Top 10 tips for flying with a baby
#1 Book a direct flight
Top of the tips for flying with a baby is to book a direct flight if you possibly can. The 'danger' points in long haul flights with a baby are concentrated around getting on and off the plane and around take off and landing. So, the fewer of these you have to do the better. Even if the adult fare is a little more expensive, for most families it is worth it.
If a direct route is not possible for your long flight, book one that gives you at least two or three hours at the airport. This gives you a chance to stock up on any provisions that you are missing, change a dirt nappy and let your older children stretch their legs. Some airports even have shower facilities if things have gone so badly on the flight that one of you needs a shower and a change of clothes!
#2 Check if you need a ticket
Babies fly free internationally with many airlines so your little one may not need a paid seat. However, this may not be the case for all flights and a few airlines may insist that even a young baby has their own seat. The definition of 'a baby' is usually a child under two years of age but you should always check this.
If you can afford to book an extra seat for your baby, it is always a good idea. When your little one has their own seat, it frees up a lot of room and means that you do not have to have them on your lap for the entire flight.
#3 Arrange a suitable restraint
If your baby is in a separate seat, most airlines will insist that you have an appropriate child restraint system for their own safety. Baby rules for travelling vary by country and airline. Some airlines provide restraints and some don't.
If you are travelling to the US, you will need to comply with the requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration. This may include providing an FAA approved car seat (more details are given here) which is usually treated as additional luggage so you do not have to pay extra to bring it onboard.
#4 Book a suitable seat
Obviously, a first class seat is the best option if your budget will stretch to that. You will have a lot more room and it makes a huge difference, especially on long haul flights.
Away from first class, try to bag one of the front row bulkhead seats. This gives you loads more foot room and some airlines provide baby bassinets for very small children. The bassinet is like a small cot and fits on the bulkhead wall in front of your seat. As your baby sleeps, you get your lap back! Bassinets have age and weight restrictions and cannot be used during take off, landing and periods of turbulence.
An aisle seat is best if you have a toddler who requires multiple trips to the toilet. However, if you are breastfeeding, you may prefer the privacy of a window seat. The middle seat is probably not the best choice as it gives you neither easy access nor privacy.
#5 Check the weight of your case
All of the extra baby gear that you need makes it much more likely that you will exceed the baggage allowance for your flight. Even if you pack light, it is worth checking before you leave your home. It's very embarrassing to have to take things out of your case and transfer them to a carry on bag in front of other passengers. It's even worse trying to do it when you are juggling a baby and several other bags at the same time!
Also, check what items need to be checked into the hold and which can be carried on. Some airlines allow you to carry on a stroller and car seat but others don't. You may also be able to gate check a stroller and car seat by leaving them with the flight attendant just before you board. You can even get gate check travel bags where you can put the things you won't need on the flight.
#6 Wear comfortable layers
The best approach when flying with a baby is for both of you to wear layers. This allows you both to adapt to the changes in temperature that you inevitably meet when you are flying. Airports are usually quite warm, aircraft can be quite cool if the air conditioning is turned up. However, a lap infant can make you hot! If you are heading to a sunny destination, you will probably need to discard some layers when you get there.
If your baby vomits or has a leaky nappy, you will be glad to have some extra clothing to fall back on. Dealing with baggage reclaim when you are covered in baby sick is no fun!
#7 Use a baby carrier and blanket
A baby carrier is very useful when flying with a baby. Your little one will feel safe and secure because they are close to you. This leaves your hands free to deal with your older kids and all of the paperwork associated with air travel.
#8 Make a list of essentials
You will need a separate bag for baby gear and one with a wide opening will allow you to have a clear view of what is inside so that you can grab it quickly. The Done by Deer Roll-Top Storage Bag is ideal because it is just the right size, is waterproof and machine washable. It's also made from 100% recycled polyester. You are also going to need:
Formula or pumped breast milk. The Skip Hop Formula to Food Containers are just the right size for formula milk and snacks and are made from BPA-free and phthalate-free materials. Check with your airline about their rules on taking liquids on board.
Nappies, wipes, changing mat and plastic bags for soiled nappies. The That's Mine Changing Pad is so cool it looks just like a clutch bag!
Baby food and cutlery. The OXO Tot On the Go Feeding Spoon comes with its own travel case for hygiene.
Spare clothes. Flying with a baby can get very messy!
Medication. If your baby is on medication, you must bring this with you. You may also want to bring some baby paracetamol that is suitable for your child's age.
Air travel is notoriously unpredictable. So put together the quantities of the above things that you think you will need for your length of flight - then double it!
#9 Bring entertainment
The key to successfully flying with a baby is to keep them happy. For young babies, this means making sure that they are comfortable, warm and fed. For older babies, however, it requires some form of entertainment! The Wee Gallery Sensory Clutch Puzzle Ball is a good choice for air travel. It is lightweight and has no bits that can fall off and roll under your seat. Babies explore it as if it was a puzzle and it has a strap to secure it making it perfect for travel.
#10 Arrive at the airport early
The last thing you need when flying with a baby is to have to race through the airport lounge because you are late for your flight. It's far better to arrive early for check in and then spend your time at the airport preparing your baby for the flight.
Use the airport restroom to change their nappy just before you board. Many airlines operate a family line for boarding so that you can get on the plane first and settle your baby before the other passengers board.
Finally, ignore the dirty looks! Flying with a baby is not easy, especially on a long flight. Babies cry and this is understandable if a change of cabin pressure has made their ears hurt (you can help this by getting them to drink milk/water or suck a dummy on take off and landing) or if they are tired or hungry. Most of your fellow passengers will understand this, even the ones in the same row as you. If your baby cries and you are doing everything in your power to soothe them, there is nothing more that you can do. Flight attendants are often very helpful in these situations and may have some tricks to distract your baby long enough for them to forget what they were crying about!
What's the NHS advice for flying with a baby?
Some parents are nervous about flying with a very young baby because of the changes in cabin pressure and the challenge to the baby's immune system of being in a confined space with a lot of people. Other parents are far more relaxed about it.
The NHS advice is that it is safe to travel with babies over two weeks of age. However, they also advise that most airlines may ask you for a birth certificate (internal flights) to prove your child's age. For international travel, your baby will need a passport. Some airlines require a doctor's letter confirming for very young babies confirming that it is safe for them to fly.
What's the best time to fly with a baby?
Flying with a baby at night is often the least stressful option. Hopefully, your child sleeps more at night and so they are more likely to fall asleep on the plane. Also, you will need less baby food because they do not eat at night and that means fewer wet or dirty nappy to change!
Travel advice - NHS
Flying with children - FAA