We know that the thought of flying with a baby for the first time can be pretty unnerving. Your mind is flooded with thousands of concerns like; will she cry the whole way? Will it hurt her ears? Will she get travel sick? Will everyone stare at us?
Every parent shares these concerns on their first flight with a baby and most likely every flight that they take with their baby.
We hope that our flying with a baby checklist will help to allay some of these fears and help you to feel better prepared for your upcoming flights.
With careful planning and preparation, you should be able to make the flight as stress-free as possible and arrive at your destination ready to enjoy your time away.
Here’s how not to do it (although you might be tempted to try some of this):
Travelling with a baby or toddler?
Check out our post of the most essential baby and toddler travel gear
Top Tips for Flying with a Baby
Based on our experiences on over 50 flights with our little ones, here are our top tips for flying with a baby
1. Get a bassinet if you can
Infants under 2 do not have to have their own seat. This means that you usually only have to pay a small fee to take them on the plane – fantastic news!
The downside is that you will have to have them on your lap for the duration of the flight – unless you can get a bassinet. You may be able to select one when you book your seats online, but it is more likely that you will need to ring the airline to arrange one.
Do this straight away as there are only a few available on each flight. Even if you do not use the bassinet, they will be good seats with extra leg room and no one in front of you to recline their seat.
With some luck, you will be able to lay your baby down and have her sleeping peacefully while you relax with a glass of wine. Just be aware that if the seat belt sign ever comes on you will have to take your baby back onto your lap.
A bassinet is not always an option, many of our flights have been with low-cost airlines that do not provide this service, and other times we have booked to let to secure one, but if you can get one it is definitely worth it.
2. Book a flight that fits your baby’s routine
This may not always be possible but give some thought to your baby’s routine when booking your flights. If you are going long haul try to make it a night flight and direct if possible. For shorter flights think about when your baby is likely to need a nap and see if you can schedule the flight for this time.
3. Check the luggage policy of your airline
Often you are able to check in items like strollers, cots and car seat for free. Car rental firms charge extortionate rates for car seats so it is well worth taking your own. We have even bought an extra car seat just for taking travelling and this paid for itself in a week.
Make sure that you have checked the size and weight limits for your luggage allowance. There is always someone at check in desperately unpacking all their possessions and trying to re balance their bags in order to avoid hefty charges. Don’t be that someone.
We often save airline fees by taking only carry-on luggage. This means that you will need to be even more careful at sticking to size and weight restrictions as airlines can be pretty strict on this.
It also means that you will be pulling your luggage through the airport whilst negotiating airport security and the duty-free maze, all whilst carrying or pushing your young children.
That’s how we do it and it’s not always the easiest thing to do so consider whether you are happy to do this or would rather pay the extra to check your bag in.
4. What to pack
You will need to pack a bag with all the essentials that you would usually take for a day out with your baby. Ensure that you have enough snacks to keep your little one both fed and entertained. One thing that we do is wrap up small toys to extend the amount of time that they hold their interest. Make sure that you include a change of clothes for yourself as well as your baby.
5. Getting through airport security
Depending on the airport you may be able to find a special queue for people that are travelling with infants or may be approached by airport staff that help take you to the front. Sometimes this is great and you whiz through.
Other times you just end up in a queue with all the other families that have loads of bags and various liquids to sort out, so you are effectively in the slow queue.
When you go through the scanner you will be asked to take your baby out of their stroller or baby carrier. This is annoying if you have just got them to sleep but unfortunately, you just have to get on with it.
Anyone seeing airport security for the first time would surely assume that their sole purpose was to find out what babies are eating on their flight. You will need to separate out your liquids, baby pouches etc.
You are allowed to take through any breastmilk/formula that you might need and you may be asked to sip it. The staff will take away your pouches and put them in a machine that tells them if they are bombs or baby food, and then they will return them if they aren’t bombs.
Outside of the UK, we are usually able to take unlimited amounts of water through security to avoid the obligatory ‘buying water at the airport’ scam that Boots and WHSmith shareholder must love so much.
6. Baby carrier or stroller?
Given the significant distances that you usually have to walk, you will want either a baby carrier or a stroller to get through the airport to the plane. We always take a baby carrier away with us and sometimes take a stroller.
Even if you have a stroller it may be easier to check it in rather than pushing it through to the gate. Although the airport staff will put the stroller in the hold just before you board, you may be confronted with numerous staircases before you reach this point (Yes, London Stansted – I am thinking of you).
With a stroller, children and hand luggage, you are likely to have to rely on the kindness of strangers to get you down the stairs in one go.
7. No need to rush. Get on last
Even before we had kids we could never understand why people are so keen to get on the plane first, this only extends the time spent squeezed into their seats. Just relax and wait until everyone has gone through the gate before taking your turn. More than likely you will catch them up anyway as they are trapped queuing in the stairwell (Yes, London Stansted – I am thinking of you).
We also get off the plane last. People are always in such a rush and we find it easier to wait rather than feeling rushed by other passengers behind us when our toddler gets inquisitive about each and every row on the way out of the plane.
8. Take-off and landing
If you are breastfeeding it is a great idea to give your baby a feed just as you take off. This will help to soothe your baby and will also help their ears to cope with the pressure changes. You may also want to try using a dummy for take-off and landing. We tried this with both of our girls (who haven’t ever used dummies) and they weren’t really interested in it, but it may work for you and is another good way to cope with the pressure change. It is not essential to feed on take-off so if they are asleep just leave them be.
If they are upset it may just be to do with the internal environment on the plane. Whilst on the runway planes can get uncomfortably hot as the air-conditioning is linked to the engines. Then once you get going the engines are on full blast for take off and the plane rapidly gets cold and noisy. Adjust your babies clothing if required, we have some ear defenders to cope with the noise on the aircraft and they also have the benefit of making her look like a tiny DJ.
It is prior to landing when it is more likely that there will be problems with the little one’s ears. The critical moment is actually at the top of the descent when the plane first leaves cruising altitude. At this point it is recommended that they are awake as moving their head, laughing, babbling and coughing will all help their ears.
If they are upset please be comforted to know that crying actually helps to clear the ears if this is the issue. Don’t forget that there are many reasons why a baby could be crying on the plane ear problems are not as common as people think and most of the time your baby will cope just fine.
Feeding on descent is a good idea to get them sucking and also means that they won’t be hungry whilst you have to cope with getting through your destination airport. Remember, you know your baby best, so please take on board these suggestions but do what you feel is right for your child at the time.
9. Remember to stay calm
One of the main things to remember is that if you are calm, they are more likely to stay calm. Your baby doesn’t know what is going on or that you are miles up in the air. If you are calm and make it seem like a routine journey then they are likely pick up on that vibe and carry on as usual.
If your little one is upset and crying, try not to fret and don’t worry about what other passengers are thinking. The majority of them will have blocked it out as background noise and will be largely oblivious to your situation.
Your fellow passengers
Unfortunately, one thing that you cannot always control is the attitudes of your fellow passengers. We have had some wonderful experiences with fellow passengers warmly playing with our daughters and in general, people are very understanding and will warm to you and your baby.
On our first long-haul flight with our eldest daughter, we were flying from England to Mexico. It was a step into the unknown and we had many concerns about how the flight would go. We prepared as best we could, using many of the tips above, but boarded the flight with some trepidation.
Our daughter was unconcerned and sleeping in her carrier but as soon as we had taken our seats the people next to us began scoffing, fidgeting and mumbling before calling the flight attendant. They loudly demanded to move seats complaining that the baby would cause a racket. Unfortunately, there were no other seats available to their liking so they had to make do with some premium headphones to cancel out the anticipated noise.
This wasn’t the greatest start to the flight and it was pretty awkward to sit next to them for over 10 hours after this. Our daughter, on the other hand, was good as gold for the whole flight and barely made a sound. Other passengers over the aisle engaged with her and helped us to keep her amused passing objects back and forth.
I am pleased to say that after around 50 further flights this is the only bad experience we have had with our fellow passengers. People have generally been very friendly, and understanding towards us and our daughters. We have even been on flights where our daughter crawling up and down the aisle has been the main entertainment for the other passengers.
I have heard of people taking little goody bags to hand out to nearby passengers to win them over in advance of the flight. This is not something we have ever done, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and actually sends out the message that the children are likely to spoil the flight for other people. Usually, most passengers will be understanding so long as they can see that you are trying your best to appease an unhappy baby.
Flying With A Baby Checklist
I hope that this post has been useful and helped to ease any nerves you may have if you are planning a flight with your baby. I would love to hear from you if you have any tips or experiences of your own when it comes to flying with a baby, so please leave a comment below.