If such a thing as tempting fate exists, then this is it.
I am, right now, typing away mid-flight, baby asleep in a sky bassinet just inches from my face. I can see her little chest move, her eyelids flutter.
She looks calm.
And so, what better time to talk about what it’s really like to fly with a young baby.
You know, before it all goes horribly wrong.
I’ve been travelling and flying for a lot of years, now, and a lot of times. So much so that airports have become second nature to me and the security line queues almost feel like home.
I was unprepared for the upheaval in my packing and planning that a new baby would bring (not to mention, my sleep, but let’s forget about all that for now.)
The lists went on and on. Dithering and self-doubt crept in. It wasn’t helped, of course, by the ongoing sleep deprivation and the reality that chunks of available time were, well, less chunky than when I only had to pack for me.
With baby, everything needs to be done in a snatched few minutes here and there before the next nap, feed, and nappy cycle starts up again.
Fortunately I had help.
Friends who travelled. Readers who travelled. Twitterers who travelled. I asked for tips, they gave them.
And now that I’ve been through the flight razzamatazz the once, I was amazed at how much easier it was the second time around.
Easier in my head, easier in my actions. With more of the drudgery automatic, I was free to focus on the more important things and able to respond to lovely little Rosa more easily as we went along.
If you’re reading this and wondering whether you can manage flying with your baby, let me tell you right now that you can!
You just need to learn a few new moves.
And here they are.
Your cheat sheet of every travel tip I’ve encountered for flying with baby. Will you need them all? Thankfully not.
Will you find them helpful? I hope so!
By a young baby, I mean one who isn’t eating food yet. If you have started weaning then a lot of this will still apply but don’t forget to factor in the food side of things. Once I’ve reached that stage, I’ll share anything I found helpful then too!
The hardest part of this whole flying shebang has been trying to work out which airlines offer what. For short haul flights, you can probably manage with your baby on your lap. We did this flying from Wales to Scotland and it worked out just fine.
For long haul flights, a sky cot really helps. It frees up your hands to eat, among other things, and the bulk head seats the cots attach to bring extra leg room, which really helps with all the extra gear you’ll need in-flight.
How do sky cots work for young babies?
I’m on a Virgin Atlantic flight at the moment, and the bassinet is a stretcher with harness that clips to the wall. It has a harness so we don’t need to move Rosa back onto our laps (and belt her in) during turbulence so that when she’s actually asleep she can stay that way!
How do you ask for a sky cot or bassinet?
Somewhat annoyingly, the procedure varies from airline to airline so check before you book your flight and take the steps you need.
Virgin Atlantic, for example, won’t let you pre-book. You need to phone the airline to put in a request that is dealt with on a first come, first served basis, depending on who else is on the flight. If you check in online for the adults, this negates the request for the cot so beware!
Phone ahead and follow the instructions to the letter.
I’m guessing that this will become second nature as our children grow older but right now I CANNOT BELIEVE how long it can take me to complete a previously simple task.
With luggage and prams, you’ll need to use lifts and elevators instead of dashing up the stairs. You won’t be able to squeeze onto crowded transit trains and when a new security queue or check-in desk opens up, you won’t be able to move fast enough to take advantage of it.
Plus, you may well need to stop for a feed or a nappy change at any point which can slow you down all the more.
Relaxed, unhurried parents and well rested, well fed babies seem to make for a happier flying combination. Do all you can to make sure that this is you!
Some airports and airlines have dedicated check-in desks and security queues for people travelling with children. Make the most of them!
This was the one piece of advice everyone gave me, and I do mean everyone. Friends, cabin crew, waiters, colleagues, passers-by…
The idea is that feeding brings about swallowing, which helps babies to equalise the pressure in their ears, thus avoiding pain of changing air pressure.
Win-win all round.
The only thing I would add is not to start too early. Taxi times to the runway can be long – and you have time after the plane starts to take off before you’re high enough for the ear popping to be an issue. Take your time. Stay calm.
Bottles or dummies can also work for this.
On the off chance that your brilliant plan above doesn’t work, it helps to have given some pre-emptive medication. In the same way that doctors advise giving paracetamol prior to vaccinations, it’s handy to do the same twenty or so minutes before takeoff.
Obviously, I mention this with all the usual medical caveats. I’m not a doctor. Well, actually I am but I’m not YOUR doctor so do go and be sure that it’s safe for YOUR baby to be taking paracetamol first.
It gets heavy lugging all this kit around. Plus, if your flight gets delayed, there’s somewhere cosy for baby to sleep while you have your hands free. Label your kit up at the check-in desk and have all your paraphernalia organised into bags by the time you reach the plane. The pram can go in the hold (folded down) but not any of your other junk. Avoid (ahem!) scrabbling around on the floor by thinking about this in advance.
Also, double check with your airline that this is possible and that there aren’t any weight or dimension limits. Most are pretty good, though, to be fair.
Don’t forget you’ll need some transport options when you emerge on the other side. Depending on where you’re going and what you’re doing, it may make sense to bring your own car seat (checking that either it will fit in using a seatbelt or iso fix.)
Increasingly, airlines allow you to bring the car seat onto the plane, which seems an altogether better way of transporting an infant than having them perched on your lap. However, you often need to have bought a dedicated seat on the plane to be able to do this.
If your car seat attaches to your buggy, happy days. Take it up to the gate as well. If the flight is nearly empty, you may be able to take it on anyway. If not, into the hold it goes. You get a tag for this in the usual way when you check in your bags .
Even though it’s wise to have your buggy and car seat with you, a sling still makes it onto my essential list.
You have to take your baby out of the pram at security and, obviously, you won’t have the pram with you as you wriggle down the aisle towards your seat on the plane or teeter up the stairs from the tarmac. In both situations, it’s better to have baby in a sling as it leaves your hands free for nappy bags and steadying yourself amid the thronging crowds.
Plus, if you have reached the sacred state of “sleeping baby,” you won’t want to spoil it by waking her up at security.
You have to take a baby out of a pram: you can waltz right through the scanner with your baby in a sling.
Sorry, I have no advice for you on this! I’m still working it out. We’ve gone for a mix so far – one early, one midday start one late evening. No overnights. Who knows?!
Babies have a well developed sense of smell, so bring a sheet or well-worn pyjama top of yours to lay down on the bassinet. The smell is supposed to be comforting and, hey, even if it doesn’t work you feel as though your doing something…
Flights can be cold. They can also be hot. Prepare clothes for both.
For baby – and for you. Enough said.
Around children, mess just seems to multiply. Bring plastic bags for any wet clothes and also for rubbish.
This was a brilliant idea of mine that I completely forgot to make use of. You know those undignified waterproof absorbent mats you bought for labour and kept for potty training? Grab a couple. Maybe put one on your lap. Consider having one on the floor if baby wants to try tummy time and wriggle around. If all else fails, throw one over your own head and try to get some sleep.
Don’t bring too many. Tiny babies are too young to need them. Rosa was dazzled by the people, the lights, the procedures of the airport and the flight. Barely looked at the toys we’d brought.
When counting up nappies for the flight, don’t forget the airport time, transfer at the other end and a reasonable amount of delays. Overpacking is better than underpacking here.
We had a really handy changing bag but it came with a small pull-out mat. Some plane toilets have dedicated changing areas but in others, you’ll be balancing and slip-sliding about on the toilet lid at 36 000 feet.
Depending on how often you travel, you may have “100mls or under” and the “liquids, pastes and gels” routine all sorted. Prepare to develop a new routine!
Nappy cream, nipple cream, calpol, infacol – all need to be the right size and fit into one small, clear plastic bag.
Happily, milk is dealt with separately.
Most airlines will reheat milk. Apparently none will sterilise anything in the air.
So, sterilise anything you think you’ll need before you head to the airport and keep it in zipped up plastic bags.
We packed a handheld breast pump and a few bottles of ready made formula, one bottle and a few teats just in case. So far, so good.
And in case you skipped the last point, milk doesn’t count in your limit to go in the clear plastic bag.
This is a reallyhandy piece of kit that I use all the time at home. Designed by a mum, it’s a fully breathable shade that will attach onto all buggies and cots. It has a small zipped section that allows you to peer in – plus a picture of a snoozing baby on the outside in the vain hope that people around you will leave her alone to sleep.
There’s a lot going on for small babies on flights, from lights to people to sound. While I haven’t worked out what to do about the sound (baby earphones, maybe?) the snooze shade helps with the rest.
At this age, a cellular one is safer than the static plane ones. If they do accidentally pull it across their face, they can still breathe.
A swaddle cloth? A white noise musical sheep? Done, done and done!
So far we’ve been lucky and managed to have our meals. But if all hell kicks off, you may not be so lucky. If you don’t have a sky cot and the baby’s asleep on your lap it’s going to be difficult to get the tray out to eat. Bring a few sandwiches, nuts or things like that – especially if you’re still breastfeeding. Having your supply run out on a long haul flight would be particularly tedious.
Oh, and eat, eat whenever you can! And sleep, too, whenever the going gets good. You never know when your next chance will be ;-)
Same as above, really. And a bottle is way safer than the plastic glasses they give you when a baby’s thrashing around. Obviously, you can’t take bottles of water through security so you’ll need to remember to pick one up on the other side.
Just before security. Just before boarding. Removes one risk, at least
This has become a catchphrase among the new mum friends I met in the bleary early weeks.
If you expect to be pacing up and down for the whole flight with never a minute to yourself, then anything else is a bonus.
Again, the usual caveats about taking medical advice from the internet…but don’t forget to try to lower your risk of blood clots.
Recent childbirth and having a weight on your lap for hours mid-flight do increase your risk, so consider those oh-so-sexy in-flight stockings and a low dose of aspirin before you fly (again, check with your own doctor first etc yadda yadda yadda)
Socks fall off. Trousers can be tricky. Basically, choose the easiest outfits imaginable as you’ll be changing on the road/toilet/in the dark etc Also, don’t dress anyone in anything you couldn’t bear to throw away if it came to it…
Don’t forget that sometimes you’ll have to walk across the tarmac and queue on the stairs. This can be quite long enough, sometimes, for everyone to get cold, wet and fed up or hot, burnt and fed up, depending on your flavour of flight. Bear this in mind and cater for it in your hand luggage. A floppy hat for the heat and a snowsuit or mac for the cold.
I’ve found Bundlebeans to be really useful both at home and away.* It’s a fleece-lined waterproof that you can put over a baby in a sling or across a pram. Quick on, quick off, easy to scrunch and attach. Perfect for travel. It even doubles as a playmat if you’re not too keen on putting your baby right on the airport floor…
Babies add an extra layer of fun to the whole WHERE ARE THE PASSPORTS?!! game of panic. Consider having something that zips up and attaches to you/the pram/your baby.
I’m really happy with my black leather, zip up passport holder with a wrist strap (that can also hang on the pram.)
This can be handy for two reasons. One, you can offer them to other people should a crying fit emerge. Two, you can use them yourself.
The idea isn’t to ignore your baby and irritate fellow passengers, of course. But just to take the volume down a little if needs be so that you can sound and be calmer, which helps translate to a calmer baby.
I’ve heard some people suggest bringing gifts and letters of apology for passengers around you but, personally, I feel mixed about this.
I think it sets the wrong tone for the flight (that there’s going to be a problem) and, well, we all live in this world and that includes children and other people with special needs. As long as everyone’s trying their best rather than ignoring their responsibilities, we all need to accept that. Or at least, that’s what I told myself when I was on the other side!
All that said…
This goes without saying but sometimes, under stress and flusterage, it’s easy to forget.
People will go out of their way to help you but, of course, no-one, not even our babies are the centre of the universe (alas!)
Back to the practical, it may help to try a teething necklace. To the uninitiated, these are rubbery (BPA free) necklaces that babies can chew on or grip. The colours attract their attention and keep them focused on feeding and the fact that it’s a necklace means that it’s always there in the right place. Handy amid a journey of whipping things in and out of various seat pockets and different bags.
Rosa really seems to like these teething necklaces, either in grey or rainbow-coloured*.
I never really understood why families with children were invited to board first. Now I do.
While it may be handy to have older children run around as much as possible before they’re cooped up, there is another reason to get tiny tots on first: other people.
Passengers often get a bit frantic while trying to get on a plane and with all those heavy suitcases being flung in and out of the lockers, it’s not hard to imagine a hefty wallop on the head for a baby or a stampede for a toddler.
Plus, as you’re going to need to get to your bags several times during the flight, it’s best to have them close to you. This is easier to set up if you board early.
But to do that you need to be at the gate early. See point one above.
One of the best things about being on a plane is that you have nowhere else you need to be. Nowhere else you can be. Now is the time to give your undivided attention to your child (or even yourself, if they’re asleep.)
And hey, at least someone else brings the food and clears it all away again.
So, book those flights, pack those bags and go and enjoy the world of travel again.