Flying with a baby does not always have to be a bumpy ride

Most airlines post a simple guide on their websites that covers seats, strollers and carry-on allowances for families.
Most airlines post a simple guide on their websites that covers seats, strollers and carry-on allowances for families.PHOTO: ST FILE

NEW YORK • Flying with a baby can cause turbulence.

Take the case of Ms Krupa Patel Bala, who recently travelled from Sydney to San Francisco on United Airlines with her husband and eight-month-old son.

Shortly after their baby began crying, a crew member told the family, seated in Business Class, that his behaviour was unacceptable.

The attendant claimed that babies were not allowed to cry for more than five minutes on United flights. Ms Bala, who works for Facebook, used the onboard Internet to post her experience on the social networking site.

By the time her family landed in San Francisco, United was ready with an apology and a full refund.

But the incident also underscored the fact that air travel with young kids is a challenge for everyone - including parents, other passengers and crew members.

So, what do parents need to know about flying with babies?

Nurse or bottle-feed during takeoff, as the swallowing motion will help with any discomfort from the pressure change. A comfortable and well-fed baby might just spend the next couple of hours sleeping.

MS ALEXANDRA FUNG, a mother of three and chief executive of parenting website Upparent.com, on her flight routine

First, buy an extra seat. You will need the extra space and taking along the car seat on board will make the trip safer for your offspring.

"Typically, a child is more comfortable in his own seat instead of being constantly readjusted in a parent's lap," said paediatrician Ashanti Woods from Mercy Medical Centre in Baltimore.

Ms Alexandra Fung, a mother of three and chief executive of parenting website Upparent.com, has a routine for every flight.

Before boarding, she makes sure her baby has a clean diaper and comfortable clothes that are easy to change, and is looking forward to the next meal.

"Nurse or bottle-feed during takeoff, as the swallowing motion will help with any discomfort from the pressure change. A comfortable and well-fed baby might just spend the next couple of hours sleeping," she says.

When it comes to dealing with annoyed passengers, there are at least two schools of thought.

Some experts say you should dress your baby in cute clothes to endear them to other passengers and hand out earplugs and treats with an "I'm sorry about my baby" note attached.

Others subscribe to the "deal with it" philosophy: Apologise if your baby cries too much and move on.

"Here's a tip for those who are travelling next to someone with a baby, especially next to a solo traveller," said Ms Trish McDermott, co-founder of BabyQuip, a baby-gear rental service.

"Ask how you can help. Simply offering to hold a baby for five minutes so mum or dad can take a restroom break or reaching over to pick up a fallen item that a parent can't reach can be a game-changer on a long flight."

Crew members have mixed feelings about babies on board. They want to welcome all passengers and make them as comfortable as possible. Privately, they say young children are not their biggest problem.

It is their adult travel companions, especially new parents who tend to make a lot of mistakes, such as not knowing what to do with diapers.

"Most toilets in narrow-body planes are in the galley, where food and beverages are served," said Ms Susan Fogwell, a flight attendant.

"For sanitary purposes, the toilet door should not remain open when a diaper is changed. Some people think it's a two-person operation to change a diaper and will leave the door open while the other person is standing at the entrance."

She and other airline employees say they pack one must-have item in their carry-on bags: resealable plastic bags. She suggests that parents with infants do the same.

When they are done with a diaper change, they can seal the diaper in a plastic bag and dispose of it quickly.

Most airlines post a simple guide on their websites that covers seats, strollers and carry-on allowances for families.

You would not know how to handle diaper changes unless you asked. Even then, you might not get a consistent answer.

"Enforcement of rules varies widely, not only from airline to airline, but also from staff member to staff member," said Ms Marianne Perez de Fransius, co-founder of Bebe Voyage, an online community for parents of young children.

The bottom line: If you plan to fly somewhere with your baby or are seated next to one, be prepared for anything.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 16, 2018, with the headline 'Flying with a baby does not always have to be a bumpy ride'. Print Edition | Subscribe