Okay. So I’m hardly a flying-with-baby pro, yeah? But since I’ve done the deed a couple of times now (to Brisbane, to Singapore, to Sydney), I thought I’d summarise some of my findings. Who knows. This might help someone, some day.

Lessons learnt about flying with a baby…

OOH WAIT. Caveats:

  • Arddun has only flown with SIA (international) and Qantas (domestic).
  • These tips apply to those who are planning to fly economy. If you’re la-di-da enough to afford business class or first, you may read this and laugh cruelly at the plight of us plebeian mothers.
  • Can’t reaaaally speak for babies older than 9.5 months, since that’s how old Arddun was at the time of travel.
  • Scratch that. Can’t speak for any babies other than my own.

Back to – Lessons learnt about flying with a baby.

1. Pack enough, but not a smidgen more

First time mums travelling long-distance look at their wriggling, writhing bundle of joy and wonder how on earth they’re going to keep him/her/it occupied and benign for 8/12/22 hours on the plane in an enclosed space. Also, as mothers are wont to do, we imagine the absolute worst and then pack 150% more. What if she gets diarrhoea? Let’s pack 42 nappies for an 8 hour flight! Throws up on her clothes? Surely there’s enough space in a suitcase for her entire wardrobe – they’re so tiny after all.

And then the clincher: what if she gets bored?

Soon, we’re packed enough for a nuclear winter, and trying frantically to persuade customs that the Ayers Rock on wheels trundling behind us is baby’s hand luggage. (“It’ll fit into the overhead compartment! I swear it on my daughter’s Sophie the Giraffe!”)

But guess what. You’re lucky if you’ll even get to touch your overhead compartment. Because you and your partner will be swimming in your baby’s paraphernalia from all her other bags while ensconced in your teeny-tiny airplane seats. And let’s not forget that certain airlines also provide a blanket. And a cushion. Each. Add that all up, and your shins will have disappeared for the duration of your flight while your baby is happily chewing on the remote control to your entertainment unit.

So yes – prepare for emergencies, but trust that fellow passengers with children are able and willing to help out if the plane crew can’t. Also, as Leila’s mommy recounted to me, emergency gear extends to parents also. Upon the plane’s descent, her little one – sick already with food poisoning – decided to present her semi-digested lunch all over mommy’s shirt. And baby clothes, no matter how comfy and cute, can’t stretch that wide for mommies.

2. Food

A few tips squashed under this headline as follows:

  • Airlines do provide baby food, but in SIA’s case it went from goo for 4-month olds straight to Aussie Day Breakfast for toddlers. Arddun was in between both food types and allergic to 75% of the toddler’s platter. So BYO to be safe.
  • Pack all your baby food in the one hand carry, if you can. That way, you can tell customs it’s all in the one place, and it’ll speed things up for them and you. They’re pretty accommodating where baby food is concerned – they just want to know where it all is.
  • Word of warning about bringing along baby food in glass jars. We had 2 such jars given to us at the last minute, which we took along in the nappy bag. One broke into smithereens during the flight, and wild rice pudding went everywhere. Not fun.
  • It might have been a health and safety thing for SIA, but they needed a 20-minute head’s up to heat up Arddun’s food each time. I suspect they were letting the jars sit in hot water, rather than nuke them. So if your child is the type to go la-la-la-GIMME-FOOD-I’M-DYING-HERE-SCREEEEEAM in 2 seconds… you might want to get the ball rolling ahead of time.

  3. Pram

Check with your airline to see if you’re allowed to wheel your pram to the gate. SIA allows it, but Qantas didn’t. Also, some airports provide strollers for use in the check-in area. But your child might need to be older, bigger, and able to sit upright without assistance.

4. Bassinet

Okay. The lowdown on bassinet reservations.

The infant’s ticket is usually attached to the mother’s, if the mother is travelling of course. This means that Mommy is entitled to the bassinet seat (conditions apply) while Daddy… it remains to be seen.

Now – most airlines now let you book your seats online. But in SIA’s case, I was able to claim the bassinet seat for myself and Arddun… but not the empty non-bassinet seat beside me for Tony. This proved a very frustrating situation because that meant we had to be separated.

Spoke to Ryan’s Mommy and she said that she had a similar experience when she flew with another airline (I forgot to ask which). In our case, the only way to get everyone sitting together was to speak to a human at the airport check-in. (No – you can’t sort it out with customer service on the phone either.) By then, of course, all the bassinet seats were long-gone… and so was my good humour.

As for bassinet allocation – some airlines do it first-come-first-serve (like SIA), but other airlines do it by age, where the youngest get priority. In such instances, you could get bumped from your bassinet reservation even though you had succeeded in booking one. So check with your airline.

Bassinet sizes – they say they can take children up to 1.5 or 2 years… but really, you’d be struggling. SIA has apparently the biggest bassinet of them all – a whopping 77cm long. Which is still a squeeze. Still – the reason you’d want to score a bassinet seat isn’t so much for the bassinet as the leg room. See point one about baby gear and look, no shins.

Use of bassinet – You’re not supposed to change nappies in them. A ridiculous idea to begin with, some might say. Except after changing your baby’s nappy in the plane’s lavatory, you could moonlight in the Beijing circus troupe with your newfound contortionist skills. And guess what. Every time the no-seatbelt sign comes on, you have to take baby out of the bassinet whether he’s sleeping or no. Every time.

In case you’re wondering, no you can’t book the seats next to the emergency exits to score some crawling space. They’d prefer you’re not juggling baby and 21 bags while flinging aircraft doors wide open. Can’t think why.

5. Pacing the corridors

Is hard, because you only have a tiny window when you’re not getting in some flight attendant’s way. I don’t know how else to comfort you on this score, except to say that there is usually a small alcove next to the flight attendant’s galley in the middle of the plane where you could pace on the spot to get your blood moving, and jiggle bubba to sleep.

On our flight to Singapore, we had the misfortune of sitting near a portly couple who hated the idea of a mother (me) standing in front of them to jiggle her child to sleep in a pouch. But I couldn’t help it – they were seated next to the emergency door and the spot in front of them was the only one I could use to get out of everyone else’s way. Otherwise, I’d bump into the queue for the lavatories, or get in the way of the flight attendants.

Anyhoo. After some very pointed and snide remarks about how I “really should return to my seat” and “shouldn’t be here in their spot”, both of them decided to max out their extra $50 worth of legroom by stretching legs as far as possible so I would keep tripping over their cankles. I don’t know what kind of ugly childhood they had growing up that would scar them to the point of deliberately trying to TRIP a mother with her 8-month old, but I went back to my seat and sent Daddy out with the pouch and baby instead. Same thing happened to him, so he accidentally on purpose kicked them back.

Moral of the story: hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. Many people may roll their eyes when they see you bamboozling your way down the narrow corridor with clapping baby dangling on one hip. And you know, deep down, that you understand exactly how they feel.

But rest assured that as with all unpleasant days and moments, this too shall pass. Just breathe and hug your baby.