I’ve taken multiple long haul flights with a baby, and while it’s not top of my list of exciting ways to spend my time, it’s never as bad as I think it’s going to be. Traveling with a lap baby definitely has its perks (mostly that it’s usually free!) but also has its challenges. Taking on the task on a long haul flight (which in my mind, is anything over five hours) can be daunting, but it is absolutely doable. My record has been a 10-hour flight with a 12-week old, and it ended up being just fine. Read on for my tips as a mom who has been there for how to make it through your long haul flight with a baby on your lap.
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Tips for a long haul flight with a baby on your lap
Take plenty for the baby to do
My biggest concern on a long flight with a baby on your lap is that baby will be bored. Bored babies fuss and wriggle and generally make the flight a lot more uncomfortable. With that in mind, I always give some thought to what I want to bring to keep the little one entertained.
For a baby under six months old, I would suggest basic toys. Things with bright colors, lights, and interesting textures. I’d recommend staying away from anything with loud noises, unless you want your neighbors glaring at you throughout the flight, but something like a rattle shouldn’t be too irritating. Consider something like these products:
For an older baby, toys with buttons, rattles, or small moving parts should keep little one busy for a while. Board books are also a good idea, as are teethers in case they need something to chew on. Something like these products would be perfect:
Think about what your baby is going to eat in advance too. Be sure to bring plenty of bottles or food in case of travel delays, and consider how you’re going to feed them while they’re sat on your lap. If you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, this should be fairly easy (read through this post for more tips on flying while breastfeeding). Feeding solid foods can be a little trickier, so be sure to pack plenty of wipes, bibs, and a change of clothes for both baby and you! If you’re traveling with a partner, one of you can have the baby sit on your lap while the other one does the feeding. If you’re traveling solo, I have had luck with having my baby sit on my lap facing me, sort of propped up against the seat in front, and feeding him that way. It’s not ideal, but it’s doable! Read through this post on Dollar Store items for plane travel that include some of our cheap and essential items for a long haul flight with a baby on your lap, and this post on toddler plane activities for more ideas for things to do.
For a really long flight, I always try to stick to my little ones regular schedule as possible. I try to feed him when I would normally feed him at home, and settle him down for naps at the same time. Not only does this mean that he will know what’s happening next, but I find it breaks the flight up a bit.
Take plenty for you to do
On my first long-haul flight with my eldest son, I packed plenty for him to do – and nothing for me. I’d been so focused on making sure he was occupied, I hadn’t given any thought as to what I would do. My baby fell asleep on take-off, leaving me sat there looking out of the window – for over five hours! It was a red-eye flight and I literally looked at the stars for hours! I hadn’t even brought a book! I was bored out of my mind, and the flight seemed to take forever; I was almost happy when he woke up and gave me something to do! So consider what you might bring to keep you occupied for if your little one is asleep, or just happy to entertain himself.
Something you can hold with one hand will be easiest since you’ll have a little one on your lap. I generally bring my iPad loaded with books and movies in case there is no in-flight entertainment system. Did you know that Netflix now offers offline streaming of movies and TV shows?! Absolutely perfect for flights! I also try to bring a book or two since this might be a rare opportunity to read it (paperbacks will weigh less and be easier to hold with one hand). Don’t forget to bring snacks for yourself as well and have plenty of water on hand, especially if you’re breastfeeding (read through this post on the importance of staying hydrated when flying while breastfeeding).
Try to book an aisle and a window seat
If you’re traveling with a partner, I would recommend one of you booking an aisle seat and one booking a window (in the same row, obviously!) People are going to be less likely to want to book a middle seat, so there’s a chance that you might end up with an empty seat in between you, giving baby a little more space to play. If you’re taking the baby’s car seat to the gate with you, it’s even worth asking if there are any free seats on board; on one of our flights, there were plenty of free seats and I was allowed to bring my baby’s car seat on-board, so he had his own seat for the flight – for free!
Even if it turns out someone ends up in the seat between you, you can always ask them to trade. I’ve never seen anyone turn down a window or aisle seat in favor of a middle seat! For more tips on things to consider when booking your flight, check out 10 things do before flying with a baby.
Take turns holding the baby
When I take a long flight with my husband and we have a lap baby, we try to trade-off who holds the baby. I will usually hold him for take-off so I can nurse, and for the first couple of hours, then I’ll pass him off to my husband so I can stretch, eat something, or maybe get some sleep. Then my husband will pass him back after a few hours so he can do the same. If our baby falls asleep, whoever is holding him usually keeps him until he wakes up, just because we don’t want to wake him, but usually he does great being passed back and forth. It also gives him a change of scenery; he can look out the window with me, or into the aisle at everything that’s going on when sat with my husband. It also saves my sanity to know that I only have to entertain him for a little while, before I can pass him to my husband and take a break!
Inquire as to the bassinet policy
Some airlines offer a bassinet for a baby, giving you somewhere you can put them down to sleep, or just to play to give your arms a break! Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are two airlines we’ve flown with that offer this service, and it’s fantastic! The bassinets lock on to the seats, and will be installed by a member of the cabin crew. Dimensions and weight restrictions vary, and bassinets usually have to be reserved in advance, so think about this option before your flight. The only real inconvenience I have found with this was that, when the seat belt sign was turned on for some light turbulence, I had to take my baby out of the bassinet and hold him. I know this was for his own safety, but it happened a couple of times, and often by the time I’d gotten him out (and inevitably woken him up!), the turbulence was over and the seat belt sign was turned back off. Other than that, my little guy slept peacefully in the bassinet on one flight for seven hours. It was bliss! When you book your flight, ask to see if this is an option with your airline.
Have everything to hand
In my post detailing what to pack in a diaper bag for plane travel, I talk about an instant access bag. This is something I always have when flying with a baby, but it’s especially helpful on a long-haul flight with a lap baby. I pack a Ziploc bag with a few diapers, wipes, a bib, maybe a change of clothes for the baby, and put it in the seat back pocket so I can grab it quickly if I need it. With a lap baby, it’s especially hard to keep getting up and down to open the overhead bin and access a diaper bag, so having a few essential items to hand is really helpful. On a long-haul flight, I actually make a few of these up, and trade them out when I get the chance.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
I guarantee that somewhere on that flight is another parent, and other parents are always willing to help out if they can. I often travel solo with my kids and there have been plenty of times when I’ve had my hands full and someone has approached me to ask if I need help. I’ve had people offer to hold bags for me, put things in and out of the overhead bins, and even hold the baby for a while so I can do something else. Flight attendants are usually very accommodating as long as you’re polite and friendly because they want your baby to be happy and quiet just as much as you do! As long as you’re not asking a complete stranger to hold your baby for the whole flight, asking for basic help is fine (let me know if you ever have any luck with that though!)
Take a deep breath!
Chances are, your flight will be just fine. Your baby will probably sleep, eat, play a little, and generally not bother anyone. Even if things go wrong and your little darling doesn’t quite behave according to plan, remember this: the flight cannot last forever! Eventually, no matter how long the flight is, it will be over and you will get off the plane, probably never seeing any of the other passengers again. I’ve had flights where I could have sworn the little plane on the map on the screen hadn’t moved each time I’d looked at it, and it has seemed unending. But we made it in the end! Think about your destination, why you’re taking the flight, and focus on being excited for that instead of being stressed.