Travel can do wonders for a child’s development; it offers perspective on how others’ live, real-world situations to learn from, and new cuisine and sights to explore. Which is not to say that the first trip will be easy, especially on the parents. But with a little prep work, you can definitely ensure clear skies and minimal turbulence.
Do the paperwork
Keeping all the right documents on hand will speed up the journey from entry to boarding gate. Jo Holt, Maternity Manager at Malaak Mama and Baby Care and ex-cabin crew, says: “Check your travel documents are current for your final destination. These can include:
- Appropriate visas, and
- Travel consent.
"As a mother or father traveling alone be mindful of the fact that some destinations require further documents to be signed off by both parents giving consent for the child to travel. Check with immigration in Dubai to confirm exactly what destinations require this.”
And your homework
Holt suggests finding out about what fits your baggage allowance and what does not. “Confirm with your airline the baggage allowance for adults, children and infants as it can vary depending on the category of your ticket. It is advisable to check what baby items such as car seats, cots and strollers are included in the infant/child’s baggage allowance and what is not included,” she explains.
Plan the airport trip
Mum-of-one, UAE-based expat Sneha Kothari says explaining the airport process to a child is important. “There are some great children’s books that explain the whole airport process. My favourite is the ‘Usborne Wind Up Plane Book’,” she tells Gulf News. “It covers all the steps, from bag checking and security, through to take-off and landing, and even getting a taxi once you land.” Thus prepared, you will (probably) not have to field a dozen questions while managing everything else.
Map things out
Tell your child about the destination and what you will do there – in fact, show them the flight route if possible on a globe or map. “Showing your child where you are going on a map is a great way for them to visualise the journey before you fly,” says Kothari.
Make a list of things to pack
Always make a check-list, even if you believe you have the best memory in the world – with everything going on, from last-minute bathroom breaks to making sure all the lights are off, it’s easy to forget tiny but important things. Malin Ghavami, Head Nurse and Midwife, Nightingale Health Services, offers the following must-take list:
- Saline drops,
- Panadol (if not allergic),
- Formula (if not breastfeeding),
- Wet wipes,
- An extra pair of clothes – for both parents and child.
Holt recommends a couple of extra changes. “Pack at least two to three changes of clothes for your baby or child as accidents are common on flights. A scarf can be extremely useful in keeping you or baby warm and if you feel you need a little extra covering whilst breastfeeding, you can use it then too.”
South African expat Melanie Penny says an extra cardigan for the kids is a good idea since flights can get cold. “Bring your own kid’s headsets as the ones on the flight don’t fit kids’ ears well,” she explains.
Getting from point A to point B
“Getting through an airport without a stroller is unthinkable, so consider switching out your regular-size stroller for a cabin stroller,” says Kothari. Or, try a car seat, recommends Holt.
Play, eat, nap tricks
Ghavami says the sound in an airplane is very similar to a white-noise machine and is usually very helpful in getting babies – even the colic-y ones – snoozing. However, there are somethings you can do to get them nod off too.
Holt recommends carrying their own sheet to lay on, a favourite blanket, teddy, and even their pyjamas or sleeping bag for day time naps or night flights are total lifesaver.
When they are awake, the kids need to be entertained. Channel your inner Marry Poppins here. Penny says: “I always make sure to bring activity books, sticker books, colouring pencils, comic books and small toys to play with. There is a lot of waiting time before the flight and even on the flight some kids get bored with watching hours of television, so make sure to bring extra entertainment.”
Pack at least two to three changes of clothes for your baby or child as accidents are common on flights. A scarf can be extremely useful in keeping you or baby warm and if you feel you need a little extra covering whilst breastfeeding, you can use it then too.
British expat Cherry Richards calls for a realistic approach to keeping the kids busy. She carries an iPad loaded with new apps. “A new toy you can produce when they’re about to lose it [is a good idea],” she tells Gulf News.
Richards also has a sneaky (read brilliant) tip for mums wanting to keep their kids occupied: “Take every snack known to mankind. My top tip is to cut a very small corner off a packet of very small sweets so it takes them ages to get them out of the packet.”
Holt warns mums, especially those who are breastfeeding, not to ignore their own nutritional needs. “It is essential to pack a variety of healthy snacks for everyone including yourself especially if you are breastfeeding. Bananas, porridge and plain crackers fill little toddler tummies, as milk alone can cause more harm than good, bloating tummies and increased motion sickness. Ideally pack a thermos flask of hot or cold food. I prefer vegetarian options and pale foods to avoid clothes being soiled. Ensuring you and your little ones are well fed and hydrated is the key,” she explains.
Callan Siejek, a South African expat with two children, meanwhile, says, “If you are flying with kids of any age you can always ask for the kids’ food at any time of the flight as they are still small. Being hungry can lead to upset kids and as a parent you never want your kids feeling hungry, so never be shy to ask.”
Penny adds: “While the food on the plane is generally good quality (depending on the airline) not all kids like the option chosen for them (as I’ve experienced many times). We always pack a lot of snacks like nuts, dried fruit, health bars, beef jerky, veggie chips and lots of water.”
Breastfeed or formula feed?
If you feel uncomfortable breastfeeding with other passengers seated next to you, you can request to be seated alone or next to another female passenger, says Holt. “Ensure you prepare yourself prior to feeding times, i.e. safely secure yourself and your baby in correct seatbelts provided by the crew, so you can proceed to feed your baby during taxi, take-off and landing, as the sucking reflex can ease the pressure and any discomfort on the baby’s ears.
“You may take expressed breast milk on a flight in a cooler bag, however it is best to have it readily available at the security check points to avoid being delayed. Clearly label the cooler bag whilst placing it in a large clear zip lock bag to ensure it remains as sterile as possible."
Airlines do allow premade formula, however Holt does not recommend powered formula to be premade as it is recommended to be prepared and consumed within one hour. Alternatively, you could take premixed liquid formula that is available in grocery stores or pharmacies as this does not require chilling. When taking formula, Holt recommends you take it in a premeasured dispenser and bottles filled with boiled water your baby is familiar with and carry them all together in a clear sealed bag, in order to make security checks a smooth and easy process. She adds, “Remember to calculate the journey time from door to door ensuring you have spare bottles for spillage or delays you may face, not just the flight time.”
Flight time matters
Holt advises parents to travel at night time and choose a flight landing at the time they are normally waking up in the morning, as this will make it much easier for everyone. She recommends a good rest the day before the flight. “Ensure you arrive at the airport as soon as check in opens giving yourself ample time to check the distance of the gate once you arrive on the concourse, to ensure you arrive at the gate on time. You may need to change a nappy, feed your baby and most importantly, hydrate and refuel yourself along the way,” she explains.
“It is essential you stick to the same time zone while traveling when it comes to your routine. Stay on Dubai time if you are taking a day flight and try to plan the nap times in advance to avoid you baby becoming over tired,” she adds.
Sit here, not there
Siejek says, “My first flight with my daughter who was six months old and took eight hours was very stressful as I was flying alone with two kids. Airlines generally have a good system when it comes to helping mums; contact them and ensure you get a seat in the front if you have a baby as they have special cots that clip onto the wall by the front seat.”
Penny adds: “Book an aisle seat for the kids to prevent them needing to climb over everyone when they need the toilet.”
The sound in an airplane is very similar to a white-noise machine and is usually very helpful in getting babies – even the colic-y ones – snoozing.
Ear troubles? Do this
Air pressure changes can hurt delicate ears. Malin says: “I advise parents to put saline drops in the baby’s nostrils (or use Otrivin if the baby is over a year old) just to open up the connection between ear/nose/throat. If possible, try to either breastfeed or use a pacifier during take-off and landing to reduce ear pain.”
Penny says her daughter’s ears always hurt when landing; “We always bring Kids’ Panadol on the flight, we give it to her 30 minutes before landing.”
Stay calm and carry on. “Don’t be stressed. Flying with kids is hard work and you are doing a great job, anyone flying who has or is going to have kids will understand. The moment you start stressing, the kids feel it and they will act out,” says Siejek.
That said, have a happy, safe flight.
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