Traveling with a baby is an exciting and rewarding experience, but we also know it can be stressful, especially when it comes to long haul flights. As a parent, you want your baby to be comfortable and happy throughout the flight, but understandably it's not usually easy to achieve this. However, with enough preparation, you can survive (and even thrive) in a long haul flight with your baby! In this article, we'll share our top tips and tricks for making the most of your long haul flight with your baby, including how to pack smart, plan for delays, manage sleep schedules, and keep your baby entertained. Whether you're a first-time parent or a seasoned parent traveler, we hope this guide will help you have a (nearly) stress-free journey with your little one.
I. Packing Smart for your Personal Item (Plan for delays!)
Your personal item is the diaper bag that you’ll keep with you 24/7 under the seat in front of you, and it's important to pack it smartly to ensure that you have easy access to everything your baby and you need during the flight. We strongly recommend creating a comprehensive packing list beforehand before you pack a single item, and approaching the list in 5 major categories:
- Food: Make sure you have more than you need and pack extra to accommodate for delays.
- Entertainment: Pack a diverse mix of NEW and small toys, books, and activities, especially if they are 6 months or older.
- Clothes: Pack 2 full extra outfits for your little one, and an extra top for you in case of an inevitable accident.
- Diapers changing items: Bring 1.5x diapers you expert to use, diaper wipes, a changing pad, diaper cream. We recommend using the Sidekick to keep all these items organized, compact, and easily accessible.
- Personal & Hygiene Items: Do not forget to bring the personal items you need for yourself, as well as hygiene items to keep your little one’s environment and hands as germ-free as possible.
For a thorough packing guide on how to pack your personal item, check out our in depth guide on how to pack for a trip with your little one: The Only Diaper Bag Packing List You'll Need for Flying with Your Baby.
To make packing and staying organized effortless, The Getaway Bag is an award-winning travel bag designed specifically for parents traveling with babies, as it has multiple compartments to keep your items accessible and easy-to-find. It's also made with durable and water-resistant materials, so you can be sure your belongings will stay safe and dry. With a backpack like this, you'll be well-equipped to handle any situation during the flight.
Prioritizing packing smart for your personal item will ensure you have everything you need at your fingertips – which will make the overall flight with your little one as smooth as possible!
II. Packing Smart for Your Carry-On (Expect the unexpected!)
In addition to your personal item, you'll also be allowed to bring a carry-on bag with you on the flight. This is a great opportunity to pack those “just in case” items that you may need during the flight, as well as items you won't necessarily need immediate access to. Here are some items to consider packing in your carry-on bag:
- Medications and toiletries: Although you’ll likely only need to access this one time on the flight, if at all, you’ll be grateful you kept these items accessible.
- Sleep items: To support your little one’s sleep on-flight, bring the essential items they need to recreate their sleep routine and environment as best you can – including their sleep sack or swaddle, their small lovey, a favorite book, a portable sound machine, pacifier, etc.
- Extra diaper changing items: Bring extra diapers and wipes in case you need to change your baby more often than you expect during the travel day.
- Extra clothes for your little: In the unlikely event that your airline loses your check-in luggage, it’s always great to know that you have your little one’s stuff with you at all times. Also, in the unlikely event that you go through both backup outfits on-flight, having your baby’s clothes will help you deal with all messy situations.
- Extra Food: Because you can never be too sure whether delays will occur, having even more extra snacks and possibly formula is always a good idea.
Remember to pack your carry-on bag strategically, and keep things as organized as you would in your diaper bag. [Quick Plug: If you're looking for the perfect carry-on, we'll be releasing our brand new Duffel Bag this summer on Kickstarter. To unlock early bird pricing, join our private Clubhouse community on Facebook.]
III. Making Sure Your Baby is Well-Rested
It's important to keep in mind that long-haul flights can be overwhelming for little ones, with endless lines at the airport, waiting at the gate, the boarding process, security walkthroughs, and finally on-flight drink & meal service happening just after takeoff. The last thing you want is an overtired baby before you even board the plane. Here are a few things you can do to help ensure your baby is well-rested before and during the flight:
- Stick to your baby's routine: Try to keep your baby's routine as consistent as possible in the days leading up to the flight to ensure they're getting plenty of rest. On the actual flight day, make sure they’re as well-rested as possible entering the flight – do NOT skip naps in an attempt to exhaust them with the false hopes they will sleep all flight. This can back-fire and cause you to have an extremely cranky, over-tired little one for the next 12 hours in the air.
- Take breaks: If you have a long layover or are arriving at the airport early, try to find a quiet area where your baby can rest and play in an environment that isn’t overstimulating. This will also help prevent them from becoming too tired before the flight.
- Bring a baby carrier and stroller: Having a baby carrier and stroller can be a lifesaver, especially if you have a long layover or if your flight is delayed. Your baby can rest in the carrier or stroller while you move through the airport. Carriers are also great options on-flight!
By taking steps to ensure your baby is well-rested before and during the flight, we promise you'll be setting yourself up for a more peaceful journey.
IV. Making Your Journey More Comfortable with special Airline Services.
When traveling with a baby, it's important to take advantage of any special services that the airline or airport may offer. Here are some services to consider:
- Priority check-in/boarding: Many airlines offer priority check-in / boarding for families with young children, allowing you to board the plane early and get settled before the crowds arrive. This is a great service especially when you are traveling with a lot of baggage and want to secure overhead space!
- Bassinet seats: Some airlines offer bassinet seats, which are specially designed seats that attach to the bulkhead wall and provide a safe and comfortable sleeping space for babies. Make sure to call your airline to try to reserve these ahead of time, and also check the size/weight restrictions of the bassinets. One thing to note is that when sitting at these seats, they do not allow personal items or belongings to be stowed on the ground during take-off and landing – but can be brought out and accessed easily outside of these periods.
- An additional seat: We know it may not always be feasible to purchase a seat for your baby (and we don't usually purchase one for our under-2-years-olds for flights under 5 hours), but it may be worth considering for a long-haul flight especially if they are over 6-months-old. We have tried traveling with a lap infant on long-haul flights and it was really difficult for our 1-year-old to get comfortable enough to sleep well for such a long stretch of time. The additional seat is helpful in facilitating longer independent sleep, less messy mealtimes, and more comfortable playtime! If this is a route you'd consider, you should call in advance of your flight to confirm that the booking is indeed for an actual seat (and not just a lap in infant ticket). If purchasing a ticket isn’t possible, it is always worth contacting the airline at check-in to see if there are any empty seats available that you can be next to and ultimately use for your little one.
Be sure to contact your airline or airport ahead of time to see what services are available and how to request them. By taking advantage of these services, you can make your journey much smoother and more enjoyable for both you and your baby.
V. Recreate the Baby's Bedtime Routine
If you're taking a long-haul flight that crosses several time zones, try to follow your baby's bedtime routine as closely as possible to maximize their on-flight sleep. Here are some tips:
- Bring familiar items: As already mentioned in “Part II: Packing Smart for your Carry-On”, make sure to pack your little one’s critical sleep items so they have as many cues as possible that it is bedtime (e.g. sleep sack or swaddle, their small lovey, a favorite book, a portable sound machine, pacifier, etc.).
- Stick to their bedtime routine: Try to stick to your baby's usual bedtime routine as closely as possible (within reason!). This might include reading them a familiar story, singing a favorite song, putting on their sleep sack, turning on their sound machine, and kissing them good night.
- Stick to your baby’s time origin zone until you land: We are not sleep experts, and know there are many opinions on this, but in our experience it’s best to stick relatively closely to your baby’s origin time zone (within reason) and adjust to the destination time zone when you land. The goal of this is to have our baby sleep on the flight when they are most naturally tired so that their sleep lasts as long as possible.
By recreating your baby's bedtime routine and environment, you’ll hopefully be able to maximize their sleep on the flight, which will definitely make the journey much easier for everyone. Remember, this is usually the hardest part of long-haul flights with a baby, and should be approached with a “hope for the best, expect for the worst!” and be gentle with yourselves here.
VI. Our Favorite Activity: Eating
Another important aspect to consider when flying with a baby is feeding. Depending on the age of your baby, we know they may be breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, eating solid foods, or some combination of these. Here are some tips to help you navigate feeding on a long-haul flight:
- Bottle-feeding: If you planning to bottle-feed, make sure to pack enough formula or breast milk for not only the duration of the flight, but also some extra in case of delays or spills. Make sure you know how you are going to prepare your milk on-flight – specifically how you will heat bottles (if relevant) and how you will wash bottles. Remember, you can ask the flight attendant for hot water to warm up the milk or formula.
- Breastfeeding: If you are breastfeeding, be sure to wear comfortable clothes that allow for easy access. Consider packing a nursing cover (which can double as a blanket!) to minimize on-flight distractions disturbing your little one during the feed.
- Solid foods: If your baby is eating solid foods, bring along multiple snacks that are easy to store and prepare, such as puree packs, fruit, crackers, cereal, cheese string, etc. Our general rule of thumb is to pack 1.5x than what we would normally pack for the duration of the trip to account for any unexpected delays. For 1+ year olds, we always buy additional food in the airport and also allow our little ones to eat most of the foods served on-flight for added novelty! There are few things more enjoyable for a toddler than unexpectedly getting a scoop of ice-cream during a 12-hour flight.
It's important to note that the pressure changes during takeoff and landing might affect your baby's ears, so it can be helpful to time feeds during these times to help ease the discomfort. Offering a pacifier or teether during this time is also an option.
VII. Pack a lot of Entertainment (10+ NEW activities)
Keeping your little one entertained during a long-haul flight is crucial to making the journey as fun as possible! If you have time, as mentioned, try wrapping the activities too as unwrapping is both exciting and time-consuming! Here are some of our personal favorites on what to pack for your baby's entertainment:
- Building Toys: Tegu magnetic blocks, Magna-tiles, Magna Qubix, DUPLO Lego kits
- Arts & Crafts: Play-Doh, Scribble Boards, Mini Etch-a-Sketch, Thick Crayons
- Activity Books: Water Wow! Mess-Free Painting Books, Sticker Activity Books – choose books based on what your little one is interested in (e.g. trucks, animals, etc.)
- Pretend Play: Small animal stuffed toys, small dolls, Small vehicles and “road” masking tape
- Suction Cup Toys (that stick to windows and tray tables): Squigz, Spinners
- Sensory: Busy board books, buckle toy/book, small sensory toys
- Books: Wimmelbooks, Richard Scarry books, interactive books with multiple flaps/pop-ups/moving parts
Remember to pack enough entertainment for the duration of the flight, as well as some extra in case of delays or boredom. Additionally, be sure to bring along any necessary chargers or batteries to keep your devices running.
You can do this!
Surviving a long haul flight with your little one may seem like an impossible task, but with these tips and tricks, you can make it the most stress-free journey possible. Remember, the key is to be prepared, be adaptable, and remain focused on the final destination! Bon voyage!