United States Stories and Tips

Flying Solo on a Long-Haul Flight with an Infant

Sleeping in a bassinet. Photo, United States, North America

When my son was seven months old, I faced a major mommy challenge: going on a long-haul flight with him and no other companion. We flew four hours from Manila to Japan, had a 3-hour layover at the airport, then flew another 11 hours to the US. It was difficult, but thanks to my son's good behavior, it was less difficult than I thought it would be. I was also able to pick up some pointers along the way:

1. If you can afford it, get the baby his/her own seat. Babies under 2 are allowed to fly on an adult's lap, and my own son was a lap baby. Fortunately for me, the flight from Japan to the US wasn't full, and the seat beside me was vacant. Oh wow, it was such a luxury to be able to give my son his own seat! Since my son can already sit up unassisted, I could put him down on his seat (seatbelt fastened) long enough to be able to eat. I think most airlines allow you to bring a car seat for your baby's seat.

2. If you can't get the baby his/her own seat, then ask for a bulkhead seat and a bassinet. The bassinet was a lifesaver for the Manila-Japan leg. I put my son in the bassinet when he was asleep, and I was able to go to the restroom. I also put him there for a short time while he was awake, and he enjoyed having his own little space to sit in. :)

For my Japan-US flight, there was something wrong with the bassinet in the plane and I couldn't use it, but I nonetheless had the bulkhead seat. (The bulkhead seat is the front seat of an airplane section; instead of a another chair in front of you, you're facing a wall.) The additional legroom meant that my son could sit and play at my feet. I put a beach towel on the floor in front of me and used the airplane pillow to cover the electrical outlet and the lifevest strap that were under my seat so my son wouldn't be able to grab at them.

3. Consider bringing sandwiches for yourself, especially if you can't get a bassinet. If you don't have a bassinet then your baby will be on your lap the whole time and you won't be able to eat regular airplane food. A sandwich hwever can be eaten with one hand.

4. Bring a beach towel or blanket. I brought one and it was really useful. At Narita Airport in Japan, I put the beach towel on the carpeted floor at the waiting area by the gate and my son played on it during the layover. I also used it on the flight so my son could play on the floor at my feet.

5. Bring a small bag for your essentials that you can keep by you on the plane. My carry on was a backpack but inside that backpack I had another smaller bag which I pulled out during the flight while my backpack was stowed overhead. The smaller bag held diapers, wipes, a toy, my son's meals/snacks and sippy cup, hand sanitizer, and our passports.

6. Consider disposable pull-ups. As you all know my son is usually in cloth diapers. But for the airplane ride I brought disposable pull-ups (the smallest size they have in the groceries is Medium). I found it a lot easier to put pull-ups than disposable diapers on my squirmy son while we were in the cramped confines of the airplane lavatory.

7. Find out beforehand which airplane lavatories have diaper changing tables.

8. Bring a change of clothes for you and your baby. My son almost NEVER has blowouts ... but Murphy's Law: on this plane ride he just had to have one, barely 2 hours after our plane took off!!! Good thing I had an extra onesie for him in my handcarry.

9. Feed your baby during takeoff and landing. Apparently the swallowing helps with popping ears.

10. Bring a stoller or carrier for your baby. You need to have your hands free for filling in customs declarations and things like that. I personally didn't want to have to worry about a stroller in the airport so I carried my baby in a pouch. Most airlines will also allow you to bring an umbrella stoller as a carry-on (you hand it over to the flight attendants right before you board the plane and they stow it for you).

11. Prepare your baby's food in advance. My son is breastfed but is also on solids already, so I did my best to prepare as much as I could in advance. I bought small disposable containers of rice cereal, small disposable plastic spoons, and a small bottle of distilled water. When it was time to feed my son, I just opened a container, poured in some water to mix, fed my son with a disposable plastic spoon, and after he was done, I threw everything away.

12. Board early if you're bringing an infant. Some airlines still have passengers with small children board first, but even if the airline you're flying doesn't, ask nicely whether you can board while business class is boarding. I did and they let me. It gave me more time to prepare my essentials bag and stow my handcarry.

13. When your baby takes a nap, use the lavatory whether or not you feel the need to! It's very difficult to use an airplane lavatory while carrying a baby! (Be sure to secure your baby in the bassinet before you leave your seat!)

14. Accept help. :) There were a number of friendly people who helped me throughout the flight. Someone at the airport who helped put my luggage onto the belt for the X-ray machine, the flight attendants who helped me with my handcarried bag, two seatmates who actually carried my baby for a few short moments while I was fiddling with my handcarry and a man who handed me his pen when I couldn't find mine for my departure card . Accept help and be grateful for it. :)

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