11 things I learned flying long-haul with my baby
I quite enjoyed people's faces when I told them I was taking my nine-month-old on holiday to Mauritius. We've got extended family there, and decided the journey would be easier with him as a baby than a toddler. Here's what I learned from the experience.
1) Plan your route
Mauritius is in the southern Indian Ocean. In the past we've travelled through Dubai, which is two 8-hour flights with a disorientating changeover in the early hours. A bit of research discovered a slightly more expensive flight leaving Manchester around 5pm, with a change in Paris and then 12 hours direct from around 9pm. It seemed much more likely we would all get some form of sleep.
2) You can't have enough snacks
Pack a ludicrous amount. Seriously. The overnight flight meant rather than proper meals I just wanted food to distract him, and didn't bother with anything healthy at all. It was one day out of his life - why bother? I had a backpack full of baby crisps, flapjacks, cheese crackers, biscuits in various forms, even those weird plasticy banana wafers that are laughably marketed as a suitable snack for an under-one. Every time he vaguely started to grizzle I pulled something out of my magic bag.
3) Consider entertainment
Long-haul flights have plenty of films, TV and music for kids in their entertainment systems, but it's also worth downloading content onto your phone for airport waits, so you don't need to use data or WIFI. An extra charger-pack for your phone is worth it's weight in gold. Books are good for times when electronics need to be switched off. I'd also squirrelled away a cool bendy, shaky rattle, and brought it out as a big surprise at a point where he was bored.
4) Parents get a lot of leniency for sealed liquids
Sealed baby food and milk are generally exempt from the usual security restrictions. We took ready-made bottles of milk and some food pouches in case of a long delay. My boy was combi-fed, so I gave him formula on the plane and saved the breastfeeding for airports. I didn't fancy trying to squash him onto my boob in an airline seat. We took 5ml sachets of Calpol in hand luggage. Some of my more organised friends have made online orders for baby food and milk to pick up from the Manchester Airport Boots on the other side of security. This was a great idea but needed to be done a few days ahead and I ran out of time.
5) You can take a car seat AND buggy with most airlines
The car seat we checked in, the buggy we took to the gate and they took it off us as we boarded. Got it straight back for the transfer, taken off us at the plane door again. Very efficient.
6) The airline cot is useful, even if your baby doesn't sleep in it
Most long-haul flights seat you at the front of the cabin, and attach a cot to the wall after take-off for your baby to sleep in. This means everyone with babies ends up sitting together. Just as we sat down for our overnight flight, my baby leaned over and yanked the hair of the toddler in the next seat. Great start. Our 9-month-old got a good night's sleep, but the toddler was too big to fit comfortably in his sky cot and his mother had to hold him all night which looked pretty tough. The cots also provided an invaluable storage space for the myriad of baby nonsense you'd have trouble fitting in the usual backseat pocket. We had a 90-minute delay after boarding on one of the flights, and this was the worst part of the whole journey. We had to keep our wriggling baby on our laps for all that time as we couldn't get up to move around the plane. This put a lot of strain on arms and shoulders.
7) On-board changing facilities are small, but manageable
My husband heroically took on changing the one stinky nappy we had in the air. There is a changing table, it's all quite poky but it is doable.
8) Take every opportunity to walk your baby around the cabin
Even on a long flight, you have to spend a lot of it in your seat. Either it's take-off or landing, or there's turbulence, or the food trolley is out, or you're asleep. A sling is great for carrying your baby around for a change of scene, and to protect yourself from things like deep vein thrombosis.
9) Don't forget to look after yourself
You need to eat and you need to sleep on a long journey, just as you need to give yourself time for a stretch and a walk around the plane. It's easy to focus so much on your child that you completely forget. If you're lucky enough to be travelling with another adult, make sure you both get a bit of time to eat your meal without a baby on your lap, and have a bit of downtime. I'm a big fan of a glass of red wine and a soppy movie on a plane. It's my holiday too.
10) People are pretty nice when you travel with a baby
I was worried he'd scream the place down and everyone would hate us. In reality, most people treated our baby as a pleasant distraction from the long journey. They started conversations about him, played peekaboo through the seats and helped wherever they could. On one flight we weren't seated together and a very tall man graciously gave up his aisle seat. This was incredibly generous on an overnight flight when he had clearly requested the extra legroom.
11) Enjoy the together-time
The small space put the three of us on top of each other for the duration, with the opportunity to cuddle and share snacks and watch telly, get excited about flying and the holiday, play games and read stories and try new foods from the in-flight meal. And at the end of the flight was a tropical paradise full of family keen to meet our new addition. It was well worth the logistical headache and the effort.
Written by Liv Seepujak Walker
Liv is a digital producer for the BBC. She lives in Manchester with her husband, 2-year-old son and cat. She likes singing, cheese and Netflix binge-watches. Her favourite destinations are Barcelona, Corsica, Andalucia, Mauritius, Vienna and the Yorkshire Dales.