The First Flight: Survival Etiquette for Traveling with Babies and Toddlers

The prospect of flying with your baby or toddler for the first time can lead to a lot of anxiety – so much so, that we may just avoid it all together. The dreaded thoughts – will they cry? Will they sleep? Will your fellow passengers give you understanding smiles or irritated glares? Rest assured, this journey has been traveled by countless parents before you, and with a little preparation and a lot of compassion, we promise, you’ll be OK!

Flying with a baby or toddler is a shared experience — one that involves you, your child, and the passengers around you. Good etiquette in this context is fundamentally about empathy and kindness. Here are a few guidelines to help make your journey, and that of your fellow travelers, a little easier.

1. Preparation is Key

Take the time to understand the airline’s policies for traveling with children. This includes guidelines about stroller check-in, baby food, and in-flight amenities. Pack a well-organized diaper bag with easy access to essentials: diapers, wipes, pacifiers, snacks, and toys. Having everything you need at your fingertips will not only reduce your stress, but it will also minimize the disturbance to passengers seated nearby.

2. Inform Fellow Passengers

Once on board, you may wish to let your neighboring passengers know that you’re traveling with your baby for the first time. Most people appreciate the heads-up and will likely respond with understanding. It can also open up the opportunity for a kind stranger to lend a helping hand or share their own experiences, which can be quite reassuring.

3. Noise Control

Pack noise-cancelling baby headphones for your little one. This will help block out the loud, unfamiliar noises of the aircraft that might scare them. In some lucky instances however, the noise of the engine can actualy lull a baby to sleep. If your child is old enough to understand, explain the various sounds they might hear during the flight. You may consider bringing a few extra pairs of earplugs as a peace offering to your immediate neighbors if your baby screams for longer than you anticipated. A little act of kindness can go a long way in earning their patience.

4. Keep Your Child Engaged

Books, coloring materials, toys, or downloaded movies can be lifesavers when it comes to keeping your child entertained during the flight. Switch between activities to keep them engaged, and don’t forget to pack their favorite comfort toy or blanket to help them feel secure in the unfamiliar environment.

5. Feed During Takeoff and Landing

Talk to your pediatrician about techiques for ear pain due to cabin pressure and how to best alleviate them. Many parents will recommend feeding your baby or toddler during takeoff and landing to help alleviate the discomfort caused by changes in cabin pressure. Whether you’re nursing, bottle-feeding, or providing a snack, this trick can make a significant difference to your child’s comfort level. If your child is old enough to eat snacks, pack many different types of snacks in little bags or containers that they can open and be surprised by. 

6. Apologize If Needed

If your child has a meltdown, throws milk on your neighbor or causes a disturbance, it’s okay to apologize to those around you. Remember, everyone has had a first-time experience of some sort, and a simple, sincere apology can do wonders in calming a potentially tense situation. That being said, sometimes you won’t win over all your neighbors and that’s okay too. As long as you show effort in trying to soothe your baby or take accountability for cheerios thrown like confetti as best you can, the people around you will likely be much more understanding than you thought. If you encounter a grumpy neighbor, try not to let it stress you out. Everyone was a crying baby at one point in their life and hopefully they’ll show a bit of understanding and compassion! 

7. Be Patient with Yourself and Your Little One

Lastly, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. You’re doing your best, and that’s what matters most. Traveling is a learning experience, both for you and your child. There might be a few hiccups along the way, but with a bit of patience and compassion, you’ll get through it just fine.

Remember, the flight is just a fraction of your journey. In the end, you’re creating memories with your little one, and that’s what counts the most. So take a deep breath, hold your child’s hand, and embark on the adventure. Happy travels, you’ve got this! 

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