Baby on board: how to survive a flight with an infant

Leah McLennan offers advice for mothers flying with babies after learning her lessons the hard way.

Jenny, the lady sitting in the seat next to me, has offered to hold my baby while I put my bags in the overhead locker.

I've just stepped on a Virgin Blue flight from Sydney to Melbourne and I haven't had a chance to tell Jenny that my little one has just done an enormous pooh.

"I know how difficult it is, I have four," she says.

"I'm just learning, this is my first," I reply.

Incredibly, in just under an hour I've been transformed from a healthy-looking young mother to a vomit-covered crazy lady with hair like a pot scourer and one boob hanging out.

This has all happened since I left my Sydney home with a newborn and three giant pieces of luggage and arrived at Sydney airport to catch a plane to Melbourne.

Thinking I would save a few dollars by jumping on the train rather than flagging a taxi, I unwisely set off on foot for Central station with a baby strapped on my front, two bags on my back - like a snail that had grown a second home - and a portable bed slung over my shoulder so the little one has somewhere to sleep during our weekend away.

Somehow, with one finger spare, I managed to buy a train ticket.

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Once at the airport, I again unwisely decided to save a few dollars and choose not to check in my luggage.

Thus I am on board my Virgin Blue flight with my legs going weak at the knees and with a stranger holding my screaming baby.

Things could be better.

Pity help anyone who dares to comment on my pungent odour - I'm ready to eat them alive.

I bend down to try to get the zipper done up on one of my bags - my other bag has been abandoned in the aisle and the baby bed has been stuffed in a locker a few rows down from where I'm seated.

With my bum up in the air I try to squeeze my useless items into my bag when I hear the pilot request the flight attendants to prepare for cross-check.

Yikes, we're about to take off.

As the engines rev louder and the plane starts to hurtle down the runway I manage to stand up - my zipping has been successful.

But I seem to have lost my baby.

And Jenny has disappeared.

My heart begins to thump like a drum, my palms break out in a sweat and I commence a mad dash towards the flight attendants.

Then I see Jenny emerging from the bathroom.

She is holding my smiling bub.

Whilst I was wrestling with my luggage, Jenny had walked to the bathroom, changed my baby's nappy, given her several raspberry kisses and transformed her mood from challenging to cheerful.

Unbelievable.

Sometimes the kindness of strangers astounds me.

Her generous act takes my breath away.

My tear ducts begin to fill with water when I spy the darting looks of other passengers eager for me to sit down, be quiet and get on with the flight.

The last thing they need, I realise, is a sobbing, smelly mother.

So I sit down with my baby and we both try our hardest to be still and quiet.

We face forward in our chair and for 40 minutes we do not disturb our fellow travellers.

In my mind I think about how I've done everything wrong.

I compile a mental list of a dozen things to consider for next time.

1. Flight time. Don't book a flight that is late in the day if you know your baby gets cranky in the afternoon. Babies are generally in a better mood early in the day.

2. Take the pram. Virgin Blue and Qantas will book your pram or stroller through for free, this means you can wheel the baby through the airport and up to the gate where you can conveniently leave it.

3. Pack the carry-on bag wisely. Don't have the nappies at the bottom of the bag at the back of the plane when you're sitting up the front. In the bag ensure there are plenty of nappies, wipes, cloths, bottles of formula (if necessary), toys and a change of clothes.

4. Select the main suitcase wisely. Choose a suitcase with wheels if you are planning to strap the baby to your chest. Carrying a baby on your front and a backpack on your back is downright silly.

5. Inform the airline at the time of booking that you are travelling with an infant. Carry proof of age for the child, such as a birth certificate, immunisation book or passport.

6. Allow ample time to get to the airport. Aim to arrive at least 60 minutes prior to the domestic flight time. You never know when your journey will be interrupted by the need to feed or change the baby.

7. Request an aisle seat. Trying to get past other passengers in your row to get to the toilet is difficult. I nearly stumbled onto the lap of one gentleman while I was struggling to exit and my bub dribbled across the heads of the passengers seated in the row in front of me.

8. Use the parents room in the airport. Most Australian terminals have a baby change room so allow some extra time to duck in there before the flight to freshen up the baby.

9. Go to the toilet before getting on board. Don't think for a second that it's possible to hold the baby whilst going to the toilet in a tiny plane cubicle and emerge looking like a decent human being.

10. Save breast feeding or bottle feeding for take-off and landing. The sucking action can help babies equalise their ears.

11. Have a bottle of water handy. Flying and breastfeeding are both dehydrating. Also have some coins on hand for a snack as rummaging through the overhead locker looking for money whilst holding the baby is challenging and fainting because you have nothing to eat is not going to help anyone.

12. Take the car seat. Both Virgin Blue and Qantas transport your car seats for free.

And finally: make the most of jetsetting with your baby while they're young as children under two years of age (who do not occupy a seat) are carried for free.

With airlines constantly thinking of new ways to make a few dollars, a charge for flying with an infant might be just around the corner.

Europe's Ryanair now charges about $27 each way to hold a baby on your lap.

So enjoy the baby flying for free on Virgin Blue and Qantas while it lasts.

Just think of all those dollars that you are saving that can be spent on nappies.

AAP

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