Heading off on an overseas trip might not be the first thing you expect to do with your baby - especially if you're managing the trip single-handed - but with the right preparation, flying solo with a young child can be easier than you might expect.
Whether you're visiting family and friends or taking a trip with a tiny +1 for work, here's how to minimise stress when flying alone with a baby.
1. Preparation is key
Before you book tickets, consider the time of day and day of the week you'll be travelling. Where possible, look for emptier flights - midweek flights in the middle of the day tend to be quieter and quicker to board, with the added advantage that your baby will probably nap through much of an afternoon flight.
Plan your route to the airport in advance, avoiding rush-hour; it might be better to travel earlier and relax at the airport than face crowded public transport and traffic delays. Build additional time into your travel schedule - you don't want to be running through Departures with two armloads of baby paraphernalia and a stressed-out infant at the start of your trip.
Check baggage restrictions with your airline before you board - especially on items like pushchairs and car seats (see below) - to avoid hassle at the gate. Plan your hand luggage carefully - you'll need enough feeding and changing equipment for the flight itself and for time spent at the airport either end.
A backpack can be a good option for travel, as you can stash your baby gear comfortably while keeping both hands free for baby. Feeding bottles and baby food are permitted in hand luggage - but check any restrictions on the size of bottles and jars before packing.
2. One seat or two?
Infants under 2 years old are not required to have a separate seat booked, but you may find booking an extra seat gives you valuable space and helps make the flight easier for both of you. On short flights, very young babies will probably prefer to be kept in arms or in a sling for the journey; or on longer flights you can reserve a carrycot for your baby to sleep in comfortably. Contact your airline when booking to reserve a carrycot for your child.
Once your baby is sitting up, she might prefer her own seat for the journey. Some airlines provide their own child seats; or another option is to bring your own front-facing car seat. Check with your airline for guidance on car seats - in general, seats must have a five-point harness, fit within the aircraft seat dimensions and be securable with the lap strap.
For children over one year old, many airlines will allow the use of AmSafe's Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES), a handy device which fits easily into hand luggage and can be used instead of a car seat. See Kids Fly Safe for more details.
3. Pack smart
Make sure you have everything you need for the journey close to hand, in as lightweight and portable a form as possible. You'll need:
- Nappies (enough for one day), wipes, nappy cream and a changing mat or disposable changing pads;
- Bottles, baby food (if your baby is on solids) and healthy snacks for older babies and toddlers;
- Bottled water, juice and sippy cups;
- A change of clothing; Toys and games for older babies and toddlers
If your child is old enough, pull-up diapers can make a convenient option for changing. A blanket can be a good idea to keep warm on longer flights and to use as a black-out curtain if your flight covers nap-time. Other optional extras are hand wipes or hand gel to use after changes, and energy-boosting snacks for you!
4. Location, location
When booking your seat, aim to book near the back of the plane - these seats generally fill up last, so if you're booked onto a quiet flight (see above) you stand a better chance of empty seats around you at the back. Seats at the back are also closer to the toilet/changing facilities, and hopefully you should be able to disembark easily at the end of your journey.
If your baby is old enough to sit up and play on the floor, ask about front-of-section (bulkhead) seating - these are the seats at the front of each cabin with extra space on the floor for you to stretch out and pop your baby. Disabled passengers have priority on bulkhead seats, so these may not always be available. Finally, if you're planning to breastfeed, a window seat will give you a quieter corner to do so in privacy.
5. In the air
Once you've both boarded and set up baby's cot or seat, stash your carry-on bag under the seat in front so you can easily access the contents at any time. It can be a good idea to give baby a feed at take-off and landing - the sucking action will help counteract the change in cabin pressure which causes earache. If it's not feeding time, a dummy may help.
Younger babies may simply nap through the flight once you're off the runway; older children will benefit from toys, snacks and games to help pass the time. Walk your baby up and down the aisle in your arms or a sling every couple of hours if it's a long flight, and let your baby waggle her legs in the air if she's not sleeping. Stay hydrated with bottled water (you and baby both!)
Keep an airsickness bag and muslin cloth handy in case of sickness; if your baby does have a touch of the pukes ask airline staff for help cleaning up (there's usually a disinfectant kit on board).
Happy travels to both of you! If you have tips of your own for travelling with very young children, let us know below.
Written by Lise Smith, a former contributor to Lonely Planet's India guidebook - she's seen her fair share of hotel rooms (both grotty and glamorous!). She learned to walk in a hotel corridor in Tunisia, and at the age of three had been on more aeroplanes than buses. Lise writes for a number of local news, technology and arts publications.Top