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Flying With a Lap Toddler

    Why we regret booking a long-haul 24hr 2 stop trip, flying with a lap toddler and not buying her own seat. Rant alert! Sensitive readers should skip this one but if you’re considering it please read on.

    Children under two can fly internationally for a small fee if you choose to keep them on your lap.  You save a lot of money on the extra ticket and saving money matters to this travelling family of five.  They can fly sitting on your lap and they can use the bassinet provided in the family seat section to sleep.

    A great money-saving plan if you know that the bassinet can only be used IF the child is small enough and not too heavy. A key fact, which we did not know, that will make all the difference to your flight.

    Read the full review of our long haul flight with Air Etihad here


    George to Johannesburg – 1hr 40min. Download the Tripit app to keep track of travel itineraries and reservations.

    The First Flight

    When we left George we felt sad and anxious after saying goodbye to our family and friends. We already didn’t start the trip on the high we expected.  The domestic flight from George to Johannesburg was Kate’s first flight.  Thankfully it was a short one.

    Prepared for Baby’s First Flight

    From experience of flying with our older two children at that age, we knew that there would be some tears.  I packed snacks and a few toys in our hand luggage to distract her plus I’ve always nursed during take-off and landing to soothe and help with aching ears if they needed it.  We were not expecting her to be filled with pure terror from the minute I led her onto the staircase and into the plane.

    To say that she didn’t like it is putting it mildly. She was terrified. She screamed 3/4 of the way. The family seated in front of us tried passing us their large bright and shiny unicorns.  The grannies tried coo-ing and soothing.  We tried treats and playing. Nothing worked except finally she settled just enough to latch and nurse discreetly under my ever-present big scarf and we had silence for the rest of the first flight.

    Do your research and find out about ways to prepare your child for their first flight.  There are so many parents who kindly share tips and tricks online to help you get your little one ready for this new overwhelming experience.

    Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi – 8hrs 25min

    The Second Flight

    Comfort Distract Entertain

    Poor baby.  It was an awful first flight for her, but she was better on the big plane for the second leg.  Thanks to the good ol’ ta-ta’s, which she only left long enough to come up for air.  I am happy, even proud, that I can soothe my child in a special way that only I can, but you can imagine how I felt after constantly nursing for 7-8hrs.  Oh? No? You can’t, can you? Maybe that’s because humans aren’t meant to nurse children with teeth for hours and hours on end.

    “Have you ever heard of a dummy?”, you ask. Yes, I have and I would’ve given both boobs if she would just take a dummy, but there were no such offers on the table.  So, for the sake of every passenger and crewmember’s sanity, I did what I had to and we somehow got through it.

    Be ready in case your child is as scared of flying as our youngest is.

    • Take as many comforting things along as you can.  Things that are familiar to them. A favourite teddy, blankie, etc.
    • Bribe with sweats.
    • Take a pillow
    • Pack long-lasting snacks and food
    • Redirect: Stickers, books, tablets loaded with toddler-friendly games. Anything to distract them from their fear.
    • Comfort them any way you can. You are the best form of comfort. Toys, treats and bribes can only get you so far.
    • Medication: Not something we’ve ever done, but speak to your doctor before the trip to find a safe mild choice if your child is debilitatingly scared of flying.
    • Remember dummies/pacifiers if they still use it and pack spares.
    • Pack all these goodies into one carry-on bag and keep it close to you so that you can get it soon after take-off. If it’s a hardshell case and you’re short like me you can put it under your feet to help keep your legs raised slightly from the seat to improve circulation.  That brings us to our next point.


    Kate refused to sit with anyone else and she desperately wanted to comfort feed constantly.  This meant that my legs and bum were permanently numb and it felt like bone on metal half the journey.  I know there is good advice and clever ways to combat this, but I was tired, stressed and just wanted Kate to sleep and be calm so I stayed put while she snoozed.

    Remember to get up and stretch often. Keep the blood flowing.  Even if you’re scared of waking your sleeping lap toddler. You’ll be glad you did it later.

    No In-Flight Entertainment For Me

    I had no movie- or game time while the rest enjoyed the in-flight entertainment in their own seats. No one likes movie marathons more than me! It’s shameful but I’m feeling sorry for myself all over again for flying with a lap toddler.

    It was too difficult on this plane to keep the monitor in a position long enough to watch anything. Plus she woke so often from the noise coming from the kitchen that I could not follow anything anyway.  I tried to distract her with a movie or game on our monitor when I could, but it didn’t work for long.

    Read the full review of our long haul flight with Air Etihad here

    It might help if you have an extra device like a tablet loaded with toddler-friendly games and stories. We did, but they were not charged and packed in different bags stowed away overhead. With so little space I just used my monitor instead. The headphones didn’t fit her and she didn’t like them anyway.

    Messy Meals

    Meal times were a mess.  She’d be asleep on my lap and of course, you cannot lay them down on the floor in front of you at any point during the flight due to safety regulations.  I had a little mattress and blankets ready to make her a comfy bed by our feet, so imagine my joy when the nice flight attendant shared this little gold nugget with me.  Not impressed.

    Try eating your dinner on those little trays with a big baby sleeping on your lap.  She was a big 1yr-and-23-month old so they would not even consider giving us the cot.  They must be under 10kg to use the bassinet. Her head and feet were often on part of Nick and Leah’s seats making it uncomfortable for them too.

    Brendan and the kids helped me to eat without causing too much chaos and mess so it’ great if you have kind helping hands.

    Old Airbus A330-200

    The Air Etihad plane for our Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi leg was old.  The seats were so old and stuck that they could hardly recline.  A hostess pulled from the back while we pushed from the front.  The seats were uncomfortable and we had surprisingly little legroom for family seats.  We sat right by the kitchen and toilets.  Brendan sat on the end of the row and he was bumped in the knee by the trolley every single time, throughout the flight. The kitchen was noisy and the toilets were busy.

    I’m not blaming Air Etihad for our bad experience, but the quality of the flight on this leg did not help us flying with a lap toddler.

    Check out . The ultimate source for plane seating, in-flight amenities, flights shopping and airline information.

    Abu Dhabi to London – 7hr 35min

    The Third Flight

    Different Plane, Better Experience

    Thankfully we changed to a better plane at Abu Dhabi airport.  The Airbus A380-800 Passenger made a big difference to our trip.  It was more modern with bigger legroom and had comfortable seats that reclined with the push of a button.  The noise from the kitchen was considerably less.  The trollies didn’t bump into Brendan so he got some shut-eye and because of the more comfy larger seats, so did I.

    It was still tough-going with Kate on my lap and the results of having her on my lap for so long were showing. Still, I was glad that we got a connection flight and that it was an upgrade because I don’t think I would’ve made it on that old plane for another 8hrs. The 2hr 30min layover was a welcome break for all of us and a chance to stretch my legs.

    The valid money saving tip of flying with a lap toddler backfired because although our daughter was just under two and qualified to fly on my lap, she was tall and heavy for her age and could not use the bassinet. The direct flights were more than double the price of the 1 stop flights when we booked in January.

    I would suggest this option for children under one or for children who are a smaller two and not afraid of flying.

    Steps to take before our next long-haul flight, five months from now:

    1.  Buy the toddler her own seat.  She is over two now so no more free tickets to score.

    2. Wean the toddler.  Mommy’s milk is magic and gets us out of many fixes, but one can only do so much.

    3. Arm yourselves to the teeth with info from every pro travel blogger’s 10-Ways-To-this and 12-Ways-To-that Pins for flying with a toddler. Pinterest is a great source of research.  We can’t miss anything!

    4. Check the plane model, read reviews and research it before booking to avoid old planes and to decide if it’s worth the discounted fair or not.

    Read the full review of our long haul flight with Air Etihad here

    Thank you for reading. We hope you found this post helpful, so please let us know if you did?  Tell us about your experience or share your own tips by commenting below.  It might be exactly what someone else needs to know.

    Flying With a Lap Toddler
    Flying With a Lap Toddler

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