We first flew with George when he was 12 weeks old and we didn’t hold back! We boarded a 12 hour flight to Singapore and then spent the next three weeks touring Vietnam, before ‘enjoying’ a 14.5 hour flight home. Before we became parents we enjoyed travelling and exploring new places but it wasn’t what ‘defined’ us. Plus as a teacher, we were limited to school holidays and day to day living costs.
Whilst on maternity leave and after being pleasantly surprised at how easy (yes I said it) travelling with a new baby is, we decided to use the rest of my time off work as an excuse to travel and spend time as family. In the last 6 months we have visited over 18 countries, on 4 continents, 2 road trips and over 10 flights. Here are my top tips for flying with a baby, from booking the right flight, to surviving airport security and feeding on then plane.
A bassinet is a cot that is attached to the cabin wall within the aircraft. If your airline and flight has the option to reserve or request a bassinet, book it immediately! I chose this as my first tip because having a bassinet can make a big positive impact on your flying experience. This tip is predominantly aimed at long haul flights. The bassinet is a safe place for your baby to sleep and play in for the duration of the flight. It also means that your seats have extra leg room because they have to accommodate for the width of the actual bassinet.
Not all budget airlines have this option, so my advice to you would be to invest some time looking at different websites, different airlines that are going to your destination to see if you can get a bassinet. On the back of that, there’s two things to mention. 1. You don’t need a bassinet for short flights, you can play and hold your baby for a few hours. 2. It is possible to do a long haul flight without one, we flew 10 hours from San Francisco to Manchester without one. It was a struggle but we managed. A bassinet is an option that isn’t publicised too much.
BOOK A DIRECT FLIGHT
When flying long haul try to book a direct flight. If you cannot for whatever reason, book a flight that allows you a 24 hour stop over and get a hotel near to the airport. Flying for the first time or any time with a baby can be stressful. There is a lot to contend with so it is beneficial to all to avoid having to go through check-in, security, boarding, twice in one day.
SCHEDULE AROUND NAP TIME
We always fly during the day, specifically the morning because it fits in with George’s routine. We tried a night flight from Singapore to the UK and it was horrendous! He didn’t sleep, we didn’t sleep and it was a 14 hour flight. Flying during the day means you keep to your routine, specifically nap times and we all know that babies love routine. Here’s a thing, day time flying makes it easier to figure out why your baby is upset, if they start crying. You know when they sleep and for how long and you know the feed me signs. So if your baby is upset and you take a look at your watch and realise that at home, nap time would have been half an hour ago then you know that you need to try to create an environment to help them sleep. The reason they are crying isn’t due to the fact that you guys are about to fly.
A GOOD BACKPACK
There are so many amazing, colourful and stylish nappy bags out there but you need to be practical. Using a backpack for carry on means you have two hands and freedom to move or chase down your baby when they start crawling in the wrong direction! Bear in mind if you are flying on a short haul flight, with a budget airline you may have to walk onto the tarmac holding your baby and the last thing you want is to be wrestling with a bag whilst battling the elements. I use a Cath Kidston backpack because it has handles on the top so I can pick it up and put it down whilst holding George. It is lightweight, feminine and colourful.
You only have so much room within a carry-on bag and the more you put in, the heavier it is for you to carry. So take only the essentials. Young babies don’t need much in the way of entertainment and neither do you, you gotta a baby who does that for you! We’re flying to Thailand in a couple of weeks with George who’ll be 9 months old and he is SO different now. The biggest change is he can walk so this tip is really aimed at babies who aren’t stationary yet or as developed. Nappies, a few bibs, a couple of toys, a blanket, be sensible and practical.
SPARE CLOTHES FOR YOU
You should have a spare t-shirt and pants and underwear in your carry on. No-one wants to sit through a 10 hour flight covered in baby vomit or worse, baby poo! And a Ziploc bag to store any soiled or dirty clothes, until you land and get to a washing machine.
GATE CHECK BABY GEAR
Did you know that you can check in a pram or stroller and a baby car seat for free? And this applies for both long and short haul flights. The majority of budget airlines also do this but be sure to check online before heading the airport. In most cases you can use your pram from the moment you arrive at the airport until you physically check-in at your departure gate. Once at the gate a member of staff will take the pram from you and you will see at the other side. Depending on the airline that you are flying with, you will wither get it back when you land and disembark the airplane, or you have to collect it with your luggage.
The only downside to taking your pram to the departure gate can be how long it takes to get through security. Your pram will need to be scanned and often, if you’re travelling during school holidays you are one on many waiting for your turn. So take this into consideration when working out what time you need to be at the airport. We use a Baby Jogger City Mini which folds down so you can store it in the baggage compartment. But for our family tour of SE Asia, George was 12 weeks old and we took our normal everyday pram and it wasn’t a problem.
If this an option when booking your tickets, do it. It may increase the price slightly but you will appreciate this service so much, let me tell you why. We’re stood at the departure gate ready to fly home and the plane is running behind schedule so they’re really pushing people to get on because they want to take off. And we get called last. There was absolutely no time to get any toys or food out of my backpack for George before take off. I was really flushed because we were rushing and there was no time to get George settled before we started moving. And that accumulated in a really upset baby for around 10 minutes which could easily been avoided if we have pre-boarding.
Now don’t let my horror story put you off, when most flight attendants see that you have a baby they are more than happy to let you board first. And it’s really common for babies and parents with children to be called first. But with some long haul flights and premium airlines where they make money from offering priority boarding as a service for passengers you won’t get on the plane first unless you pay. Why does it matter whether I go on first or last? Good question. It gives you a 10 to 15 minute window to take what you need out of your bag, ask the flight attendant for hot water, ready for when you need to feed. Get comfortable but most importantly, for your baby to take in their new environment and for you to deal with any upsets that might happen before the plane takes off.
FEEDING ON A PLANE
This is the biggest secret that no-one talks about! Pre-mixed baby milk. I’ve bottle fed George on over 10 flights and every time, we’ve used pre made milk or ready to feed milk (different companies have different wording but it’s the same thing) and it’s a game changer if you bottle feed. Most brands of milk formula produce a version of pre-mix and you can buy singles 200ml bottles, a pack of 4 or 1 litre bottles. This applies to the UK, America and Europe – we’ve purchased ready to drink milk from all of those locations.
Now I know what you’re about to say – you can’t take liquids on a plane that are more than 100ml! That rule doesn’t apply when you’re travelling with a baby. In the UK there is no legal limit to how much milk you can take. If you’re breast feeding, you can carry breast milk in hand luggage even if you’re not travelling with a baby! Individual containers of breast milk must hold no more than 2,000ml and will be subject to screening at security, just like pre-mixed milk or sterilized formula. If you’re not sure how much milk you’re going to need, sit down with a pen and paper and calculate how many feeds you will need within the duration of your flight. Only you know how much milk your baby drinks at this point, so do the math and add a few ounces on for extra.
Oh and did I mention that hundreds of airports across the UK have a pre-order service? That’s right, you order a week in advance and collect it from Boots once through security. Visit their website to see if your airport is eligible. When you’re ready to feed, pour the milk into a baby bottle, I bring my own from home, and warm up the milk using a thermos flask. Flight attendants are more than happy to fill it up for you and are really helpful, be friendly and remember to tell them it is your first flight.
When we flew with Thomas Cook from San Francisco I was chatting with one of the flight attendants at the back of the plane and they were playing with George. When we were about to land, the same lady approached us and handed us a piece of card and it was a certificate signed by all the members of staff, including the pilots. Congratulating George on completing his first flight with Thomas Cook. He tried to eat it but it was a really nice gesture and that flight was quite difficult for us so it made us as parents feel good as well.
FEED DURING TAKE OFF
From my experience the main reason babies become upset when flying is due to the air pressure on their ears. So expect a few tears during take off and landing. Every baby is different and you don’t know how they may react so my advice is to try to feed them. The swallowing action helps their ears to pop. So even if it’s not their normal feed time, a couple of ounces for a few minutes could make all the difference. If they don’t take it no problem, and they might not be affected at all, but it’s always better to be prepared.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON!
And my final tip, and I have so many but I’ve tried to focus on the ones that will help make your journey easier. Is to keep calm and try to enjoy your experience. Expect the worse and reveal in the fact that it isn’t anywhere as bad as you think. Your baby may become upset but it will pass and if that happens, just focus on your baby and don’t worry about anyone else. Do exactly what you would do at home, comfort, rock, cuddle until it passes and it will pass.