Having a baby should not hold us back when it comes to travelling further afield, but many dread the idea of taking their little ones on a long flight, or even a short one. As parents we are bound to worry about how our children, especially babies, will cope on the plane. It partly depends on the baby’s personality of course. But with a little organisation and planning we can at least try to keep stress at bay as much as possible.
We took Rosalin on her first flight when she was 4 months old and then on her first long-haul flight when she was 9 months, and then again 5 months later after she had just started walking. I can confirm it got gradually harder every time!
But I’ve learnt a few things, so here are my top tips for flying with a baby or toddler:
Before you book:
- Check airline infant policies. Usually infants only require their own seat once they’re 2 years old, up to then they can sit on your lap.
- Most airlines have bassinets on long haul flights. These are little baby cots that are attached to the wall by the seats in the front row. The cots tend to be suitable for babies up to a weight of c. 9-11kg, but it differs by airline so it’s worth double checking before booking. There are usually only a couple of bassinet seats on an aircraft so I recommend booking these early. Some of the lower budget airlines charge extra for bassinet seat reservation, but I’d say it’s worth it, especially on overnight flights. Even if your baby has outgrown the bassinet, the additional floor space these seats offer makes a useful little play area.
- Infant luggage allowances differ by airline, but most let you bring at least a stroller free of charge when travelling with an infant, many allow additional items such as car seats or travel cots. Babies on laps don’t usually get hand luggage allowance. Most allow you to bring food for the child on board and easyJet let you bring a changing bag on board free of charge.
- When packing your hand luggage, be organised and know exactly where everything is. Make sure necessities like bottles, snacks or dummies are easy to reach, even when on the move or queuing.
Packing for the flight:
- When travelling with a baby you can bring food, milk and water in your hand luggage, so pack whatever you need. Staff will check the containers and bottles at security and you might be asked to open or taste the water, but I haven’t encountered any issues so far.
- Bring enough food and drink to cover an additional 12 hours, in case your arrival is delayed, your luggage is delayed or you can’t immediately stock up on food at your destination.
- If you’re formula feeding, I suggest you pre-fill your baby bottles with boiled water and bring formula powder in a pre-measured container.
- Bring bribes, lots of them. A rice cake or carrot puff does wonders when your little one starts to get a bit grizzly.
- Don’t forget to bring enough nappies and wet wipes on board to cover your time at the airport, on board and potential delays.
- If you’re hoping to put your child to bed during the flight, e.g. in the bassinet, bring her normal sleep clothes, sleeping bag and comforter to create some familiarity.
- Bring at least one change of clothes for your baby and yourself in case of an accident involving vomit, poo, or anything else that tends to come out of babies unexpectedly. Believe me, it happens when you least expect it!
- Bring toys, books, whatever keeps your child entertained. Yes they are heavy and take up loads of room, but they are worth it. If your child has a favourite TV show or video, see if you can download it onto your phone or tablet so they can watch it on the plane.
- If you can, get your child a new small toy or book, to surprise them with on the plane and for them to discover during the journey.
At the airport:
- Make things easy for yourself where possible. The less stressed you are, the less stressed your baby will be. It’s worth paying a little extra for meet & greet parking, so you save yourself the shuttle bus journey, which can be difficult with lots of luggage and a baby.
- Allow extra time for security checks. While there is usually a special line for families, I have found it to be extremely busy, at least in England.
- Bring a sling or baby carrier. Especially at larger airports or if you have a layover between flights, it really helps to be able to carry your baby with your hands free for passport checks, carrying hand luggage, etc. If you’ve brought a pushchair it will most likely travel in the hold and you will only get it back at the luggage pick up.
- Zip-lock bags are your new best friend. They will keep your hand luggage / changing bag organised and help you find stuff easier, especially small things. You can tidy away any used cutlery, left-over food pouches or sippy cups, without making a mess all over your bag. And they keep your change of clothes clean and tidy.
- Tire them out if you can. Most airports have a kids play area, where they can run around freely and entertain themselves until your flight’s ready to board.
- Change your baby’s nappy at the airport just before you get on the plane, it’s good to start fresh.
- If not airline policy, ask if you can get priority boarding to get yourselves settled before everyone else gets on.
- Give your baby milk or water to drink during take-off and landing, to distract them and help release the pressure in their ears. Rice cakes or snacks for older babies to munch on also work.
- Calpol or baby antihistamines given just before take off are also said to help calm the little ones down but I don’t advocate this, unless absolutely necessary.
- On long haul flights, if you can see free seats on the plane, ask cabin crew if the person next to you could be moved. It’s better for you as you’ll have a spare seat next to you and a lot more space, and certainly better for them!!
None of this will guarantee that your baby will go to sleep or happily play on the plane, and let’s face it, most babies will cry at some point. But I have found that being organised at least gave me the illusion of being somewhat in control!