Before having kids, flying meant hours of uninterrupted reading, unapologetic watching of trashy films and perhaps a cheeky red wine. Those were the days!
Now with a toddler in tow, I’ve endured public meltdowns, been vomited on and weathered those awful looks (often accompanied by a loud sigh) that other passengers give you when they realise a baby’s in their midst.
But with a bit of organisation and patience (deep breathing goes a long way) plus a couple of creative ideas in the bag, these tips will help your holiday get off to a smooth start.
Do your research
Just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean its good. Websites like SeatGuru allow you to compare different airlines and what they offer kids (including seat size among other comparisons).
Discount airlines might have amazing deals, but when you’re squashed between two snoring giants with a wriggly baby on your lap and a flight attendant who won’t give you the time of day (let alone a free water), it can pay to pay more.
Alternatively if you have an active, almost-two-year-old and the fare is incredibly cheap, consider booking them a seat for your own sanity!
Choose your seat. Aisle is best if you have a baby in your lap, while older kids tend to enjoy looking out the window.
Bassinets on planes (for babies up to 12.5kg) are always limited – so make sure to book in advance and be flexible around what day of the week you fly.
Infant car seat. If you’re taking it with you anyway think about bringing it on board (you need to book ahead). If your child likes the car, it can be a comfortable way of travelling for them.
The jury is out on night versus day flights. Apparently kids don’t whinge when they are asleep. That’s if you can get them to sleep after all the excitement of the airport and impending holidays. There’s not much worse than dealing with a hysterical kid at 3am at 30,000 feet.
If you’re travelling long haul consider breaking up the journey. Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai are good fun on the Australia to Europe route. Think of it as a mini-break and a way to overcome the jet lag.
Toys. Toddlers are certain to be amused with a couple of cheap toys they have never seen before. We’d suggest heading to your nearest dollar-store or equivalent because then you can throw them away after the flight. Good ideas include slinkies, finger puppets and little sticker books.
Books from the op shop are new and fun, and can also be left behind. You could even wrap the toys (for an extra few minutes amusement), while ziploc bags are less time-consuming and allow for easy access.
Load up your iPad or iPhone with educational, artistic or story-telling apps and games. And don’t forget kid-size headphones.
Snacks. When all else fails, favourite foods usually don’t. While most airlines allow you to book a kids meal, make sure you also carry a wide variety of easy to eat, non-spill snacks (think peanut butter sandwiches as opposed to a tub of yoghurt) to get you through the flight. And don’t show all your cards at once.
Milk. While there are restrictions on the liquids you can take on an international flight, they don’t apply to food or milk for your baby. That means you can take as much expressed breastmilk, formula, cow’s milk or boiled water to make a feed (must be in a baby bottle) as you need.
You are also permitted to carry an ice brick with the bottles if required. Most airlines will heat your baby’s milk or food – but not all, so be prepared.
Nappies. When travelling with babies, it’s the eternal question: how many to take. You don’t want to overload your carry on, but we’d suggest keeping it safe by taking one nappy for every two hours of travel. If you’re intent on travelling light, check out these vacuum packed nappies.
Wet wipes. A mum’s best friend on land and in the air. Carry a stash in a separate wash bag along with a few nappies and change of clothes so you don’t have to haul your entire hand luggage to the toilet.
Extra clothes. Dress in layers yourself and make sure to bring several changes for the kids (which can double as a pillow).
At the airport
Leave enough time. And then some. While hanging around with little kids at the airport seems like a drag, it is nowhere near as bad as the stress of racing the family to the gate.
Light, fold-away strollers are not usually counted as part of your luggage, so many families like to cruise right up to the plane and check them at the gate. With babies, a carrier might be preferable as it leaves your hands free for the other bags you will have to tote.
In the air
Make friends with the flight attendants before you sit down. Look out for those most likely to have their own children, and introduce them to yours. Starting off with a good relationship will stand you in good stead throughout the flight.
Break the flight into sections to help pass the time: sleep time, play time, reading time, movie time, meal time, stretching down at the back of the plane time.