Taking a long haul flight with a baby is no small feat, and it demands a well-thought-out strategy to ensure both you and your little one have a comfortable and enjoyable journey.
We’ve taken my 15-month-old to 10 countries, which means many, many long haul flights. We tackled our longest ever when we flew from Cape Town, South Africa to San Francisco, California via Doha, Qatar, for a total of 24 hours of flight time NOT including layovers.
In my guide, I have 7 tips for taking a baby on a long flight. I have also given you my carry-on packing list to make sure nothing is forgotten.
If I am honest, I was dreading our first long haul flight, but it was surprisingly not that bad. I chalk it up to being really well prepared for the journey and doing a few key, life-saving things.
Here are my seven tips to keep your baby entertained and content during those long hours in the air.
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1. Get Your Baby Their Own Seat
Our son was already quite mobile by the time we were flying. At home, he was crawling around everywhere, so we knew he’d need to move during the long journey.
With their own seat, your baby will have space to move around, play, and nap without constantly being held in your arms. This extra space can be a haven for both of you during the flight, offering more freedom and comfort.
Since we were traveling as a family, this meant that we had a row to ourselves. My partner and I had much more leg room this way, and when our baby wanted to sleep, I could stretch out and hold him in my arms and sleep as well.
When he wanted to be up and playing, we had a space for him either in his seat or on the floor in front of it. He could climb between all three seats and our laps this way, and it was a GAME CHANGER.
I know it’s an added expense when a lap infant can fly for free, but trust me, this is the biggest reason why our flight went more smoothly. When the journey is this long, it’s worth the added expense.
If you have a younger baby, try to get the seat with bassinet access, and call ahead of time to book it. Not every airline reserves these seats for parents, but some do!
2. Bottle, Breast, Or Binkie During Takeoff And Landing
Start off on the right foot by making sure that your baby’s ears are clearing for takeoff and landing. When my son was younger, that meant a bottle every time. Now that he’s a bit older and isn’t taking bottles as often, we just make sure he’s chewing and swallowing during take-off and landing.
Even if it’s just water or binkies, make sure to do this. If they’re uncomfortable due to the ear pressure, it can start things off rougher than need be.
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3. Bring Along Small Toys
Packing a variety of small toys can be a lifesaver. Babies, much like adults, can become easily bored during a long flight.
I like spinners that can be suctioned to the window, small object permanence boxes like the ones in the Lovevery playkits, and some of their favorite books. The key here is to introduce these items gradually to maintain your baby’s interest throughout the journey.
A well-planned selection of toys can keep your baby engaged and content.
Some parents will also download videos on an iPad or phone. We haven’t done that for our flights, but sometimes I will put cartoons on the plane monitor that he can glance at. Since there’s no sound, it’s not all that engaging, but he sometimes will look for a minute or two.
Keep in mind if you do bring videos, you’ll have to use baby headphones for sound. There’s no way our son will tolerate them, but some babies might!
3. Bring Finger Foods that Take Time to Eat
Hunger can make your baby fussy, and the air pressure changes during takeoff and landing can sometimes cause discomfort. To keep your little one content, pack an assortment of finger foods in your carry-on.
Some of my favorite foods to bring on the flight include:
- Squished blueberries
- Toddler bar pieces
- Small rice crackers
- Normal crackers
- Other non-messy sliced fruit
- Smoothie melts
These snacks serve not only as a source of nourishment but also as a distraction to keep your baby occupied. Since they’re in smaller pieces, I find my son takes a while to eat them, enjoying the crunch of the Cheerios or the sweetness of the fruit.
Sometimes airlines will also have baby food onboard, but be sure to call ahead and reserve a meal to be sure, and don’t solely rely on what they have to keep your baby fed. What they have will vary depending on the airline.
4. Make Sure They Get To Move
Depending on how mobile they are, if you have a walking baby, encouraging them to take short walks up and down the airplane aisle when it’s safe can provide them with a change of scenery and some physical activity.
While it’s a small space, it can be an opportunity for your baby to stretch their legs and maybe even interact with fellow passengers. Just like us, babies can benefit from a change of environment during a long flight.
Since our baby is still in the crawling stage, it worked well for us to have him climb around and explore our row. If your baby isn’t mobile yet, it’ll be even easier.
We ended up having to book a last-minute flight due to some airline issues and were put in the very back row of the airplane. At first, this might not seem ideal, but it was actually perfect as we were right near the restroom for diaper changes, and there was nobody behind us for him to bother while climbing.
5. Keep Your Nap And Sleep Schedule As Consistent As Possible
Maintaining your baby’s sleep schedule can be a challenge while traveling, but it’s crucial for their comfort and well-being. Thankfully most international flights go dark after meals, so keep the window shades drawn and the reading lights off during nap times and create a cozy sleep environment to help your baby rest.
If they have a favorite blanket or stuffed toy, be sure to have it on hand for added comfort. Consistency in their sleep schedule can make a significant difference in their overall mood during the flight.
If your baby is below the weight limit, which is different for each airline, you can request a bassinet seat. Be sure to call ahead to do this, as each airline is different in this regard as well.
6. Ask Flight Attendants For Baby Toys
Flight attendants are there to assist you, and they often have baby-friendly amenities, including toys and blankets. Don’t hesitate to ask for these items, as they can help keep your baby entertained and content during the flight.
Engage with the flight attendants, let them know your baby’s preferences, and they’ll likely be more than willing to assist you in ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable journey for both you and your baby.
I’ve been delighted by how helpful they’ve been on our longest trips, and most airlines have baby amenities on board. Depending on the airline, they even have diapers and formula! Be sure to research before boarding so you’re not counting on any amenities just in case your particular airline doesn’t carry them.
7. Try To Build In A Layover
For our crazy long flight from South Africa to the west coast of the US, we were running to catch our onward flight in Doha.
That meant we followed up a 9-hour flight immediately with another 15.5-hour flight, and I had really wished we could have had even an hour or two for our son to crawl around a bit.
With flights that long, as a single person, I tried to avoid layovers and just get there, but with a little one, an hour or more will give you some time to eat, regroup, change diapers, and importantly, for them to get some energy out.
We still survived since he was happy to crawl on us and his seat on the plane, but it sure would have been nice not to do back-to-back crazy long flights!
My Carry-On Packing List
Thankfully, diaper bags do not count against your carry-on allowance.
Here’s everything to remember to bring on board your long-haul flight with a baby:
- Diapers and changing essentials: ensure you have an ample supply of diapers, wipes, and a changing pad. We always bring way more diapers than we will realistically need since you never know what delays you might encounter!
- Extra baby clothes: pack at least 3 changes of clothes for your baby in case of spills or unexpected accidents
- Feeding essentials: if your baby is bottle-fed, bring pre-measured formula and bottles. For breastfeeding moms, consider a nursing cover for privacy. If you’re pumping, bring fully charged wearable pumps and a portable washing kit. Ask flight attendants for bottled water for washing
- Baby food and snacks: don’t forget baby food or snacks if your child is on solids
- Pacifiers and comfort items: have pacifiers or any items that soothe your baby readily available
- Baby carrier or sling: if you use one, it can be handy during boarding and disembarking
- Ziplock bags: these can be useful for sealing dirty diapers, soiled clothes, or any unexpected messes
- Entertainment for yourself: bring a book, magazine, or your own entertainment to help you stay relaxed during the flight
- Important documents: keep your baby’s identification, any necessary medical records, and your own travel documents handy. A family passport holder like this can be handy
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Frequently Asked Questions
Wrap Up On Long Haul Flights With Baby
Traveling with a baby on a long flight presents its own set of challenges and rewards. It’s something many parents dread but in reality, it’s just about trying to break up the journey with snacks, movement, sleep, and engaging with your baby like you would at home. Sure, they will fuss and cry sometimes, but it’s not something we worry about. Try not to stress, and your baby will feel less stressed as well.
Some flights are going to be easier than others. We’ve had a fussy, unhappy baby on flights as well, but that’s life and honestly, getting him his own seat, though it costs more, has eliminated so many of those issues.
With these tips and a well-packed carry-on bag, you’ll be better prepared to embark on this journey with your baby. The memories are worth the long flight, trust me!