“It was like a nightmare! I tried everything but my baby was crying incessantly. Everyone was looking at me as if I had committed a crime by bringing a baby on board the flight.”
A new mother put this on her Facebook status and her friends promptly consoled her with comments like ‘It happens to everyone!’ and ‘You couldn’t have done anything, anyway.’ But I wondered if it was true. During my travels, I’ve seen many toddlers and infants who were better behaved than some adult passengers!
Flying for the first time can be overwhelming for both parents and children but travelling with an infant need not be as daunting a task as is feared. There are ways to make it less stressful for everyone involved. True, the preparations you need to make may take longer than the actual flight duration, but the effort is totally worthwhile.
Why do babies cry during a flight?
There are several reasons why babies cry during a flight. The most cited reason is ‘change in air pressure’, which hurts their ears. Other reasons are hunger, boredom, being in the midst of strangers and having to stay confined in a tiny seat for long hours.
The good news is that all these problems can be dealt with by preparing in advance. And once parents master the tricks, all trips, including the long ones, can become enjoyable experiences.
Before Boarding the Flight
1. Inform the airline in advance
It is always a good idea to let the airline know that your baby is flying for the first time. Usually, the family with the infant will be allowed to board and disembark before the others. Often, airlines also offer parents with an infant bassinet seats, if available.
2. Choose the right seat
While making reservations to fly on domestic routes, you can request an aisle seat as close to the front of the aircraft as possible. Aisle seats provide you with better mobility in case you have to get up often and walk around to soothe the baby. These seats also give you quicker access when boarding and deplaning.
But if you are flying on international routes or for long hours, you can also opt for the seats at the back of the aircraft since they offer easy access to the washroom. However, be aware that this area will be comparatively noisier than the front of the aircraft, and can disturb the sensitive little ones.
3. Pack Right
- Food: Baby feeds, milk, fruits and any other solids that your baby can eat should be packed in quantities that can see you through a few hours of delay. It is also a good idea to pack some comfort food that you can offer to the baby, in case he needs to be distracted. Remember, despite your best efforts, tantrums are always a possibility.
- Toys and entertainment: When it comes to toys and other things to distract a fractious baby, there’s no such thing as ‘too many’. But aircraft baggage rules are stringent, and you have to limit yourself. Cloth books, teething toys, crayons, blank sheets of paper and favourite soft toys are a must. An iPad with favourite films or pre-installed episodes of well-loved TV programmes can help you reach your destination without having to soothe tantrums brought on by boredom.
- Clothes: Put in an extra set for both the baby and yourself and make sure it’s easily accessible – it’s best to be prepared for episodes of vomiting and also for flight delays.
- Other necessities:
- Changing pad – so that you have a stable working surface.
- Diapers (preferably super-absorbent ones)
- Wet wipes
- Hand sanitiser
- A bag to hold soiled diapers (just in case)
- A small blanket – the temperature inside the aircraft can be rather cold for a baby.
Other hurdles to prepare for
- Be ear-ready: Babies generally get uncomfortable and cry during take-off and landing because of the change in air pressure, which hurts their ears. It is advisable to give the baby something to suck or chew during these times. It could be a pacifier, a teether or a bottle. Remember to put it into your in-flight bag.
- Feeding: A hungry baby can be cranky and a cranky baby can be quite difficult to manage at 30,000 feet above sea level. It is a good idea to feed and burp the baby right before you board the plane to help avoid a meltdown in case there is a delay in take-off. Try to give healthy food. However, if you see signs of the baby becoming irritable, offer a treat of cookies, candy, chocolate (if you’ve already introduced it) or any other comfort food that can solve the problem.
Remember, despite the most mindful preparation, the unexpected could still occur and throw you off track.
There might be long delays, baggage problems, unpredictable weather or your infant might just refuse to be distracted or soothed. Your fellow passengers may have to put up with the sound of your baby crying or whining, or being ‘battered’ by your cranky toddler as she kicks the seat in front of hers.
However, you can insure yourself against irritated or offended fellow passengers by being courteous and nice right from the time of boarding. Remember, a ‘Who cares!’ attitude won’t go down well, and you will be at the receiving end of baleful stares.
Once the baby is settled and you’ve taken the much-deserved deep breath, allow yourself to enjoy the clouds and the journey. If you are travelling with your partner, it will be a good idea to divide baby time and duties.
But if everything fails, don’t beat yourself up. There is only so much you can do to soothe a cranky baby, or a bored or frightened infant. Remind yourself that the ordeal will be over in a few hours, you will never meet your fellow passengers again, and soon you will be able to say that you have survived the first flight with your precious baby.
And don’t forget to smile when you disembark!
Deepa Garwa is an educationist, disability rights activist, writer and a mother of two. She writes about her experiences on raising her daughter with Down syndrome at www.twominuteparenting.com