Flying with baby

As the holiday season approaches, a clinical psychologist and first-time mum shares her experiences of air travel with her baby, and offers tips to mums and dads on planning baby’s maiden flight.

This post has been a long time coming, brimming with personal experience. I have now completed one domestic flight and two intercontinental flights with my 8 month old bundle of joy. One long-haul flight was thankfully assisted by Stephen. And what I know for sure, my dear parents who haven’t yet done this, is that a plane ride with the baby is bumpy. Bumpier than a bad turbulence.

To start, here are my 5 tips regarding travelling on a plane with a baby (under 1 year old):

  1. Don’t fly alone with a baby (especially for a long flight) if you can avoid it. Travel with another adult.
  2. For any long-haul flights, make sure you secure a bassinette. I had to go through a travel agent to do this, but if you are travelling alone, it’s a lifesaver!
  3. Have a baby carrier handy. Once you are up in the air, an unsettled baby is more likely to fall asleep in it while you stand and sway.
  4. Bring a few toys for older babies, including new toys. They can be a great distraction and will buy you 10 min of peace.
  5. Have a mantra, such as: This too, shall pass. Repeat as necessary.

For those interested, here is a personal account of how both domestic and international flights went for me:

2.5 hrs domestic flight Brisbane-Melbourne

My first ever flight with a 2 month old. I fairly happily walked in with Olivia strapped to me sleeping in a baby carrier (thankfully!), when the flight attendant gently announced that baby needs to be taken out of the carrier and strapped in to my belt with a tiny little baby belt. Result: Olivia got woken up and started crying, with me wrangling her in my lap, and the passenger next to me shooting dirty looks. Welcome onboard!

  • 10 min: We are off and I attempt my first breastfeed on a plane to help with equalising her ear pressure. Olivia is stretched across my lap, and I realise her legs are now periodically kicking the elbow of the passenger next to me. He looks unimpressed, and I smile apologetically. Sigh…that’s what happens when you have a tall baby in economy class.
  • 30 min: This is a controversial topic, but I actually don’t mind airplane food. So I see the food cart arriving, and my stomach is gurgling. I suddenly realise I have nowhere to put the food, as Olivia is sleeping in my lap, and the tray won’t fit in front of me if I hold the baby. I sadly watch as the food cart passes me by. I am not happy.
  • 45 min: My nostrils suspect that a baby poo has occurred. I look down to see the brownish stain slowly spreading on Olivia’s body suit, so I quickly rush to change her …and have my first encounter with a tiny toilet “change-room”. There is zero space to move after you close the door behind you, and I’m fully loaded carrying a baby, nappies, wet-ones and a spare outfit. Imagine this tiny bundle of joy screaming her head off while I’m trying to change her nappy in this tiny space. Then turbulence starts and shakes both of us with the dirty wet-ones flying around us… sigh. I contort myself to clean up the mess while balancing a bewildered Olivia on my shoulder, and finally leave the change area totally off the whole idea of ever again flying with a baby. And slightly traumatised.
  • 1.5 hrs: I need to go back to that toilet. Unfortunately for my bladder, there is no staff currently available to hold the baby as all attendants are busy. So I wait…
  • 2hrs : I walk to the closest flight attendant, plop Olivia into his arms, then rush to the toilet. Being alone for those 30 sec was easily the best 30 sec of my flight. I contemplate of not leaving the cubicle for a while…but then I hear my baby crying. Damn. Damn.
  • 2.5 hrs: Short flight…and we have landed, and I am over it all, hungry and stiff. I’m last to leave this plane, so the air attendant smiles and asks if I’d like a photo of my first flight with baby. Sure, let’s record that I have actually survived this trip!
  • Getting picked up by Stephen: Despite his intent listening, I can tell that he does not quite believe me when I say that flying alone with baby is hard… well mate, just you wait.

24hr international flight to Europe

Yes, that’s right. A 24 hrs flight with one 3-hour stop over in Dubai. After my domestic flight, going the long haul alone with Olivia seemed like a highway straight to hell. The only thing saving me from insanity was the thought of a bassinette on the plane, which I imagined I could use as a babysitter to leave the baby in.

  • Arriving into the plane, I realise with horror that no bassinette is offered until the plane has taken off. Beads of sweat start collecting on my forehead as I wrangle a sleepy Olivia on my lap. She wiggles uncomfortably. I put the tiny baby belt on her again.
  • 45 min – We are up in the air, and the bassinette finally arrives. I put Olivia in eagerly…and she barely fits. Yes! She looks up at me in horror, and I say: “Get used to it”.
  • 2 hrs – I manage to quickly eat my meal while eyeing Olivia who is lying belly down, head up in her bassinette. No movie watching possible for me. Between bites I am acting as her entertainment system, rotating toys, so she doesn’t cry. She looks like she really wants to leave the bassinette, but thankfully she’s too small to escape it! Eventually she realises that I will take her out if she screams… Sigh. Clever girl. `
  • 5 hrs – Lights are dimmed. Next to me sits a lady travelling with a 1 year old and a 3 year old. I realise this 5 hours into the flight as she has been running catching her girls, so we haven’t actually spoken yet. Suddenly, I am thankful for dealing with just one kid on a plane.
  • 7 hrs – My body is tired but I’m only a third of the trip in. I keep playing with Olivia and carrying her around. Lady next to me tells me the only reason she is taking 2 kids with her to Dubai because her uncle is sick. “I would never fly alone with them if it wasn’t completely necessary.” The 1 year old plays with Olivia, so I end up supervising them both while she chases the 3 year old around the plane. I’m exhausted, and I feel for my poor fellow mum.
  • 10 hrs – It is the middle of night on the plane, the lights are off, Olivia asleep. The mum next to me has passed out. I finally snuggle into my tight economy seat and put on a movie, in my last bid to pretend like I’m a normal person travelling on a plane to Europe. I pass out about 10 min in.
  • 12 hrs – Just managed to resettle Olivia back to sleep into her bassinette when mild turbulence hits.  The air attendant tells me I have to take the baby out of the bassinette. No. No. Please nooooo…
  • 14 hrs – We finally land for a stopover. I manage to wheel a chirpy-looking Olivia around the airport, and get myself a coffee to sustain me for another 10 hours. I stare blankly ahead. We wait in line to board another flight.
  • 20 hrs – Olivia has decided that sleeping is not an option for her in the last 7 hours when she can admire all the pretty screens and smile at other passengers. They smile back at her…but no one wants to hold her? Damn. I’m just counting down the hours, and my God, how slow they go!
  • 23 hrs – I’m almost in Croatia. I’m fantasising about giving Olivia straight to her grandmother who is eagerly waiting, then going to sleep for a week.
  • 24 hrs – Landed. Grandma is there to pick us up, and I AM DONE. Cooked.

International flight back to Australia 

Another 24 hour flight saga, with now a crawling Olivia. Stephen has thankfully joined in for this one… Yet the poor dad looked tortured at the end of it. P.S. He totally gets it now!

About the author

Neira Ott is a practising clinical psychologist. After the arrival of her first baby, Olivia, in November 2017, Neira decided to use her training to help her make sense of the ups and downs of being a mum, as well as to discuss and test various strategies for managing the tricky everyday business of parenting. 

This article originally appeared on Neira’s blog On Parenthood.

Posted in Baby 0-4 weeksBaby 5-8 weeksBaby 9-12 weeksBaby 13-16 weeksBaby 17-20 weeksBaby 21-26 weeksCrying, settling, sleepingYour needsMums.