My wife and I had the great fortune of living in Japan from 2013-2016, and the even greater fortune to have a (surprise!) baby boy born there in 2014.
While my greatest concern was to have a happy and healthy family, because we lived in Japan, the thought of long haul flights back home with a baby crept constantly into the back of my mind.
Through trial and error, sometimes disastrous error, we have figured out how to prepare for and successfully execute long haul flights with our son. Today, I’ll share my top tips and tricks you can replicate to get you through long haul flights with your little one.
Since October 2014, my son has flown on 20 flights visiting five countries. We have flown on a seven hour, nine hour, and multiple 10-12 hour flights between Japan and the US. As a dad on these trips, you have the specific responsibilities of not only taking care of your baby, but perhaps more importantly, you have to take care of your other loved one who WILL remember the flight.
Success for me was not only judged by how well my son made it through the flight, but mainly on how well my wife made the trip and her mental end state. I’d like to say I always fight the good fight and come out ahead, but a particular time comes to mind in Tokyo’s Narita airport where I put myself in the proverbial dog house for the first two hours of a transpacific flight. This is all in the name of fun and adventure, right?
Here are the top five things you can learn from my mistakes.
- Choose Your Flight Times Carefully
While a red-eye flight may be your worst nemesis, it’s going to be a better choice for your little one. If they are on even a semblance of a schedule, flying at night will help them sleep. I look for red-eyes on the long flights so little buddy will stay on his usual cycle and sleep most of the flight away. Bonus: Red-eyes are usually cheaper.
- Condense Your Baggage
Getting through ground transportation, check-in, security, boarding, and settling in to your seats are in my opinion the most stressful part of traveling with my little man. While our little ones require a lot of stuff for a flight, it should not take 4 separate bags. Visualize your family moving through this ballet and make sure you know how you are going to physically move everything from point A to B in an efficient manner. Checked and carry-on baggage can get expensive if you over-pack, and overhead bin space is now at a premium. Minimize the volume of your stuff.
- Use Points and Miles to Fly Premium Cabins and Get Airport Lounge Access
Yes, having a large business class seat is fantastic when sharing it with your baby. Yes, they are incredibly expensive. If you have not yet had an ‘ah ha!’ moment for how valuable airline and credit card miles and points can be to the traveling family, do a bit of reading on the hobby and hopefully it will peak your interest.I have flown the majority of long haul flights in business or first courtesy of credit card points, and the time required to accumulate them is definitely worth the free business class seat. Also, having a credit card that gives us airport lounge access to escape the mob and have our own little area is worth almost any annual fee. (If you’re interested, check out credit card offers from our partners here.)
- Snacks, Toys, Diapers, Wipes
Plain and simple, this is what you need to bring on the plane with you. You need food for your child and yourself. A breastfeeding mom needs a lot of snacks and water. A 6’1” large, tired dad needs a lot of snacks and beer. The adults also need a change of clothes for the inopportune blow out or throw up episode.I’ve flown 50+ flights a year for the last 4 years, and I am always amazed at parents not having these supplies, or not enough to cover any contingencies that may occur: A two-hour tarmac delay for a one-hour flight will happen to you. You will land at an airport after everything is closed and you can’t buy what you need. Economy class will run out of bottled water on a 12-hour flight, and if you need to make a bottle please do not use the water from the lavatory sink. Become self-sufficient, but also keep in mind tip #2 above.Once your little one is no longer nursing or using a bottle, you need something to pop their ears during takeoff and landing, so bring a toy they will chew or suck on. You must have these items to cover your basics.
Have a Plan for When Things Going Wrong
Something is going to go wrong, or your child may just have a bad flight. If they begin screaming, what are you going to do?
I always try and pick a seat on the last row of whatever cabin we are in so I can quickly bring my son to the galley. The new faces back there and inevitable passenger or crew who want to say hello is usually enough to settle him down. This is also a great time to give mom a break and let her watch an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.” If your kid has a special toy or stuffed animal they love, make sure its in the bag. If they are teething, bring the baby Tylenol.
As far as other passengers are concerned, as long as they see you making an attempt to calm little Sally Mae, they will be appeased. As long as you have a plan and put some effort into it, things will be okay. If you’re worried about fellow passengers, just tell yourself that you’ll never see them again once you land and the boarding doors open, so who cares what they think!
What are your best tips for surviving long haul flights with a baby or toddler? Which card do you use everyday to earn free travel?
— Richard Kerr
P.S. My next post on flying with baby: Car seat or no car seat?
A simple internet search for cheap airfare led Richard Kerr to chasing the proverbial white rabbit down the hole towards points and miles. Richard’s passion is exploring the inner workings of loyalty programs in order to provide readers the best strategies for maximizing their loyalty account balances. Contact Richard via email at firstname.lastname@example.org