Traveling with an Infant: Your Worst Fears Dispelled

I once met a mother who had a four year old and had never been more than 30 miles away with him. Her family and friends lived on the other side of the country, and some of them had come to visit but for the most part, she had curtailed her life into her small block and town. She was just too afraid of the chaos that would ensue if she took him on a plane: security checks, messed up schedules, and the worst, glaring passengers and a wailing child. As a result though, she had a child that was well-settled in his routine, but that was thrown off by the slightest deviation from schedule, and a mother who felt disconnected from all the people she cared about, not to mention the possibility of anything new and exciting in her life. For this and many other reasons, it’s worth getting your head around traveling with an infant early on.

If this was a reality show, we would have bought this distressed mom a ticket and put her on a plane. But as a website we’ll just have to make do with tackling the “worst case scenarios” that keep parents from taking the plunge of maiden voyages with their kids. Hopefully you potential first-timers out there will be convinced that it’s a journey that you and your baby can survive:

Worst things that can happen when traveling with an infant:

Worst Case Scenario 1: The baby’s routine will be broken and never be fixed again
It’s understandable how we all want to stick to our routines like they are national treasures because we worked so hard on them, but here’s a little newsflash: routines don’t last forever. Every 3-6 months your baby will naturally develop into a new rhythm in keeping with his/her developmental stage so really you’re not losing much when a routine gets thrown off whack. Plus, one odd night doesn’t necessarily mean that a new pattern has been set, and if it does, it probably means that your child was ready for it anyway.

On the flip-side, there are some perks to this: your child learns how to be flexible and self-regulate in new situations. If you are one of those people whose baby has to sleep at a particular time, in a particular place, this new adaptability could be liberating in a way you never imagined. Read our note on combating jetlag when you get off the flight.

Worst Case Scenario 2: Baby will scream all through the flight

It’s happened to some, and it’s not happened to many. Babies are hard to predict in unfamiliar situations, and traveling with an infant is definitely one.  My son had a fit on a one-hour flight that I thought would be a breeze, and slept like a king on a 12-hour one. But the reality is, your kid doesn’t scream endlessly for hours on end at home, so why should they on a plane?

If they are agitated, they may fuss and shout for a little while, but eventually they will get tired too, and with a little distraction, you many find that they too can settle. If your child is unwell or uncomfortable (ear infection), you can try nursing them, giving a pacifier or a mild painkiller like Tylenol or Panadol. For infants, walking them up and down the aisle with a little bounce should help to put them to sleep. And don’t worry, you won’t be the first person this has ever happened to. And if you have unsympathetic fellow passengers, remind them that airlines fees are the worst things about flying, not kids.

Worst Case Scenario 3: You will forget something essential like the favorite blankie
You might, and that’s why it is critical to start packing and planning early when you’re traveling with your kids (Check out our full packing list here). In this day and age, most baby products are available wherever you go, but it’s the personal favorites that become tricky if left behind. If you do end up in a scenario where that “one” item didn’t make it, consider it an opportunity to break the habit. Your first few days may be harder than they would have otherwise, but remember that what goes up must come down, and eventually even the most aggravated child will tire and move on.

Worst Case Scenario 4: The baby will get sick on the plane

It is not uncommon for babies to get unsettled and lose their meal on a flight. It is ESSENTIAL that you carry a change of clothes for you (and wear something that you are not too attached to in case it becomes vomit-soaked and you have to leave it on board) and multiple changes for your child on a long flight. It’s a good idea not to overfeed your baby before or on the flight and to stick with smaller, light meals like crackers and fruit to prevent the upchuck. Another common occurrence is ear aches due to changes in cabin pressure. This can be alleviated by nursing your baby on take-off and landing, or giving him/her something to suck and swallow, like a bottle.
If something more serious were to occur when traveling with an infant, in-flight attendants are trained to deal with medical emergencies and will be able to assist you. Of course if your child is generally healthy, there is no reason to expect anything more than general discomfort during the flight. Make sure you child gets a check up before hand if you’re concerned.

Worst Case Scenario 5: The baby won’t get enough to eat on the plane
This is most likely to happen in that in-between stage at ages 5 months to 1 year where babies are eating specific and foods of a certain texture. My rule of thumb is to always pack food for an additional 12 hours when traveling in case anything goes wrong. Some airlines are better than others are stocking and improvising than others so I wouldn’t depend on them if you have a child under 1. Invest in a Fridge-To-Go or the like, to keep your extra stash of mush, formula or milk fresh. For older kids, pack plenty of snacks, and airplanes can supply things like yogurt and fruit to fill them up from time to time.

Worst Case Scenario 6: The plane will crash
The current statistic is risk of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 11 million and that of dying in a car crash is 1 in 5000. We take calculated risks at every step in our lives and at 1 in 1 million, I hardly think it’s a risk worth paralyzing yourself for. New parents should worry about SIDS which is a much more real risk.

Worst Case Scenario 7: You will have a nervous breakdown and pass out
You may feel like you are going to pass out from the sheer exhaustion and stress of it all, but hey, you’ve been here before right? It’s nothing that you cannot handle. All the same, you should tag a name and emergency phone number on your child’s bag and make sure the flight attendant has this information as well. Make sure you get some rest before traveling with an infant and nap when your child naps on the plane. You WILL survive. We all do.

Worst Case Scenario 8: You and your baby will be stranded somewhere
Yeah possibly, if you are planning on taking your child to an undiscovered civilization where cell phones and maps don’t exist. Or if you fly an abomination of an airline like Air China. In general, don’t get too adventurous when you are traveling with young children. Stick with populated routes and cities, or places that you know your way around. In the event that the airplane gets re-routed, make sure you stick with the airline officials and that you demand that you and your children be taken to your final destination safely. Don’t be afraid to speak up, be assertive and enlist other passengers in your cause.

If this isn’t enough to get you booking, remember that you baby flies for practically nothing (at most 10%) of the airfare till she/he is 2 years old. After that, it starts to add up. So read our travel tips for new parents and trust that you are ready for an adventure.

traveling with an infant