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We are going to have our first flight with our 6 month-old child. The flight will be 12 hours long.

Is there anything we need to pay special attention to? Anything we might overlook?

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Ok, so we just came back from our holidays. The tips given here were really helpful. However, we found out our child was afraid of the dark : since it was a night flight, they dim the lights during take-off. Unfortunately, we found that out when they put the lights back on, when we reached the cruising altitude. Apart from that, all went fine.

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You should provide more information. Some children are noisy, some are quiet, some have poppy ears. No kid is the same! :) –  Aditya Somani Jun 16 at 9:12
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@AdityaSomani: unfortunately, it's difficult to find that out before the first flight! –  Jonas Jun 16 at 9:27
    
@Jonas Haha. I can understand. I'm not old enough to be a father yet. =P –  Aditya Somani Jun 16 at 10:39
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If flying long haul, consider taking something like a Bumbo. We put it on the floor between us when we flew from UK to Australia with our 6 month old. –  vegemite4me Jun 16 at 12:17
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You've read through the children tag? travel.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/children - after that you can ask more specific questions. This one is really too broad. –  Kate Gregory Jun 16 at 13:27

10 Answers 10

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Before you travel - book early

  • Make sure to book early enough so that you can get seats with access to a bassinet (travel cots). You need to call the airline directly to reserve such seats. Note that a travel cot/bassinet does not count as a seat for the baby. You'll still have to hold the kid during take-off and landing.
  • If you do not manage to get a bassinet, bring a baby carrier onto the plane so that you can strap the baby onto you, so that you don't have to hold him/her the entire time.
  • If you do want to shell out for an seat for the baby, check ahead of time whether your car seat will fit (hint: in some low-cost carriers, it may not, since the seats are too narrow).

Before you travel - be aware of the rules and regulations

  • You are usually allowed to take e.g. breast milk with you through security check (TSA link - while security procedures are similar in many places, check you local regulations as well). You can use that to take non-breastmilk liquid for babies as well.
  • You can usually check-in a car seat at no additional cost (even though you have not paid for a seat for the child). Pack it in a sturdy plastic bag, not all airlines will provide you with one.
  • You can usually bring a foldable (but not detachable) stroller directly to the gate, which helps you to limit your child's mobility, if needed. The stroller will have to be gate-checked, which tends to be a bit less of a damage-risk. Check with the airline, though.

At the airport

  • You need to check bags anyway (diapers, lots of baby clothes...); limit the amount of carry-on luggage so that you have your hands free for the kid (and the stroller, and the toys the kid just threw away as you hurry towards the gate).
  • The airport may have fast-track queues for families with small children, as well as special waiting areas. Use them!
  • Although you are allowed to pre-board, you may want to choose to board at the very end only, especially if the child is already mobile and doesn't like to be confined to its seat while waiting for other passengers to find their seat. Of course, if you're worried about having enough space for your cabin luggage, enjoy pre-boarding :)

During the flight

  • Relax. Your child will most likely cry, and some people may be offended by that, but hey, tough luck for them. Feeling stressed out to have to calm the child, or yelling at him/her to shut up will only make matters worse.
  • Note that you need to hold the child facing you during take-off and landing (unless the child is in its own seat), so that can be a good time for (breast-)feeding the child, since the swallowing helps with ear pressure (you can, but don't have to be, lucky in that your kid does not suffer much from pressure change).
  • Make sure there is a vomit bag in your seat pocket, and that you can grab it reasonably quickly. In my personal experience, the most critical period for vomiting is either during or right after landing.
  • Remember there are lots of people who think babies are cute, and would love to hold the little bundle of joy, while you go to the bathroom, or relax for a moment. Let them help you.
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Be aware that these basinets are complimentary, scarce and not certain in case of equipment change –  andra Jun 16 at 10:16
    
@andra: plus in certain airlines the crew is so notouriosuly lazy that you have a really hard time getting them to setup that thing for you –  PlasmaHH Jun 16 at 10:36
    
Note that what the TSA allows onto a plane in the USA is not necessarily what other authorities allow onto planes in other jurisdictions. The question doesn't mention the USA. –  David Richerby Jun 17 at 17:20
    
@DavidRicherby: good point, I'll clarify this. Note that if the TSA allows something, chances are high that other authorities allow it as well. –  Jonas Jun 18 at 7:16
    
@Jonas As a general rule of thumb, yes. Firearms in checked luggage would be the major exception (not relevant, here). –  David Richerby Jun 18 at 8:06

First, congratulations on choosing your time to fly well, traveling with a 6-month-old is about as easy as it gets! They're big enough to sleep fairly well and not to cry randomly anymore, but not mobile yet, and small enough to fit into a bassinet, calm down with breastfeeding/a bottle, and not need much in the way of entertainment. Once they're one or so, none of these will be true, and it takes until around 3 until they have an attention span longer than a goldfish.

Onto the tips:

  1. Book a baby bassinet. Most airlines will have these on long-haul flights (your 12-hour flight certainly qualifies) and they're free, but you have to book in advance. As a bonus, since bassinets are always bulkhead seats, you get a little free extra space.
  2. Find your airline and airport's stroller policies. Some let you bring a stroller all the way to the gate. Many provide free loaner strollers on departure and/or arrival. Virtually all will let you check one in free of charge.
  3. Bring a baby carrier (Baby Bjorn etc). Really handy when trying to put them to sleep, standing in immigration lines, etc.
  4. Request a baby meal, but cover your bases and bring a backup meal or two as well. If you're using formula, you'll need to bring your own, but crew can give you water and/or warm up the bottle for you.
  5. Book a night flight if you can. They, and you, will sleep better. (That said, there's a minority of babies that hate sleeping on planes, and their parents find day flights easier. YMMV.)
  6. Bring lots of diapers. Air pressure changes can do strange things to little digestive systems. Airlines may have diapers, but even if they do, they're highly unlikely to be a good fit.
  7. Don't worry about the ears. Unless they are or have recently been sick with an ear infection, babies will not get dangerous amounts of ear pressure on flights, and if sleeping, you do not need to wake them up for takeoff/landing.
  8. Make friends with your seatmates. If they're also in the bulkhead row, they're probably parents as well, and they can look after your baby for a moment if you need to pop into the bathroom etc.
  9. Bring only completely silent toys. Anything that rattles, squeaks etc will be really loud on a night flight when everybody else is trying to sleep.
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Very nice list (also much better looking than mine). I have never had good experiences with the baby/kid's meal; the standard meal tends to work better with my kids. I know of babies who apparently do get ear pain on flights, my 3 never did seem to have issues, though. –  Jonas Jun 16 at 9:57
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I'll have to disagree with you on one point: babies do get ear pain from the pressure changes during flight. Crying relieves the pressure (and pain), but a quieter solution is to give the baby something to suck on during climb and descent, which also relieves the pressure. –  Mark Jun 16 at 9:59
    
@Mark, it's a very popular myth, but no, a healthy baby will not get ear pain. See flyingwithchildren.blogspot.ch, "Ears and Altitude", written by someone with way more experience with babies and airplanes than all of us combined. –  jpatokal Jun 16 at 10:14
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@jpatokal: I'd go with "kids are different" here - a cousin's child did, in fact, have issues with pressure change when going from ~300m to >2000m by car (annoying, since they owned a chalet). While ear pain is likely much less frequent than what people think (e.g. they may just be reacting to their parents' stress), it can be there and it can be bad. Also, I don't see the "myth" part mentioned in the article you linked, just the overuse of "it's probably the ears". –  Jonas Jun 16 at 10:56
    
@jpatokal The blog does not state that healthy babies will not get ear pain. The blog states that healthy babies will not get ear damage, and hence messures that involves waking the baby or keeping the baby awake to relieve pressure is unhelpful. Also, if the baby is at risk of ear damage due to pressure, like if it has or recently had an ear infection, sucking will be insufficient. –  Taemyr Jun 16 at 13:21

You need to provide more details on what you already have considered and make your question a bit more specific. I can't know what you might overlook if you don't say what you have looked at already.

But, there is one thing which I can recommend is that if you can afford it is to buy your infant a seat on its own. Especially on a 12 hour flight, things aren't that comfortable with an infant on your lap.

Airlines do allow bringing a car seat and your trip will be so comfortable if your kid has its own seat. Some airlines do have special baby beds, but typical this is limited. So if you don't book ahead you might miss out on flight with more infants.

The downside of buying your infant a seat is the price. Airlines usually have very limited reductions on children fares. Usually you pay the adult fare.

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With a 6-month-old baby, you don't need to pay for a seat, as most airlines provide bassinets free of charge. These have to be requested in advance though. –  jpatokal Jun 16 at 9:19
    
@jpatokal that is true but usually there are more infants then basinets and even with a reservation you are not sure of one in case of equipment change. After two miserable flights for me and my surrounding passengers, I always recommend buying a seat for your infant. It is so worth the costs. –  andra Jun 16 at 10:15
    
Either you've been unlucky or I've been lucky, since we've never had a problem getting a bassinet on a long flight. Many airlines allocate them by age, with the youngest babies getting priority. Flying mostly with decent (read: non-American) airlines probably helped though... –  jpatokal Jun 16 at 10:24
    
@jpatokal lets go for me being unlucky. I have a friend who works in the airline industry with the opinion that children below 5 y of age don't belong in a plane. Being addicted to travel myself and hoping to infect my children with the same addiction, I disagree, but he has a point that flying with infants is never fun. After my share of mishaps no basinet or car seat not accepted after boarding, I have two simple rules 1. a seat per person and 2. no Ryanair ever again. My dislike of Ryanair has nothing to do with infants, it is just the other rule. –  andra Jun 16 at 10:41
    
@andra: I've flown frequently, and I guess you may just not be that lucky - I've had plenty of luck when booking a few months in advance, and my kids seem to be ok-ish sleepers on the plane. Flying with infants has never been a big problem; it's when they don't want to sit still while the plane is de-iced that it can become a headache. –  Jonas Jun 16 at 12:48

Take care of yourself before the flight, rest. Be prepared that you won't get any sleep in those 14/16 hours of travel. If the seatbelt sign is on children aren't allowed in the bassinets, and you will have to take them out, and strap them to your seat-belt, most likely waking them. My wife had the luxury of a bumpy-flight and getting the (finally sleeping) baby out of the bed 4 or 5 times, waking it up etc.
Also be prepared for enthusiastic cabin personnel and 'locals'. We have a daughter with blond European-styled hair, and in Tokyo and Shanghai we could have made a fortune if we asked people to pay for a picture, I heard from a colleague that has an Asian-type child, that got a lot of attention in Europe. These people mean no harm but are genuinely excited to see such a little one. It can however be frightening.

All in all travelling with small ones was always not as hard as we thought up front (24-36 hour trips), however you should be prepared to 3 days of recovery afterwards taking care of your jet-lag as well as the baby's jet-lag.

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Good points! Kids' jet-lag tends to get underestimated, especially if parents are so used to traveling that they feel very little jet-lag anymore. –  Jonas Jun 17 at 7:38

If at all possible, book a separate seat for your baby and use a car seat or something similar.

The NTSB strongly advises this for the safety of your child, as discussed over on the Aviation Stack.

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The odds of being in an airline crash, defined as being on a commercial airline flight that ends in at least one death, are 1 in 3.4 million (0.00003%) per planecrashinfo.com/cause.htm. The cost of an extra seat for a 12-hour flight is probably north of $1000. Simple cost-benefit analysis says there are much better ways to use that money, like (say) buying a safer car. –  jpatokal Jun 16 at 13:37
    
There's more than crashes - turbulence, rough landings. Maybe not deadly, but your kid could get hurt. A compromise would be booking a flight with an expectancy of vacancies, but on a 12-hour flight, that's not very likely to happen. Perhaps OP could use a baby carrier-type car seat, stow it if all seats are full and use if possible. –  SQB Jun 16 at 13:43
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Per airsafe.com/cabin/turb.htm, in the US there are on average 7 flights a year with serious injuries caused by turbulence, out of ~9 million flights flown, or 0.0007%. Sure, it's possible that you end up on one of these and that a car seat would prevent an injury they'd get if in a bassinet or infant belt... but it's far more likely they'll get injured in a boring old car crash the next time you drive to the supermarket, and thus you're better off spending the money guarding against that risk, no? –  jpatokal Jun 16 at 13:52
    
I tend to agree with @jpatokal's comment but +1 for the link to the aviation.SE page, which contains a lot of solid references. Maybe the case isn't as clear cut as it seems. –  Relaxed Jun 17 at 11:05

Be prepared to be vomited on. Bring changes of clothes for you and the infant.

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This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. –  Vince Jun 17 at 5:55
    
Well, actually it is a relevant and useful piece of advice. The first and last time my second child projective vomited was on a long-haul flight, all over his mother... –  jpatokal Jun 18 at 5:34
    
I don't know how it is not an answer to "Is there anything I might overlook?" Both times I traveled with my young infant, he vomited on himself and me. The first time, his spare clothes were in the carry-on. but mine weren't. –  RB Turner Jun 18 at 15:43

Best of luck to you. Before they start crawling is the best age to travel and if only on breast milk that will always get past airport security but mom must take care of herself. Our doctor, with considerable experience himself, suggested a little Benadryl (or generic) would help with any sniffles if that is going on, and in any case make the little one a little drowsy as well contributing to a quiet flight.

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The jury is still out regarding Benadryl's safety and effectiveness: babyzone.com/baby/travel-with-baby/… –  jpatokal Jun 17 at 7:28

I've done this before. Good luck!

First of all, do not worry about your child crying. I got self conscious about people looking at me when my daughter was crying, and it made the situation 10x more stressful. Anyone that has ever had children is probably not judging you because they know you can't simply force an infant not to cry.

Second, if doing infant in arms, bring some kind of strap you can wrap around your baby so he/she feels buckled in. On our first flight, we didn't know the rule that you can't share the seat belt with your baby, so I had her on my lap with the strap over her lap so we were buckled in together. She did fine on that one.

On the second flight, a stewardess informed me that wasn't allowed, so I couldn't buckle her. Then she kept squirming and whining for the whole flight. I think when she was buckled in that she felt like she was in a car and knew she just needed to sit. But when she was loose, she couldn't sit still.

If you can afford a seat for her, bring a car seat. This is ideal for her comfort and your sanity.

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"Anyone that has ever had children" .. or has been around them. So basically, anyone and everyone. –  Burhan Khalid Oct 7 at 13:01
    
"On our first flight, we didn't know the rule that you can't share the seat belt with your baby, so I had her on my lap with the strap over her lap so we were buckled in together. She did fine on that one." Err... That's because you didn't actually need the seatbelt. Had you done so (i.e. if you'd crashed), your forward momentum would've crushed her against the belt and caused her serious injury. It is extremely dangerous to "share" a seatbelt, that's why it is forbidden, it's not just some dumb rule. –  Owen Boyle Dec 3 at 13:17

The single greatest piece of advice I've ever received was when I was preparing to travel (14hr flight) with our 5 month old. Bring a nursing pillow! Yes it is bulky and annoying when moving through the airport, but once you're on the flight and the little one is sleeping comfortably in your lap, you'll be thankful.

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A good idea is mashing up sleeping pills (like alprazolam) and feeding it to her somehow.
My baby refused to consume it directly, she spit it out and threw a fit so I had to outwit her like a little dog: I completely mashed up the sleeping pill and put it in her drinking bottle with a shot of whisky to make her unable to notice the medicines taste.
Amazingly she still noticed the bitter taste in the drink, when I myself could not, but if you time things right to let her empty the drink right before you board you have a nice and quiet time. I swear she looked up to me with the thought: "Are you trying to trick me again, stupid adult?" But she can't resist whisky so I used that to overcome the resistance.

Babys are very small though so you need to be careful not to give her too much.
Adults have the following upper recommendation: "0.5 mg given three times daily.".
I guess they are talking about a ~80kg adult, so for a baby that would be just a tiny bit of the tablet.
When doing this regularly you will find out the proper dosage not to make her comatose but keep her quiet, calm and sleepy. You might start training right now to be ready for the flight! Don't forget to keep growing the dosage in accordance with the babys growth.

I have learned that alcohol is less reliable: Babys sometimes get even more angry on it instead of becoming calm! Benzodiazepines seem to offer consistent relief.

But be careful to only do this once or twice a week: Addicted babys are EXTREMELY annoying and might lead you to further escalate the usage as I have seen with some of my fellow mothers.

With that technique you will end up having a MUCH better time with your babies.
Good luck!

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