La Jolla Mom

Long Haul Flights With Young Kids: Sleep On The Plane And Gear (Part 3)

BY La Jolla Mom
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If you are new to the Long Haul Flights with Young Kids series, start first by reading planning flights and jet lag (part 1) as well as what to pack carry-on and in-flight meals (part 2). This post, part 3, addresses getting babies and young kids to sleep on the plane as well as helpful gear for flying with kids.

Airplane Bassinets

If your baby needs a bassinet, you’ll be seated in the bulkhead. The bassinet, unfortunately, can take up quite a bit of space, even in business class (even though it doesn’t look like it in the photo above). The flight attendant assembles it to ensure that it’s done properly, usually after the plane is in the air, and will remove it prior to landing.

Check with the airline regarding the length dimensions and remember that these are usually the exterior dimensions. My daughter was a very long baby and grew out of the bassinet quite quickly, even though she was far away from the weight requirement. I found the bassinets on Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific to be quite nice and my daughter was even given silk bedding once. I didn’t tell them she had acid reflux!

If you don’t need an airplane bassinet, you might want to think about whether or not you want the bulkhead since you have to put your bag and larger toys in the overhead compartment during take off and landing. There’s no seat in front of you to shove it under. I think it’s still worth it, but I know this aspect bothers some people.

When Kids Grow Out Of The Airplane Bassinet

Because my daughter grew out of the bassinet so quickly, we were then stuck in a weird situation where she couldn’t exactly sit upright in her own seat at 6 months, but she had to have her own seat because I didn’t want her in my lap during an international transpacific flight and my husband usually did not fly with us. Kids can ride in your lap up until 2 years of age, usually. We did that once on a 2-hour flight to Bangkok and we thought we were going to die.

Japan Airlines, for instance, will install a Britax convertible car seat in their airplane seats, should you need it, and I understand that Cathay Pacific will, as well. It must be requested well in advance, is subject to availability and once it’s installed, the car seat is there for the rest of the long haul flight whether it works for you or not. I made that mistake once. That car seat served as expensive toy storage because my daughter wasn’t used to it, didn’t like it, and therefore rode on my lap the entire flight. Unpleasant!

Some airlines also will not allow you to strap in your rear facing infant car seat. Cathay Pacific will not. I took our Graco infant seat everywhere and was seriously peeved that I couldn’t use it on the plane. It probably was just as well since we seemed to always function better without any sort of restraint. Cathay Pacific does provide a baby seat belt that attaches to mine. I hold her during takeoff and landing usually with this seat belt. My daughter HATES it, but we manage.

I bought the Kids Fly Safe Cares Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES). It’s very, very easy to use and weighs practically nothing.  I’m not sure that it’s entirely necessary long haul and I applaud your parenting skills if you have a kid that will sit in it for 10+ hours straight (or even a few hours). Anyway, long haul flights usually have more unwritten, relaxed “keep your kid in the seat” requirements than domestic flights do.

I found that if the seat is either upright or fully reclined, and my toddler fell asleep wearing the CARES, she could actually slide down off the seat as a result of the planes vibrations. There is no between-the-legs strap to stabilize her, like strollers and car seats have. We stopped using the CARES eventually, but it’s still a good product.

Changing Diapers On The Airplane

Whether or not you change a diaper in your seat, is up to you. I’m not going to pass judgement. I did it only a handful of times and only if it’s just wet.  I love the Skip Hop Pronto Changer Diaper Bag

It is big enough to cover the changing table in the airplane bathrooms and easy to clean. I would suggest that you bring Diaper Disposal Bags to toss the diapers in the bathroom trash after changing. They can come scented on the inside to mask the smell. You could even use a plastic shopping bag. Using a diaper disposal bag is the polite thing to do on a long haul flight, people. You’ll just get a few less dirty looks.

Other Gear For Flying With Kids

So, I always carry two giant carry-ons, and check my stroller at the gate. I also bring my Ergo carrier. My daughter is too tired sometimes after getting off the plane and only wants to be carried. Now, at age 2, she rides on my back. I carry her in the Ergo and toss the carry-on bags in the stroller. I do HATE waiting for the stupid stroller at the gate. Practically the entire plane disembarks before I get it sometimes.

Getting Your Child To Sleep On The Plane

This is a hotly debated topic. When my baby was about 9 months old, I asked our pediatrician if it would be OKto give her Children’s Benadryl on our next long haul flight. This was after the horrible flight I mentioned in my first post where she screamed for 15 hours straight.  The doctor said it was totally fine and gave me dosing instructions based on weight. Dosing is not on the box for younger children. Obviously, don’t try to do this yourself because you MUST to check with your doctor. Children’s Benadryl can also have the REVERSE effect where the child can get totally hyper active. You have to test drive it first to make sure you don’t get this result.

I gave her the Children’s Benadryl when we boarded the plane and it knocked her out for a very pleasant 4 hours. That’s a long, long time for my daughter because she does not sleep very well on airplanes, like her mother. I gave her a second dose 8 or so hours later, except that proved to be only about an hour of sleep. On the next long haul flight we took, she gagged and spit it out. I could never get her to take it again. To be honest, it didn’t matter because we had learned how to cope by then. Children’s Benadryl s a pink liquid that tastes disgusting. You can buy pre-filled spoons but you have to make sure they are the right dosage for your child.

The sleep clinic we went to insisted that we have something that is a “sleep cue” so that every time she sees it, she knows come hell or high water, that she’s going to sleep. Her sleep cue was a soft little duck blanket and this technique worked on the plane, actually. We’d bust it out on the plane and she’d immediately start sucking her fingers and try to put herself to sleep. She just never could sleep for long stretches on planes though, and as she got older she started taking the duck everywhere which was good and bad.

Some people swear up and down that Infant Tylenol causes drowsiness. It doesn’t–just ask your doctor. What could happen is that the Infant Tylenol may relieve some ear pressure making it easier for baby to sleep. My midwife told me that on takeoff and landing, if my daughter was ever starting to pull on her ears or fuss, to give her Infant Tylenol immediately. That’s one of the things that I always have stuffed in a seat pocket for easy access. If babies or toddlers still use a pacifier, give it to them or give them something to eat. This will help with the ear pressure as does nursing on takeoff and landing.

Other Random Items I Pack

The recycled air bothers my daughter’s nose (mine too) on the plane so I buy children’s saline nasal spray to use on the airplane. She doesn’t mind it, actually, and now asks for it when her nose feels dry.

BandAids aren’t always easily accessible though they obviously have first aid kits on the plane. I bring my own because there can be sharp bits on the seats. I also bring a nail file because on one flight she had a hang nail and scratched herself up. That was miserable.

Hand-held PSPs, Nintendos, iPods and iPads keep older kids occupied. One traveling parent I spoke with said that she restricts use of these items so they are a treat on the plane. Invest in refurbished models to save on cost, if you can.

Tips for flying long haul with kids including how to get them to sleep on the plane and gear that worked for us.

Next up:  A summary and a better organized checklist of everything you should take on the plane. Thanks to everyone who has helped me with this!

Here are links to the rest of the series:

Long Haul Flights with Young Kids, Part 1: Planning Your Flight and Jet Lag
Long Haul Flights with Young Kids, Part 2: What to Pack Carry-on and In-flight Meals
Long Haul Flighs with Young Kids, Part 4: Packing List and Final Thoughts

Photo credit: istockphoto/Nick_Thompson

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5 thoughts on “Long Haul Flights With Young Kids: Sleep On The Plane And Gear (Part 3)

  1. Excellent post and great info. We travel a lot with our munchkin and baby year was by far the easiest…and I learned to change a diaper in the airplane lav in 10 seconds or less. LOL.

  2. Hi, I am travelling 13 hours from Asia to the US. I am deciding whether to get an extra seat or not for my 1yo baby. The airline doesn’t provide bassinet anymore for her age so I don’t know where to put her to sleep. If I travel alone, I find the economy class already too tight for space I don’t know what more with a baby. But if I get an extra seat, I don’t know if it’s a waste of money because she might not stay there anyway. If that’s the case, Id rather use it for shopping money. Kindly advice 🙂

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