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Air Travel with Infants

We know from personal experience just how nerve-wracking it can be facing your first flight with a baby or toddler.  Hopefully this mini-guide will help to relieve your anxiety by addressing some of the key concerns you may have, and giving you some useful tips.

What to Pack
Young travelers need a surprising amount of stuff! Here's a suggested packing list:

  • Nappies (One for each hour you'll be in transit, plus extras in case of delays)
  • Change mat
  • Nappie rash cream
  • Wet wipes
  • Blankets (A few)
  • Plastic bags (for soiled nappies or clothes)
  • Small bottles of disinfecting hand gel, baby wash, and baby lotion (good idea to try and keep these to a maximum of 100ml each)
  • Extra dummies (if your baby uses one)
  • A few of your baby’s favourite toys plus some surprises (Playthings that hold your child's attention the longest are your best bets, as are toys that don't have easy-to-lose parts!)
  • Surprise your toddler with a treat you don't normally allow. Tiny lollipops are a good choice as the sucking can help with ear pressure.
  • Clothes, socks, and booties/shoes (two outfits/day is a good guideline)
  • Washable/disposable bibs
  • Hat
  • Plastic feeding set with utensils, and baby food (if your baby’s eating solids)
  • Formula, water, and juice if appropriate
  • Extra bottles, teets, and sippy cups if appropriate
  • Energy-boosting snacks for you to munch on
  • Breast pump (if you use one)
  • Nightlight
    So you can keep the room lighting soothingly low during middle-of-the-night diaper changes
  • First-aid kid (pain reliever and supplies for minor injuries, plus any prescription meds)
  • Sun screen (at least SPF15 no matter what season)
  • Sling or front carrier (so you can have your hands free) or back carrier for toddlers
  • Collapsible push-chair
  • Camp cot
  • Shade screens for car back windows
  • Car seat (can sometimes be used on the plane)
  • Laundry soap in case you need to wash soiled clothes enroute

In addition, for older children:

  • Blankey or security toy
  • Portable high chair
  • Swimming costume

What to Do in Preparation for Your Trip

  • Start preparing to pack a few days before you travel. Keep a running list of things to take, or put items out on a table or dresser as you think of them.
  • Use a nappy bag with a waterproof lining and a shoulder strap.  Generally, it's adviseable to pack as if you're going on a day-trip, being careful to include the essentials.  It's sometimes tempting to overfill the nappy bag to make up for the deficit in lugguage allowance for lap babies, but you may be overwhelmed and not able to find what you need when you need it!
  • Dress the child as comfortably as possible for the flight.
  • Be prepared for leaky nappies and baby spit-up on the airplane: Tuck an extra outfit or two for your baby – and an extra shirt for you – into your carry-on bag.
  • Prevent leaks by packing medicines and toiletries in plastic bags.
  • Pack each of your baby's outfits in its own plastic bag so you don't have to hunt around for tiny socks, shirts, and so on.
  • Take a clip-on reading light so you can read without disturbing your baby.
  • Take the phone number for your baby's healthcare provider in case you have questions while you're on the road.  Also a good idea to keep your child’s health information safe with you (vaccination records etc.)
  • If your baby's ears seem to hurt from air pressure changes during takeoff and landing, encourage him to breastfeed or suck on a bottle, dummy, or sippy cup.  If your baby's sleeping soundly, leave him be and he might get through the takeoff or landing without any trouble. He'll wake up and show his discomfort if he's bothered.
  • If you're breastfeeding, pack an extra water bottle or thermos to help you stay well hydrated.
  • If you really want to be considerate, pack in a couple of sets of ear plugs for those around you, in case you have difficulty settling your baby.
  • Before you travel, find out whether your accommodations can be childproofed before you arrive. If not, you may want to consider bringing your own childproofing kit, especially things like socket protectors.

Important Questions to Ask Your Airline Before You Fly

Airline policies for families vary widely, so it is adviseable to call and ask the following questions, but be prepared for possible changes at the gate.

  • Babies typically must be at least 7 days old to fly. (Some airlines allow younger infants with a doctor's written permission; others extend the minimum age up to 14 days or have additional restrictions.)  If your baby is less than 7 days old (unlikely), you may want to check with the airline.
  • Children under age 2 must have an infant ticket, however this does not entitle them to have their own seat.  It often costs at least 10% of a regular ticket.  You will need to check what the airline policy is.
  • Is there a seat discount for a child under age 2? (This question applies if you'd like to pay for a seat for your child rather than holding him in your lap during the flight.)
  • Children ages 2 and up must have a ticket for their own seat.  Does the airline offer seat discounts for children 2 and older? If so, for what ages?
    Will the airline require proof of your child's age and identity? If so, what proof is required, and when do you need to present it?
  • You can usually check your collapsible push-chair in when you board and pick it up as you exit the plane, however, it’s a good idea to check your airline’s policy before your trip.
  • Can you get seats in a bulkhead row? (Bulkhead seats have more room to stand and maneuver)
  • Are bassinets available on the flight? When do you need to reserve one? (Bassinets are only available for lap babies, and can only be used in bulkhead rows.)
  • Do all of the rows in the aircraft have extra oxygen masks? If not, can you be seated in a row that does? (This is important to ask if you're traveling with a child who doesn't have his own seat.)
  • Do you allow pre-boarding for families with small children? If so, will there be a preboarding announcement or do you have to ask at the gate?
  • What baggage allowance (if any) do lap babies get?
  • Does a car seat or camp cot count against your baggage allowance?
  • Are there baby-change facilities on the aircraft? (Most large airplanes have one restroom with a changing table.)
  • Does the airline offer children's meals? What's included? How far in advance do you need to order one?
  • Will it be possible to warm your baby's bottle during the flight (if needed)?
  • Are nappies, formula, baby food, or other amenities available on board?
  • Is in-flight audio or video entertainment for children available?
  • Can your spouse or loved one get security clearance to accompany you to the departure gate if you are travelling by yourself and need assistance?
  • Does the airline offer assistance with maneuvering through the terminal when making connecting flights? How can you arrange for that?
  • In our experience, airport staff have been fairly lenient in terms of travelling with liquids for baby, but it would be prudent to check in advance what the policy is.

Helpful Considerations

  • Consider the time of day: You may want to fly during your child's naptime, or even at night, so your baby will sleep through the flight
  • Get the all clear: If your baby is ill before the   trip, have the doctor check for ear infections or other health issues before   you depart.
  • Know the rules – check airline policy re carrying formula etc. before you trave.  Depending on where you're going, you may need to declare baby food, formula and medicines.

Suggested Inflight Entertainment

Inexpensive toys for the journey could include the following:

  • Books
  • Boxes (small old ones from medication, for example, which provide endless hours of fascination!)
  • A lightweight scarf for a game of Peek-a-boo
  • A notebook and crayons
  • A small container of playdoh and some cutting shapes
  • DVD player
  • Beads/pasta and string to make bracelets/necklaces
  • Magnetic toys – magnet and board, or magnetic sticks

 Here's a list of possible games to play on the plane:

  • Go on a scavenger hunt through the airplane magazine. On each page, pick one item that your child has to locate.
  • When the flight attendant delivers drinks, ask for a cup, a couple of ice cubes, and a straw. There are endless games with this combination.
  • Get your children playing with the neighbors in front of and behind you before the plane takes off. (Peek-a-boo and kiss-blowing are hard for even the most stoic travelers to resist).
  • Pack your snacks in Tupperware and the packaging becomes a toy when the snack is done.
  • For young toddlers, screwing and unscrewing the top on a plastic water bottle is great fun (watch carefully as small tops are a choke hazard). Ask the flight attendant to bring you an empty bottle if you're not carrying one.
  • Make a hand puppet with the 'sick bag'!

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