Flying with Babies and Toddlers

We all love a holiday, right? However, that first flight with a baby or toddler can make even the most confident person feel anxious. Some of you are probably sat reading this, silently rocking at the mere thought of a flight you’ve done with your child, or one that’s looming in the coming months… We’ll try our best to reassure you with this post.

Between us, the babies have flown to Berlin, Barcelona, Cape Town, Italy and the Isles of Scilly (25 minute flight for the win!). The rest of the tribe have experienced plane travel too – Kate flew to Iceland when A was teeny tiny (16 weeks), Claire and E spent two weeks in St Lucia in January and Fran recently took both girls to Cyprus.

Here goes…

To book a seat or not?

Children under two fly ‘free’ with all airlines, we say ‘free’ because it’s not actually free. Whilst some airlines let  under-2s travel FOC on domestic flights, do check before you book. The budget airlines tend to stick to a set price per flight: EasyJet is £22.00, Ryanair and Jet2 are £20.00, for example. So double these figures if you’re intending to actually come home again.

If you want a seat for your little one, again, it pays to research the relevant airline’s tariffs. If we were flying long haul with Air France, for example, we’d be tempted to pay for a seat now the girls are a little older – they charge as little as 15% (maximum of 33%) of the adult fare, depending on your route. South Africa Airways, however, would have charged us 75% of Jo’s fare, so they bravely/stupidly decided not to book the additional seat (which was actually fine).

Skyscanner has a really helpful quick-glance list of most airlines’ fares here.

Finally, be aware that it is your child’s age on the inbound flight that matters. So, if your little one is having their second birthday on holiday (or on the day you’re flying home), make sure you know the airport’s policies and have their birth certificate with you, just in case. This article is really helpful, should this be a concern for you.

Know your airline’s policies.

Read the online information very carefully. Preparation is paramount to avoid undue tension and stress when you get to the airport/check-in/boarding.

Jo flew to Italy with EasyJet: “Budget airline + an 11 month old… I was DREADING it. However, we double checked everything on their website before packing and again before leaving the house. My husband also called the airline to confirm our allowance for ‘additional items’. Again, every airline is different, so check yours, but this is what we discovered:

  • Unless you pay for a seat, babies have no allowance of their own for actual luggage, meaning her clothes etc had to be absorbed into our allowance. I could almost write another post on packing but it’s worth mentioning here that heavy and bulky items such as nappies and wipes can usually be purchased in the place you’re flying to, so just pack enough for the flight and perhaps the first day or two of your trip.
  • However, we could take any two of the following items with no extra charge: pushchair, stroller/buggy, travel cot, carrier (the big rucksack kind), car seat or booster seat. We opted for a lightweight stroller and a car seat (we used an old one from a friend – it had never been in an accident but, having seen pictures of trashed seats coming onto the baggage carousel at airports, I didn’t want to risk our new one being ruined). Further research proved that it was cheaper for us to also take a travel cot (roughly £40 extra) than to hire one where we were staying (a whopping £90!)
  • Families with children under 5 would board first.
  • We could choose our seats in advance, meaning we had the bulkhead space, so plenty of room for P to sit and play.
  • The airline is breastfeeding friendly (though it would actually be illegal for them not to be!) meaning I could easily feed on take off and landing to stop her ears popping.”

 You may also want to find out:

  • If they are over six months, does your child have a meal included? If not, can you buy one and can they assure you that it doesn’t have a really high salt content?
  • What is the airline policy on formula milk or expressed milk? The former can be ordered in advance from Boots inside the airport, and collected when you have cleared security. Latterly, whilst it is your right to travel with your expressed milk, some security personnel are pretty unhelpful, judging by the stories we’ve read… Everything you need to know is here and, if it makes you feel more comfortable/prepared, you may want to have this information printed out and to hand as you go through security and boarding.
  • If you’re flying long haul and need a bassinet (generally for babies up to six months), make sure this is booked in advance and listed on your flight details.
  • You may have read stories about parents pre-empting grumpy fellow passengers’ reaction to seeing a baby on board by creating apologetic ‘goodie bags’ for fellow passengers, containing a note (from the baby), ear plugs and sweets… Some deem this ‘thoughtful’, ‘considerate’ and ‘brilliant’ but we fall into the other camp – babies need to travel too. They don’t need to be apologised for. Babies cry but they also eat and (hopefully) sleep, like the rest of us. Anyone who cannot understand this should perhaps not be out in public…

But don’t take the mick.

That said, understand that people are generally tired and, therefore, can be grumpy on flights. Most will have been up for hours and, if it’s a night flight, they will be wanting sleep. The worst flight Jo had was due to a child kicking the back of her chair for the duration. The parents asked them to stop once; it continued. Be vigilant to your child’s behaviour – if people can see you’re at least trying, then they’re generally happy (in our experience). Though there are exceptions as Lauren found out on a recent flight to Barcelona, with a particularly grumpy lady whose hair M accidentally brushed with her hand while steadying herself – the tuts and huffs were probably heard throughout the plane and in spite of Lauren’s profuse apology.

Lauren said, “I remember our first trip well, it was on the return flight when queuing in the airport that a man turned around to us and said, “I don’t think babies should be allowed to fly,”. Eight-month old M took the same approach I would have done – to kill him with kindness. She smiled at him, giggled, made noises and – when it came to the flight – sat quietly and fiddled with the toys we took and then slept…a passenger behind us said he didn’t even realise there was a baby on-board until he saw us getting up to leave the plane. Also, a young man on our last flight said he was worried when he saw us sit down, expecting a toddler to just “scream and throw up” (his words), and that he was surprised at how quiet and chilled she was. Ha! I say. Ha! Of course it won’t always be like this, but it’s bloody satisfying to squash a few sweeping generalisations applied to travelling babies and children.”

We *really* recommend taking a few new (small) toys and books, as well as some favourites. That way, your child has both novelty (great for if they’re scared or you need to distract them/get them to sit still) and familiarity (for when they feel over-stimulated or tired). As they get a bit older, sticker books are brilliant, and if you can put together a photo album of friends, family, pets and familiar places, your toddler will love looking

Prim flight - post
Window seats can be a great distraction.

through it and recognising all the people and things they love. We also saw a recommendation recently for wrapping everything up, so that the actual unwrapping becomes an activity in itself. A great idea (if you have the time to wrap toys amongst trying to pack and get everyone out the house!). We have also seen recommendations for thinking of the flight in 15-minute chunks, so plan and bag activities up ready for each 15 minutes.

Jo: “We had a night flight to South Africa so, in addition to some new books, we took P’s favourite teddy to help her sleep, (small) toys that we knew she loved and also some random items that she spends hours fiddling with – anything with clips, zips or lids that she can remove and put back. We also took a familiar babygro and a sleeping bag that she’d worn for the past few nights, that smelt of home.”

Triple check.

Call your airport to check everything verbally, to reassure yourselves, check again. Jo checked SAA’s policies the night before flying and spotted a few things she’d previously missed. Babies have to be on a parent’s lap for the duration of the flight. Whereas she’d previously hoped to make her a floor bed (in the vain hope that they’d have extra legroom, which they did!), this is not allowed (for safety reasons). Primrose was also far too old for a bassinet – they are only for use up to 6 months.

If you can check in online in advance, do. Anything to save you time, queues and hassle when you get to the airport is a good move. Choose your seats wisely. Extra leg room is always welcome but, often, this means sitting at the front of the plane, near toilets, or on bulkheads, which means a handy spot for flight attendants and other passengers to stand to let others past – they can be the noisiest places. Consider a window seat, as it could be a good distraction, especially on take off or landing.

There are lots of products on the market for filling the gap between your child’s seat and the seat in front – the Fly-Tot, Kids Fly LegsUp and Jet Kids BedBox being the three most popular. However, many airlines don’t allow these so check before you invest.

If your child has particular needs when it comes to food – allergies, for example – ensure you have arranged this in good time. As the small print always says food cannot be guaranteed, have a backup option with you, just in case.

Clearing security.

Airports will make you collapse buggies and remove slings when going through security – so frustrating if baby is snoozing but, hey, they’ve got to follow procedure. It also helps not to have the basket of your buggy filled with stuff, tempting though that is (‘Hello, Duty Free!’) because it will all need to go into boxes and through the scanners.

The UK restrictions on baby milk and foods are outlined here. Pack anything you need beyond this in hold luggage OR order it to be collected from Boots when you get to Departures. Check the policies for whichever country/airport your inbound flight is departing from.

As with all liquids, ensure everything you have is in bottles or containers of 100ml (or less) and in sealed, clear bags. This is pretty much common knowledge now, but still people get caught out and, as a parent, the last thing you want is added stress at security.

Boarding.

Your buggy will go in the hold but you can keep it with you right up until you board, then leave it at the bottom of the plane steps, where it will be collected and stowed. It should be one of the first things out when you land, too – it will either magically appear as you disembark or will be waiting near/on the luggage carousel.

If you have a child under five, you will be allowed to board first BUT, if you’d rather wait until the last minute to board, that’s also fine. Lauren finds this particularly useful as it means more time off the plane with freedom and distractions, rather than additional time cooped up in a seat waiting for everyone else to board. But, make a last minute decision based on how your child is feeling. If they are sleepy and just want to settle, board. If they are fractious or over-excited, it might be best to wait until the end.

Take off/Landing.

Regulating your ears can be painful and babies will need help with this. If you’re breastfeeding, job done (feed on take off and landing). If you’re formula feeding, consider a slight alteration to the time of feeds, or stagger a feed so part of it can be offered at the necessary time. Older children can be encouraged to take sips of water and, if your child has a dummy, that should do the trick.

Remember that airline travel makes us dehydrated and take this into account throughout the flight.

Checking out the cockpit after landing!

Essential kit.

This will, of course, vary from family to family, baby to baby, and much of it has been covered above. We found the following incredibly helpful:
– A sling (for babies/infants): For *almost* guaranteed naps and to free up your hands when handling luggage, tickets etc.
– Toys/Books: A combination of familiar favourites and new bits that can be used to entertain and distract.
– For night flights: Sleepwear that your child is familiar with, toothpaste/toothbrush, any lotions that they’re used to, and a favourite toy/comforter. If your child sleeps to particular music, or has a certain aromatherapy scent whilst sleeping, try bringing headphones (not ear buds, but over the ear ones) and a sleep mist version of the scent they’re used to. Aim, as far as possible, to emulate their night time routine.
– If your child is over six months, some snacks will come in handy and help pass some time.

If you are flying with little ones this summer, we wish you luck. Often, the fear of an event is far worse that the actual experience, so please don’t be apprehensive.
Already flown with your wee one? How did it go? Tell us all about it below!

Love, The Mother Side xx

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