Flying with a baby

Flying with a baby

We didn’t plan it this way, but in the first 8 months of her life The Child went on 8 flights – which is as many as I’d been on in my entire life until I met Georgie.

I don’t know who that says most about.

Anyway, we’ve learned a few lessons in those 8 flights that I thought I’d share. The first and perhaps most important is this:

Don’t Panic!

At least on short haul flights (which is all we’ve done so far), flying with a baby, or at least our baby, is not really all that bad. Yes, they may cry and yes they will resist sitting still in one place for the duration of the flight, but you will survive. Remember that your baby will pick up on your mood, so the more relaxed you are about the process the calmer they’re going to be, too. Even if you’re not a fan of flying don’t forget that your baby doesn’t know that yet – so pretend to enjoy it and they will too. Maybe it’ll even help you to feel better about things.

Here’s some other good news that should help to calm you:

Airports are easier with a baby

Not many things get simpler with a child in tow but – at least when they’re small – airports are a lot nicer places when you’ve got a baby with you.

A big part of this is that people tend to be kind when they see you struggling with a baby. So if there are long lines they will often let you skip ahead and if there is nowhere to sit they will offer you their chair. And they will smile at you and help you if you need it. In fact, with a baby, airports are easier than, say, a trip into town.

Getting through security is a breeze, too, because in many airports you will get sent to a different family queue which is usually much less busy. This is a serious perk. It is almost worth having a baby for this alone.

Security and Border agents seem to love babies, too, which is a big help. They will be patient and help you with your bags and have even been kind enough to hold our baby whilst we’ve been getting ourselves organised. This is fortunate because, with a baby, you have a lot of extra stuff that you’re carrying with you and probably a pushchair which will need to be folded down to be x-rayed too. You are unlikely to have been born with enough hands to do that by yourself.

On the downside, airports are noisy and can be hot – so it can be tricky to get the baby to nap. We’ve sometimes managed to find relatively quiet corners to try and soothe her only to be humbugged by loud announcements about departing flights. Basically, don’t count on the baby napping in the airport.

What about Baby Food?

When planning what to carry on it’s worth noting that according to the UK government website you’re allowed to take enough food and milk in your hand luggage to last the baby’s journey, and that “in some cases this may exceed 100ml”. It goes on to say that you can carry on unfrozen breast milk in individual containers each up to 2000ml. I’d absolutely advise you to clarify with your airport and the rules in your destination country if you’re planning to take large quantities of baby food through, but this info seems encouraging if you’re planning a long trip. So far we’ve managed whilst keeping within 100ml limits – latterly using Ella’s Kitchen pouches to feed the baby en route (Although note that those pouches come in a variety of sizes and only a few are 100ml or less). I’ll update this if and when we try anything different.

Most airports will also sell baby food airside, too, so you can always stock up. Can’t say I’d be particularly comfortable relying on that, but that’s just me. I’d recommend calling ahead to check if that’s your plan.

Take your pushchair to the gate

Back before we had the baby, Georgie and I moved to a new country with just a suitcase each. Oh, and a piano. But it’s amazing how much stuff your new baby requires to go anywhere – you’ll almost need a bigger car just to get yourselves to the airport. Whilst some airlines (such as Virgin Atlantic) offer an additional baggage allowance for babies, many of the budget airlines will not – so you’ve got to somehow fit all that extra stuff into your suitcase.

You’ve also got to get the little one around once you get to your destination, which means one of the extra things you may well want to take with you is the pushchair. The good news is that many airlines will let you take this with you at no extra cost.

If it’s a foldable pushchair that’s not excessive in size you’ll also often be allowed to keep it with you right up til the departure gate – which can be seriously handy. Different airlines have different rules on this, so make sure to check with your airline in advance and be clear when you’re dropping off the rest of your bags that you’d like to hang on to the pushchair until the gate. At this point they’ll tag the pushchair (or the carrier) and send you on your way.

Check this site for a list of airlines and their policies on gate checking pushchairs – and don’t forget to check the T&Cs of your chosen airline.

You’ll then have to fold the chair down (and take the baby out) to get through security but after that you’ll have it with you right up until you’re stepping onto the plane.

There’s also a sly bonus here because if you get yourself a decent-sized buggy carrier you can slip a few bulky (though not heavy) items in with the pushchair, freeing up valuable space in your luggage. Don’t overdo it, obviously, or you could find yourself with problems, but chucking a rug and a few toys in there can make all the difference.

Seriously, get a Buggy Carrier

Even if you don’t need the extra space, it’s still worth buying a buggy carrier. The first time we flew we didn’t bother, figuring it was a waste of money, so it was just chucked into the hold as-is.

When we arrived at our destination, late and exhausted but nevertheless congratulating ourselves and the baby for a trouble-free journey, I unfolded the pushchair to find that the mechanism had been damaged in flight.

And for ‘damaged’ read ‘destroyed’.

This meant the pushchair wouldn’t unfold completely and then would not fold up again. For various reasons related to the excessively complicated nature of our travel arrangements (a story for another time) this was close to disastrous.

Arriving at the hotel cold, wet, and pretty grumpy, dragging the carcass of our broken buggy as well as our suitcases (and carrying the baby in our arms) I spent the next hour shut in the bathroom (so as not to wake the baby) attempting to repair the pushchair with two table knives I borrowed from the hotel restaurant. Returning home I had to sit in the airport using the same two knives to fold the damn thing down again before we could check in.

Replacement parts costs us about £80.

Add to that the fact that an aircraft hold is not the cleanest most hygienic place on earth and you’ll see the benefit.

We went with this model from Phil and Ted. It’s a good size, lightweight and, I reckoned, more practical than the manufacturer’s option for our Bugaboo pushchair. It also rolls up small when not in use. On subsequent flights we’ve also used it to carry our baby rucksack, and you could use it for baby car seats or whatever else you can imagine. In truth, it’s not perfect – the wheels are awkwardly placed unless you fold it perfectly and the handles are not well positioned to be able to drag it on its wheels. It’s also showing signs of wear after only a few flights – little tears where the fabric rubs along the ground. Still, I’m glad we have it and it’s the best option I’ve come across. If anyone has a better recommendation I’m all ears.

Take a baby carrier, too

Having dropped the buggy at the gate you’ve often still got a bit of a wait, so we’ve found it useful to have a baby carrier with us, too. It’s also helpful at the other end if you have a long walk to the luggage reclaim. I’ve heard of some people insisting on waiting on the plane with the baby until the buggy is brought to the plane door, but as far as I’m concerned by the time we’ve arrived we’re in no mood to hang about on the plane any longer than necessary.

Getting on the plane

By the time you’re boarding, I reckon you want the baby to be sleepy but not overtired, peckish but not hungry. That’s because feeding a baby during the takeoff (or at least giving them something to suck on) helps with equalising the pressure in their ears which can otherwise make them uncomfortable and unhappy. With any luck they’ll then doze off and you can enjoy a nice relaxing flight. Hah!

You’re often invited to board first with a child and whilst we usually take up this option it can be something of a mixed blessing. Yes, you’re at the front of the queue, but that’s really it: you get on first, sure, but not really any quicker than anyone else. In some respects I’d rather spend more time walking up and down the departures lounge keeping the baby calm than standing stationary at the head of a queue. Don’t linger at the back of the queue waiting to drop off your pushchair, though, as by the time you get to the gate they may not be too keen to help you out with it.

Where to sit

If you’ve got the baby in the carrier, take them out while you’re still in the aisle to avoid boinking their little heads on the console above the seats. Georgie prefers to have a window seat with the baby – it’s the most private if she’s feeding and also limits the distractions created by people walking up and down the aisle. On the downside, if you need to get out to change a nappy it’s a bit more challenging. I’d rather have the aisle for the easy escape, but we’d both agree that the middle seat is a no-go.

Wherever you sit, count the seat backs between you and the nearest exit and agree with your partner which of you will be responsible for the baby in the unlikely event you have to make emergency exit.

Cleared for takeoff

Our Child seems completely blase about the actual experience of flying – expressing only mild surprise when the engines spin up and during the initial burst of acceleration but otherwise being entirely unfussed by the procedure – despite us trying to encourage excitement and wonder at the spectacle of the ground disappearing beneath our feet.

Certainly I would say (contrary to my expectations) that the easiest flights were those we took when she was youngest. The Child would fall asleep shortly after take off and open her eyes with leisurely complacency as we touched down at the other end. Ideal.

Just a couple of months later, however, and the stimulation of the airport and the other passengers on the flight meant that sleep becomes much less tempting. On the most difficult flight, The Child finally fell asleep literally (and I do mean literally) one second before the wheels touched down at our destination and of course, as far as she was concerned, that single second meant that she was fully rested and wouldn’t need to sleep again for several hours. This ultimately resulted in a rather ugly meltdown some hours later, fortunately once we were well out of the airport and safely in our hotel room…

Keep distractions handy

So how do you keep The Child occupied, quiet and not driving your fellow passengers crazy?

As far as possible we work together, taking turns to distract her and take breaks for ourselves. One good tip I’ve seen is to bring a new toy with you – something that provides a sense of novelty for a while. On the other hand, we’ve found the things that most interested her were the inflight magazines and laminated safety cards. The safety cards are particularly great because she can’t tear them and the little pictures are good for inspiring stories that don’t involve the aircraft plunging into the ocean.

Whatever you use, it’s worth keeping them separate in their own little bag that you can easily slip out of your hand luggage – otherwise you’ll find that the second you strap in for take-off you’ll realise that what you need is stuffed in the overhead locker.

Hopefully, if you’ve planned your flights carefully – ideally to coincide with nap times – your baby will sleep for at least some of the journey, and you can sit back and order yourself a well earned gin and tonic and take it easy until you get to the other end.

Piece of cake, see?

What about long haul flights?

So far, we’ve only taken The Child on flights up to about 3 hours long. I’ll update if and when we take her on longer trips, but until then I’d prefer not to discuss something I’ve got no personal experience of.

Check out these links instead:

Flying Long Haul with a Baby: Tips and Advice (The Telegraph)

Tips for Flying Long Haul with a Baby – TheTravelHack.com

More tips:

Leave yourself plenty of time

You’re going to move more slowly with a child. Things take longer and you’re going to come across different problems. If you’re traveling a long way consider breaking the journey with a long layover. If you need to make connecting flights leave yourself far longer than you would without the baby – you do not want to be rushing for a flight with a tired baby that needs changing and worrying about whether or not you need to collect the pushchair to connect with the next plane. Slow down.

This goes for arriving at the airport, too. Think about timings for when you want the baby to feed and sleep and allow a buffer in case this doesn’t go smoothly.

Think about onward travel

Do you need to take the car seat with you? Even if the laws in your destination country allow for traveling without a child seat is this a good idea? (It isn’t.) Where we’ve needed taxis we’ve called ahead in advance to make sure they can provide an appropriate seat.

Your baby is your problem

Not everyone is going to be super-considerate or helpful. It’s not their responsibility. It can be incredibly frustrating when someone accidentally wakes the baby when they’ve just fallen asleep or talks loudly just as they’re dozing off, but take a deep breath and smile. Likewise no-one wants to be sitting next to a screaming baby on a plane so you’re going to have to work harder to keep them calm than you might ordinarily – be considerate to the others on the plane and they’ll be more understanding when you’re really struggling.

Changing a nappy on the plane is not easy.

I only know this because Georgie told me. I have not tried it.

And finally:

Babies exist all over the world

Which is worth remembering before you completely fill your suitcase with nappies, baby wipes and so on. You can buy a lot of that stuff when you get there, unless you’re going somewhere really crazy.

Wherever you go it’s going to be an adventure – so have a great trip!

Got any great ideas or suggestions? Add them in the comments!

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Header image: Gary Lopater on Unsplash



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