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Survival Guide: Flying With A Baby or Toddler

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Survival Guide: Flying With A Baby or Toddler

Travelling with a baby or toddler can be challenging, but you needn’t face these challenges without help: here are our favourite tips for travelling with infants and toddlers up to 24 months old.

Booking Your Flight

Some major airlines in Australia have web pages devoted to the subject of flying with babies, so your first step is to check them out. You’ll find information about cabin baggage allowances, seating arrangements, booking a bassinet and more. If it’s your first time experiencing airline travel with a baby and it all seems quite daunting, just remember that there are plenty of online forums where you can ask questions and seek help.

Bassinets are not available on all flights and are provided on a first-come/first-served basis, so book your trip as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

While you may define your child as a newborn (up to 12 weeks), an infant (12 weeks to 12 months) or a toddler (12-24 months), airlines only differentiate between infants and children, with infants normally classified as being ‘under two years of age’. With younger babies there are also weight limitations when it comes to using an onboard bassinet. Foreign airlines will have their own special rules and requirements, so always check when making your booking.

Whether your infant flies free or pays a fare often depends on whether they occupy a seat. Your airline will be happy to answer fare questions as well as the usual FAQs about bringing your own car seat or capsule (these may need pre-approval from the airline), what to do about prams and strollers, etc.

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Bassinets are not available on all flights and are provided on a first-come/first-served basis, so book your trip as early as possible to avoid disappointment. Whenever possible, reserve your seats at the time of booking – not when you arrive at the airport. Don’t forget to bring along identification/proof of age for your little traveller too.

Book an aisle seat. Crawling over other passengers to take a baby to the toilet for an emergency nappy change is no fun for you, the infant or the passengers whose heads are being dribbled on (or worse).

Book an aisle seat. Crawling over other passengers to take a baby to the toilet for an emergency nappy change is no fun for you, the infant or the passengers whose heads are being dribbled on (or worse). Use available change tables in the toilets (if available) instead of changing the baby in your seat – the fellow on the adjacent aisle tucking into his beef and pasta dinner will appreciate it.

And if your flight is a long one, seriously consider a stopover – it’ll take much of the stress off both you and your baby.

Newborns

Flying with a brand new baby has some advantages: they don’t need as many toys as toddlers do and their outfits are smaller so you can pack more of them.

Babies under 12 weeks are prone to impressive ‘expulsions from both ends’, so chances are you’ll need those extra garments. Because newborns aren’t as mobile as older children, they often turn out to be easier to manage on long-haul flights, often being soothed by the steady hum of the plane engine.

Baby girl sleeping on mother's laps while traveling in airplane

If you’ve timed the flight to coincide with your baby’s natural sleeping patterns, you may get lucky and find the bub sleeps through most (or all) of the flight. The tricky part happens during take-off and descent, when those little ears can experience some pain due to changes in air pressure.

The best way to help with a newborn’s ear clearing is to keep them sucking (bottle, breast or pacifier) while the plane is taking off or descending. A good nursing session at take-off can make all the difference for a stress-free flight for both you and your newborn.

The best way to help with a newborn’s ear clearing is to keep them sucking (bottle, breast or pacifier) while the plane is taking off or descending. A good nursing session at take-off can make all the difference for a stress-free flight for both you and your newborn.

Two changes of clothing for the baby and one for you should be considered an absolute minimum. Be fully armed for accidents with baby wipes, a tea towel, sufficient nappies and all the usual paraphernalia. If you feed your baby with formula, always plan for unexpected delays with extra bottles and feeds – the last thing you want is a hungry, screaming baby and no formula left to give them.

And remember, airplane cabins are dry environments. Keep both yourself and your newborn well hydrated throughout the flight.

Infants Up To 12 Months

Babies who have passed the newborn stage but haven’t yet reached their first birthday are going to keep you busier than a newborn because of their increased activity levels.

Fortunately, at this stage they should be pretty well established in their sleeping and eating routines and will be able to interact with you more (you can distract them more easily now). The same ear-clearing advice applies: give them a feed during take-off and descent to help open up those Eustachian tubes.

Mother and her son are sleeping on the board

Due to increased leg muscle development and a seemingly never-ending desire to be bounced on your lap, expect your arms to get a good workout during the flight. You will most likely be juggling bottles, food and toys from start to finish, so consider putting the most essential of these in the seat pocket in front of you for easy access.

Babies at this age seem to be the only people on board fascinated by those laminated safety cards, so you’ll be busy with your anti-bacterial wipes for these as well as armrests, tray tables, the baby’s hands and face and various other surfaces.

Stick with your baby’s favourite and familiar foods – a long airplane flight is no place to be experimenting with a new diet. Familiar foods, toys, blankets, books and stuffed animals are important in helping your infant relax on a plane.

Keep solid foods simple: sliced cheese, puffed wheat/rice cereal, dry biscuits, dried fruit, etc. Avoid messy items like yoghurt. There are lots of great recipes online for healthy baby food you can make at home as an alternative to store-bought versions. Stick with your baby’s favourite and familiar foods – a long airplane flight is no place to be experimenting with a new diet.

Familiar foods, toys, blankets, books and stuffed animals are important in helping your infant relax on a plane. And if a drink is going to get spilled, water is the best choice – it’s the easiest to clean up and the best for keeping the little one properly hydrated.

A newborn may not need much entertainment, but an 11-month-old does. Cloth books are great, as are pretend mobile phones (better than dropping the real one), nesting cups, picture flashcards, musical toys (use sparingly for the sanity of fellow passengers) and hand puppets.

happy little girl travelling by plane

Plastic blocks are fun at home, but beware – on a plane you’ll spend half the flight searching for them under the seat or asking the lady two rows over to pass back the one that somehow landed on her head.  For all babies, the most entertaining toy is always you.

Tickling and peek-a-boo still work as well as ever; if you put a few baby-friendly apps or pictures on your tablet, this can be a help too.

Toddlers

While younger babies might sleep through much of a flight, a toddler’s excitement level can translate to staying awake from take-off to landing, testing your entertainment director skills to the limit.

Between years one and two, things can get pretty interesting. These youngsters are super-curious, extremely adamant about what they want (and don’t want) and can be prone to some spectacular tantrums. They can get frustrated quickly when things don’t go to plan, and find it hard to sit still for more than a few minutes at a time.

While younger babies might sleep through much of a flight, a toddler’s excitement level can translate to staying awake from take-off to landing, testing your entertainment director skills to the limit.

It’s not all bad news, though. Toddlers can be kept occupied with airline movies, favourite music on their own mini-headphones and an assortment of electronic learning games on tablets (hint: give them their own tablet to hold rather than trying to share yours with them –  sharing is not a concept foremost in the mind of a typical 16-month-old).

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Kids this age also quite like having their own miniature backpack, where they can store all their favourite personal goodies and feel a sense of responsibility for their belongings.

Getting your toddler to sleep on a plane involves a combination of good timing, judicious distribution of food and drink, distractions that soothe rather than hype them up and a hefty dose of pure luck.

follow the same bedtime routine you have at home: tooth brushing, a quick change into cosy nightwear, a cuddle and a story and letting them latch on to their favourite stuffed toy or sleeping blanket.

Your best bet is to follow the same bedtime routine you have at home: tooth-brushing, a quick change into cosy nightwear, a cuddle and a story and letting them latch on to their favourite stuffed toy or sleeping blanket.

Turn off the back seat video screen and the overhead reading light and settle into relaxed mode yourself – chances are your child will soon follow suit. Then cross your fingers.

If doing some long trips in the car also in your holiday, you will get value out of reading our article called Top Tips For Traveling With Kids.

Travel Insurance

When going on a family holiday it can make the whole experience a lot pleasurable knowing you have travel insurance. You can get your children insured for free^ by getting a Budget Direct travel insurance policy for yourself. Find out if you and your family qualify here.