Saturday, May 7, 2011

Flying Alone with a Baby or Toddler

We live in Israel and my family all live in London. After the initial visits by my parents and sister, to see DD when she was just born, we quickly established that it was cheaper and more beneficial for a greater number of people if we travelled to London see them rather than them coming here. The clincher was that DD flew for 10% of the adult air-fare until she was two years old. For us that meant $660 instead of the $1200 it would have cost my parents to come to us. We took full advantage of this arrangement and I flew four times with DD before her second birthday. Now that she is two we will not be such frequent flyers. We'll have to constantly be on the lookout for deals and savings on Orbitz.

The first time we went was for the Passover holiday in April when DD was four months. This was the easiest trip as she was used to just sitting on my lap and observing the world. I had to ask the man next to me to hold her whilst I fastened my seatbelt, and again when I made up a bottle of formula, but he didn't mind. We went again at 10 months, 16 months (for Passover again) and at 23 months for my nephew's Bar Mitzva. Each age has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some useful things to know.

1. You can take the buggy with you right up until you board the plane. When you come off the other end it is waiting for you as you enter the terminal. Having the buggy with you as you go through the airport is essential as there are long walks and an exhausted child can sleep. Also, there are times when you need to busy yourself with passports, lugguage, etc... It is invaluable to have your child safely strapped into the buggy.

2. Do not plan or offer to buy any duty free for yourself or anyone else. Buy all your (light-weight) presents beforehand and pack them in your main lugguage. Even if your child falls asleep in the buggy and you have time to shop - you have enough to schlepp without adding bottles of perfume and plonk.

3. When you get to the airport check in your lugguage and go straight through passport control and security to the departure lounge. You will have got through the tedious queuing part whilst you are both still fresh. And there is plenty to see and do on the other side. There are long walks to the departure gates - encourage toddler to walk and run all the way. The idea is to tire her out so that she will sleep on the plane as much as possible. I play a continuous game of friendly 'chase' for almost the whole hour before departure.

4. I have not had the courage to use the cheap air-fare carriers when travelling alone with such a small child even though you can get great deals. You want to know that the cabin crew will help you if you need it - sometimes there are steps down from the plane and I need help (in the winter I have my hand-lugguage, the nappy bag, my coat, and a young child). Also the serving of snacks and a meal provide some structured activity to keep your child occupied for some of the journey. As do the films and complimentary colouring book and crayons (let's make a card for Grandma!).

5. Tiny  babies are the easiest. Up to four months you can order a sky cot that fixes to the wall in front of you. You have to hold the baby during take-off, landing, and turbulance. The only disadvantage is that just as she gets off to sleep there is bound to be turbulance and you have to pick her up. You can ask a nice lady or stewardess to hold your baby while you go to the loo in a way that you would not leave her with a stranger in any other situation as they can't run off with her on a plane. When she is more mobile it is great to have a bit of leg room for her to play on the floor. The window seat one row behind the emergency door is ideal because there are only two seats instead of three next to the door. You can ask your travel agent to pre-book this seat for you.

6. You are allowed to take bottles of baby milk or formula on the plane. Security will ask you to taste each bottle to make sure that it really is milk. Take more than you need in case of delays. Also planes are very dehydrating so your child should drink a lot. DD was having one bottle of formula a day in addition to breast feeding right from the beginning and I found it easier not to breast feed on the plane. You may want to pre-express.

7. Take far more nappies than you think you will need in case you are delayed for several hours. And change the baby just before boarding the plane. There is a changing table that folds down in one of the toilets but the less you have to use it the better. Having said that - one trip to the loo and a nappy change can kill another 20 minutes. It may be worth putting a slightly older child into pull-ups even when they are toilet trained as there is sometimes a longish queue for the loo. Dress your child in clothes with easy access.

8. We take small picture books and plenty of snacks with us on the plane. You may not be able to eat yourself when you have a child on your lap (under twos do not get a seat and there is not room to bring down the table - last time I just took the cold tray without the hot part and my neighbour kindly shared his table) and the food isn't necessarily what babies like. DD likes plain pasta shells in a tupperware, cucumber sticks, apple slices and crackers or cream cheese sandwiches (nothing offensive smelling like salami or tuna!). Most of it doesn't get eaten but we are prepared!

9. Do not be afraid to ask for assistance if you need it - most people are happy to help. In a long queue situation it is perfectly acceptable to find a staff member and say: I'm travelling alone with a young child, would it be possible to bypass the queue? It often is and other travellers really don't mind.

10. Remember that it bothers you more when your child cries (screams even) on the plane than it does the other passengers. Most of them are thinking : Glad that's not my child so I don't have to deal with it. They put on their headphones and tune out.

11. Some people prefer to travel at night as they say the children sleep throughout the journey. My experience was that, having told DD we were going home, she stood in the aisle and pointed towards the door, screaming, "HOME!" not understanding that the plane was actually moving. When she thought I didn't understand she tried to explain, "HOME MUMMY, BED!" It was 2am and the poor child was exhausted. All I could do was try to tell her that there was no bed, bed was sleeping on mummy's lap. It was futile until she eventually conked out. Next time we are taking a daytime flight. BTW - a stupid woman across the aisle asked me: Is she always like this? I replied: I don't usually keep her up till 2am so I wouldn't know (refraining from adding: you stupid cow).

12. If you are going somewhere civilised, plan a trip to a local supermarket rather than schlepping a fortnight's worth of nappies and formula with you. Ditto baby shampoo and wet wipes. And pouring boiling water over cleaned bottles and letting them sit for five minutes is just as good as sterillising.

That's it - enjoy your holiday. This post was submitted to the BMB Carnival, Travelling With Children and hosted by Emma at Me, The Man & The Baby.


  1. Lucky you that your pushchair has been waiting for you - mine never is - often arrives 2 days later... or with British Airways it comes to the carousel - so if you are transferring you have to go out and then go through security again and in the meantime you are shlepping your hand luggage and a small child. Last time I tried it didn't even turn up at the end journey and I just abandoned the pushchair - it was an old crappy one we had once been given at Manchester airport when ours failed to turn up... could not be bothered standing in line to report it missing. Just wanted to get home.

    1. Even the best plans can go awry but it's definitely easier to be prepared. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Great post! I travelled by air with a small baby and then 2 small kids a lot (a few years ago - mine are 11 and 9 now) as my husband's mother was very ill in America (and we live in the UK). I often flew solo with them so I understand the challenges all too well! I think the hardest part is when they need to sleep but they're too big for the fold-down cot. Or when they need a sleep but are too well established in their home routine to consider kipping on an airplane seat without a major screaming fit first. Ah, I rememebr it well. Exhausting.

  3. Hi Just found your blog- hope you don't mind me tagging along for a while.

    Having flown long haul from London to SE Asia with a small child aged form 4months to nearly two I echo all of your advice!!!! So much easier with a baby! I have had different experiences with buggy's and airlines as well.

    I also found Heathrow to be very family unfriendly compared to Schipol, Kula Lumpur, Singapore even Stavanger!

    Happy traveling! And wet wipes are a must at any age!!! My DD is heading towards four!

    Eeek - also a single mum approaching 40

  4. Eek - not at all, you are very welcome. I have to confess that I chickened out of travelling this year, we'll try again when DD is three!