I’ve never been good at long haul plane travel. Almost as bad as a child (maybe worse), I wriggle, I get up every twenty minutes, I wedge my feet into the cracks between seats, I hoist them into the magazine pouch in front of me, or rest my legs over my husbands knees if I’m with him. I am totally restless and uncomfortable. I blame this on poor circulation, but whatever the case, I struggle to get comfortable. So now how was I going to travel with a four-month old baby on a 22-hour trip, BY MYSELF, from Sydney, Australia to Ottawa, Canada?
Let’s just say I grew up on that trip. And suffered the worst sleep exhaustion ever. But, it wasn’t a disaster and I made it! Here are some general tips that helped keep us sane.
- Set low expectations, but don’t dwell on the negative aspects. If your expectations aren’t too high, it will be less stressful when your baby doesn’t act perfectly. Also treat any sleep as a bonus – plan to be awake the whole time. Yes, it is possible.
- Before you book your flight, find out the aircraft that will be used, then check out the seat map on seatguru.com. You can see where the bassinet seats are and see traveller photos of the cabin. The comfort of the aircraft makes a huge difference, and I actually changed my original flight choice so that I could be on a plane with a bassinet. See more on bassinets below.
- Buy the best seats you can. Because I was by myself, I booked business class for the long 14-hour leg to Vancouver, and economy to Montreal. In economy, if there are two of you flying, I would almost prefer to be in a row that’s two-wide, rather than in the wider centre block where the bassinet is (where I sat on my 5-hour leg to Montreal).
- Find out if your bags can be checked through to your final destination. If another airline or route can provide that option it may be worth it.
- Accept help from other people, and ask for it when you need it. People were really nice to me the whole way. I honestly never noticed one nasty look and a few people even remarked how good my son had been.
- Use a clip for your baby’s soother/dummy and keep it clipped to him the whole time. It means you will always have a clean one and fast access to it. Since I couldn’t rock my son to sleep in my rocker, the dummy or nursing become the ticket to sleep.
- Pack a few changes of clothes for your baby and for yourself. I needed three tops for myself. The rule of one diaper per hour did not apply on my 22-hour trip, 15 was more than enough.
- I only checked one suitcase even though I had allowance for two because it would have been too much for me to manage. As you can see, I had an umbrella stroller, a backpack and a diaper bag in my carry-on.
Going through security with a baby
- In the airports, I wore my son in my Ergo carrier and used a cheap umbrella stroller to hold my carry-on (a diaper bag and a backpack). I took off the Ergo going through security in Sydney, but in Vancouver he was sleeping so I gave a pleading look and they let me keep him in it. They just lightly patted us down instead.
- No one ever questioned the large ziploc bag I had of white powder (formula) that was in my carry-on. I also had some empty bottles in the bag (I bought bottled water once through security) just in case I couldn’t nurse.
- Someone will help you take your stroller through security. Keep your and your baby’s liquids in one clear bag so you just have one thing to pull out.
About plane bassinets
- It took a little while for my baby to get used to it. He was kind of freaked out at first so I just put him in it, chatted to him, then took him out. I did that a few times before I actually tried to get him to nap in it.
- Bassinets can be pretty awful. Many have straps, or mesh screens, that go over the baby’s face. Friendly flight attendants will let you fold back this part. You may also want to bring your own blankets to line it.
- If your baby can sit up, then he won’t be allowed to use a bassinet so it’s only for really young babies. You must take your baby out when the seatbelt sign is on which can be a long time. This is frustrating if they are sleeping.
- If you bring a muslin or something to shade the bassinet, keep in mind there might not be anything to clip it to. Bring strips of pre-cut packing tape (rolls will get confiscated by security). However you don’t need to bring anything. I packed a black cloth but didn’t end up bothering with it.
- I don’t see the point in buying an expensive product just to shade the bassinet. It’s probably the only time you will ever use it.
- In economy, the bassinet seat is usually the centre of the bulkhead row. This means you are likely to be sat next to extra tall/large men who have booked those seats for legroom. Nothing you can do about that, but just to keep in mind when choosing your seat.
Flying business class with a baby
When I was googling ‘business class with a baby’ before my trip, I was surprised to find it a highly controversial topic with little practical information available.
- I believe it is rare on most aircraft to have a bassinet in business, however the 777-200LR I was on did have one. It depends not only on the aircraft, but the cabin configuration that your airline have for that particular plane. If you are meant to have one, check before you board that the crew know where it is and how to mount it.
- Lying flat with my baby was actually better than having him in the bassinet. When I was on my side I could have him snuggled in next to me. And I could close my eyes knowing I would feel any movement. When he was in the bassinet I couldn’t see him so I felt a need to keep checking on him.
- The other major benefit of business class in my case was the privacy. No one could see me nursing him, he was less distracted, and I could easily avoid other passengers if I wanted to.
- Flight attendants are naturally that much more helpful and available to you. They opened all my food packets while I was holding my son and offered to cut up my meat even!
All in all, my son was pretty much the same baby he is at home. Don’t expect perfect sleep if your baby isn’t a perfect sleeper normally, and if your baby is pretty chilled normally then there’s no reason to expect much drama when you travel.