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I've gotten the technique of changing a diaper in a public restroom down fairly well if there's a counter or changing station. But recently we took a flight and I discovered I have no idea how to change a diaper on a plane. There are, I believe, three options:

  1. Go to the lavatory and struggle with the impossibly tiny space,
  2. Change the diaper from your seat (ideally a bulkhead row), or
  3. Wait until you reach the ground to deal with dirty diapers.

We were fortunate that option #3 was available because our children waited until final approach. But I wondered (and worried) about what would happen if that were not the case. Would it have been better to tie up a lavatory for the extra time needed to do the job with a squirming infant? Or does the obvious necessity make stripping a child naked in public and exposing seatmates to the smell acceptable?

For a few hours a flight manifest becomes a sort of ad hoc community. How can a parent change a diaper with maximum efficiency and minimal embarrassment for all involved?

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Note that tiny as they are, airplane lavatories often do have a changing table. It can be well-camouflaged, though, among all the various mysterious panels and latches. Ask a flight attendant for help (preferably before the need becomes acute) if you don't see it. –  Martha Mar 7 at 14:50
    
Option 2: Bulkhead row seats can be hard for parents to request, depending on the carrier. But from experience of a few times when we've had to change diapers and we couldn't get up (seatbelt signs illuminated) if you can get the baby on a seat between the parent's seats, that's just as good (if not better) then a bulkhead row. –  JamesF Mar 8 at 12:36
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6 Answers 6

I opted for the lavatory when we took my son on a plane.

I should mention that I'm a pretty big guy: 6'3" or roughly 190cm. Standing in that lavatory, hunched over the rudimentary changing table... let's just say it wasn't fun. Or comfortable.

Yet I'm not convinced in the seat would be any better, even if you ignore the issue of consideration for your fellow travelers (and I feel that's a pretty big issue, especially if you don't have the luxury of having the entire set of seats in your section of the row for just your family members).

Even more important, accidents happen, especially on a plane experiencing some degree of turbulence. In the event of something going somewhere it shouldn't go, you really want that sink to be close. It may be only an airplane sink, but its a source of running water, and that could be a critical component in a "worst case scenario".

If you do have to change in the lavatory, bring everything you need, and nothing more. Don't bring the whole diaper bag. Just bring the diaper (and perhaps a spare, just in case), wipes, disposal baggie, etc.. Only the bare minimum for the changing. The amount of space you'll be dealing with makes extra items like the diaper bag more of a liability than an asset.

Tying up the lavatory is not something I'd worry too much about. Many commercial planes have multiple lavatories, anyway. Those that don't are (in my experience, anyway) usually planes that are either for short trips, or the sign that you're on a "bargain" class airline (if I recall correctly, Ryanair, for example, saved some money by stripping out one of the standard lavatories on their planes in order to fit in an extra seat). Regardless, changing a diaper is a perfectly legitimate use of a lavatory, so if you're tying it up, at least you're tying it up for the right reason.

Your best bet, for short flights at least, is, of course, to change the diaper before the flight, as close to boarding time as is feasible, and hope that you can avoid having to deal with changing the diaper on the plane altogether. That's not always possible, of course, but one can hope.

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Great advice, especially about the sink. I have a diaper changing kit that's pretty minimal already, so I'm set there. –  Jon Ericson Mar 6 at 21:13
    
if in doubt, contact the flight attendant; they are paid to make the flight as smooth as possible –  ratchet freak Mar 7 at 1:48
    
This is what I did, and it worked quite well! The son was 3 months old the first time, and almost a year the second time –  Canadian Luke Mar 7 at 17:48
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Take option 1.

First, let the other passengers waiting know what are doing.

Make sure that both parents go to the bathroom. One parent stands outside supplying wipes, a bag for the poopy nappy, etc etc, the other does the dirty work.

Make sure you have plenty of wipes, a plastic bag for the nappy, a bag for any clothes that get soiled, a fresh change of clothes.

Embarrassment? Learn to not worry about what others are thinking.

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We have twins so: 1. I've stopped worrying about my own embarrassment; its the embarrassment of the other passengers I'd like to minimize. 2. It's not practical for both parents to go together. But the communication point is important. –  Jon Ericson Mar 6 at 21:09
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If you'd written "twins" in the question, I wouldn't have had a clue what help to offer. Poo is natural and babies are particularly good at it..... –  Dave Clarke Mar 6 at 21:11
    
Airlines will often not allow you to stand outside, unfortunately, if the changing table is in the forward restroom - keep that in mind. –  Joe Mar 7 at 18:12
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The first answer post is right on the money. Definitely use the in plane lavatory if your baby #2s during the flight. I found it helpful that I had an extra swaddling blaket to lay down on the changing surface. One of my flights did not have a fold down changing table which made it a little more difficult, but all parents learn to improvise. My advice is to just take your time and keep your cool because your baby will feel it otherwise. Most people on your plane will sympathize with you for having to travel with an infant, so I wouldn't beat yourself up too much about bothering them. Just as long as your courteous and attentive to your child you will be fine. Changing a poopy diaper in your seat is not courteous! Best of luck!

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I have not changed a diaper on a plane, but have changed a diaper in the front seat of a sports car, which I would guess has the same amount of space (and room for error(-; ) I didn't even have the luxury of a sink, and I'm a cloth-diaperer. Here's how I managed with my 7 mo old:

1) Make sure diaper is arranged (not an issue with disposables, but, the point is to have it ready. ) and tucked under your chin. Place wipes and wet bag (not an issue with 'sposies) at your feet, preferably on the side of your dominant hand.
2) drape a towel, cloth, changing pad, or something waterproof over your lap (those large plastic drop-cloth type products marketed for protecting the floor around a high chair works great for an instant, clean, waterproof, disposable surface.)
3) lay baby with his head towards you and his feet at or past your knees, on his back, obviously... His head will be essentially tucked in your waist.
4) undress completely below the waist. Throw bottoms over your shoulder in the case of separates, if it's a onesie or one piece suit, tuck it way up around armpits. You don't want any clothing in the "line of fire."
5) undo diaper, but don't remove yet.
6) grab baby's ankles in one hand and bring feet towards you while leaning back. (Essentially bending baby in half, knees to nose). The goal is to get the bum up in the air, off your lap. Scoot the clean diaper under the dirty one, opened with front part hanging down by your knees.
7) reach around baby's legs and grab the front of the dirty diaper from between baby's legs and pull the dirty diaper out, wiping the bum along the way- try to get as much poo as you can with the diaper itself (this is standard procedure for me, but I make no assumptions) so you don't need a million wipes. Place it on floor next to wipes, grab wipe(s) while down there.
8) clean bum. Do the best you can since you aren't on the business end of things and can't see.
9) reach between baby's legs and grab front of diaper, pulling it up. You can let go of baby's legs now, letting them dangle while you fasten the diaper. (In my case, legs were up on the dash, on a plane, they might be on the back of the lav door.)
10) redress baby, stow dirty diaper in wetbag or trash, toss/stow wipes, gather supplies, wash hands, done!

I found this to be better than trying to fit baby on an un-level bucket seat (a light colored fabric seat, btw) while I crammed on the floor. I can't imagine trying to fit a baby on the back of a plane's toilet lid (even if it was by some miracle sanitized), or the little tiny sink-encumbered counter, especially during turbulence. At least with the baby on your lap you are holding on. I hope this adapted version of my "tiny space diaper change" solution is helpful

Maybe you want to practice in a chair at home first? Practice makes perfect!

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From personal experience, the airline toilet isn't impossibly small, although this appears to vary by both aircraft and size of parents (international flights only so far, parents are no more than six feet tall, child is fairly quiescent as she's no older than 6 months on all flights so far). My wife and I manage the process together:

she carries the baby in, I squeeze in behind her. Then I reach around and either distract or contain our daughter on the changing shelf, so she doesn't wriggle around and fall off. That gives my wife two free hands to actually remove the diaper, wipe and add a fresh one.

I haven't had people complaining yet - I guess somebody might think two adults entering the toilet together are intent on joining the Mile High Club, but then the presence of an infant will usually make them reevaluate.

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We've done it all three ways (#1 and #2 a few times, and fortunately usually #3). In the lavatory is best if it has a table - but make sure you ask which one does, as often only one does from our experience on 737s.

In the seat works if you're a fast changer (which I am) with a small baby - but not with a toddler. If it's still breast-milk-only, you are fine since it doesn't smell terribly much, but if the baby is old enough for a substantial amount of solid poop, use the lavatory.

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