How to fly with a toddler

Rosie and I arrived safely in the U.K. on the 7th August after a 19 hour flight and I didn’t cry once!

This is her second time doing a long-haul flight, the first was last year when she was 3 months old but then, we had the luxury of breastfeeding. Now that she is totally weened, I didn’t have that to fall back on and I knew I had to be a little more tactical with my packing and which flight times I chose.

Our flight left at 6pm which is Rosie’s bedtime, so I think this helped in some respect; I managed to get Rosie to sleep at 7, but she then woke up an hour later and I had to struggle for an hour (bouncing in the toilet was my highlight) to get her back down. Once she was asleep the second time around, she was gone for good and I kept her on my chest which allowed me to actually sleep. The second flight was at 6am from Dubai and I did have to fight her A LOT to get her down, but once again, when asleep, she was gone for a solid 4 hours. When awake, she happily played with the toys and cheerios I had packed, the tray table and the screen in front.

Now I’m no expect at flying with kids, I’ve only done three long flights with Rosie, but so far, they have all been relatively painless so, if you’re looking for some advice for your upcoming trip, here are my top tips for surviving a flight with a toddler:

  1. Try to stick to a routine. This probably sounds ridiculous, but if your kid goes down for the night at 7, try and aim for an evening flight so that you can maintain, or try to, a sense of normality. Boarding the plane in normal clothes AND THEN going through the rigmarole of changing into pjs, reading a story or singing their favorite song might help to lessen the confusion.
  2. But in the same breathe, don’t worry about holding them and keeping them on you for the sake of possibly destroying their routine. What I mean is, keep them on you, hold them tightly, cuddle them for all flight and don’t be freaking out that they’ll never want to go in their cot alone ever again. Kids are super hardy and Rosie’s first night in England was just like every night at home.
  3. If weened, pack more bottles and formula than you ever think you’ll need. Rosie usually takes just one bottle to go down at 6pm and then another at around 2/3am. I decided to play it safe and take enough formula powder for three other bottles, as well as two pre-filled and two empty bottles. I’m so glad I did because a) she didn’t eat much and b) for the second flight, she was overly tired and fighting sleep, and needed two bottles just to go down.
  4. Not all babies will get sore ears. I had so many people making me panic about the ear situation that I wasted a bottle on the take off on the first flight and she didn’t even need it. During take-off and landing on the second flight she couldn’t have been less bothered. Obviously, be prepared, but don’t try and force-feed your kid a bottle or dummy and end up making them scream even more.
  5. Toys and activities that require packing and unpacking are great time-wasters. Rosie loves taking my clothes out of my drawers and putting them away again, likewise, she likes placing things in bags/boxes and taking them out so I packed according to her preferences. DON’T ever pack anything that has noises, you will be hated by everyone, including yourself.
  6. Snacks! So many snacks. Rosie didn’t like the plane food, she has far superior tastes and sadly, I couldn’t change her to a toddler meal so she gave the baby food jar a look that could have curdled milk. Thank goodness I packed a tub of cheerios, yogurt-covered rice cakes, and strawberry sugar-free chews. Yes, it wasn’t the healthiest of food choices, but she was asleep most of the time and not in the mood to eat anything that looked unusual.
  7. Don’t panic that your kids aren’t eating. Unusual sleeping times, strange surroundings and general excitement can all play a part in disturbing a kids eating patterns, but it’s okay. As long as you’re getting liquids down them and a few snacks here and there, chill.
  8. Don’t over pack for yourself. You might have this vision of getting your kid to sleep and then settling down with a book, but 80% of the time you will feel so exhausted and will want to get some much needed rest. You might not be able to fall asleep, but listening to some music and/or having some wine, will at least leave you with a sense of peace. Also, if your kids fight sleep at every turn, you’re going to absolutely regret filling your bag with items that you won’t even have the chance to use.
  9. If walking, make sure they have slippers/shoes to hand that are easy to take on and off. Planes are disgusting. Plane toilets are the armpit of the devil. Seriously, the idea that anyone would wanna bump uglies in the mile high club makes me want to vomit. If your kid insists on walking, make sure they aren’t doing it barefoot, this is not a South African mall (which is also a concept that makes me want to heave).
  10. Always pack hand sanitizer. Kids will end up on the floor. They will touch nasty, icky things and no amount of wet wipes will give you peace of mind. A small bottle of hand sanitzer is everything.
  11. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Don’t be afraid of checking if there are rows available and if you are breastfeeding, MAKE IT KNOWN. Let the check-in staff know that you wish to see if there are better seats away from nasty prying eyes and most times, they will do their best to assist you. Also, most, if not all airlines have a children embark first policy but not all airlines will make a fuss about it. When you’re at your gate and they call First Class and Business class, go up as well. If people give you a look, remind them that they are all welcome to take their seats first, but when it comes time for you to drag your screaming child down the aisle, hitting each person over the head with one of your 100 bags, they’ll wish they never looked at you ill.
  12. The bassinet seat isn’t always best. Rosie has never slept in a sleep sack, or been swaddled, she’s part octopus and practically laughed at us the first time I tried her in the bassinet. If your kid/baby is long and a mover, don’t use this. If you don’t want to sit with other families (it’s actually the worst because kids won’t sleep if they hear others screaming), don’t sit here. If you don’t want to see people queuing for the toilet, don’t sit here. Basically, I think the bassinet row is rubbish.
  13. Pick your airline wisely. Since 2008 (my first visit to Cape Town), I have flown with Emirates, minus a few wrong choices here and there.
    They are one the cheaper options yet their service is exceptional and their baggage allowance is fantastic for families or those who like to stock up when on holiday. Yes, changing planes in Dubai is not ideal, and it was a mission to cart all my bags and Rosie on a 30 minute bus journey from the plane to the terminal (that needs to be rethought), through security again, and through myriads of people to our next boarding gate BUT, their hands-on approach to kids is unparalleled. I was almost always first on board, my bags where taken off and stored  me and for each flight, every effort was made to make sure I had a row to myself so that Rosie could sleep comfortably. As a single parent flying, one of my main concerns was going to the loo but the stewardesses were more than happy to watch and hold Rosie whilst I dashed off. The toys and activities handed out where multi-age appropriate and fun. I never ever felt like a burden or less than anyone else on board, and that is the mark of a truly outstanding airline who understands parents.
  14. Expect the absolute worst and you might be pleasantly surprised.

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