Summer is coming and for most of us it means a summer holiday and possible airline travel. This can be scary, but there are few life hacks that makes life easier for you.
Firstly it isn’t as bad as you may think. In fact air travel with a younger child means you get less of the ‘Are we there yet?’ questions and because everything is new and exciting they can be more open to the experiences than older children. My father’s job when I was small meant we lived in New Zealand and Bangladesh and my parents took the opportunity to travel extensively. So I crossed the Pacific in an ultra-modern jet, but also flew in some propeller planes that had temporary seating because they usually transported cargo. The large jet was hard work because I took my first steps on board and my father spent the 14 hour flight bent over walking me down the aisles – something that delighted my grandmother because he had done the same to her some 30 years previously. The seats on the small plane were drop down, but I was too light to stop mine from folding back up. So my mother spent the flight holding it own. Fortunately that was for a much shorter time.
Firstly, do your research. Both of the tour operator and the destination. For example you’ll probably be expected to sit baby on your lap during your transfer from the airport to the resort. Not too much of a problem if it is a 20 minute coach journey, but for a two hour taxi ride on mountain roads I wouldn’t be happy. You may be able to take a car seat on the plane but there is no guarantee it will be compatible with the vehicle at the other end. I’d also check if it has to go in the hold because I wouldn’t trust baggage handlers to treat it as fragile. As always, this is your choice, but it is best to be making the choice before you book. But hey maybe your significant other is tired of all those amazing clothes you are buying because of recomendations from Can I Breastfeed in it? and those nightfeeds need to be filled somehow.
Of course the days of packing a couple of sundresses, four bikinis and your preferred hangover cure are on hold for a little while and babies appear to come with a lot of specialist equiment. Most planes let you use a pushchair to the plane door and collect it again as soon as you disembark. But some will specify the size, and this is usually compact. Personally, I’d recommend a sling, because the destination might not be as buggy friendly as you’d expect. Paris is a prime example, there are few lifts in the older buildings and don’t bother trying to get around on the Metro using one. As tempting as it is to think you can put a towel over the pushchair on a warm day, please don’t. This can actually create a hotspot that puts baby at risk of SIDS. I bought a pop-up tent with UV protection and ventilation. It folds flat and I can sit comfortably in it too. It was also fantastic when we went to a music festival in England as well, because it kept us warm and dry in the typical July weather.
Many airlines will offer you a baggage allowance for your baby, even if you haven’t bought them a separate ticket, and if you have bought one they will get the same allowance as an adult. But I would recommend that you mix everyone’s essentials in each of the suitcases you pack. That way if a bag goes missing no one person is stuck in the same nickers for the duration of the holiday. For a long haul flight look into a sky cot. If nothing else, you will get slightly more legroom, and no-one will be reclining their seat into your personal space. As always check and book in advance as some airlines make no guarantee even if you have booked.
When it comes to toys, try to keep the teddy bears etc at home. The chance of them being lost, or worse, dropped somewhere that requires a deep clean that can’t be done on fabric and stuffing it just too high. Do you really want to be explaining to your beloved that Roger is gone forever? I’d recommend small plastic toys like stacking cups or rattles; things that can be cleaned in a bathroom sink and sterilised using the tea kettle on the hotel room.
Unless you are going somewhere off the beaten track, you will probably be able to get a lot of baby essentials, such as nappies or wipes in the resort or local town. Of course it is a toss up between using your baggage allowance for the boring stuff, or spending time on your holiday searching out the local translation for sensitive, but you know your needs and preferences. (It’s ‘sensible’ in French by the wat, and the thought of giving baby a wipe to make him or her more sensible makes me snigger somewhat – does it work on husbands?).
Once you get to the airport the ground staff and cabin crew are there for you. Being polite and friendly can get you priority boarding, access to the VIP lounge and first in line for the freebies they can hand out. But don’t hold out for an upgrade, there are usually only the odd one or two seats available and they will be reluctant to upset full paying passengers with potentially loud or badly behaved children. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Once you are on board don’t think of the flight as say eight hours stretching out before you as a continous baby entertainer stranger placater marathon. Think of it as 16 half hour sessions (or whatever fits your child’s play routines). Some of these will be taken up with feeds and naps, but you can prepare for little activities to break up the flight. A popular method is to go to the pound shop and wrap toys or party favours that you can bring out at intervals to break the time up, but you don’t mind losing if they disappear under the seat in front of you. I’d also recommend bringing snacks, but in the original packaging so you don’t have problems with customs or security.
As the plane ascends and descends the changes in pressure can be uncomfortable for a little person’s ears, but this is where SUPERBOOBS come in handy (yet again). Feeding them at this point will get them swallowing and help their ears ‘pop’! Alternatively a drink or a dummy (if you are already using one) could help at this point or you could just yawn at them and see if it ‘catches’!
My brother was formula fed, while I was exclusively breastfed for several years. My mother found it so much easier travelling with me, less equipment, not relying on a stewardess having a free moment to make or heat formula. In fact one remarked on how she hadn’t noticed a cry on the entire journey. But you can carry bottles of milk (formula or expressed) on the plane, just don’t be surprised if you are asked to taste it at security. Most airports have a chemist after security where you can buy more ready made formula as well as the usual painkillers, colic treatment. If you plan on using powdered formula check the local guidelines for water – you may need to use bottled water and if you do you must make sure the bottled water is suitable for babies or you risk overdosing your baby with minerals. Here is some useful information. Plus, in three years of living in Bangadesh I didn’t have a single episode of traveller’s tum. And that was such a relief for my mum. The joke was you think the bottom has fallen out of your world when the world is falling out of…
You will find most countries are accepting of babies in general and breastfeeding in particular. In fact, children are a great ice breaker and are more welcome than in the UK (where we typically prefer dogs). If you are travelling in the EU, US/Canada or Australia/New Zealand on the whole your right to breastfeed in public in protected by law, but you can look here for more information. As travel to the muslim countries, such as Morroco and Dubai becomes more popular, you’d be interested to know that the Quran encourages breastfeeding for two years, but the mother is encouraged to use a shawl or cover in public. As with the pram covers and carrers, make sure you use something that has breathable fabic and also allows you to maintain eye contact.
A bit of non-baby related advice. Please make sure you get the right travel insurance, not just for the obvious cancelation or lost property, but it can cover emergency expenses if your flight is delayed – baggage handler’s strike anyone? I have also handled travel insurance claims where the cost of medical treatment and a private air ambulance home ran into tens of thousands of pounds. I have cover free with my home insurance policy, but you usually get what you pay for, so check the policy wording.
Whether you are going to the same resort as always or a country most people have never heard of, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has up to date travel advice. The information ranges from the local equivalent to the 999 emergency telephone number, the latest pick-pocketing scam or the currency you should use. The latter should be obvious, but school friends were nearly arrested in Russia for using (on the advice of the travel agents) dollars instead of roubles. Being 14 was no defence for dealing on the blackmarket.
I have very fond memories of the travel my parents undertook while I was young and I look forward to being able to share my passions with my son. Maybe that is why I have bought him three toy planes, two pilot outfits, a helicopter and a globe. For a little while we will be travelling to the airport, but just to watch the planes land and take off.