5 Tips for flying Extra Long Haul with a baby

Lessons learned after flying 17 hours non-stop with a 16 month old

Our daughter is a fun, active, lively little ball of energy. We work at tiring her out every day so she will sleep at a reasonable time. I am a firm believer that the future of all our world’s energy needs could be secured if we could just find a way to harness toddler power. I cannot think of anything that would frustrate my baby more than telling her to sit still for over 20 hours. However, a pre-existing commitment meant I needed to be in the UK for two weeks in June and we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to take Maddie to meet the English half of her family.

After comparing the cost and total travel time of various routes and stopovers, we decided to give the new direct long haul Perth to London Heathrow Qantas flight a go. We figured it would be easier than transferring Maddie and all our luggage and toys from one plane to another and through another security check.

Jed and I have done a lot of flying and have a bit of a routine when we travel. Flying with a baby, however, is a whole different story! Perhaps we should have started out with a nice, little domestic flight. A family holiday in Exmouth perhaps? A scenic flight from Murray airfield in the Peel Region where we live might have been nice.

Baby standing by window in airport terminal watching the planes
Maddie watching the planes take off and land at Perth whilst waiting to board our plane

But no, Past Joneses decided to throw Future Joneses in the deep end and decided upon a trip to Merry Old England as our first foray into aviation adventure. The direct flight no less. The second-longest commercial flight in the world. This was EXTRA Long Haul. Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?

Maddie was one year and almost three months15 months oldwhen we flew to the UK. She is generally a happy little soul but certainly strong willed. We had heard that you can take your car seat onto the plane for the child to sit in. This seemed like a sensible option as Maddie is familiar with her car seat (ok, she doesn’t like it much but she does sleep in it pretty well). We had to purchase Maddie a ticket of her own at 90% of an adult ticket but that was ok. We could have paid just 10% and had her on our lap the whole time but who wants a wiggly toddler on their lap for 17 hours? Not me. Nope!

The other advantage is that once she was asleep I wouldn’t ever need to move her. If the seatbelt sign was on, or there was turbulence, the safest place to be is in the car seat. I have had friends tell me it took ages to settle their baby into the crib just to hit turbulence and have to pick them back up. Then have the whole process repeat several times. Note though that only approved child car seats are allowed and you have to notify the airline at the time of booking if you plan to take one. You will have to show the ‘aviation approved’ sticker on the car seat at check in.

baby plays in terminal, red Qantas ring on right
Maddie burning off some energy at the departure gate in Perth

So how was our long haul experience?

On the whole the flight was ok. If you’re thinking of going long haul with your little one, here are some tips that may make the journey a little easier:

1 – Taking Your Carseat On The Plane

When taking a car seat on the plane you need to carry it through the airport and install it in the plane seat yourself. On the way to the UK we had the full cavalry: myself, Jed and Granddad. Between the three of us it was easy enough to manage. On the way home however, I was on my own with Maddie. I brought a little collapsible trolley so I could tow the car seat through the airport. This worked really well. I would recommend getting one even just for getting your luggage through departures if you have a lot to carry.

baby seated in blue car seat, mother on left, father on the right
Jed, Suzy and Maddie in her carseat

2 – The Toy Catcher Hammock

Like most toddlers, Maddie likes to throw things when she’s done playing with them. It can be frustrating in more agile situations but once on a plane you need to be a contortionist to recover a much-desired object from beneath the seat in front. A simple fix was to suspend the airplane blanket between the pocket of the seat in front and the base of the car seat making a hammock in which to catch discarded toys. This proved to be very handy come bedtime when Maddie started to get grumpy.

red blanket forms hammock beneath baby's feet
The toy-catcher “hammock” made from the complimentary blanket

3 – No Need For New Toys

Jed and I made a special trip tothelocal shopping centre the week before our trip to stock up on new toys. Someone had told us to take new things she hadn’t played with before to keep her entertained for longer. This worked for a short time but the real winner was the little bag of puzzles a friend had prepared for us. She had collected a simple assortment of little puzzles that ended up keeping Maddie content for the first 5 hours of the flight until sleep time. Amongst the simple goodies were; a box containing two balls, a small plastic tub with a toy bolt inside and the lid loosely fastened with sticky tape, and a book in wrapping paper for her to unwrap. These were simple, free and kept Maddie happy for far longer than her costly store-bought toys.

baby seated in car seat playing with simple cardboard box
Maddie playing with a simple box

4 – Toddler food

Most airlines do not provide food for under-2sbut that just means you can pack their usual favourites. We prepared penne pasta with peas and corn – big mistake! – those peas and corn ended up everywhere! We also took cheese, fruit, sultanas and some baby snacks. Although the rules for international flights restrict all liquidsto less than 100ml, the rules are more relaxed for babies. The Qantas Information For Parents page states “Passengers travelling with an infant or toddler are permitted to carry a reasonable quantity of liquid, aerosol or gel products for the infant or toddler onboard for the duration of the flight and any delays that might occur. A ‘reasonable quantity’ will be at the discretion of the security screening officer at customs.” This includes bottles of expressed breastmilk, formula milk and food puree.

Also, although you can take fresh food on the plane, you may need to dispose of this in the quarantine bins at the airport at your final destination before you go through customs. It is best to check with your airline what you are  allowed to take onboard.

5 – Accept Help From Others When Offered

I was blown away by the kind gestures of all the people sitting around me. I had expected my fellow passengers to be frustrated and annoyed by my noisy toddler but instead I found myself chatting and laughing with most of them. Some came and stood with us when I was giving Maddie a little walk, some waved and played peek-a-boo from behind their blanket. We happened to be flying with both the Australian Rugby Sevens men’s and women’s teams and at least three of those women came to chat and tell me they had children the same age. I heard stories of new grandchildren and people who were travelling to meet new family members for the first time. If raising a family takes a village then flying with a 15 month old takes a whole cabin full of people!

I’m not going to pretend it was all fun and games though.  The first four or five hours of the return flight were troubled with turbulence meaning Maddie had to be strapped into her seat. She was NOT happy about that. I tried the cartoons, every toy, offered every bit of food I had, tried a bottle and even singing out loud (sorry to anyone who may have heard me).

Maddie got more and more frustrated and started kicking the seat in front. The more I tried to stop her the more frustrated she got. The woman in front, quite understandably, got a bit annoyed, but then again she had her seat reclined THE WHOLE TIME! She kept tutting and giving me sly looks. When she eventually turned  around to scold me I asked her, with all the patience and politeness I could muster, to put her seat back upright as then Maddie couldn’t reach her. She begrudgingly obliged and Maddie was asleep within ten minutes. Now, because I am a nice person, I tapped the lady in front on her shoulder and told her the baby was asleep and she could recline her seat now. How I wanted to let her sit upright that whole journey!

Qantas plane docked at terminal
The Waltzing Matilda – boarding the plane in Perth en route to London

Not long after, one of the flight attendants came and offered me more food and a glass of wine. He noticed that I didn’t get to eat much of my own meal. Throughout the flight I was offered refreshments and they sneaked me a few extra complimentary chocolates and TimTams. When Maddie woke again towards the end of the flight they invited me back to the galley where Maddie would stretch her legs a bit. They even prepared a little yogurt for her and some cheese and crackers.

The help offered by the Qantas crew and the other passengers got me through that flight. I cannot thank them enough.

Sometime in the night, when most were sleeping and not long after the recliner-gate incident, a lady came up to me from somewhere, put her hand on my shoulder and said “you’re doing wonderful”. I hadn’t seen her before on the flight and I don’t know where she had been sitting, but that small act of kindness and empathy brought a tear to my eye. Sometimes the smallest gestures from a stranger can mean the world.

All in all, flying 17 hours direct between London and Perth was not bad. Some parts were actually quite enjoyable. I’ll happily fly Qantas again but maybe we’ll try somewhere a little closer to home next time.

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Did you enjoy this blog? You can another adventure from our UK trip below

 

 

14 Comments

    1. Good for you for bringing her along! No kids here but I’ve heard that if you start traveling with them when they’re very young, they adapt very quickly. I’m not sure if that’s true but it seems to make sense! And very cool to see how everyone around you was helpful and kind. I love stories like that!

      1. Thanks, our hope was that if we start early she’ll adapt quickly – hope it works haha

    1. The very last part of your post about the kindness of strangers is just lovely. We’re thinking about some trips with our new baby and this gives me hope that it won’t be so bad! Happy travels!

      1. Thank you. The kindness of others was the biggest surprise 🙂

    1. This is a great article, I’ll have to share it with my sister for when her little girl is here and she’s ready to travel again.

    1. yes we have done many flights with little ones, nothing this long. I was a BIG fan of bringing the car seat on board just to contain them! And def accept help where you can!

      1. Yes the best purpose of the car seat is containing a wriggly toddler 🙂

    1. This post reminded me of our first long journey – a series of three flights to get from the centre of Canada to central Europe. It was a crazy series of flights. We bought seats that allowed for a baby sleeper/basket thingie but our son would have none of it. He wanted to get off the plane, in his own words, right over the Atlantic. And he let everyone know by screaming for a few hours. I wish I had your advice back then. I don’t remember that flight fondly. Definitely will share your post with other traveling parents.

      1. Thanks for sharing. Its never easy flying with a little none is it. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard to keep anyone or anything happy haha

    1. OMgosh, I don’t have a baby but I can’t imagine this is an easy feat! Admittedly, I get annoyed when a baby starts screeching on a plane…but then I think about the mom (or dad) and their stress and hardship of caring for that baby and I can’t help but sympathize!

      1. Thank you, I didn’t appreciate it until I had to fly with a baby myself either.

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