I’ve said this before, but I am not generally a fan of flying at night. It has to do with my slightly irrational (OK, very irrational) fear that if I can’t see the wings, they might not be there any more, and I generally like being able to see the ground. On a slightly less crazy note, I know many parents who don’t like to fly at night because they’re afraid that their little ones won’t be able to sleep, and will therefore be overtired and cry the whole time. This was definitely a fear I had the first time I took a red eye flight with my son as a baby, especially since he would only ever sleep in a crib with complete dark and quiet. Luckily, he slept through that first flight like a champ, and I was able to have a few hours to myself to watch a movie and eat something – quite the luxury with a young baby! Since then, I’ve taken countless red eye flights with my kids, and I’ve actually come to enjoy them; my kids have mostly slept the whole way, and it’s nice to not have to bring a million things to entertain them! I’ve learned a few things about taking a red eye flight with a baby over the years, and here are some of my best tips.
Tips for taking a red eye flight with a baby
Think about the time of the flight
When booking a red eye flight with a baby, I always try to plan the flights to leave at a certain time. My kids go to bed early (around 7pm most nights) and both of them struggle to stay awake much beyond that without melting down. I know that booking a red eye at 11pm would be a disaster, with hours of airport meltdowns and two very overtired kids on the plane. I actually try to book flights for a little before the kids bedtimes, since there’s always a chance that delays will occur, and the only thing worse than a delayed flight is a delayed flight with exhausted kids!
I also give some thought as to the length of the flight. A red eye flight that takes off at 8pm and only lasts five hours will have us landing at 1am (at least according to our body clocks) and trying to get a sleepy baby off a plane is not an easy task. I try to make those overnight flights as long as possible, allowing little ones (and ideally myself!) as much time to sleep as they can get before we have arrive at our destination; at least eight hours is perfect.
Plan in advance
Packing a diaper bag for a red eye flight with a baby is a totally different ball game than packing for a day time flight. I still bring some entertainment for little one; you never know if the flight might be delayed, or baby might not sleep as early as they do at home and need something for the first hour or two. I usually bring books, coloring, stickers, or some other quiet activity so they don’t get too overexcited, and nothing too noisy to bother other passengers trying to sleep. I also pack anything else that they usually need for nighttime, as well as anything they might need come morning at our destination. This might include a change of clothes (especially if going somewhere very warm or very cold), a small snack that will serve as a portable breakfast, and basic toiletries like a baby toothbrush.
Get them ready for bed before the flight
When we have an overnight flight scheduled, I make sure we have enough time at the airport to get my baby all ready for bed before we board the plane. I pretty much go about our regular bed time routine, just in an airport! I change him out of his regular clothes and into his pajamas, then brush his teeth, wipe his face down, and maybe read him a story. Then I settle him into his sleep sack as I normally would. If he’s still nursing or has a bedtime bottle, I’ll usually try to hold off on the nighttime feed until take off (to help his ears deal with the pressure) or at least until we’re on the plane and he’s able to get comfortable. If he’s eating solids, I’ll give him little snacks to keep him going until then.
Bring anything they normally sleep with
My baby sleeps in a sleep sack at home, and I bring at least two of those in my carry on bag for an overnight flight (a back up of anything important is necessary on any flight with a baby!) My eldest son always sleeps with a stuffed Dumbo the elephant, and my youngest still sleeps with a Paddington Bear blanket; I would seriously rather reschedule a flight than get on board without those two comfort items! I also try to bring a baby blanket, even though my babies never slept with them; airplane blankets aren’t always particularly warm or comfortable (or clean!) and we’ve had overnight flights where they weren’t offered at all. A soft, cozy blanket for a little one to snuggle up in will keep them comfortable and warm throughout the flight.
Consider where you’re seated
I always try to sit by the window on a plane as it is, but I find it even more important on a nighttime flight. Once we’re on board and everyone is settled in, I find I am much less likely to be disturbed if I’m sat by the window instead of on the aisle, and this is especially true when flying with a baby. The space is typically quieter, with no beverage or food carts passing by, and no other passengers walking up and down the aisle. It may also be darker by the window, and there is the added benefit of having the plane wall to prop your arm up against to keep baby secure and comfortable for the flight. There is also a chance that I can lean my head against the wall and get a little sleep myself! Just a word of caution: keep the window blind shut! I love to fly with the window blind open so I can look outside (the best part about the window seat!) but on our latest red eye flight, we awoke very abruptly with the sun streaming in as it rose over the clouds! I think our whole row was taken aback by how bright it was, and we were all very awake after that! My favorite tool for knowing more about seats on your flight is Seat Guru; you can type in your flight number and it will show you a map of your seats, including the best (and worst) places to sit on your particular plane!
Be prepared for arrival
Have a plan for what you’re going to do when you arrive at your destination. If you’re lucky, the flight will have been long enough that your baby will have slept well, and will be well-rested and happy. On the other hand, your red eye might have been just a few hours, and you might be getting off the plane when no one is really ready to wake up. Baby might be very sleepy, or very angry, or both! Be prepared for a few tears (aka hysterical screaming) when the lights turn on and everyone starts moving around and making noise in what your baby considers to be the middle of the night. I actually usually tried to wake my little ones as we started our descent into our destination airport; I would nurse them or give them a bottle to wake them up (and help their ears adjust), and let them wake gradually. It would also allow me to move around a little to get my stuff together in preparation for getting off the plane, rather than having to keep still so baby didn’t wake up. Read through this post for more tips on dealing with jet lag in babies and toddlers.
When things go wrong
Chances are, you will have at least one red eye flight where baby does not do what they are supposed to. I’ve had a 4-hour overnight flight where my baby did not sleep one wink; we must have walked up and down the aisle 100 times as I tried to rock him to sleep (while he smiled and waved to the passengers and didn’t look the slightest bit sleepy!), as well as a delayed red eye flight where my little one screamed like a banshee for the first hour because he so wanted to sleep, and just couldn’t get comfortable. It was one of the longest hours of my life, and I have never been so grateful to see my little one’s eyes finally close, but the flight attendants were very sweet and the passengers were very understanding. As with any flight with a baby, things might go wrong, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. Know that as bad as it is when your baby is screaming or not cooperating, the flight cannot go on forever, and chances are that you’ll never see the other passengers again in your life!