Travelling with your baby by air for the first time? Read our step-by-step guide to make your trip as easy as the flick of a switch.
Prep up for the trip by first thinking long and hard about your baby and the destination. First off, the million-dollar question – when is it the best time for your baby to travel? The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that a baby should not be less than 7 days old to travel by plane. However, to prevent your baby from catching an infection, wait till he or she is at least 3 months old. As a general rule, do not travel to places that are about 8,000 feet above sea level when your baby is about a month old - the air is thin and may cause breathing problems for him or her. Moreover, do not travel with your baby when he or she is sick or has just recovered from an illness. Do also let your baby see a pediatrician before you travel.
When thinking about the destination, consider travel time. It is NOT ideal and safe for your baby to travel to destinations where the travel time is more than 4 hours unless travel is necessary.
Think also about the accommodation you will be using when you arrive at your destination. Make enquiries and make the best choice. Options available for accommodation are usually villas, hotels and resorts. While all three have their advantages, there are drawbacks that you may want to consider before choosing what will work for you and your baby. Typically, villas are more spacious, resorts have more facilities while hotels are cheaper.
Here is a list of other things to think about your destination or accommodation before travelling:
- Are there facilities or baby gear or equipment like a cot, microwave, sterilizers (or other facilities to make a feeding bottle) or a lift for a stroller?
- Are there protocols for COVID-19?
- Are there safety checks for babies like child gates or balconies with railings?
- Is the room sound-proof?
- Does it have everything you and your baby will need?
- Do the windows have blinds to keep lights out at night when your baby needs to sleep?
- Do you need to pay extra for your baby?
- Find out if you and your baby need to take some vaccine shots.
2. Book A Flight
As a parent travelling with a baby, you have two options when booking a flight – a direct flight or one with a long layover. If you opt for a long layover (which may be the better of the two), make sure you do not do too many connecting flights. All that landing is what puts pressure on the ears and causes pain for babies. Moreover, spending too much time in transit makes them irritable. A long layover has its advantages though, that is if you schedule extra time on the ground between flights. Firstly, it will give you ample time to reach the gate without having to rush. This may be hectic if you are carrying other stuff. Besides, it gives you time to relax, grab some food and change a diaper and/or breastfeed your baby.
When booking, choose a seat that has a bassinet connected to it. Bassinets can be a sweet relief; you can have some me-time without having to disturb your baby while he or she is sleeping.
- If you are going to use a bassinet, pre-board to get it ready before take-off.
- Always go for front row window or bulkhead seats. Bulkhead seats offer you more legroom. Window seats, on the other hand, give you some privacy (when breastfeeding) and some distraction or soothing views when you are getting your baby to sleep.
- Book a separate seat for your baby.
Here is a list of other things to consider or look into at the point of booking a flight:
- Find out the airline policies for travelling with infants.
- Pick airlines that are favourable to parents travelling with babies. Some airlines give preferential treatments to parents with babies. For instance, they allow parents to have front row seats, which offer a lot of legroom and make boarding and disembarking easier.
- Find out if you have to pay for having your baby on board or if you have to buy him or her a ticket. Most airlines rarely charge anything for lap infants under the age of two to fly with them, although some charge a small percentage of your adult fare.
- Find out if the airline counts baby travel paraphernalia such as a stroller or car seat as baggage. You may have to pay something extra for additional baggage, so come prepared with some extra cash once you're travelling with a baby.
- Do the toilets in the airplane have a diaper changing table?
- Find out the items you can carry as checked-in luggage.
- Find out if you can carry baby formula or breast milk in your hand luggage.
- Find out if the airport offers early check-ins you can take advantage of so you can avoid having to stand in long queues at the airport.
- Find out if the airport has a medical facility within its premises in case of an emergency.
- Book a flight that is scheduled to take off several hours before or after rush hour, so you do not get caught up in heavy traffic when travelling to the airport.
- Book a flight that is scheduled to take off around your baby's napping time. Napping or sleep times are the best times to travel with a baby.
- Find out if your airline has a gate-check policy. This can be a lifesaver when you have a lot of bulky items (a baby stroller or buggy) as part of your baggage.
3. Pack up
Packing up is one of the most stressful parts of travelling with your baby. First off, you have to grapple with making the decision of what is very essential and what is not or what to take and not to take. Moreover, there is the tendency to forget something at the last minute. No worries - these tips will help you keep tabs on everything:
- Make some kind of a list of items you need to pack up to keep you organized. Try our checklist.
- Do your laundry (washing and ironing) way before travelling and have it ready to be packed up.
- Pack up way before travel. When you do, you don't rush through getting the items you need and so you rarely forget or leave things behind.
- For lack of space, pack up the travel-size of items.
- Pack shoes separately from other clothing, so they do not mess them up.
- Pack up some extra clothing and undergarments in your carry-on. These might come in handy in case of an emergency.
- Do not fold up clothes and towels. Roll them up instead to save up on space and to prevent creasing.
- Fill up extra spaces in your suitcase with clothing.
- Pad out breakable items with some newspaper or clothing.
- Make sure the size and weight of your suitcase are convenient for you. Do not forget you will be carrying your baby as well.
- Pack up extra of the essentials your baby will need, such as diapers, wipes, etc.
- The AAP advises that you change your baby's feeding and sleeping routines to adjust to that of the country you are visiting. Do this two or three days before flying out to avoid jetlag and disrupting your baby's routine. It also helps your baby to get used to the change in time.
- Dress you and your baby up in clothes that are appropriate for the weather at your destination. It is advisable to dress you and your baby up in comfortable layers to get warm when temperatures drop. Alternatively, you can shed off some layers when temperatures increase. Either way, you are protected.
- Set alarms or reminders for feeding times on your phone using your home routine, to get you on top of feeding your baby.
- Avoid giving baby too much water and drink less yourself.
- Change diapers before flying out if you have stayed on for a bit before your flight.
- Visit the loo before take-off.
- Breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby shortly before you take off and burp him or her afterwards.
- Plan your trip to the airport in such a way that you arrive several hours before the flight. This helps your baby to get used to the airport environment and prevents rushing, which may make both of you exhausted before the trip.
- Make sure you arrive at the airport in your face mask, armed with a sanitizer and ready to observe all COVID-19 protocols. Carry your baby in a front carrier or sling while at the airport. This gives your hands the freedom to multitask. It also makes your baby feel very comfy.
- At check-in, all your baggage will be screened. Items like baby milk or breast milk will go through the scanner or be manually inspected.
- Hold your baby while you and he or she are being screened with a metal detector.
- Have bulky items like your baby's stroller gate-checked. Remember to take gate-check tags and attach them to all your items for identification later when you arrive.
- Take advantage of pre-boarding. You can use this time to fix your baby's CRS car seat (which should be FAA approved). You can also do your gate-checking to avoid all the hustle and bustle with other passengers onboarding.
- Fix your CRS car seat. Learn to do this before you travel. It is also not a bad idea to get some assistance from an attendant if you are travelling solo. Check to see if it is well-fixed by giving it a gentle shove.
- Buckle your baby into his or her seat during the entire flight unless you need to feed him or her or change a diaper.
- If you are going to use a bassinet, only put your baby into it when your plane is travelling at a constant speed and altitude. Do not use the bassinet when the airplane is taking off or landing.
- Make sure you have your carry-on with you packed with a change of clothing for you and your baby and other essentials like diapers, wipes and food (travel-size ready-made formula or an insulated flask containing boiled water and some sterilized bottles to prepare some).
- To prevent ear pain during take-off or landing, bottle-feed your baby with some breast milk or formula. Ear pain is experienced by many babies when the pressure in the cabin changes during take-off or landing. Give your baby something to suck on like a pacifier or feeding bottle to ease airplane ear. You may also have a pediatrician prescribe some ear pain drops for your baby that you can pump into his or her ears before take-off or landing.
- Keep your baby entertained while onboard with some of his or her favourite toys, baby board books or electronic devices like tablets with songs and cartoons downloaded on them. Babies usually become irritable when onboard a plane; the change in environment and having to sit still for long may contribute to their discomfort.
Well then, enjoy your first air travel with your baby. Look out for Part 2 of this guide, which is on baby travel by road.
By Nana Ama Afoa Osae I Writer I GreatWonderful Team
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