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How to master the art of flying with little ones

Before becoming parents we all think (hope) that some things in life won’t change much after baby arrives. That one thing for us was traveling. Even though our baby girl was born in the outbreak of the 2020 pandemic, I feel we still managed to do some fair traveling since then and hopefully we’ll be able to do a lot more in the near future.

Before becoming a mom I’ve always felt hesitant about parents bringing young kids with them on vacation. I’ve always thought “but they’re still too young, they won’t remember any of this”. Though now I understand. Children may not remember any of this, but their parents will. And creating memories together as a family is priceless.

Traveling solo/as a couple/with friends is a lot different than traveling with a baby. The logistics/dynamics are just nowhere to be compared. And as we now live on an island, and every time we need to go away we have to catch a flight, I feel somehow confident to give a few useful tips on bringing your little one with you.

Don’t forget the aircraft is a very stimulating environment for young children. Our daughter is currently 2 years old and loves, loves, loves airplanes, but it is very hard for her to relax and sleep while flying. It seems like she just wants to take advantage of the moment and experience every single second. We just came back from a trip abroad, where we arrived at 2 am. Guess if she had any sleep during the flight. No! Zero. She didn't close her eye for a second.

So here are a few ideas I put into practice, in order to make the journey more comfortable and enjoyable for all of us:

  • When possible, always buy an extra seat - not all companies allow you to buy an extra seat for your infant under 2yo, but if possible I highly recommend you to do so. Even though baby might feel much better in your lap, there’s no price tag to put on the comfort that extra space would give you. Also, if your car seat meets the requirements, you may take it with you inside the cabin and use it (if the company allows). We have recently bought this inflatable car seat to use mostly during trips and love it. We've tested it inside an aircraft as well and worked wonders for baby girl's comfort.

  • Choose wisely your flight schedule - I know this is not always doable, but when possible opt for a flight that would match your little one’s nap time or - an overnight one for long haul. If you have a long connection, check the option to leave the airport so that your baby/toddler would have a little change in the scenario. Consider taking them to a near by park or playground, or just for a walk outside (some big shopping centers use to have a playground area as well). Might feel really refreshing for both of you. Just don't forget to add to your schedule the travel time needed to get back to the airport - you don't need any extra stress.

  • Keeping bed time routine from home might not always be the best ideia - for instance, once I closed the window shade in order to say “goodbye” to the birds and clouds as we do at home, but instead of helping my daughter relax, she found a new entertainment activity - opening and closing the window shade.

  • It’s important to not have unrealistic expectations - most times your baby won’t fall asleep right after you board the plane. They would need time to adjust and get used to their surroundings. Give them the chance to do so without feeling nervous they would get overtired

  • Noise cancelling headphones - in-flight communications tend to be quite loud sometimes, so this is a great way to make sure you cut the noise of it. Just make sure you put them on once your child is asleep - otherwise they might decide to start playing with them

  • White noise - some people might think you don’t need a white noise inside the aircraft. In parts it’s true, however having a white noise on would help disguise other peoples noise around

  • Blanket - although some companies might offer you a blanket and a pillow once you board with an infant, this is not the case everywhere. So bringing yours always comes handy. Even if it’s just to make a tent and play

  • Snacks - not all companies offer child-friendly food options, so bringing your own snack is essential. And it not necessary should be cookies and chips. There are nutritious options, too. Think of cooked beans, omelette cut in cubes, dry fruits and nuts (depending on child’s age), grapes cut accordingly, blueberries… Put them in a compartment box for pills and you have one colorful and playful lunch/snacks box

  • Extra set of clothes - if you’re already a parent, this is not a news for you. We’ve already had a few situations where we had to use them. After a massive blowout for example, some of the clothes had to be left behind. However, always opt for a colorful (think busy pattern) clothes, specially pants. Once my daughter was playing with the water bottle and after opening it, she got all wet. And just a few minutes after changing her clothes, her diaper leaked and I was out of extra pants. It was summer, so temperatures at the destination were high, so it would not be a problem if her clothes were a bit wet. Of course, I’d rather water-wet than pee-wet. So I tried to dry her leggings on the aircraft window - even if they weren’t completely dry, they were colorful so you weren’t able to see they were actually wet.

  • No straw bottle - you better opt for a 360 cup instead, or just a regular water bottle, as water goes up the straw from the pressure inside the aircraft and will blow out once you open the bottle

  • Bring entertainment - don’t expect your child will spend the entire flight sleeping. In a perfect world that would be the case, but it’s just not realistic. Of course it all depends on your child’s age and character, but if they’ve passed the newborn stage, lower your expectations and be prepared to entertain them. If you, like myself, are trying to limit/not offer at all any kinds of screens, here are some ideias that might help you:

  • books - bath books and toys are a great choice as they are super easy to clean after falling (several times) on the floor. Specially if your child is still on the phase where they put everything in their month. Interactive and 3D books also catch children’s attention very easily. Some children might enjoy audiobooks, though don’t try this for the first time on the plane. The most important thing is you offer them new books. Something they are not tired of already

  • stickers - a great way for practicing fine motor skills. Give your child freedom to decorate the aircraft according to their taste. It might be really fun to “plant” a flower at the window for example. Of course, be respectful and make sure you take them down before leaving. Reusable stickers are a great option

  • drawing - for younger children it would be just scribbling, yet it’s a great way for them to showcase their artistic side. I personally love this kind of “no messy” drawing toys and magic water books. Older toddlers might really enjoy some nice coloring books

  • play dough - very interactive activity and not so messy one. Usually you’d be able to reuse the play dough and it’s easy to clean after

Basically, think about “quiet games” - all those activities you usually offer your child when you want to calm them down, sometimes before putting them down to sleep. Be respectful of other passengers and leave the noisy toys at home.

Hopefully, this read have calmed your anxious mind and you have found some ideas that apply to your parenting style. Do not overthink. Go with the flow and trust your child - let them lead you. Let go of all those “what will others think” thoughts and enjoy your time with your little one. Take every opportunity to bond and spend quality time with them and remember - even if they might not remember this, you will.

Happy flights

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