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Travelling on a Long Haul Flight with a Baby

airplaneEver wondered how you would survive a long haul flight with your baby or toddler? Nursery Nurse, mother and Greatvine consultant Fiona Blenkin shares her expert advice on travelling with small children, with tips on what to bring along on the plane, what to expect from the airline, and how to get your baby off to sleep on the flight so that you (and your fellow passengers!) can get some rest too.

I am worried about travelling with my 18m old Son on a long-haul flight. What can I expect from the airline with regards to food and should I pack food for him?

Unless you pay for a seat for your son the airline will not provide a tray of food for him. If you ask the crew they might be able to give you bread rolls or any spare food after all the meals have been given out. I suggest you pack plenty of food for him.

You are allowed to bring enough food for the flight. Pack cartons of ready-made formula in case you need milk urgently – these come sealed and are roughly 8oz so fine to pass through security. You can use this milk for his cereal too. If your child has bottles bring plenty so you don’t need to constantly rinse them out. If you’re breastfeeding continue to do so on the plane, he might need a few extra feeds. Try and get your child to suck on a straw before you leave so you can give juice cartons to him to keep him hydrated. If he drinks water, buy bottled water after you’ve passed security. The plane will have a few jars of baby food on board – but don’t rely on this. Individual variety cereal packets, fruit bars, small packets of biscuits, crackers, whole fresh fruit, and dried fruit in little pots are good. Try to get a variety of food NOT all full of sugar. Remember to declare all baby food. Bring a plastic bowl and plastic spoons, no doubt a few will get lost under the seats! Long sleeved plastic bibs dry quickly on air-conditioned planes; most disposable bibs do not seem to keep toddlers as clean! Also a packet of baby wipes has many uses.

Can you reassure me that my 9month baby will sleep on a night flight and how I can help settle him?

Ask in advance for a bassinet when checking/booking flight. If you can get an empty seat next to you that will give you more room to spread out, although, the bassinet seats do have extra legroom. Most night flights provide food after take off so I suggest you wait for the crew to clear before starting his bedtime routine. This means there won’t be any distractions for him.

Your baby won’t know what time it is but he will know the signals for bedtime. Try and do what you would at home. Pull-up nappies are less fiddly, and use his sleep bag if he has one. If he needs extra bottles or breastfeeds let him, as he might need the comfort of something familiar in an unfamiliar setting. Breastfeeding is the easiest form of feeding as it is always there. It instantly soothes and calms your baby and will help settle him to sleep. If you have to feed him more than normal, don’t worry it will not become a habit.

Bring a sheet or muslin from home so that he has something recognizable to sleep on and smell. The plane can get chilly so pack an extra blanket or use your jumper. You can cover the head end of the bassinet with a muslin, this will shield the lights from him. If you use lavender essence at home that can help aid sleep. Remember all liquids in plastic bags and less than 100ml. You will not need to wake your child unless there is an emergency so keep the seat belt on display so the crew can check and not disturb him or you. This way you will also be reassured he is safe. If he sleeps in your arms bring a neck pillow for yourself that goes round your shoulders so you have your arms free to hold your baby. He will have a seat belt round him that attaches to your seatbelt. The airline will provide eye masks for you.

Lastly do not worry about your baby crying as all babies cry at some point during the day so they will on the plane. Remind yourself that crying also helps ears pop.

I am concerned at how we can entertain my 3yr old and 1 yr old daughters on a long haul flight. What do you suggest I pack?

Let your children walk around as much as possible in the departure lounge, this will help to tire them. Onboard, the only time when they will be restricted is when the passenger seat belt sign is on. You are not allowed to play near the exits on the aeroplanes. Try and get the balk head seats, you have more room and no one in front of you.

It is best on a long flight to bring non-noisy toys. You or the rest of the plane will not want the same tune played forty times! For your 3 year old she could carry her own rucksack with toys in. Don’t show her what you have packed, this makes it all the more exciting. Magnetic drawing pad, fuzzy felt, threading beads, card games and colouring books with coloured pencils rather than felt tips, which won’t stain clothes, are good. The crewmembers will give a fun pack to your children. The in flight entertainment will have films and music for all children of all ages.

For your 1 year old, books with lots of flaps to lift, stickle bricks, stacking cups, two piece puzzles, lots of nursery rhymes and interactive songs like ‘row row’ are good. Pack a few familiar toys from home. Wrap new presents with layers of paper to bring out at intervals and try not to show all the toys at once.

When children are this age parents do not get much rest but if you are prepared and organised, hopefully you’ll all enjoy the flight.

Fiona Blenkin Expert Consultant with GreatvineAbout Greatvine Consultant Fiona Blenkin:
Fiona is a trained NORLAND NURSERY NURSE with NNEB and ADCE and has over 10 years experience working with children in private families and teaching in nursery/primary schools. She has travelled with families, and has teaching experience with 3-5 yr olds. She enjoys the challenges that children bring and can give excellent, postitive and rewarding advice for caregivers. She has her own children now and so understand parents concerns even more so. She has first hand experience with boys and girls (and they are different!) from newborn to 6 yrs.

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Written by GreatVine


  1. Great advice, Fiona, especially regarding the ‘surprise’ toys to bring along. We’ve had a few long haul flights with our two (when they were baby + toddler, or both toddlers) and we’ve also found buying a few new books works well – they’re happy to read them again and again if they haven’t seen them before.

    Some of our advice:

    Food – we were required to open and taste all of the food, even the very small jars. Besides being a bit gross (!) it also meant that we couldn’t then just leave them in our bag until required, because once unsealed they start going off. Cabin crew will happily put them in the fridge for you, but remember to ask them to take them out and warm them up for you a good 10 mins before your baby normally eats – otherwise you’ll find yourself with a hungry baby and food that’s either ice cold or piping hot – neither is great!

    Milk – again, we were required to open and taste all milk, even the sealed single-serving store bought cartons. Dealing with this later on the flight proved to be incredibly stressful.
    A very simple way around it:
    Fill your milk-powder dispensers with pre-measured doses of formula, and fill some of your bottles with boiled water (whatever you normally use, say 8 oz), and add an extra little glug of water. Now when you’re asked to taste the liquids at security, you just have to taste the water (hence the extra glug), and then you can leave it at room temp so it’s ready to use. The risk of your baby becoming sick from the water you’ve just contaminated is pretty much nil (whereas with milk this is a big issue). If you want, you can get the staff to give you freshly boiled water for all the bottles as soon as the seatbelt light is off so you’re all set for the remainder of the flight.

    Remember to bring everything you need to deal with delays and emergencies. We always brought along at least 3 extra measures of milk powder and a bottle brush. The staff were happy to let us clean the bottles, and then they rinsed them with boiling water for us and refilled.

    Seats – if you can afford an extra seat, please please do. The bassinets are only for really small babies (under 6 mo usually), but if you have an extra seat you can bring certain carseats (check the spec with the airline) so both you and your child can sit comfortably.

    Buggies – every airline we’ve flown has allowed us to get a baggage tag for the buggy (you’ll need one for each part, i.e. for Bugaboo make sure you get 2 tags), and then bring the buggy right up to the plane. BUT about half then had us collect the buggy at the carousel on the other end, i.e. carrying two toddlers and all their paraphernelia. Nightmare!!! Be prepared to carry your kids and all your stuff for a very long time and pack accordingly.

  2. What a great article, travelling long haul with babies can be a tricky business. I always pack a few new inexpensive items for my children to play with; colouring books, small toy … and bring one out every 30 – 45 minutes. This gives the kids something to look forward to and ensures boredom is kept to a minimum.

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