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Flying with baby How to know: Diapering on the plane (plus packing list!)

Anyone planning a medium- or long-haul flight with babies or small children has a lot to think about – not least the important question of how to dispose of a small or large amount of diapered business in a cramped airplane. The KidsAway experts know how it works.

Man, woman, child – they all have to go

So there is great joy when parents come across separate diaper-changing rooms that are separated from the adult toilets. Ideally, you can also breastfeed comfortably in such rooms, and perhaps there is also a child-friendly toilet available for the big sibling.

At international airports you may find such paradisiacal conditions, but in the airplane it’s over – no matter in which booking class you take your seat. Space is the crucial keyword – for economic reasons, space has to be saved extremely in cabin construction. The first victims are always the toilets. For this reason, airplanes are also the last places where there is a Toilet for both genders there. (Makes you wonder why everywhere else separation is so important?!)

Another victim is children and their needs, as we already found out in our KidsAway airline survey: Families have to do without separate baby changing rooms or separees for relaxed breastfeeding when flying now and also in the future; even in Business Class.

Good preparation

Not every toilet has a changing table

© FlickR/Adam Walker Cleaveland

Since the winding in the airplane is always inconvenient, you should avoid it if possible. The last thing to do before boarding is to go to the nappy-changing room. Also, before the flight, give your diapered child only familiar foods that you know will be well tolerated, and also pack emergency rations for fussy eaters. Avoid carbonated and very sugary beverages, give preference to water!

Please don’t save on drinks for your child on the plane just to "save on diapers". The dry air and the low air pressure make the flight otherwise a torture.

Clothing choices can also be "diaper friendly." Soft cloth pants with elastic can be pulled down quickly, while dungarees or awkwardly buttoned little dresses make wobbly diapering on the plane an egg dance. If your baby is wearing socks, remember to take them off before removing the full diaper – it’s easy for a kick to go wrong here.

And finally: Be attentive and keep a close eye on your child, so that a full diaper doesn’t get the chance to leak out and affect your clothes.

You should also consider your relationship with the flight crew as preparation for an emergency: The friendlier you are to the ladies, the more likely they are to help you if your little one has a mishap or you need assistance with diapering.

How to diaper on a plane?

A normal airplane toilet – the changing table is folded up

It’s best to go through the entire procedure in your mind before changing a diaper and pack a small diaper bag in addition to the large one that fits on the narrow shelf of the in-flight lavatory. It’s also worth inspecting the various on-board toilets right after boarding, because they are sometimes different sizes!

Another problem is the slight turbulence, which may hardly be noticeable when you are sitting, but when you are standing you have to look for a foothold every now and then. If you are holding the wriggling child with one hand and balancing a full diaper in the other, body control is required here! The only good thing: In the narrow airplane toilet, no child can fall off the changing table.

Changing in the airplane toilet: step by step

  • Open the toilet door, fold down the changing table with the door open and place a disposable changing mat on it
  • Locate the trash can, faucet (and its operation) and handle on the cabin wall
  • Place or stand baby on changing table, provide small diaper bag (or two diapers and wet wipes) on the shelf, or. as a shoulder bag in front of the body (advantage: does not fall down, does not get wet)
  • Attention: bring a change of clothes, even if the clothes still seem clean! It’s easy for things to go wrong when diapering
  • Now close the toilet door (if that is at all possible), while doing so Keep your hand on the child
  • Undress baby, open diaper, clean baby – either with wet wipes or with disposable washcloths and warm water (just reach to the side and use the water dispenser)
  • In case of slight turbulence, place your legs as wide as possible and use your hips and elbows to hold on to the wall of the cubicle so that you can keep your hands on the child (and on the dirty diaper) (one advantage of the narrowness: you get stuck quite well.)
  • Do not put the full diaper down, but throw it immediately into the trash can!
  • Put clean diaper underneath, entire procedure backwards
  • Throw the disposable changing mat into the trash can
  • Wash or disinfect your hands (if necessary, you can also do this at your seat)
  • Open the toilet door
  • Pick up baby, wipe down changing table with a wet wipe or disinfectant wipe and fold up

If you are unsure about diapering or if there is really a lot of "accumulated" diapers, have your partner assist you; he or she will also provide the necessary privacy if the toilet door has to remain open.

Diapering larger children

Quite narrow, so an airplane toilet

© FlickR/Adam Walker Cleaveland

Children who can already stand on their own (they don’t have to be able to stand freely, leaning against the wall is possible in the on-board toilet) should also be changed in this way if possible – either on the changing table or if the child then towers over you (remember that the cabin could suddenly sway)!), on the closed toilet lid. This also has to be wiped off afterwards, of course! Panty diapers that are easy to get into while standing up are the most practical; you may want to practice wearing and changing panty diapers with your child a few days ahead of time. Ask your child to hold onto either the side of the boat or your shoulders while standing, so they don’t fall over in turbulence!

Please always change older children who "just need a quick dry diaper" in the lavatory. The other passengers and the flight crew will thank you for it!

If you are traveling alone with a child and have to go to the bathroom yourself, you can ask your seatmates if they will supervise your child for the time being. If the child really wants to come along, skill and acrobatics are required: pick it up is It is possible to first change the child on the changing table in a closed on-board toilet, then fold it up and hold the child (parked on your own feet) on your lap, while you yourself … We have tested this!

But what if there is no changing table in the on-board toilet??

Changing a baby while lying down on the toilet seat that’s folded shut is not only dangerous, it’s also unsanitary. If there is no changing table in the lavatory, you have to change your child somewhere else (if it can’t be changed standing up). For the sake of its sensitive skin, leaving it sitting in a full diaper should not be an option anyway. Decent options are:

  • the galley, i.e. the small room where the flight crew prepares the drinks and meals
  • the place in front of the seats in the first row or in front of the emergency exit
  • the bassinet, in which babies weighing up to eleven kilograms can lie during the flight
  • an empty row of seats
  • one’s own airplane seat
  • your lap (both for small babies lying down and for bigger ones standing up)

If you are both sitting next to each other, you can turn a little towards each other and wrap smaller babies on your legs. Places a blanket or changing mat underneath. The one with the "stinky end" wraps, the other one hands the utensils and treats the "upper end. Your bodies serve as an effective privacy screen.

Try to get the process over with as quickly as possible, and perhaps have your partner shield you with a blanket or cloth so as not to disturb other passengers. In any case, be sure to ask the flight crew beforehand which option they suggest. You may also be allowed to go to the lavatory in business class, where there may be a changing table after all? It costs nothing to ask!

Help from the airlines

While diapering space is at a premium everywhere, many airlines still go out of their way to accommodate families and their needs. The unfamiliar food, excitement and different air pressure often make for increased diaper consumption; but delayed or cancelled flights can also quickly deplete your quota. That’s why on long-haul flights, most airlines offer free diapers, wet wipes, and baby cream in case you run out of your stash.

But remember, these diapers usually come in only one size – one child may fit, another may not, not to mention any incompatibilities. Therefore, it is always best to have enough of your own diapers with you.

Packing list for the diaper bag above the clouds

  • Disposable diapers, if possible panty diapers and/or special night diapers with increased capacity; rule of thumb: normal diaper consumption times two
  • wet wipes, rule of thumb: normal need times two
  • several disposable changing pads
  • small plastic bags to put full, smelly diapers in
  • skin-soothing diaper cream
  • a disinfectant for hands, one for surfaces (available in drugstores and pharmacies)
  • Two complete sets of change of clothes for the child
  • Two spare pacifiers
  • a change of T-shirt for the person changing the diaper
  • a small toy to distract fidgety toddlers while changing diapers

Who says that changing diapers on an airplane can’t be fun??

A full diaper may stink and changing diapers in a cramped toilet may be exhausting, but there really are worse things: like keeping an overtired, cranky toddler occupied on a long-haul flight … or surviving jet lag afterwards ..

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