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Travelling with a PKU Baby or Toddler – part five: ON THE PLANE

 Packing is complete, you’ve made it through your first check-in and you have made it onto the plane. Congratulations! Now make yourself comfortable. Make sure everything important is within reach. No doubt you would have made yourself known to the flight crew upon boarding. A great steward or stewardess will help you throughout your flight. If you are travelling alone, it is even more important that you find someone to help you and be another set of eyes and hands.


Call your flight carrier well in advance and ask about the availability of bassinets (if on a long haul flight) and about the likelihood of getting it if you book one. We found out that Qantas allows you to book a bassinet but they are actually given on a first-come-first-serve basis. So you may want to consider allowing additional time at check-in to improve your chances of securing a bassinet.

charlotteats airplane bassinettOne of our flights was full and several families were on board with little ones; sadly some did not get a bassinet. I felt sorry for the parents trying to put their baby to sleep on their shoulder during these long flights. (This could be another reason to bring a sling or carrier.)

Once asleep in the bassinet, use a lightweight blanket to place over the bassinet to block out light and distractions. Try to create a sense of home in the bassinet, place a familiar blanket that smells of their own bed down underneath them.

You may want to place nightlights or music inside the bassinet if you use these items at home. It may be helpful to introduce these sleep aids at home several weeks before you travel to help with these cues.


As I mentioned in the list of items to bring on board, make sure you have plenty of fluids for your baby to drink to prevent dehydration. Drinks can either be their usual milk (formula or breast), filtered or boiled water (cooled), or juices if you allow it. Charlotte would typically ask for something to drink every hour of the flight.


If your baby/toddler’s ears seem to hurt from air pressure changes during ascent and descent, encourage them to breastfeed (only if they are strapped in with you), suck on a bottle or cup, or use a dummy/pacifier.

Tizzie Hall (author of Save our Sleep) recommends that you “give your baby a milk feed 2 hours before the plane takes-off or lands so that they will be hungry enough for a feed on the plane.” This will allow the baby to drink during ascent or descent to help with ear pressure.

Not all babies and children experience ear pressure. If your baby is asleep during descent, don’t wake them in order to give them a dummy/pacifier or drink. They may sleep straight through it. Otherwise they’ll wake and show discomfort if it bothers them.


If you need to make a domestic connection flight from your port of entry, consider the size of your carry-on luggage. Most overseas carry-on luggages are larger than the allowed domestic carry-on. Check the allowed dimensions for both plane sizes to make sure your luggage meets the standard.

If the large overseas carry-on does not contain food or supplements, you may want to check it in during the domestic leg. However if it does contain food (as ours did), you may want to bring along 2 smaller, lightweight bags that meet the domestic regulations. You can then transfer the important food or supplements into these bags and stash the other carry-on bags in check in.

We learned this after our overseas carry-on was deemed too large for the domestic overhead storage. The flight attendants then made us relocated the contents (formula tins) into 2 garbage bags instead. We looked hilarious but it worked.


Another very important lesson we learned the hard way was that the ‘red-eye’ flight does not always work with a baby. We booked our flight from Salt Lake City to New York City on a red-eye thinking that the baby would be sleeping anyway. How wrong we were!

charlotteats germany airportThe red-eye leaves late in the evening, which means we had to transfer our sleeping baby from her bed, into a car seat, then through the airport and the security check (where they made me take her out for the x-ray and down again to do a search of me. FYI…the smallest airports can be the worst!), and then onto the plane into a very tight economy seat. After all of these disruptions, it’s no wonder that our little one could not go back to sleep for the duration of the flight, hard as she tried!

Lesson learned. Short, quick flights and Long, extended flights are the best.

On the short flights you can keep them awake and occupied while you actively go through the travel stages.

On long flights, there is plenty of time to mimic your routine at home: Eat, Play, Sleep, then repeat…

It was always the middle flights around 4 hours that were the worst. So plan what you will do for those hours and consider your departure and arrival times closely.

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