Friday, September 7, 2012

Things I have learned: Flying with babies

Okay - I am no expert, but after four international flights in the first 10 months of Georgie's life, I am finally willing to doll out some advice about international travel with babes. Not the Cindy Crawford/Kate Moss type - more the type that will decide to fill their nappies just as you hit turbulence and can't shuffle to the toilet for a quick change...

There is no denying it - flying long haul with a baby is a hideous experience. The best piece of advice I can give is repeating the mantra: "this too shall pass..." over and over again. If you are unwilling to give up exotic holidays (and at this point, it seems that we are) then you'll have to just get over the flying part. However there are things you can do to try and make the time more bearable.

New Toys: most kids think a new toy or two is pretty amazing. Hand them out regularly during flights and make sure they have just one at a time. Substitute a new toy when they get sick of the one they have. Simple. Older kids love crayons and pencils and stickers - Georgie just loves eating them so at her age, it's better to stick to other things. Her favourite new "toy" on the last flight was a plastic spoon with a really long handle (thanks, Air France). Hours (okay, maybe 30 minutes) of entertainment. It all adds up.

Eating: Georgie thinks feeding herself is the business. We made sure she had plenty of her favourite foods with us on the plane for her: frittata, cream cheese sandwiches, butter cookies (as a special treat), yoghurt, pureed fruit... Basically, anything she likes to eat. It will get messy, but in the end it is easier to let her do what she wants to do. Eating takes up a good hour on an international flight, sometimes longer. Pack a change of clothes for everybody. Maybe two. And if you can stick to non messy foods, all the better.

Fly at night: About half of our international flights with Georgie have been at night and they have by far been the most successful. On the flight between Singapore and Paris, she slept for almost 9 hours in two blocks. It meant that when we arrived she was almost in the right time zone. The daytime flights were hellish in comparison. All she wanted to do was crawl around and play and planes aren't really appropriate for that.  She's too young to understand the safety aspects of flying which means that it becomes incredibly difficult to keep her still during the day and you are exhausted by the end of the flight. And getting her to sleep for a nap in a fully lit cabin was a nightmare (i.e. didn't happen).

Entertainment: Georgie is that rare breed of child who doesn't really like much TV yet, so movies and back to back episodes of Peppa and Play School don't really cut it for her. Not on the TV, not on the iPad. Unfortunately that means Mummy has to be a little more creative with her entertainment: reading, singing, clapping, endless rounds of peekaboo... In desperation I gave her a packet of tic tacs on our descent into Singapore and she loved it - she shook the pack like maracas and it entertained her for ages. Who would have thought? We've since replaced the tic tacs for lentils and superglued the lid shut and she still adores it.

Seating: this is where Miss Kitty gets controversial. My advice is stump up for the best seats you can possibly afford. The extra leg room, lounge access and baggage allowance will more than make up for the occasional disapproving stare. And if you have a baby like mine who prefers to sleep on you (or you don't have access to a bassinet or have a baby who is too big for the bassinet) the wider, more supportive seat will make a world of difference for everyone. Regarding the naysayers and babies in premium classes, my thoughts are thus: planes are public places. Noises will be made, either by kids or babies or other unruly passengers. If you want silence then you'd better stump up for your own lear jet or work out how to use those noise cancelling headphones. They do work, you know.

Also, try and get the front row if possible - most airlines block out the bulkhead for those travelling with small children (so long as it's not an emergency exit) so make sure you request a seat with more room when you book. Call the airline to confirm. More than once. It's been suggested to me that you might want to have parents sit separately (a few rows apart) to make sure one gets a break during the trip and alternate the child between them - that's a reasonable suggestion, however it really doesn't work for feeding the baby, especially more liquidy foods like fruit and yoghurt. It's frankly a recipe for disaster and just means you go through more food and clothes than necessary. Fine for a flight that doesn't require feeding (maybe under 3-4 hours if you feed before you get on the plane) but not for long haul.

Stop overs: I was unwilling to try the full 20 odd hours to Europe in one fell swoop so we broke our journey in Singapore. It was one of the best decisions we could have made. Yes, it meant our journey was longer but it also meant we weren't on a plane for too long at any one time. Giving Georgie a break was important and a few days of tropical warmth meant everyone was in better spirits. I'd definitely recommend trying to factor in a stopover if your flight is going to be a long one, or if your plane needs to stop anyway.

Clothing: I have posted in the past about clothes to wear on planes for adults and here's my advice about what to wear for babies: LOTS. You will likely go through a number of changes of clothes so always over estimate. Pack twice as many changes as you think you might need on your carry on. A nappy will always leak at the most inopportune moment and food will fly everywhere. Drinks will be spilled and babies will vomit during turbulence. Onesies keep babies warm in over-cooled cabins and are easy to work with. Airplane toilets are squishy at the best of times, let alone when you are trying to change a baby doing their very best impression of an octopus. Carry a pack of antibacterial sanitising wipes and thoroughly wipe down the change table and walls of the toilet every time before you take the baby in, or better yet, if you think it's only a wee change, do it on your seat with a change mat. Far more sanitary than taking little ones into the toilet if you can possibly avoid it.

Hopefully these tips and hints can provide you with some practical advice about flying long haul with a little one. The jury is still out about whether or not spending 6 weeks in Europe in non baby proofed apartments and houses is a good idea, but I think we at least have the travelling to and from part nailed.

Have you got any tips and hints for flying long haul with babies?

Kitty xx

6 comments:

Sammie said...

Brilliant post!
Although I have flown Syd-Melb and vice versa too many times to mention... Long haul is a totally different story.
Well done you! I'm not yet game enough!

Miss Kitty-Cat said...

Sammie, I do think I am slightly insane. The Europe trip has been far harder than anticipated. But the travelling, it's been ok.

K xx

mrsslj said...

Thank you for the post! You sure have left me with some great pointers for our upcoming flight with a 5 month old. I am in awe at how well Georgie has done flying across the globe at such a young age!

KittyCate said...

Thanks for an awesome post! We will be flying to NZ in December with my niece - hoping my sister and brother-in-law, combined with my husband and I, will be enough to keep a 9-month old entertained and contained LOL x

Not Quite Nigella said...

They're great tips Miss Kitty Cat! And I agree about breaking up the trip half way, even for adults. The flights are just too long otherwise and you get an extra destination too! :D

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