10 Sanity-Saving Tips for Flying Overseas with a Baby

The thought of international travel with a baby is enough to keep many parents at home. Although nightmare flights do happen, most parents are relieved to discover oftentimes things go better than expected. Meticulous planning is essential. Here are 10 sanity-saving tips from the author of the award-winning guidebook and website Travels with Baby, Shelly Rivoli.

Photo Credit Lynn Davis

Get your goodies

If you’re flying a U.S. carrier, you might be lucky to get water in flight. But many foreign carriers will supply you with helpful items in flight such as baby food, infant formula, toddler snacks, and possibly even diapering packs if you contact reservations in advance. (See the airlines comparison chart in Travels with Baby for more details.)

Don’t hold your breath about the bassinet.

While you may assume that flying with an infant overseas entitles you to an airplane bassinet (usually used on the bulkhead row), there’s still a chance it might not work out. There are a limited number of bassinets per airplane, and even with an advanced reservation requesting one, they are assigned on a first-come first-served basis upon check in — and of course only to those with proper seat assignments. Don’t be late.

The bulkhead row isn’t always the best with babies

Aside from the complete lack of privacy for breastfeeding moms, babies over 4 months old, especially, who are more easily distracted and over-stimulated by passersby, galley noise, flashing movies, and other activity may never fall asleep on this row. Consider your child’s temperament and distractibility carefully before committing to a very long flight on this row of seats.

Don’t stopover without a stroller

If you’ll have a layover between flights, chances are you’ll be quite glad to have your stroller meet you at the gate — rather than checking it all the way through to your final destination. If your child had any trouble sleeping on the airplane, or it’s simply time to snooze, it could be a big help. It may also help you make way through an enormous airport in a timely manner, or eat in a restaurant without high chairs along the way.

Paper, please, for international flights with a lap child

A surprising number of people — including some travel agents and most new parents — don’t realize that a baby needs more than a passport to fly out of the USA these days. Although, you may have paid a 10% lap child fare for your baby to fly on your lap, and he is documented in your reservation and noted in your e-ticket, a lap child must also have a physical, paper ticket for international flights. And the check-in line for AirFrance is no place to learn this lesson (trust me). Make sure your lap child’s ticket will come by mail or other arrangements when you make your reservations.

Save time, ask about the changing table

If you’re in a large enough aircraft to cross the ocean, there should be at least one changing table onboard (generally one is included in all airplanes with three or more lavatories). However, it may not be in the first lavatory you access. To save time wandering around with a not-so-fresh baby in your arms or waiting for the wrong loo, ask the flight attendants upon boarding or as they make the first pass by your seats.

Relax about the ears

Of the parents I speak with, painful ear pressure is one of their biggest fears about flying with their babies — and the crying that may go along with it. Most infants’ ears will actually adjust quickly and normally without much to-do, just as yours or mine will, even doing so as they sleep during a descent in most cases. However, since babies can often sense their parents’ anxiety, being nervous about whether or not the ears will be a problem may itself prove a cause for crying. So try to stay as relaxed as possible.

Use the canopy

If your baby is flying in an infant car seat, take full advantage of that canopy to help block reading lights and turbulent air vents as they snooze in flight. One more advantage? Think of it as a portable sneeze guard.

Bring antibacterial hand wipes

Stash travel-size packs of these sanity-savers in the side of your purse or diaper bag and use to wipe down sticky trays and arm rests, help clean up after onboard baby meals, and when you finish changing that diaper? Let’s just say it’s much easier to clean your hands back at your seats than while juggling a baby in your arms at the sink in the lavatory.

Bring ear plugs … and chocolates

Though it’s always good to keep a positive mental attitude as you travel with a baby, it’s also good to be prepared for the Plan B scenario. Whether it’s over-stimulation, gas, or general crankiness that inspires your baby to perform a vocal solo somewhere over the Atlantic, your neighbors will surely appreciate your attempts to help keep them happy till the curtain falls.

Relevant Links:

Entertaining kids on planes

Family travel Europe – tips for trips with young children

Ciao Bambino recommended Europe family hotels

One Comment

  1. With a 2 year old & 7 mo old, we survived a flights from Boston to L.A., L.A. to Singapore, Singapore to Bangkok. (And are currently living in Chiang Mai.) Shelly’s book & tips were a big help! Just a few comments to add: we flew Singapore Airlines & they were great, no paper ticket for our lap child req’d though; other things to bring: little plastic bags for dirty diaper containment; a portable DVD player (suspend notions of no TV for kids for just a while); more than 1 change of clothes; and of course, sticker books, felt boards too.

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