I’m so annoyed that flying with babies and toddlers is still such a contentious issue. I very rarely rant on the interwebs (anymore) but over the past couple of days I’ve witnessed incredible family travel highs (hello, JetBlue’s #FlyBabies) and lows (hello, death stare Grandma and the plane-floor-peeing toddler) so bear with me.
In the nine years that I’ve been online, in spite of my best efforts, not a damn thing seems to have changed. All we see in the media are the extremes: from the legendary infants who scream non-stop with parents who calmly peruse magazines, to a mother of 5-week-old twins who was so worried about being “that mom” on the plane that she took it upon herself to create Pinterest-worthy goody bags to prevent ill will from adults who should really be offering her a hand if they were any sort of good person.
So based on my nine years of (hopefully) inspiring, motivating, and helping families travel with babies, toddlers, and young children, and not wanting to seem like an apologist for genuinely horrific behaviour on planes (hello, death-stare Grandma with the plane-floor-peeing toddler), I feel the need to reiterate my tips for flying with babies and toddlers in context with recent headlines.
10 Dos & Don’ts for Flying with Babies and Toddlers:
- Do – arrive at the airport with plenty of time to sort out any seating issues, clear security, and take advantage of any pre-boarding your airline may offer. Extra time also allows you to manage any inconveniently-timed diaper blowouts or spit-up issues without stressing about the time.
Don’t – expect any help, from anyone. When flying with babies and toddlers I’ve adopted a “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst” mindset that leaves me genuinely surprised and grateful for any kindness and assistance that is extended. And it HAS been extended many times.
- Do – try to schedule your flights for when your baby will sleep, or when they are most likely to be in a cheerful mood. Be prepared to be busy while en route, and view any on-board sleeping to be a bonus.
Don’t – ignore your baby’s tiredness, or assume that just because it’s naptime that they’ll doze off. They either won’t at all, or when they finally do it will be just as you’re landing. Also, if you’re thinking of starting sleep training, postpone it until after your trip.
- Do – recreate your bedtime routine while en route on a red eye. That can mean changing into jammies, a story, and then a nurse or bottle. Keep stimulating distractions to a minimum and cut out light as best you can (lower shades, turn out reading lights, etc.)
Don’t – pop an Ativan and expect to doze off the second you’re airborne. Or worse, give your toddler the Ativan and be annoyed when they get sick instead of fall asleep.
- Do – be attentive to your baby and keep him or her busy. A comfortable and engaged baby is likely to be a quiet and happy one.
Don’t – pack treats or goody bags or buy drinks for your fellow adult passengers who are perfectly capable of managing their own comfort and safety needs. Flying with babies is stressful enough, you don’t need to look after the grown ups too.
- Do – pack in your carry-on the food and/or formula you will need for the duration of your travel day, and bring LOTS of extra to tide you over in case of delays. We’ve all heard those stories of planes being stuck on the tarmac for hours; now imagine that’s you with a bottle-fed baby and running low on formula…
Don’t – assume it will be easy to find baby- or toddler-appropriate food, drinks, and snacks anywhere in the airport or on the plane. It won’t. Unless your two-year-old will actually eat those odd corn chip/flax seed things and drink tomato juice.
- Do – offer healthy snacks that your baby will be happy to eat and enjoy, and toddlers are usually VERY excited to see chips and cookies being offered as a treat. Does that sound like bribery? Ummm…
Don’t – offer lots of sugary treats or juice. Nobody needs to be dealing with a sugared-up toddler at 30,000 feet for three hours. Least of all you! Save the lollipops for landing, since you’ll be getting off soon anyway.
- Do – pack enough diapers in your carry-on (I always did one per hour of the flight, just to be safe) with plenty of wipes, plastic bags, and hand sanitizer, and keep a changing kit at the ready in the seat pocket in front of you so you can just grab it and go. Change tables are usually located in the restrooms at the rear of the plane, and it is usually small and incredibly awkward to manouevre in there. Older babies might fare better with pull-on diapers, you can stand them on top of the closed toilet lid, after you wipe it (and everything your baby might touch) with anti-bacterial wipes, of course.
Don’t – for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t assist your toddler in peeing on the floor, help your son to pee in an airsickness bag, or cover your seat in newspapers and let your toddler poop on them. Even changing the most innocuous diaper on your airplane seat is so rude and gross. Please don’t do it.
- Do – ensure you have an airsickness bag in your seat pocket. No, not for pee (see above), but for the inevitable vomit that will come out of nowhere even from a child who rarely vomits. Also, do have a change of clothes in your carry-on for baby and for the person likely to be holding said baby when he or she vomits (you).
Don’t – feed vomit-prone babies and toddlers dairy products (stinks SO BAD), or pasta (impossible to remove bits of vomit pasta from fabric). Which is annoying since they are the two things my son will consistently eat. But I did not enjoy wearing them after they sat in his stomach for two hours.
- Do – embrace technology, and enjoy the fact that a gazillion books, movies, and games can now be found in a slim little tablet computer instead of the carry-on bag that used to break my back in the olden-days.
Don’t – forget to pack some “old school” distractions like crayons and colouring pads, and even a travel Etch-A-Sketch. Offer those first, because once you bring the tech out, it’s hard to go back to sticker books.
- Do – realize, that in spite of all your amazing organization and preparedness, your flight might still be a sh*tshow and you will be THAT MOM with the screaming infant who’s ruining everyone’s flight.
Don’t – stop focusing on your baby and his or her needs and don’t make eye contact with anyone low enough to shoot a stressed-out parent some cuteye instead of a helping hand. You’ll never see these people again, anyway.
TL;DR: Be organized and be prepared. And for everyone else? Be cool, man.