For some parents, flying with a baby or toddler takes nerves of steel and so much planning that it can make you doubt your decision to travel at all.
I am one of them.
It's not the plane, or managing the luggage or any of those obvious things that cause the freak factor in parents such as myself - it's more the other passengers that pose the problem.
Will you be seated with tolerant adults who will not glare, comment or generally fume at you while you are confined to a small space with a child who, well, wants to behave like one?
Children are not everyone's cup of tea and that's reasonable - I accept that. It's just there's no better place than a plane to make you feel the cold shoulder of society aimed at your delightful bundle of joy.
I have travelled with three babies now on both national and international flights. We took our eldest to Shanghai when she was just 6 months old. When number 5, (Taite) was around 8 months of age, we took a family trip to the Gold Coast. Most recently, we visited Sydney with a 19 month old. All very different experiences too I might add, ranging from not a lot of trouble to a bit tricky at times. (I am being nice.)
By far the most challenging of all was travelling with a toddler and thank goodness it was only for the shortest of flights! Toddlers have that developing independence which is so at odds with plane journeys. Unfortunately for me, Celeste's little inconvenient streak began to sprout around 6 weeks before our departure and being a seasoned Mum already, I knew what I was up for.
And so I caught myself planning, devising and reading up on the topic. Babies were easy, toddlers were harder. The proof of that was everywhere. (I only needed to glance down to find her wiping her nose on my pants while clinging to my leg - wailing to find the proof of that fact.)
I set about shopping for a few little goodies to take with us in our on board luggage, in the hope that something new and interesting might buy me some chill time in-flight and keep the dreaded toddler tantrum buried long enough to make it to our destination. I think pretty much every parent thinks to make the goody bag and in truth, it's the fun part of the planning phase:
Pictured are some lightweight items I found at Big W which were perfect for the nappy bag:
A colouring in activity book with crayons;
A Peppa Pig pencil case I filled with Princess crayons (crayons and toddlers are a match made in Heaven);
A Lego notebook - lots of space for scribbles and pictures as well as spare paper for Mum if required.
A favourite toy which was accidently left at home and never got off the ground. (What are Mum's for?!)
All were stashed away and kept out of sight until the big day to keep the 'magic of their discovery' alive. (Well, all except for Upsy Daisy who seems to have vanished altogether. Maybe she's sulking?)
The following is a list of my tried and tested travel 'gems' plus some other factual airline stuff which you may find useful if you too are planning to travel with your baby or toddler:
Across all airlines, children under the age of two fly free (Yippee!), but are not allocated seats. (Swallow that Yippee!) Bubba must sit on a parent's lap and be secured by a special seatbelt which attaches to your own.
A child over the age of two must have their own seat (via a purchased fare) and you may use a car booster seat during the flight which you can provide if you wish. This booster must meet the safety regulations of the country you are travelling in.
Car booster seats are not compulsory on airlines at all but this can be a handy way of transporting a car seat if you wish to hire a car at your destination. (Check your individual airline's booking terms and conditions for further specific information regarding seating.)
Pack loads of nappies - and then some. Babies are notorious for doing the most momentous 'dump' of their lives in the most inconvenient of places. Our first born arrived at Shanghai airport at midnight wearing nothing but a blanket! She had consumed so much food on the plane that she pooped her way through our very last nappy and outfit in an Oscar winning performance just before the plane went into descent. As airlines carry no nappy supply on board, we had to wait until our baggage was offloaded to access more. Needless to say the Chinese were fascinated by our Australian family when we arrived in their country. (Because Australian travellers choose to carry naked baby passengers, it's the norm and all.)
Carry an extra outfit or two...or more, owing to the unpredictable nature of drool, vomit, swiping arms and legs and the abovementioned bottom area.
For domestic flights, packing a drink bottle and loads of snacks that toddlers love such as sultanas, fruit bars, packaged food pouches and baby food jars will give you some independence from the flight trolley and crew and buy you lots of valuable distraction tactics. Make sure you do not carry fruit that is not processed and stick with nationally recognised food brands to ensure they clear Customs at both ports. Don't forget a scoop bib to catch the mess.
If you are bottle feeding, be aware that no aircraft carries baby formula so be sure to take your own supply and allow enough for extra feeds. Airline delays mean you could be waiting hours longer at any stage of your journey and this could be very stressful for all. Carry your own prepared, pre-boiled water so that you do not have to rely on attendants who will not make meeting your needs a priority. Worth considering is a bottle warmer such as a Click n Go Travel Bottle Warmer to manage an emergency bottle feed on your own if need be.
Prams and strollers are carried by all airlines in Australia free of charge so you do not have to purchase additional baggage allowance for these items even for the under twos who fly free. They can only be carried under the aircraft and need to be checked in at the same time as your baggage which is around 2 hours before your flight departs.
Take a baby sling to carry your infant or toddler and keep this in your on board luggage at all times. There are so many stages to complete in the check-through process at airports and you need to keep a clear head and an eye on the time. In the absence of your pram, chasing a toddler or juggling a baby while at the airport is desirable said no parent ever. An easy to carry and wear sling such as the Suppori baby sling, will see you in control at all times and on your way fast.
Let the toddler have a busy run around before boarding the plane at the departure gate to get rid of some of that little person energy or it will be spent on your knee instead. Good luck with that.
It's a good idea to pack a smaller bag inside your cabin bag which is filled with your baby's immediate in-flight needs. When you are feeling flustered, there's no digging around a larger bag while frantically searching, stranded in your tiny space with a grissly baby strapped to you.
Most domestic flights allow a maximum of 10kg on-board baggage allowance per paying passenger in economy class. This is higher for international destinations and may vary depending on your class of travel. Babies under two years of age have no baggage allowance. This is a hard deal considering babies usually need more luggage than anyone else. Pack wisely and spread your possessions across as many family members as possible to manage all your baby gear. I took a nappy bag as my cabin bag on the most recent journey and stowed all my personals under the aircraft. My main point is - keep baby's things in one bag and one bag only. You'll be so glad you did.
If you are breastfeeding, consider a breastfeeding cover such as those manufactured by Baby Button. Planes are such tight spaces and other passengers have nothing else to do but look at one another. If you don't appreciate this when doing something as intimate as breastfeeding, you will very much welcome the privacy they guarantee.
Choosing a seat at the rear of the plane is a good choice for families. It's possibly a little noisier there thanks to the engines but this drowns out bubba's cries and tantrums and lowers the general visibility field from the passengers that may want to give you a 'visual bashing.' Most people don't care about what's happening in the rows behind them, only the rows they can see in front. I love the psychology of that!
A chew toy or gum toy helps little people to deal with changes in cabin pressure on take-off and landing. I had one by Gumigem at the ready but as it turned out, Celeste didn't seem to even care about the strange sensations. In fact, her behaviour improved considerably the moment the plane took off as intriguing things were happening at last. Every child is different though and I wouldn't hesitate to pack it again just in case.
There you have it. Have I left anything out?
As for the most recent journey with the toddler, I found the hardest part was waiting on the tarmac. What began as an interesting adventure became boring very quickly while we waited for passengers to be seated. Celeste squirmed, squealed, screeched, (more like a shriek actually), kicked at passenger seats and wouldn't be placated; doing so made her worse in fact. (Sigh...) It was a funny kind of uncomfortable
horrible thing to endure if that makes sense? (So glad when it was over - I could have wept with sheer joy.)
Strapped to my seatbelt and facing all kids of stares: from the sympathetic and kindly smiles of the lovely Greek lady seated next to me, to the expressionless blatant stares, (from a thirty-something woman who began to freak out even my 14 year old), to the rude older lady seated directly in front of me whose actual hand came behind the seat several times during the flight to physically swish away the offending toddler foot. (I kid you not!) It wasn't ideal. Not one bit.
Yes, we were flailing and wishing this plane was in the air. Pronto!
So what worked best in the end?
I've saved my best flying tip for last and I didn't even know it was one at the time until it accidently became one:
Take a 250gm packet of potato chips.
The chips were never intended to be eaten by the toddler and were all but forgotten about in my Son's bag. Growing desperate as soon as I could sense a tantrum of good magnitude building, the chips were offered, accepted and became my salvation. Phew!
One hour of pure, peaceful flight time to be had by all.
Have you ever travelled by air with a baby or toddler?
How did that work out for you?
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