Flying with a baby? Get ready to be ‘that guy’

It’s a shattering and shaming feeling to realise that you have become the very person you once despised.

Dad baby sleeping on lap on airplane

It’s only when you see the fear, hatred and fury reflected back at you in the eyes of someone who’s an age you wish you could be again that it fully hits.

You are now the awkwardly smiling assassin, the guy walking onto a long-haul flight with a bundle of vomit, screams and sleeplessness in his arms.

The selfish, soon to be shit-stained Dad who’s going to inflict his mewling ball of joy on all the poor, innocent young people unfortunate enough to be sitting within five rows of you (you’ll notice, however, that other people with kids will have at least some sympathy mixed in with their looks of open-mouthed horror at your arrival).

You can remember, all too well, being on the other side of that divide, and perhaps even swearing you’d never, ever be that guy.

In terms of avoiding this horrific moment of self realisation, the best advice I can give is to simply give up overseas travel for at least five years after your child is born. Or possibly longer.

There are some people who will tell you that flying with a newborn is ‘the best time to fly’. These people typically fall into one of 3 categories:

1. Travel agents.

2. Friends without children that read an article about it online – “didn’t you see it? I tagged you in it?” (This article was most likely sponsored by a travel agent).

3. Parents who legitimately had this experience – the same sickeningly frustrating parents who prattle on about how fast and painless the birth was, how their baby just ‘took to the boob’ like the Donald’s hand to a beauty queen’s pony, and slept right through the night from day dot. The same people whose posts you eventually hide from your news feed because if you wanted a constant reminder of you’re inferior parenting abilities you’d go live with your mother-in-law.

Of course, this was not my experience.

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My wife and I flew to Europe with our tiny daughter shoehorned, screaming, into that evil Meccano set that airlines call a flying bassinet (“I’m sorry, you’ll have to take that down now, even though she’s just gone to sleep, finally”), and when we got back, after the nightmare of a jet lagged infant wanting to play and eat breakfast at 3am, we swore we would never, ever do it again.

We have, of course, because the human brain has a wonderful inability to remember what pain actually feels like, even the pain of labour, which must be the only reason any woman ever has more than one child.

What we’ve realised, over the years, is that it’s best to adopt a Zen-like attitude of acceptance. It’s not that you’re guaranteed to have a bad time, it’s more that you have to be willing to accept that flying, and flying with children in particular, is fraught with potential frustrations.

Like the time I somehow tricked my wife into going to Perth on her own with our toddling son, and the plane sat on the tarmac for 2.5 hours in baking summer heat before taking off for a five-hour flight.

We didn’t speak for quite a while after that one.

Having a domestic

Domestic flights are, in theory, much easier, because one or two hours is not an absurd amount of time to have to keep a baby almost still and occupied.

If you’re flying to and from any of the major capital cities, there are normally flights leaving pretty much once an hour – so if you can, try to book your flight for when junior normally puts his head down for a nap. With a bit of luck, they’ll sleep through the whole thing and simply wake up in another city. Perfect!

But if bub’s not a good sleeper at the best of times, then you’re going to need a few distractions. The general wisdom is to bring along a couple of tried-and-tested favourite toys.

However, for God’s sake, do not bring anything with you that makes any noise… if you think getting the stink-eye over a crying baby is bad, you ain’t seen nothing like the venom you’ll encounter after two hours of a squeaky toy.

I might also be worth packing a couple of brand new toys – they could hold bub’s interest for longer, until the novelty wears off.

Flying higher

One of the joys of living in Australia is that it’s such a vast distance from everywhere, which means even a short overseas trip for us is far too long for a baby.

The first and most important rule of long-haul flying with an infant is clothing. You need to bring spares, for you and for them, and don’t scrimp.

Unfortunately, there seems to be something about flying that turns small people into Linda Blair from The Exorcist, even if they’re not generally vomitous types on the ground.

A good friend of mine was completely firehosed with spew by his son just before they got onto a flight to China and had nothing to change into. You can imagine how double-happy the people next to him on the plane were when he sat down with his kids, and a t-shirt that looked like a Ken Done painting.

The clothing thing is, of course, merely typical of what should be your general approach – Be Prepared, for anything.

It’s also worth bearing in mind the climate you’re flying to – if it’s going to be radically different to where you’re coming from, dress bub in layers (or bring extra layers to apply) so that you’ve got a fighting chance of making sure they’re dressed for the weather.

Creature comforts

The one thing you shouldn’t dare to hope for is any sleep, quite possibly not one minute all the way to Europe.

Sure, it’s worth negotiating with your partner over trying to go it alone with Boss Baby for a few hours so you can each kip, but when the time comes for changing nappies in something smaller than public phone box, or attempting to feed, or warm bottles, or find dry blankets, or to build the stupid bassinet, it’s generally going to be a two-person job.

You’ll need to check with the airline you’re travelling on, but it’s worth investigating a couple of options for seating arrangements that could make life a lot easier.

Most airlines do offer the aforementioned bassinets – but they’re limited in number, and won’t always be available. Book them at the same time that you’re booking your ticket.

Option two is a little bit harder on the wallet – but some airlines will allow you to book a seat for your baby, and offer airline-approved baby capsules (sorta like the one you have in the car). Having junior in you or your partner’s lap for a few hours is do-able – but if you’re doing a long-haul flight (say… Sydney to LA) you’re staring down the barrel of a solid 14 hours.

Which is, obviously, complete madness.

Where on the plane to sit

Lastly, there is the question of where to sit on the plane – and there are plenty of different theories as to the best place to plonk your backside as you hurtle through the skies.

(DAD Pro tip: There’s an awesome website called SeatGuru, where you enter your flight number and it pulls up a detailed seat map of the plane, with specific info about each seat, things like how much legroom there is, and tips on seats to avoid. With or without a kid, this is an invaluable resource for anyone planning a long haul trip in a tin can.)

Some folks reckon the bulkhead seats are the best because of the extra leg room – and on a lot planes, that’s where the built-in bassinets can be found.

Others reckon a seat down the back of the plane, where it might be a little less crowded, are the go. The downside to that is you’ll be right next to the dunnies, and believe me, nothing gets older faster than catching that wafting odour of crap every time someone opens the door.

Third option is to try to get a seat as close to the engines as you can – the constant humming works well as a white noise generator, and could help your baby to get to sleep, and stay asleep.

Yes, it’s true that your baby might find the constant rushing wind noise, low-level babble of talking, ear pressure popping and general discomfort of flying a soothing experience and will thus sleep in glorious, four-hour chunks, with nary a cry to be heard.

But it’s also possible that you are flying into Hell above Earth.

All you can do is be as calm as possible, apologise profusely to the people around you while shrugging helplessly, and then swear, when you get home, that you’ll never, ever do it again.

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