What would Jen do? Taking your 14-month-old on an international flight

Filed under: Babies, Places To Go, Health & Safety: Babies, Development/Milestones: Babies

Airport Security CheckpointHello, and welcome back to What would Jen do? This week we have a question from a reader who is also named Jen. She wrote:

This isn't really a tip, but a plea for help! I am travelling with my 14month old son on Saturday to the US (7hrs, Heathrow to JFK). He will be sitting on our laps (no allocated seat). Due to the hand-baggage restrictions, we can barely fit in his nappies and baby food, leaving very little room in the bag for new or existing toys and/or books.

Yes, we are totally insane.

Do BB writers and readers have any tips for travelling with this age child? He doesn't watch TV (totally uninterested), and is always on the move. He doesn't walk yet, though.

Any advice greatly appreciated!

(Click on the fold to continue reading what Jen would do).This is a tricky situation. I have flown with all three of my sons at varying ages of babyhood and infancy-- though, I will grant you that I did have the luxury of being able to have a lot more stuff with me in my carryon. So, I have been trying to think in terms of things you could bring on board that will entertain but will be very compact. Because I think that it's critical on flights to introduce babies to new things that they may not have played with before.

But before I share my list, I will also say that when I was going to fly with my six-month old baby for the first time, somebody suggested that I drug him with cough medicine. I balked at the suggestion, thinking at the time that the person who suggested it could scarcely view babies as actual human beings with actual rights. I still don't approve of drugging babies for flights, but I have come to learn that a wee bit of allergy medicine or de-congestant can help babies' ears during take-off and landing. You probably won't be able to take a liquid suspended allergy medicine on the plane with you, but I have other suggestions for that in a minute.

Here is a list of things that I would bring on board for an international flight with an active toddler, when not given very much room at all (and I would advise wearing cargo pants and stuffing what you can into your pockets, so you can bring more):

  1. Brightly colored pipe cleaners. They are soft and meshy and you will be able to make a variety of animals, etc. with them and play games with your son by asking him if he can identify the animal, and then what the animal says. Your son will also be able to manipulate these easily. I do not know whether these are allowed on international flights, though, so I would call the airline you are flying on and check. If they are not allowed, try to get some of those bendy, wax things that are similar to pipe cleaners. i called Southwest Airlines and asked if I could fly with pipe cleaners and the agent I talked to gave me a cheery, "Sure!" [Does anybody know what those wax bendy sticks are called? I tried googling every word combination I could think of and came up with nothing!] Thank you, Alison! They are called wikki stix.
  2. A small can of pringles potato chips (do they have those in the UK?), with a slit cut into the lid. Fill it with cheerios (or another cereal of your choice) instead of pringles. Let your son eat the cheerios one by one (that is a great way to kill time, and constant swallowing will help with takeoff and landing). When the cheerios are gone, have a handful of poker chips in your pocket and show him how to insert them into the slit. He can do this one by one, take off the lid, get them out and do it all over again. The idea I'm going for is things that are repetitive enough to keep him occupied for more than five minutes.
  3. Rachel Mosteller recommended candy! And I have to say, I am with her on this one. Not a lot of candy-- but a lollipop will keep him occupied for a good bit, be easy to carry in a pocket, and the sucking would be excellent for takeoff and landing. If you don't want to give him candy, how about some kind of beef jerky or something else that he could gnaw on and that would take a long time to eat? This is also compact and easy to carry.
  4. Bring a handful of pens or markers and a small notebook for coloring. Oh, the coloring is for YOU by the way. Again, draw pictures of things he can identify and ask him what sound they make. A car, a cat, a dog, whatever.
  5. A clean white sock. Put it over your hand and draw on it with your pen or marker a face. And then you have a puppet with which you can tease, tickle, talk to and entertain.
  6. A small bit of playdough or modelling clay. Again, most of these ideas are centered on your being an entertainment system, but hopefully they will help.
  7. Hide little treats in the seat pockets (see number 8) and let your son explore them. My sons all loved just taking out the on-flight magazines and looking at them-- you can look at them with your son too, just as if it were a book. There will be plenty of pictures to look at. See how many things he can identify and you can point out.
  8. One or two matchbox cars to drive around on the walls, in and out of seat pockets, in the aisles, etc.
Hopefully these ideas will help you and even prompt you to think of other ideas. I also let my children crawl down the aisles of the plane if the flight attendants were okay with it, and I would follow behind them. Believe me, passengers and flight attendants both want your child to be happy and not crying or screaming, so sometimes they will even let the baby sit on the floor in their little area too-- seven hours is a long time for an active child not to get any exercise. You can wipe off his hands with diaper wipes when he is done.

I was lucky that my children just loved exploring the airplane and the novelty of it all-- though wrestling them to stay in my arms when they wanted to explore EVERYTHING was the biggest challenge I had.

Please let us know how it goes and if any of these suggestions were helpful! And Blogging Baby readers, please feel free to add to my suggestions-- or tell us if something I've said here really DIDN'T work for you!

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.