8 Tips to Survive Flying with a Baby (Been There, Done That!)

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Shanghai to Shenyang, China, September 2014

Shanghai to Shenyang, China, September 2014

Over the past two years, we flew to France, Mexico and China with Air France, Air Transat, Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, China Southern and Juneyao Airlines.

Mark’s first trip was the Montreal to Amsterdam transatlantic long-haul flight. He was eight months old and everyone told me I was crazy. The result? The flight was tiring but drama free, and it’s been this way for us ever since.

These days, flying isn’t as fun as it was once with all the security regulations, and everyone has a “there was a kid on board…” hellish story. But really, it’s not that bad.

This is what I learned from traveling with Mark.

Show up with a stroller and a baby (preferably an infant) and you’ll skip the line-up

When we first flew with Mark, I joked that I should have borrowed a stroller and kid a long time ago—we skipped the check-in lineup, the security line-up and we had priority boarding. This is a great perk as most babies aren’t very patient (unless they are sleeping, then the world can stop turning for all they care).

Note that the older the kid, the less sympathetic people are. With two-year-old Mark, we usually have to queue like everyone else. It also depends on the airport and on the number of kids around. If you are heading to a family destination with many kids on board, you won’t get the same kind of priority treatment (or the family-designed line-up will be as long as the regular one).

Priority boarding is a double-edged sword

Most airlines offer priority boarding to frequent fliers or club members, then to parents with young kids. However, you may weigh the pros and cons before you rush to the boarding gate. If it’s late at night, if you’re exhausted and need a seat, if your kid is about to sleep, by all means, go for it. Otherwise, keep in mind it can be a very long wait in the aircraft while everybody else boards. If you are already in for a long flight, the last thing you need is an extra hour in a tight space while all the passengers are trying to fit oversized suitcases in the overhead bins.

If your kid cries, chances are no one will hear him

It’s not dead quiet in a plane—the engines are noisy and there is a lot of white noise. Beside, most passengers use headphones or earbuds to enjoy the in-flight entertainment system or a movie on their laptop. Bottom line is, if your kid cries for a few minutes, you won’t have entire rows turning over to see where the brat is sitting—chances are, no one will notice but the people right beside you.

Feeding isn’t an issue (but for you, eating might!)

If you’re breastfeeding, you’re all set—airline security hasn’t banned boobs yet. If you are using formula, you’re all good as well and you can easily get hot water (or the bottle warmed up) on board. If your kid is under two and doesn’t have his own seat, he won’t get a hot meal but the staff might offer him a drink or a snack at their discretion.

For you, eating may be more challenging, especially if you are holding your kid on your lap. There isn’t much room left for the tray and kids are quick to grab anything in sight and make a mess!

Toddlers eventually need their own seat

On most airlines, “infants” (the definition is pretty broad as it usually includes kids up to two years old) travel for free or for a nominal fee if they sit on someone’s lap (note that the someone cannot be a random passenger, unfortunately). This works well for young kids, especially if you use a baby carrier (they can sleep against you and you have both hands free). Very young (and light) babies may even use the bassinet available in the front rows.

However, as kids grow, it becomes more challenging to put them somewhere. We discovered that during our last trip to China—Mark was suddenly too tall to be held comfortably on my lap for hours! We were very lucky that the flight wasn’t full and we were able to use the empty seat beside us. It made a huge difference. Bottom line is, two year old is really the limit for a kid to travel on your lap.

Use whatever works to keep your kid happy

In a perfect world, kids would fall asleep after boarding and wake up shortly before landing. In the real world, they are more likely to poop as soon as you board and stay up during the entire flight because it’s a new cool thing to experience for them.

I was dreading each flight because Mark is the active kind and can’t stay still more than one minute. However, I found he was manageable if we let him have his pacifier (it is usually only for sleep) and just let him relax instead of exhausting ourselves putting him to sleep. Time above ground ticks at a slower pace and kids tend to soak up the general atmosphere on board.

No one cares about your kid’s sleep

If you’re one of the lucky few and your kid actually sleeps, note that no one cares about snowflake’s precious sleep time and your luck as a parent. Flight attendants will slam the tray on your lap, loudly ask if you need more coffee, and the pilot will remind all passengers to buckle their seat belts every five minutes. And no, you can’t shush anyone.

… And your kid doesn’t care about yours!

This is what really gets me whenever we fly: if I’m really tired and Mark is really antsy. It’s awful. I just want to doze off and he won’t stop moving. It drives me crazy. While there is no reason why your kid should cry the entire flight and make your life miserable, don’t plan on getting much sleep. I made my peace with it. I sleep before, after and whatever sleep time I get in flight is a bonus.

What are your tips to fly with young kids? Any stories to share?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

8 Comments

  1. Plutôt des bons souvenirs en fait ! On a commencé à 2 mois et c’était du bonheur avec le petit lit ! ça devient maintenant très chaud pour le faire tenir sur les genoux, surtout quand sur le siège d’à côté ils mettent une autre maman avec un autre bébé de 23 mois sur les genoux !!! On a de la chance avec les horaires : dakar-paris = nuit paris-dakar = après-midi, on se promène dans les allées de l’avion 4h sur 5 ! tant qu’on circule, tout va bien !!! ton article est super bien ! (Et je regrette toujours autant de ne pas recevoir les réponses de tes commentaires par email ou autre notification, ça devient fastidieux de chaque fois retourner sur les articles précédents, recliquer sur les comments, retrouver mon comment…..) bon ween-end !

    • Pour les commentaires : je vais essayer d’ajouter une fonction pour recevoir les réponses par courriel. Je sais, ça serait pratique! Moi aussi je retourne voir les réponses sur les blogs que j’aime.

      J’ai eu un vol sur lequel la companie avait eu la bonne idée de grouper tous les enfants sur deux rangs… l’horreur. Mark était encore petit et la plupart des bambins aussi, alors ils se réveillaient mutuellement, et c’était un ballet constant entre les pleurs, les biberons et les couches.

  2. Number one tip if you can arrange it 🙂 is to be a dad rather than a mom. The general attitude toward a dad alone carrying a baby in a snuggly is “awe, isn’t that cute”. Flight attendants are quick to offer help, some woman will offer to hold the baby while you get settled, everyone thinks it’s all great. With the mom alone it’s “can’t she keep that @#$ baby quiet!”. One of life’s little unfairnesses – like women paying more for clothes or haircuts… When my wife and I travelled with our kid years ago, if possible we would fly separately, always me with the baby or toddler. She got to relax, and I got treated much better than she would have been. If you’re en famille, have the dad do everything with the baby – check-in, boarding, manage the stroller, etc. Then have mom join at the last moment. The only down side is the suspicious questioning from immigration, but of course anyone travelling alone with a child is all prepared and documented, right?

    • Yes, oh yes! I always joke that if Feng changes a diaper or feed Mark, people see him as the greatest man ever. If I do it… well, it’s my job as a mother, right? So annoying.

      The flying separately feels a bit “extreme” but I totally understand it!

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