How to fly long-haul with a baby
Frequent Flyer, travel writer and new mum - travel writer Helen Wright on the highs and lows of being a #travelmum on her year long adventures with her son Finn... and their first long-haul flight
It was time for the big one. In a few short hours the cabin doors would be sealed and we’d be stuck with 200 new friends for nine hours until finally being released,bleary-eyed and slightly greyer, in the USA. It was going to be fun (at least, that’s the positive mantra we’d set ourselves and we were sticking to it despite any eventuality…)
To make life slightly easier for everyone we booked a hotel at the airport the night before our flight and it was a good decision. Instead of arguing about how much travel time we’d need and dragging Finn with all his luggage through rush hour traffic, we timed our hotel arrival at his bedtime and tucked him in before getting room service and an early night. The next day, bright and early, we were making our way through the family lane at airport security. Who knew that was there? And no queues either…bonus.
Some basic research had educated us that baby food, formula and (non-frozen) breast milk can be taken through Customs without being reduced to 100ml sizes, which is very handy since Finn had started feeding like he’s running the marathon every afternoon. I was relieved to find they have a clever machine to test liquids for anything suspicious and I wasn’t made to drink any. By the look on Simon’s face it was clear he’d definitely been thinking the same…
Flying with a baby means the airline might have you seated in a bulkhead seat with a sky cot and we were thrilled to have a bit of extra leg room and the ability to tuck Finn up in his own bed. It goes without saying that we had an urgent ‘nappy’ incident the minute we took off and had to innocently pretend the noxious whiff wasn’t coming from our son. Changing a baby in the tiny plane loos isn’t the easiest task but Simon lost out to rock/paper/scissors so at least I had ten minutes to enjoy my G&T. I offered Finn a breastfeed as we took off and landed and as far as I know he didn’t experience any discomfort in his ears – or if he did he kept it to himself. At four-months old he was still sleeping every few hours so it actually turned out to be a great time to fly long haul with a little one. The hum of the aircraft actually helped him sleep longer than usual and I even got a short nap myself. When he was awake, grinning at other passengers and flirting with the cabin crew meant he was fully entertained and it wasn’t long before we were stepping out into the warm Californian sun.
All in all it was a positive experience, which is handy as this trip is kicking off a year of overseas travel for us. Let’s hope our future trips go so smoothly!
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THE PACK UP
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Bugaboo Travel Bag, £120, Bugaboo
Alarming as it is, a lot of parents warned us off taking our Bugaboo pram with us because there is a chance your baby’s beloved wheels may be damaged by airport handlers. We’d purchased our pram because of its big wheels and large sun canopy and Finn was still riding flat in the bassinet so we weren’t keen on purchasing a travel-style buggy for this trip. Instead, we opted for a protective buggy bag for our existing pram, which fitted it perfectly and protected the chassis from a bit of airline rough and tumble. Highly recommended for peace of mind and we even snuck in a few packs of nappies and wipes to save space in the case too…
I don’t know about you but I find airplane cabins either so hot I wish I’d travelled in my bikini or so cold my toes have turned to ice cubes before the drink service has arrived. As well as enough nappies to last the flight (internet forums advise packing one for every two hours to be safe), make sure you have sleepsuits for a hot room and a cold one.
An extra blanket is also helpful because even if you’re lucky enough to get a bassinet sky cot, sadly it doesn’t come with any comfy accessories so a spare blanket can double up as a mattress. A large muslin or something that smells of your washing powder can also help them settle in a strange environment.
Okay, okay… bear with us here! Normally I’m all for the ‘unplug your child – let him play with blades of grass and gravel’ mentality, but this is a long time for anyone to be locked indoors and asked to remain within the same 4ft area to boot. It’s worth remembering that younger babies won’t be able to see the back-seat TVs so a handheld tablet with familiar bright and colourful moving shapes will kill at least ten minutes or so. Even if you just have something to wave in their face during the dreaded ‘seatbelt restraint’ bit, you’ll be thankful.
We flew with Virgin Atlantic and they were hugely supportive of two stressed-out first-time parents travelling with a baby on board. Finn even got a peak at the Upper Class cabin but let’s hope he doesn’t start getting ideas… Mummy’s still on maternity leave!
If you’ve got your own dribbling explorer in tow, follow our adventures here and if you’ve got any tips, tricks or advice to offer, drop me a line in the talkback comments section below.
Just like skiing, my basic plan is to focus on where I’m going, stay on my feet and enjoy the ride.