A screaming tot onboard an aeroplane (read here for the ultimate guide to flying with toddlers) is no good for anyone, especially the parents and the baby. But how do you go about trying to minimise the stress and anxiety that comes with flying with a baby? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer because you cannot predict what will happen on the day you fly, or if your baby will be under the weather or teething.
The Ultimate Survival Guide To Flying With A Baby
With so many factors affecting the outcome of your journey, the best advice that was given to me when I first flew with Monkey is to expect the worse. Expect your little one will scream uncontrollably on take-off and landing; that he will refuse to sleep; he will become overtired and cranky; he will not take kindly to sitting in one position and will want to be carried up and down the aisles; that you will be sitting amongst child-haters who will be throwing you dirty looks every 10 seconds… As awful as it is to imagine, expecting the worse means that anything better will feel like you’re winning.
So many people baulk at the idea of travelling with babies – but I can assure you it’s not as difficult as you might first believe. You do have to take a lot more stuff, but in some ways travelling with a baby is much easier than travelling with a toddler, who can answer you back and run away!
Having flown on several occasions with a young tot in tow, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of things you can do to minimise the worry and have a relatively pain-free journey. Yes, it will be hard work – and there probably will be a few hairy moments, but they won’t last long. Follow some of these tips, and hopefully flying with a baby, long or short-haul will not be as challenging as you first imagined.
Before you fly with a baby…
• Try to pick a decent flight time
This isn’t always possible as the budget can have a huge part to play in this. But night flights are a good option because they dim the cabin lights and your little ones will be used to being sleepy at this time. However, if your baby goes through the witching hour around 4-6pm, probably best not to pick this time, either. You know best – but it isn’t always possible to be as picky as you’d like.
• Plan your packing
Make a comprehensive packing list (I have a downloadable version here) of all the items you need to take with you – items that you will need at the airport and on the flight, and those for which you can put into hold.
• Invest in a good rucksack
I have this excellent rucksack which has special compartments. For a while, I just used my own one but found it difficult to find things without separated areas. You don’t want to be carrying lots of different bags so having all the baby’s items in one place is essential.
• Evaluate your the baby equipment
Make sure you only bring what you need. Will you need your pushchair, travel cot and a baby seat? Ring your airline ahead of travel to check what is allowed and what isn’t. If you’re airline also provides bassinets make sure you book one ahead of time.
• Reserve your seats
It is always worth block booking an empty seat next to you – which is what I’ve done. Instead of choosing three seats in a row, I’ve kept one empty next to me, just in case this seat isn’t sold. More often or not, it will be a full flight, but it’s worth a shot.
Before arriving at the airport
• Triple check
It would be awful if you forgot to pack baby’s favourite toy or comforter. Triple check your bag and make sure you have snacks, food, milk, change of clothes, extra clothes, nappies, any medicines you might need and baby wipes. Extra food bags or plastic bags are also useful for any dirty items.
• Pre-order supplies
If you need baby formula or pre-made milk, nappies, wet wipes etc, you can now order from your airport pharmacy which can be collected once you’re through security. Pre-order online with Boots for any UK airport.
• Check-in online at home
This will save a whole heap of queuing and standing around if all you have to do it drop off your luggage at the designated bag drop areas.
At the airport and through security
• Bring a baby carrier with you
You will have to fold up a buggy when going through security, so it might be worth using the baby carrier at this point – and it will also be useful on board the plane when you may need to walk around hands-free.
• Put liquids and food in separate bags
When you travel with a baby you’re allowed to take enough baby food, baby milk and sterilised water for the journey. By packing them in separate see-through bags, you’ll be able to get them out easily to show airport staff when asked.
• Wait until last to board the plane
If you’re going to be cooped up on an aeroplane for hours, there’s really no need to rush to get on it. While all the other passengers are boarding you can play with the baby, feed him, or walk him around. Anything to avoid it for as long as possible!
On the plane
• Bring plenty of snacks and food
A hungry baby is a grumpy one. So make sure you have plenty of snacks for the whole journey. If you’re weaning, bring plenty of pouches, or if like me, your baby doesn’t like shop brought food (read my guide to feeding here, prepare some in advance and put it in a cool bag. Meanwhile, take-off and landing will cause discomfort to babies so if you can get a boob, bottle or dummy ready, it will help alleviate the pressure on their ears.
Unlike older children, babies cannot sit and watch digital entertainment for a long period of time – although it’s still worth having some on an iPad or iPhone to mix things up. Bring their favourite rattly toys and other bits and bobs for chewing on or ripping up. My little guy loves tearing magazines. Be prepared to walk up and down the plane, and let your baby watch other passengers. Basically, anything that will keep them amused and happy.
• Try and get some sleep
It won’t be easy, but when the baby naps, try and get some shut-eye yourself instead of watching a film or reading. The more rest you get, the more open you will be to dealing with any problems that may arise later on.
• Breathe and don’t panic
There will be moments when you think the journey will never end, especially when the baby will kick off for a few minutes. But always remember, you will never see any of these people again, and as each hour passes, remind yourself that you will eventually get to your destination. Also, share the strain, if you’re travelling with a partner, husband or friend, give yourself a break. It will do you the world of good.