A Sleeping Baby on a Plane–Reality or Fantasy?

Jun 23, 2022

Have you ever been roped into going into a movie that you were certain you were going to hate and then, surprisingly, walked out of the theater singing its praises?

Or, have you ever counted down the days to a new film, bought the T-Shirt, and lined up early to get good seats. . . only to feel deflated and disappointed?

One reason: Expectations.

Going through life with low expectations might ensure an existence void of disappointments, but it also sounds like a pretty miserable way to live life. Somewhere between highly unrealistic expectations and cynically low expectations lies that sweet spot of realistic expectations. We try to find that spot as often as we can as parents.

Most of us were perfect parents before we had kids. Oh, we had expectations all right.

Nursing would be natural, beautiful, and perfect.
No screens anywhere near our children for at least six years.
We would play classical music every day.
Their favorite foods would be spinach and seaweed.

We were going to get this SO right. And then they were born and they took our expectations in their adorable little fists and threw them out the window.

Healthy and normal expectations before travel will go a long way in surviving the adventure with a willingness to do it again. Unrealistic expectations when flying with your baby can make for a very rough trip. Sleep is possible and travel is doable. The key is to manage expectations, be realistic, and go easy on yourself. Remember, babies can smell stress.

Let’s take a look at some unrealistic expectations that look good on paper but might set you up for frustration down the road. . . or in the terminal.

#1 Baby is going to sleep as well as they do at home


Definitely want to let that one go.

There are lots of things you can do to encourage some good rest for you and your baby while traveling. But this is not the time to try out the ferber sleep method and expect everything to work like it does at home.

The best time to prepare for good sleep during travel is as soon as your little bundle of joy is born. Your baby will need sleep help from the beginning to establish good habits.

If you don’t have a good bedtime routine in place now, try to create one before traveling. You can’t give them a bath on board, but that doesn’t mean you can’t mimic the routine. You can clean them with a washcloth, change them into pajamas, sing a familiar song, etc. This routine will be comforting for your baby and send the signal that they can relax.

There are several products that can help–small air mattresses, airplane bassinets, and sleepy pillow sprays. These can be some wonderful tools, but remember that while they can help make things better, it still won’t be the kind of night everyone would have at home. Mostly likely your baby won’t sleep through the night, and you’ll all still be fine.

Traveling in the evening will help better sleep happen, but try to start long before bedtime so there can be a clear transition window for them to get some rest and not get overtired from the beginning.

#2 It’s not THAT different from traveling alone, right?

Sure, it’s not that different. It’s just that you have another entire human traveling with you that can’t talk, walk, or feed themselves. They also have a complete disregard for other people’s feelings or schedules and require as much gear as an amateur hockey team. No difference at all.

So yes, it is a little different. The best thing you can do for yourself is to give yourself time. Get there early. Everything will take longer than you think it will. Curbside check-in is your friend and is worth the investment. As you pack, think through different scenarios–lost luggage, delays, canceled flights. You can’t pack for every possible scenario, but try to think through what you’ll want to have on hand.

A big difference between traveling with a baby and traveling alone comes into play when you are booking your flights. As a solo traveler, you can probably be fine flying at any time, day or night. But, if you’d like your baby to be well rested, then their personality and sleeping schedule should play a part in booking your flight.

#3 Everyone is going to love my baby! OR Everyone is going to hate my baby!

One of the most entertaining aspects of travel is the people watching. People travel for all sorts of reasons. Some people are enthusiastically and happily flying to a vacation destination. Others have tragic reasons behind their travel. Some love to fly. Others are terrified. Every person in an airport is flying with their own story. And their story will color how they handle flying next to you and your bundle of joy.

Some people will love your baby. They’ll offer to hold stuff while you get settled. They’ll help entertain the little darling with funny faces. You’ll get knowing and supportive smiles as you soothe a crying baby during takeoff and landing.

And then there will be others. They will roll their eyes and huff. They’ll offer you unsolicited advice and cast judgmental glances your way. It might even feel like they hate you. But, they don’t. It’s not about you or your baby. It’s a reflection of their story and frame of mind.

Do your best to let these reactions roll of you, as hard as it may be. Your purpose is to keep your family safe and get to your destination as happily as possible. Do your best and try to roll with it as well as you can. Trust your instincts and enjoy the trip!