Family Travel » 20 Tips For Long Haul Flights With Babies + How To Survive As a Parent

20 Tips For Long Haul Flights With Babies + How To Survive As a Parent

These tips for long haul flights with babies cover pre-flight routines, packing tips, flight entertainment and how to encourage restful sleep along the way.

So, you’ve booked your first long haul flight with your baby and you’re wondering how you’re going to manage? Don’t panic! While I can’t guarantee it’ll be a breeze, to be honest, even if it’s challenging, it’s only a day. The fun you have abroad will more than make up for any stresses on the journey.

Within the first 12 months of my son Cooper’s life, we went on two short-haul trips to Spain and France, and two long-haul trips to Vietnam/Thailand and Florida. The flight to Vietnam was 12 and a half hours long, followed by a four hour wait, then an hour’s connecting flight. After that, our direct flight to Florida felt like a breeze – a mere 9-hour flight. Over the past year, I’ve learned what works and doesn’t work. I also figured out how to pack like a pro!

ready for take off on plane with a baby
Ready for take off!

Coming up in this post are lots of practical tips for long haul flights with babies. From how to book the best seats on the plane, to what to have in your carry-on luggage. I’ll also share a few ways to encourage the best day or night sleep possible.

I’m going to break the post up into sections covering pre-flight, during and a few bits of advice for once you reach your destination too. Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

ready to fly long haul with a baby
Before we travelled to Florida – flying long haul with a baby

Pre-Flight Tips

Consider flight times and time zones

This first tip is all about booking your flights. If you have lots of options of flights to choose from, have a think about the time of day you’ll be arriving at the airport to fly, as well as the arrival time at the destination. From my experience, it has been best to keep to Cooper’s routine as much as possible, so he’s starting the journey well rested. You might want to avoid booking a really early flight where you have to be at an airport at 4am, as this will disturb your baby’s night sleep. We’ve always found flights in the middle of the day are least disruptive to routines.

If your baby is a really good sleeper, night flights might be good, as they can settle and snooze for the majority of it. If they’re not great with sleep (or so small that their wake windows are less reliable), you might prefer a daytime flight.

We’ve had a mix of experiences. One of the harder flights was a night flight back from Florida, where everyone was sleeping on the plane… except Cooper who was crying. It felt harder dealing with him being upset when it was disrupting everyone else’s sleep.

ready to fly to florida with a baby
ready to fly to florida with a baby

When it comes to the arrival time at destination, we’ve preferred arriving in daylight. Ideally you’ll want to try to get your baby on the local time zone asap. Assuming they haven’t had that much rest on the journey, they’ll probably nap and snooze intermittently on the first day and have some broken sleep on night 1. But, by day 2, they should have adapted to the new time zone reasonably well. We were amazed by how quickly Cooper settled into the new time zones in both Southeast Asia and Florida.

baby swimming in Vietnam
When we reached our destination it was all worth it!

Book a bassinet for your baby’s long-haul flight

The next thing to think about when you’re booking your flights is to book a bassinet for your baby. Your child won’t get their own seat until they’re two-years-old. Up until then, they have to travel on the parent’s lap. But, you can book a bassinet.

To be honest, even if there’s zero chance of them sleeping in there, I’d recommend booking one anyway! The bassinets are always at the front of each section of the plane, and these bulkhead seats offer lots of room to stretch out. Invariably, they end up being used as a place to store all of the items you need handy!

baby in vietnam airlines bassinet
Testing out the bassinet
snoozeshade on plane bassinet
Using the SnoozeShade over the bassinet once he was asleep

We flew to Vietnam when Cooper was 8-months-old, and he slept for a short period in the Vietnam Airlines bassinet. However, 4 weeks later on the return flight, he refused to settle in it at all. At 12-months on the Florida flights, he hated being in the Virgin Airlines bassinet. We ended up getting it taken away, which freed up the space around our seats. We did however have window seats, which meant there was quite a lot of entertainment for him to watch outside!

bassinet for baby on Virgin plane
This was the bassinet on the Virgin plane
what our bassinet was used for
The reality of what our bassinet was actually used for!!

Download videos offline

Another tip for your pre-flight checklist is to download some videos offline. Whether you have YouTube Premium or another way to get videos saved to your phone, this is essential! For the early months, we had hour-long videos of Dancing Vegetables saved to our phone. For more recent trips Miss Rachel has been a firm favourite. Never underestimate the power of a video to calm and press reset when your baby is unsettled!

Let your baby burn off some energy before the flight

If your little one’s crawling or walking, I’d recommend letting them burn off some energy before you board the flight. Many airports have play areas (we were very impressed with the soft play in Heathrow Airport) or carpeted sections which are safe for babies.

kids area at Heathrow Airport
We visited the kid’s area at Heathrow Airport before flying to Florida

Think about naps before the flight

As well as burning off energy, I’d recommend trying to keep your baby’s normal nap schedule if you can. A well-rested baby tends to be a much happier traveller than an over-tired one!

Prepare for security

I always get a little nervous before reaching airport security when I’m travelling with our son, as there’s a lot more to think about. You need all your liquids out (including milk and pouches), electronics and you might need to fold a pram down, all while trying to hold onto your kid!

I’d recommend having your baby in a carrier for this part, then just take them out when you’re ready to go through the scanners. Plus, organise your bags so you can find important items easily.

Board the flight last

This travel tip for flying long haul with a baby might surprise you! Often the airline crew will encourage families with young children to board quite early on. Yes, we might take a little longer to get settled, sort out bags, and figure out how to juggle a baby at the same time, but it doesn’t take us that long!

boarding the plane as late as possible
boarding the plane as late as possible

If you’re in a couple, it could be a good idea for one of you to take some of the bags on board and get settled, while the other boards later with the baby. However, I wouldn’t recommend taking your baby on board the flight for any longer than they have to be there. They’ll get restless and frustrated, especially if the air stewards are trying to confine them to your lap and put on a baby seat belt immediately.

Tips For During Long-Haul Flights With Babies

Make friends with everyone around you

Don’t board the flight looking nervous about upsetting everyone around you. Make friends with those sitting near you immediately. Little comments, smiles and interactions could help win your next-door neighbours over. This will make you relax more too. This goes for the airline crew too!

baby with the air stewards
The crew on our Vietnam Airlines flight loved playing with our son!

On one of our first flights to Europe, the passengers on the row behind were being very sweet, talking about how cute Cooper was. This helped, as a few minutes later when he was sick through the gap between the seats (mortifying!!) they weren’t mad at all. They laughed it off and said not to worry!

Many passengers will be parents themselves, and so will be much more understanding about noise or mess from your little one.

Think about your baby’s ears during take-off

There’s a chance your baby will experience some ear pain during take-off. One of the simplest ways to help ease this is to feed (breastfeed, bottle feed or a snack). Cooper never seemed in any pain, but I fed him anyway. For the most recent flight when he turned 12 months, we kept a bag of snacks close by, but he was absolutely fine.

Bring a baby carrier on board

Does your baby sleep in a carrier? Definitely bring it on the flight. Cooper loves napping in our Ergobaby baby carrier, so this has been one of our most-used items on long-haul flights.

baby in a carrier on plane
baby in a carrier on plane

I’d recommend investing in a high-quality carrier that balances the weight well. We had trouble getting Cooper to sleep in the bassinet, but the carrier worked well, and once he was snoozing, we could sit down and rest him on our chests.

baby asleep on plane
Cooper asleep on the plane

Pack compact toys

The toys and entertainment you pack will depend on the age of your kids. You’ll want several compact items that you can find easily in your baby bag. For small babies I’d recommend sensory toys such as items made by Lamaze.

Spinners are amazing for under 2s, and you can attach them to plane windows or TV screens easily. Our son loved his TV remote toy made by Fisher Price. It has lights and sounds, and was nice and small to travel with. For 12 months and over, I’d recommend a Busy Board. These folders have lots of interactive activities inside, such as felt stickers, things that turn and counting games.

baby playing with busy board on plane
baby playing with busy board on plane

Think carefully about what to pack in your baby bag

I stressed a little over what we’d need on the flight to Thailand and how to keep things relatively compact. I think we got it pretty much spot on though!

baby changing bag for plane
Our baby changing bag for plane

If you want to follow a little checklist, here’s what we packed in our changing bag:

  • Changing mat
  • Nappies (always pack more than you’ll need, just in case!)
  • Wet wipes
  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Sanitising wipes
  • 2 changes of clothes (just in case of accidents!)
  • A sleeping bag – I read it’s good to keep sleep associations like using the baby’s usual sleeping bag on the flight.
  • White noise machine – This is useful for the airport if you’re trying to squeeze in a nap pre-flight.
  • SnoozeShade – We draped this over the plane bassinet for one of his naps on the outbound journey.
  • A few small toys such as these spinners
  • A few pouches of puree and bags of snacks
  • A silicon bib and spoon
  • Sippy cup for water
  • Calpol and syringe

If your child is eating solids, pack food for the flight

Our two long-haul adventures took place at 8 months and 12 months. We had to think about solid food for both of these. We went for a mix of items. We had pouches containing purees and baby food, as well as bags of snacks such as rice crackers and vegetable crisps. I also made some items that Cooper loves, such as pastry pinwheels. Don’t forget a silicon bib and spoon too. You’ll want items that are easy to clean on the go.

plane food for baby
Some of the food we took for our flight with our baby

Think about milk for your baby

Are you breastfeeding or does your baby drink formula milk? Breastfeeding is a doddle as it’s the most portable option! I was breastfeeding on our first long-haul flight and it made things very simple. Not having to think about sterilising bottles, boiling water or washing things – a round of applause for boobs! But, by our Florida trip Cooper was drinking cow’s milk, so we had to decant enough into bottles to cover the entire journey. You have an unlimited milk allowance when you’re travelling with a baby, but airline security may want to check it before you fly.

If you’re using formula, I’d recommend measuring out enough portions of the powder into little pots, so it’s easy to shake up a new bottle on the go. The air stewards are happy to provide boiled water. In terms of sterilising the bottles, Milton sterilising tablets are ideal for travel.

Pack spare clothes… not just for the baby!

I always carry a spare outfit or two in our baby bag. Accidents happen and you never know when they’ll occur! I’ve gone to the tiny toilet cubicle on a plane to change Cooper, and then emerged with him in a whole new outfit!

after changing baby on plane
You’ll get used to changing your baby in small spaces on the plane

The part you might not have thought about is that YOU might also need to change. This isn’t an essential if you’re short on space, but if your baby is prone to being sick or if you have any concerns, it might be reassuring to know you have a spare t-shirt in case of emergency.

Think about how your baby sleeps normally… then replicate it

Does your baby wear a sleeping bag for their naps or night sleep? Then pack it for the flight? Do they listen to white noise? Then bring your white noise machine. Do they always snuggle up to a comforter or toy? Definitely pack it. You get where I’m going with this! Essentially, sleep on planes is hard, as there are so many bright lights and distractions. But, to encourage the best rest possible, try to keep all the sleep associations your baby has at home.

baby in plane bassinet
Cooper in his sleeping bag in the bassinet

We packed a sleeping bag for Cooper, and on the first flight to Vietnam, he settled in the bassinet wearing it. We placed the white noise machine inside the bassinet too, so it could drown out some of the chatter nearby (although planes themselves make perfect white noise!)

Organise items in Ziploc bags

If you sometimes look at your changing bag and it feels like it’s exploding, consider organising it with packing cubes or Ziploc bags. You could place food and drink in one, clothes in another, nappies and wipes in another. That way, you won’t have to empty the entire bag to find what you need.

Travel with low expectations 

You can try to plan everything in minute detail, but ultimately, my biggest piece of advice is to travel with low expectations. There will always be things that are out of your control, and babies are unpredictable at the best of times!

Your baby might relish the plane environment, be happy and content… and possibly even sleep well! But, it’s quite likely that there will be challenges and you’ll arrive at your destination pretty exhausted. Just go with the flow. It’ll all be worth it once you’re enjoying your break!

Family holiday at Garrya Tongsai Bay Samui
Our long haul flights with a baby have been worth it!

After The Flight

Encourage your baby to adjust to the new time zone

There’s no fool proof way to encourage your little one to fight jetlag, but what we’ve done on our last few long-haul trips is this:

  • Encourage normal sleep routines pre-flight.
  • On the flight, try to stick to a normal schedule, but allow your baby to sleep whenever they need.
  • Once at the destination, try to spend time outside so your baby gets their circadian rhythm sorted with day and night.
  • Try to continue with naps whenever your baby seems tired, but limit these to 1.5 hours until you reach baby’s usual bed time.  
  • Put your baby down for the night, and hope for the best.
  • If they wake in the night, try to resettle them. If that doesn’t work, play with them until they show signs of tiredness, then put them down again.
  • Let them sleep in up to two hours later than their usual morning wake up time.
  • Start the day and show them as much daylight as you can on day one so that they get used to day / night on the new time zone.
baby sleeping in cot
Cooper took 24 hours to adjust to the new time zones

Basic packing list for flying long haul with babies

  • Changing bag: nappies, wipes, nappy bags, change of clothes, hand sanitiser, baby cream
  • Medicine if required
  • Entertainment: Compact toys and favourite videos downloaded on your phone
  • Food: Purees, solid foods and bags of snacks
  • Drink: Expressed milk, formula powder or cow’s milk, and water
  • Bib and spoon
  • Change of clothes for you
  • Sleeping bag
  • White noise machine
  • SnoozeShade
  • Pram
  • Baby carrier

Want to download this baby packing list? Save this image…

baby packing list for flight

I hope you’ve found this guide to flying long haul with babies helpful. With all my experience, I don’t think there’s much I’ve missed!

If you’re looking for other helpful tips about parenting or life with a little one, have a read of these posts:

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tips for flying with a baby

With a passion for food, fun and adventure, Chloe is the content creator behind one of the UK's top travel blogs Wanderlust Chloe. From volcano boarding in Nicaragua, to sailing around Sicily and eating her way around Japan, her travels have taken her to some of the coolest spots on the planet. Named Travel Influencer of the Year in 2022, Chloe regularly works with a number of tourism boards, producing inspirational travel content across multiple platforms. Find out more about Chloe here.

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