note on airline food: most small children don’t like peanuts, spill them easily and can choke on them. Bring along a favorite kiddy snack yourself. Back to top


Watch Your Child At All Times

Flight attendants are not babysitters, so plan accordingly. Do not allow your child to wander around the plane. There are plenty of dangerous areas for an unescorted toddler to get into trouble (such as bathrooms, galleys, hot drinks to knock over, etc.). Depending on the age of your child, you should consider bringing stickers, magnetic games, books, and quiet toys. The website www.flyingwithkids.com has lots of helpful tips for little boys and girls. Back to top


Ear Pressure

Small babies and toddlers often have trouble clearing their ears during ascent and descent. Unless you take action, they will resort to the classic technique of screaming their lungs out to relieve the ear pressure pain. Though screaming actually does help the little ones clear their ears, it is unnerving for most parents and exasperating to other passengers.

To avoid this, make sure your child is sucking constantly during ascent and descent. Wake them even if they are sleeping soundly. A bottle, pacifier, lollipop, or juice box will work well to clear ear pressure. There are earplugs that can clear ear pressure problems in both children and adults. The trick is getting your child to wear them, so keep that lollipop or bottle handy! See this site for more details. Finally, if your child has a cold or an ear infection, do not fly without consulting your pediatrician first. Back to top


Laugh Your Cares Away

Lastly, don’t forget to pack your sense of humor. As any parent knows, babies and toddlers can bring about some of the most embarrassing situations. A joke at the right moment or a funny face can cut the tension and put everyone at ease. Most of your fellow travelers will have a great deal of empathy for you and your child, no matter what happens. Simply ignore any curmudgeon who is giving you a foul look, and keep on with your life.

Remember to enjoy it, too. You’re creating memories that will last a lifetime. And you’ll be surprised at what your child will remember! Back to top


List of Links

Here is a list of all the links mentioned in this article (to keep this page open while you explore, right-click the links and select "Open in New Window"):

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Note: The author cautions the air-traveling public that she will be flying trans-Atlantic with her children.