Taking an Airplane with a Baby

I first decided to fly back to New York to visit my family and plan my upcoming wedding there when my son was only about six months old. When I checked for people’s experiences online about flying with children, most of them seemed oddly confident about it, and assured me that 6 months old is a perfect time to fly. I was, to put it mildly, skeptical..but then again..I usually am.

Perhaps those people were easy people. The kind of people that spill their coffee in the morning and laugh it off or smile when someone angrily honks at them on the street. I am not those people, never have been. My son is not an easy child either, and he was not an easy baby. My husband luckily, is the kind of person who can keep it together, and won’t panic cry at the airport (probably).

Flying New York to Japan – 6 months old (ANA)

Do you know how long a flight from New York to Japan is? I almost don’t want to tell you, the truth is that miserable. It’s 14 hours. Which makes you feel like..I can survive that long. But it doesn’t factor in the hours waiting at the airport, baby wearing on the long security line (and trying to take your shoes off without waking the baby). It doesn’t factor in the stress of immigration with a husband who is not a US citizen and doesn’t have a green card.

I feel like I made a mental block of this trip. What I can say is this, at this age you have the power of the boob (or the bottle), and the boob truly is mightier than the sword (at least in this situation). Babies can be soothed by bouncing, they will take frequent naps, and you can eat and watch some tv. Your worst fear will be a poop blowout (and it will happen – cabin pressure and all that) so bring extra clothes, not only for the babe, but yourself as well.

Here is an important point – nursing rooms. Japan has lovely nursing rooms in their airports. Even if you’re not nursing its a great place to take a break with your baby, away from all the bright lights and announcements. But JFK airport in New York, well..I’m sure you already know. That place is a hell mouth for sure. Don’t expect any support.

On my flight back to Japan I had an unfortunate experience. Part of it was that I flew with my son separately from my husband since he had to return home within a week to get back to work and I needed some more time with my family. So I flew back alone, and I’m not sure what it was..maybe the stress..but I got a migraine. It was my first one. Throwing up while holding a baby and feeling like I’m having a stroke as blinding pain streaks across my face is not recommended. 0/10

So basically 6 months old is an alright time to fly, but you should ideally be with your partner or someone who knows how to handle a babe so you can take a breather at times.

Air-travel with a 1 Year Old (JAL)

Yes yes, 6 months later I did this crazy thing, AGAIN. This time I would be flying there and back with my husband because it was for our wedding, yay! We flew ANA the first time, which was great, and decided to go with JAL this time. Both times we called the airline directly to book to make sure we get the priority seats and the bassinet. Of course this isn’t guaranteed, and they do let you know that, in case of a person with a disability we would be bumped. Which is fine, makes sense to me.

Last time we flew Nagoya – Tokyo – New York, and we felt like doing a transfer was too exhausting, especially as delays do happen. So we decided to take the Shinkansen from Nagoya to Tokyo, stay overnight at the Narita Hilton, and then catch a direct flight in the morning. I though this worked fairly well and I was definitely more relaxed. So especially if you’re flying a long distance, try to get that direct flight and save your physical and mental health.

On the airplane my husband and I took two seven hour shifts because sleeping and waking up when the baby does is somehow even more draining on an airplane. If you’re curious about how my little nugget liked the bassinet take a look!

Yeah. But it was an extra place to hold our numerous-baby related goods! We were able to put him there once or twice while he was out cold so our arms could have a rest, so it wasn’t completely useless. The bassinet varies by airline and weight limit. But I believe it is usually around 15kg.

The flight back was about the same. Operating in shifts between the two of us and having a baby who wasn’t walking but could be kept busy with videos and snacks was pretty easy in comparison.

I think maybe this age is the best time to travel, just before they become mobile. After that, godspeed.

Air-travel with a 2 Year Old (Delta)

I had my hardest time with this one, but there were a lot of outside factors involved as well. First, we had just moved and pulled my son out of his school, which he really liked. He was old enough to understand and be angry about his surroundings changing, but not old enough to understand why. I was also flying alone, because my parents were having health problems and not properly taking care of themselves, which added to my stress. I no longer qualified for a bassinet or a priority seat, and I had the memory of my migraine lurking in my mind. I was nervous what would happen if I got another one and was no longer able to care for my son.

First upset was at the airport when they took our luggage – my son really didn’t like that. Then the second upset was when we said goodbye to papa. Luckily with some waffles from Starbucks and being able to watch airplanes from the windows, the babe was somewhat appeased and went onto the airplane in a good mood.

He sat in the window seat, I was in the center, and next to me was..an unlucky gentleman. Sorry friend, but I’m sure the memory of this flight haunts me more than it haunts you. It was an evening flight so I thought we could follow our usual schedule: dinner, story time, and then sleep.

Wrong! Oh it did not work out that way. My son couldn’t understand why we had to stay on the airplane, and he was pretty tired of being on it. He couldn’t sleep and soon got overtired. He was too old to just be bounced and shushed to sleep. The lights in the plane went off and I was conscious of people trying to go to sleep as my son cried. I had to ask the man sitting next to me to move to walk around and after two times I thought I shouldn’t bother him anymore.

I tried to just hold my son and sing but he was in a bit of a panic. A fellow passenger eventually passed by and asked why I don’t walk around with my son. I told her I had already tried that and got scoffed at. I felt really helpless and claustrophobic so I just cried as well. Eventually my son did wear himself out and sleep, but it took about two hours.

I was truly mortified.

The entire time I was in New York I was haunted by the knowledge that I would have to make a flight back eventually. But of course, it couldn’t get any worse..could it?

Let me tell you friends, it can always be worse. My first connecting flight was delayed so I missed my flight to Tokyo, where we now lived. I was moved to another flight going to Nagoya – where I would have to wait and make a second transfer. My 14 hour journey had become an over 20 hour trek.

Luckily the flight to Nagoya was almost empty and we had an entire row to ourselves. It wasn’t so bad, and we both dozed off eventually.

When we finally made it to Tokyo, my son was really glad to see our suitcase and pushed people aside to try to get it himself. He was really over people taking his stuff without his permission!

In conclusion: you don’t know what’s going to happen..so prepare for the worst!

Have you flown with kids? How was your experience?

Published by tokyodreamlife

Nerdy girl living in Tokyo. Spends too much time playing video games and spacing out in public. Often misses her train stop. I write about traveling in Japan, living in Tokyo, and life as an expat.

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