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Our first flight with a baby: what worked and what didn’t

flying with a baby: tips and advice

I

guess the photo at the top of the page says it all, really: smiling through gritted teeth, while a small person flails around on your lap for hours. In a tin can in the sky. With no legroom. And someone in the window seat who wants to use the bathroom every 20 minutes.

And that, my friends, is what flying with a baby is like! The End!

Wow, this was an unusually short post from me, huh?

Nah, I’m exaggerating: our first flight with Max wasn’t quite as bad as all that. Yes, it was hard work: like, REALLY hard work. I mean, I’m frightened of flying, but, when you’re self-employed, the run-up to a holiday is so stressful that,in recent years, I’ve actually found myself almost looking forward to some flights, purely because I knew they’d be the first chance I’d had in weeks to just sit and read my book (And, OK, drink my wine…) for a few hours, guilt free.

Well, there was no book-reading or wine-drinking on our first flight with a baby, obviously. That goes without saying. It wasn’t quite as bad as we’d expected it to be either, though, so here are some of the things we’ve learned about flying with a baby – and, if you don’t have children, I guess these could also come in handy if you ever find yourself in a small space with a wild animal, say? Because it amounts to the same thing, right?

(I’m exaggerating again. OR AM I?)

flying with a baby: checking in and navigating airport security

So! We rocked up at Edinburgh airport at stupid o’clock in the morning, ready to begin the tedious process of checking in and fighting our way through security. I say “tedious” – it actually wasn’t too bad this time, because the first thing we learned about flying with a baby is that people are generally a little bit nicer to you when they see that you’re wrangling a small person. I guess we might just have gotten lucky here, obviously  – and, to be fair, the airline staff were lovely to everyone, as far as I could tell – but I’d been worried that people would take one look at us and instantly resent us for being Those People who bring a screaming baby onto an aircraft, so I was very grateful to find everyone we encountered very helpful and understanding, thankfully.

We flew with Jet2, who had our bags checked in within a few minutes, and before we knew it, we were on our way through security. Now, going through airport security is one of my least favourite things in the entire world: I find it SO stressful and chaotic, so I was relieved to hear that we’d be going through the ‘family’ line (I had no idea this was even a Thing until now – I honestly think that, before we had Max, I was just totally blind to all things child-related…), which is technically supposed to make the process a little easier, but which didn’t really, because you still have to do all of the usual security checks, but now you have to do them while carrying another person – who will obviously decide that this is the exact moment he needs to eat/sleep/poop or, ideally, all three.

So, yeah, not a huge amount of fun, really, but not disastrous, either: in fact, in some ways, I found the whole airport experience slightly easier than I normally would, purely because we were allowed to keep Max’s pushchair (We took the Maxi-Cosi Laika stroller, rather than our usual Joolz Day3, which is much heavier/bulkier, and thus not ideal for travel…) with us right up until the moment we boarded the aircraft, and it was handy to be able to drape my bag, coat etc over the back of it, rather than having to lug them all around with me.

Anyway! Security took longer than usual, partly because Terry was selected for a random pat-down (Which actually IS usual for us…), but mostly because Max’s milk had to be taken away and scanned. You’re able to take baby milk through security in the UK (both expressed breast milk and formula), but it will be scanned: which was actually a relief to me, because I’d read that we might be asked to drink some of it in front of the security officers, just to prove that it was actually milk, and that stuff does NOT taste good. Don’t ask me how I know.

We’d made up one bottle for Max just before we left the house, and had brought another (This time of pre-made formula) for the flight, so, as soon as we got through security, we found a seat, and gave Max his breakfast. (Well, Terry did: I actually went to duty free and bought some mascara, to make up for my eyelash extension disaster a couple of days earlier…)

So far, so good… but we’d gotten up early, so, by this stage, Max was ready for a nap. It was absolutely impossible to get him to sleep in the noisy airport (As I’ve mentioned before, he currently won’t sleep anywhere other than in his cot, so we were really worried about how naptime was going to work on the go…), so, by the time we boarded the aircraft, having left the pushchair right at the end of the air bridge, he was like a man possessed:

flying with a baby: tips and advice

I mean, sure, he looks happy here: he cried the entire time the plane was taxiing, stopped briefly during take-off, and then screamed for ten minutes after that, before finally falling asleep, exhausted. We knew his ears might hurt during takeoff, so we’d given him his dummy to try to make it easier on him, but he actually did most of his crying while we were still on the ground, so I think the problem was tiredness more than anything else, really…

Max sleeping on the planeAs you can see, he’s in his sleeping bag, here: we brought it onto the plane with us, because we knew from experience that he won’t sleep without it – I think it’s just the comfort/routine of being zipped up in it or something? As you can also see, though, he’s been stripped to his vest before going into the sleeping bag: I’m always absolutely freezing on airplanes, so I’d dressed Max and myself in lots of layers, but yup – this plane was boiling, so Max travelled in his vest, although not until he’d crushed blueberries into his lovely white top. (I, on the other hand, kept my sweater on, because I had pretty much given up on life by this point. Yes, ALREADY.)

He slept for about 40 minutes. It was longer than we’d expected, but shorter than we’d have liked, and we found that the slightest noise would wake him up, so Terry, who’d volunteered to have him on his lap (He claims to have done this because Max is pretty heavy now, and he thought it would be really uncomfortable for me to have him sitting on me for hours, but I’m pretty sure he just did it so he could have the window seat. Honestly, I’d do anything to avoid being in the middle, too…) had to keep rocking him back to sleep, to the accompaniment of loud tears. I’ll leave it up to you to work out whether they were Max’s or Terry’s.

When we’d first boarded the aircraft, the pilot had come on the intercom with some bad news for us: the flight was going to take 5 hours, rather than 4-or-less it usually takes. (Something to do with a strong headwind, apparently…), and, I’ll be honest, as soon as I heard that, I felt like just getting up and walking out. I dunno: somehow 4 hours felt do-able to me, but 5 hours pushed it right into, “Just shoot me now,” territory, seriously. I felt even more like that when Max woke up from his 40 minute nap, and Terry and I realised we STILL have over 4 hours to get through, and that we’d be passing those hours in a very small space, with a very awake baby. Seeing our fellow passengers all ordering drinks and snacks, and getting their books and magazines out, was another low point, but, by this stage, Max was awake and ready to be entertained. So, here’s how we did it…

Flying With a Baby: Tips & Advice from First-Timers

flying with a baby: our tips and advice

(Everything’s red in this photo because we were in hell. OK, I’m joking: it was just the cabin lights at night on the way back. Could easily have been hell, though…)

01.
Bags within bags

Jet2 have a fairly generous hand luggage allowance (10kg each), so I took my Madewell Transport tote . It’s much too large to fit under the seat in front, so I filled the bag itself with a bunch of things I thought we might need during the flight (So, a change of clothes for both Max and myself – well, I wasn’t about to make THAT mistake again, was I? – the warm jackets we’d both worn on the trip to the airport, etc…), and then I also packed a smaller bag inside it, which I filled with the things I KNEW we’d need during the flight. The tote bag went into the overhead bin as soon as we boarded the plane, while the smaller bag spent the flight either on my knee, or under the seat in front. Mostly on my knee, though.

in-flight essentials for an 11-month-old baby

Inside this bag, meanwhile?

MOAR BAGS:

flying with a baby tips: keep your bag organised

“Oh God, not this ‘bags-within-bags’ thing again!” groaned Terry, who has yet to get on board with my passion for packing cubes, even although he MUST see how totally life-changing they are? I mean, SERIOUSLY?

The bags-within-bags totally worked, though: not just because they helped me keep everything organised, but because Max likes nothing better than a good rummage through a bag or box, so the flight bag  itself provided some pretty solid entertainment for him:

tips for your first flight with a baby

The bag he’s holding contains dummies, and I also had a couple with toys in them, plus one with his changing kit – so, nappies, wipes, etc. I found this easier than just having everything in one bag together, because it meant that, when it was time for a nappy change, I only had to take the smallest of the bags, rather than lugging everything with me. And this was a small blessing, because, unsurprisingly, it turns out that changing a baby on a aircraft is a lot like wrestling an octopus in a phone box. Or so I would imagine, anyway.

02.
Shiny new things and old favourites

As well as the bags themselves, I’d also packed some toys and books (a mixture of old favourites and ones he hadn’t seen before), which helped pass the time for a while, as did milk and snacks, which we’d brought from home:

entertaining a baby on a plane

Hand puppets, toy cars, books (Thanks to our friend Myra for sending a couple of new ones, which we saved for the flight!) – if it was small enough and light enough to fit in the bag, in it went. And, of course, we didn’t just rely on shiny new things – we spent a lot of time just talking to him, pointing out things on the aircraft, singing nursery rhymes etc – anything and everything to pass a bit of time!

03.

Tech and apps

Speaking of shiny new things, we also caved and bought a Kindle Fire for Kids in the Black Friday sales, which we loaded up with cartoons, the Moana soundtrack, etc, in the hope that it would be the perfect in-flight entertainment for Max. We had kind of mixed results with this, though: it was a big hit at home, but the problem we had on the plane was that Max point-blank refused to wear the baby headphones we’d got to go with it, and the flight was much too noisy for him to be able to hear much of the audio without them, so it didn’t hold his attention for quite as long as we’d hoped. Still, he did use it for maybe 10-20 minutes at a time, which was probably the best we could have expected under the circumstances.

On the subject of tech, Terry has an app on his phone called KidloLand, which Max loves: it’s a paid app, but worth the money, so Max played with that for a while too, and, on the return journey, when all else had long since failed, I resorted to just showing him videos of himself on my phone:

entertaining a baby on a flight

Absolutely nothing in our collective parenting arsenal was even half as interesting to him as the magnifying glass the man in the seat next to me was using to read his book, though. In this photo, for instance, Max is clearly resenting us both for not allowing him to touch the magnifying glass. Many years from now, I’m sure he’ll be telling his therapist all about it…

Speaking of our fellow passengers, though, brings me neatly to my next point…

04.
Pre-book your seats, if you can

We did pre-book seats, but, because we booked the holiday at the last-minute, there was limited choice available, which meant that, on the outward flight, we were in a window and middle seat, with someone else in the aisle. On the way back, we managed to get an aisle seat for Terry (I was still stuck in the middle, obviously, but I’m not 11 months old, so I just sucked it up…), which definitely made things a little easier, as he was able to stand up, or let Max stand up in the aisle. It also meant that Max was entertained by the steady stream of other babies and children en route to the bathroom, which he very much enjoyed.

For our flight to the US in May, things should be easier again, as we’re in seats which are grouped in twos, rather than threes, so we’ll have a window and an aisle, with no one else to disturb when we’re getting up and down.  Honestly, though, if you can afford it, I think booking the baby his own seat would be the easiest option by far: Max might be small, but WOW, does he start to feel super-heavy once he’s been on your lap for a couple of hours!

soother clip on pacifier05.
Dummy clips

If your baby uses a dummy, I really recommend getting a couple of clips for them, so they don’t constantly end up on the airplane floor. We’re currently in the process of weaning Max off his pacifier, but I can’t deny, it did come in handy when we were in the air, because it’s one of the few things that’s pretty much guaranteed to soothe him. We bought two dummy clips before we left the UK, but somehow managed to lose both of them while we were in Tenerife, which meant that Terry and I spent the entire flight home picking dummies off the floor – and that’s no one’s favourite thing, is it?

Which brings me to my final tip:

baby with Milton Wipes

06.
Milton Wipes!

As you probably know, these are anti-bacterial wipes, which can be used for anything. I normally keep a pack in Max’s changing bag, but the main reason I brought them on this trip was because I’d intended to use them to wipe down the armrests, tray tables and seat backs, as soon as we boarded our flight. Might sound a bit extreme, granted, but I always, ALWAYS get sick on airplanes, and I was absolutely determined not to let it happen this time.

Well, as you might have seen from my last post, that didn’t exactly work out for me – probably because I completely forget about my Milton Wipes plan until we were taxiing down the runway, by which point Max had had his hands EVERYWHERE – including inside my mouth. (Yeah, I know, it’s gross. He’s absolutely fascinated by teeth, though, and has been for ages: I swear that boy will be a dentist one day…) Sure enough, 48 hours later, I came down with some kind of cold/flu bug, which I’m 90% certain I caught on the plane. The best laid plans, huh?

You’ll be pleased to know, however, that I DID use my Milton Wipes on the way back: and, of course, they also came in handy for all of those times Max threw his dummy onto the floor. I still have the cold I picked up on the way out, but so far none of us seems to have caught anything else, so fingers crossed…

Anyway. It definitely wasn’t the easiest flight we’ve ever had, but it was a smooth, straightforward one (And I have to quickly add here that Jet2 were fantastic to fly with, and I couldn’t recommend them more: and no, they’re not sponsoring this post, so you can trust me on that…), and, five hours after takeoff, we were looking at this view from the aircraft window:

Tenerife from the air

And, you know what? Once we were safely on the ground, and had been reunited with our luggage and hire car, those five hours in the air were already starting to feel like a distant memory – and as soon as I felt the sun hit my face, I knew it had been 100% worth it.

So, was it a trickier than usual flight? Yup, for sure.

Would we do it again? Absolutely – and as soon as possible, really: because, at the end of the day, it’s a few hours of discomfort in exchange for memories that will last a lifetime. It’s really no contest, is it?

What are your tips for flying with a baby?

flying with a baby: tips and advice for your first flight with a baby or toddler

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8 Comments
  • Rosie von Waldherr
    December 17, 2018

    I also have a post on this coming up next year! Luckily Benjamin is a somewhat “easy” baby, but flying with him alone to Portugal was an adventure! It seems like you guys handled everything super well =) I love the family lines at the airport (in Austria you don’t even get in line, they let you cut it right away) and being able to take the stroller until the aircraft is really handy!

    xo, Rosie //Curvy Life stories

  • last year's girl
    December 17, 2018

    What is it with babies and their fascination with videos of themselves?! My wee nephew is the same. This is such a fab, practical post that I’m sure loads of people will find useful – and I’m glad your first flight hasn’t put you off loads more adventures as a family of three!

    x

  • Myra
    December 17, 2018

    Take a drink for Max on the plane during take off and landing. Swallowing helps the equalise the difference of air pressure between inner and outer ear as the Eustachian tube balances it by opening and closing. Sucking The dummy doesn’t do that, but swallowing does.

    • Amber
      December 18, 2018

      We did have drinks for him, but, as I said, he didn’t cry during take-off or landing so we didn’t need them.

  • Debbie Carr
    December 18, 2018

    He’s such a sweetie! Thanks for these awesome tips. I’m so glad you were able to leave behind the 5 hours of flying in the end. That part of the journey isn’t so great. I wonder how I’d cope with that and then trying to entertain a baby too. Not sure! Well done you
    Debs @ https://tiger-mint.com

  • Kirsty
    December 18, 2018

    Hi Amber, great informative post. To be honest, you’ve covered all bases here – we did pretty much the same when we travelled with our 1 year old back in September.

    Only other thing I’d add is to try and book flight time which best suit your baby’s schedule. We went for morning flights as we knew it would be our best chance of getting him to sleep through some of the flight. x

  • Cate
    December 18, 2018

    Oh how I truly needed this post!! Currently waffling over booking tickets to Arizona (a 4+ hour flight from where I live in the Midwest), and I’m terrified of attempting it with a 13-month-old! But your post has given me some courage. Not quite enough to book the tickets, mid you, because I’m a coward, but I do appreciate the tips!

  • Myra
    May 4, 2019

    Very glad the books were useful

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