We’ve all been there. After checking in and going through the necessary security checks, you finally take your seat on the plane, fasten your seatbelt and then you hear the worst noise you can imagine. A baby screaming and crying in the seat behind you. Admittedly since I’ve had kids it doesn’t bother me nearly as much, as I know how hard it is for the parents. Furthermore, I’m so used to the sound of a baby crying, that when it’s not mine, the sound just goes through one ear and out the other! 🙂
But why do babies hate planes so much? We know they often fall fast asleep in a car seat very quickly, but there’s something about flying on a plane that drives some babies crazy (and the unfortunate passengers too).
There a number of different reasons why babies cry and feel discomfort when they’re flying, such as being overtired, hungry, having a dirty diaper or just boredom. But the main reason is usually due to the pressure caused by flying at higher altitudes which can upset a baby’s sensitive ears. Let’s look at this topic in more detail.
Why do babies cry on planes?
Usually the main reason why babies cry on aeroplanes is because they can’t normalize the pressure in their middle ear yet, which can cause them some distress. Of course there can be some factors as well, such needing their nappy changed, or they’re hungry or just plain bored! However, a pressure issue inside their ear is often the main culprit.
Inside the ear, there is something called the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the nasopharynx (in layman’s terms – the upper throat behind the nasal cavity). This tube regulates the pressure within the ear, making sure it equals the atmospheric pressure outside your body. The Eustachian tube is usually closed, but you can open it by swallowing, yawning or chewing, which allows air to enter. When you’re flying, the atmospheric pressure can change quite rapidly which can make your ears feel blocked. And while adults and children can simply yawn, swallow or chew to open the tube to equalize the pressure, babies can’t really do this.
You’ve probably noticed that the problem of blocked ears is worse when you’re descending in the plane and coming into land. This is because it’s harder for the ear to regulate the pressure when you’re moving from a lower pressure (at a higher altitude), descending to a higher one (on the ground). Even babies who have been relatively silent during the flight may suddenly start crying as they struggle with this pressure change.
I remember as a boy my mum giving me sweets to suck, chew and swallow when the plane was descending towards the runway. It certainly helped!
How do you calm a baby on a plane?
Try to establish the most likely reason for your baby’s distress. While it could be the ears, check first if they have a dirty diaper, or if they’re hungry or tired. Also, they might just be bored. Bring toys, books and other things to distract your baby if you feel they are about to cry or have a tantrum. If this doesn’t work, you may have to stand up and hold your baby close to you to calm them down. However, if you know it’s their ears, while you can’t tell them to chew or yawn, here are a couple of suggestions to try:
- Give your baby some milk to swallow, particularly when the plane is descending. Babies can either drink from the bottle or the breast.
- If you’ve run out of milk, you can also try giving them a pacifier to suck on, which still works, just not quite as well.
- Night flights are a lot easier than day flights, as it fits around your baby’s sleeping pattern. Bear this in mind when you’re booking a flight. A sleeping baby is a lot easier to manage than an awake, cranky one! They may just sleep through any pressure changes which can normally cause them some discomfort.
- Try to avoid flying if you think your baby is ill or has an ear infection.
When your baby is screaming and crying on the plane, try to remain as calm as possible. This can be tough on you, as you will undoubtedly get a few nasty glares in your direction from other passengers, but most are understanding, particularly those who have children of their own. You can always ask an air steward or stewardess to help, particularly if you’re travelling by yourself and you need an extra pair of hands for a minute.
Are planes bad for babies? Is it safe to fly with them?
According to medical advice, air travel is fine for most babies. However, just make sure you wash your hands regularly so you reduce the chances of passing germs on to them. Also, be aware of possible issues with their ears (as described above) and just be prepared for the journey. This means having diapers, food, milk, and things to distract your baby such as toys and books.
Can newborns fly on planes?
For newborn babies, you should really consult your paediatrician in advance if you’re thinking of flying. Their immune systems are still quite weak, so there is a greater chance they can catch some disease or illness. Some airlines are fine with newborns flying though, but they may insist on a doctor’s note if your baby is less than a week old. However, you must check this with the airline.
- For example, Easyjet state that ‘babies under 14 days old are not allowed to travel’.
- On other hand, American Airlines can accept infants as young as two days old, providing you have approval from a physician.
What are the rules for babies flying?
You should check with the airline in advance about their terms and conditions for flying with babies, particularly if you have a newborn. You are allowed one infant on your lap per adult. If you have another baby with you and you’re travelling alone, you will need to pay for another seat. Any infant in their own seat must be secured in an airline approved car seat, and they should usually be at least 6 months old, but again it depends on the airline at what age they allow babies to use one.
For babies sitting on your lap, at takeoff and landing, you will have to attach them to your belt via another strap. However, while this is accepted in the EU and some other countries, US and Canadian airlines will not provide lap belts and it’s even against the law to use one. Who said flying internationally with babies was easy?
Also, you should also check with the airline what extra baggage allowance you are allowed if you’re travelling with a baby. Most airlines allow one extra piece of hand luggage, but not all, but they always allow you to bring a collapsible stroller or pushchair with you which can go in the hold. However, you may prefer to bring something like a Babyzen YOYO, which you can fold up to fit in the overhead bins inside the cabin (just check with airline first if they allow this).
Where should you sit on a plane with a baby?
Children and babies aren’t allowed to sit in an exit row as adult passengers need these seats to assist in an emergency. If you can, try to book near the rear of the plane as you’ll be nearer to the toilets, and if the flight isn’t full, there are often more empty seats towards the back as they get booked up last. You may also want a window seat as you get a bit more privacy when you’re feeding your baby.