Following the success of our blog with tips for a stress-free car trip with your baby, this week a few Natal teachers have got together to give you some very practical information and tips for flying with baby.
So get comfortable and read on!
Know before you book
* Adult + 1. Children up to the age of 2 are classified as infants. They can fly with an accompanying adult on the adult’s lap or on their own seat (provided you have a suitable car seat for the baby – always check the airline required car seat specifications for this). You also have the option of having your baby on your lap but, at the same time, to also purchase an extra seat for added comfort at a reduced price. After 2 years of age, a child needs to have their own seat (and a car seat is no longer necessary).
* How much? Infant seats (as long as baby travels on adult’s lap) are advertised as free by most airlines, but you may have to pay for taxes – this normally works out to be a small amount, depending on the flight, but do check before you book.
* How soon? Believe it or not, your baby may be able to board their first flight as young as 2 days old! This depends on the airline though – some airlines prefer that your baby is at least 2 weeks old, or they may require a doctor’s note before they allow your very young baby on board, so always check in advance what the airline requirements are.
* Paperwork? Always check what documents are required for travel for your baby (generally, a passport will be a must), but if you’re a parent travelling on your own with the baby (without the other parent) and especially if your surname doesn’t match the baby’s, be sure to take any additional documentation that proves that you’re a parent, like the birth certificate and a marriage certificate if you have one. Certain countries will also require for the parent to carry a letter signed by the other parent (the parent who’s not flying) to confirm that they are aware of and ‘authorise’ the trip.
* Can I have a cot for my baby? Some airlines provide baby cots / bassinettes for your baby to sleep in, especially for long haul flights. Bassinettes vary widely in specifications depending on the airline and on the aircraft (not all aircrafts within the same airline will have bassinettes) – some airlines won’t even have them! If they do, always make sure before you book that the bassinettes provided on board are suitable for your baby’s weight, length and age at point of travel. Also, do check whether you need to book these in advance – only certain seats on the plane will be able to accommodate a baby bassinette, so these may get booked up quickly. Some airlines require that babies are taken out of bassinettes during turbulence or when the seat belt sign is switched on, so make sure that you’re aware of this if it’s likely to make a difference to your flight. Otherwise, your baby can always get comfortable on your lap (whether you’ll be comfortable, well, that’s a different story!) 😉
Is flying safe for my baby?
* Beware of germs! Generally speaking, it is as safe as it is for you, with the only added complication that a very young baby has a lowered immune system and is therefore more vulnerable when exposed to germs. When on an aeroplane, you are sitting in very close proximity with a large number of people – everyone shares the same space, the same facilities… and the same germs! It’s not at all uncommon (even for adults) to end up with a bit of a cold after having been on a plane, and this in itself may not be dangerous for your baby, but it may be a risk that you want to weigh up before deciding when to fly with your baby for the first time. Some parents prefer to wait until the first course of vaccinations is completed (in the UK, this happens at approximately 4 months of age), but this isn’t an airline requirement.
* Pressure on little ears. If your baby has a cold or an ear infection, it may be a good idea to get them checked out by a GP to ensure they’re ok to travel. This is because during take-off and landing it’s very likely that your baby will experience a sensation of additional pressure on their ears. Whilst this is normal (for us adults too) and not harmful in itself, it can be very uncomfortable and can actually become very painful when you have a cold or an infection. Babies will often cry from the sensation of pressure, which can be relieved by yawning or swallowing. You can help your baby to do that by feeding them their milk (or a drink of water if they’re older than 6 months) during take-off and landing. A dummy is also good, as it can help baby’s ears ‘pop’ and relieve any uncomfortable pressure.
What can I take with me?
* Additional allowance. As you know by now, babies come with a lot of ‘stuff’ – pushchairs, car seats, cots etc. Well, the good news here is that on top of giving you a full baggage allowance for your baby (double check this first!), most airlines will also allow you to check in up to two additional items. These could be a pushchair and a car seat or, sometimes, a travel cot. If you have a double pushchair or a two-piece pushchair (i.e. the seat / carry cot can be separated from the frame), do check with the airline whether they will allow you to take an additional item, as the pushchair may end up counting as two pieces, and that would use your allowance up.
* Taking your pushchair up and down the plane. If you take a pushchair / stroller, you will generally be allowed to take it all to the way up to the doors of the plane, but you will be asked to fold it and leave it at the doors. You can request for your pushchair to be given back to you as soon as you get off the plane, but this isn’t always guaranteed. Some airports can accommodate this, while others don’t – it really depends on the destination. So be prepared for the fact that you may not be given your stroller back until you pick up the rest of your luggage from baggage reclaim.
* Travelling light? To avoid any pushchair issues, ask yourself whether you need one at all. Could you do without or borrow or rent one when you get to your destination?
* Baby wear! One thing that will definitely prove to be a life saver when in an airport and flying with baby, is a baby carrier or sling. It could be handy around the airport, during the flight (should you need to settle your baby), but also once you get off the plane and you go through passport control and baggage reclaim, and especially if your pushchair hasn’t been given back to you when you got off the plane. Remember that you will need spare hands to carry your hand luggage, passport and any other travel items – if you’re carrying your baby in your arms, you need to rely on someone to help you out.
* Packing your hand luggage. When packing your hand luggage (for you and for your baby) don’t forget to check with the airline how many pieces of hand luggage you’re allowed to take. Not all airlines will allow for an additional piece of luggage for the baby, so you may need to share a bag with your little one, and that can be tricky! Make sure that you take as little as possible and just what is strictly needed during the flight – the last thing you want is to have to carry things unnecessarily. A rucksack can be handy, so you can carry the bag across your shoulders and you don’t need to carry it in your hands.
* Be organised! Make sure that you pack your bag in such a way that you can get to items easily, one-handed and without rummaging in the bag too much. Remember that you’re probably holding your baby with one hand and on your lap, so you can’t pick the bag up easily to look for things. Consider having small individual zip bags inside your bag which contain everything you need for a nappy / clothes change – that way, you can just grab one and make your way to the toilet with your baby when you need to change them. On most planes, you’ll find a fold-away changing table just above the toilet. Of course, like other public changing facilities, they may not be 100% clean, so it’s a good idea to have antibacterial wipes at the ready or your own portable changing mat to place on top.
* Baby’s milk. Milk and baby food that are to be fed to the baby during the flight can be taken on board and can even be more than the 100 ml. If you have packed this with you in your hand luggage and have to carry it through security, it’s a good idea to let them know. Security no longer require you to taste baby’s milk and food in bottles / containers that carry more than 100 ml, but don’t be surprised if they still ask you to. They might also open and check some, so bring a few extra if you want the containers to be kept sterile until you need them. You can also buy milk and baby food from the shops in the airport once you’ve passed security, but beware that choice might be limited there. Also remember that babies tend to drink a bit more whilst on a plane, so if you’re bringing formula, you can bring a little extra.
* Online check in isn’t always available when you have a young baby, and when it is, it often becomes available only 24 hours before the flight departure time, so if you check in online for any other travellers as soon as online check in opens for the flight, don’t forget to go back and check your baby in 24 hours prior to travelling. The airline will need your baby’s date of birth and will want to verify the date of birth on their passport too.
* Which seats? Sometimes if you’re travelling with an infant, seats are pre-assigned and you’re not able to pick the one you want, but if you can, try and pick a seat near the aisle so it’s easy for you to get up when you need to. You may also want to try and be towards the front so you don’t have to queue up for a long time when it’s time to get off the plane. Some planes will also allow passengers to use the back exit when leaving the plane, so if you sit there you may be one of the first ones to leave, but that’s not always the case.
Time to board!
* Boarding first. Good news is… families with young children, and especially with young babies, get to board first. Airlines acknowledge that you need a little more space and time to make yourself comfortable with the baby on your lap, so they allow you board first and have that little extra comfort.
* Infant belt and life jacket. When you sit down, you will be given an infant seat belt which slides into your standard seat belt, and an inflatable baby life jacket to place under your seat. Flight assistants will be more than happy to show you how to use them if you haven’t used one before.
* Other passengers. Some babies cry on planes. A lot. But not all babies cry and certainly they don’t cry all the time. You can’t predict how your baby is going to be on the plane, especially if it’s the first time you fly, and like in every situation, some people around you will be more understanding, patient and helpful than others. If you’re worried about ‘disturbing’ the people sitting next to you and your baby, talk to them. You may find that they’ve actually been there and done that themselves or that they’ll be willing to help you if you need anything.
* Think layers. Temperature-wise, planes can get very hot one minute and very cold the next, so it’s a good idea to dress yourself and your baby in layers. That way you can easily take layers on and off as needed, and if you bring a light blanket with you, you can always cover the baby when the air conditioning is at its best.
* Baby on lap, little tables and little hands. Most airlines provide you with free meals and drinks on board, or alternatively give you the option to purchase them on the flight. Remember that if you have a baby on your lap (asleep or awake), you may not have enough space to open the little table attached to the seat in front of you. And even if you do, you’ll probably have little inquisitive hands trying to grab hold of your drink. Bottles of water / fizzy drinks / juice that you packed in advance may be the answer, or if you’re flying with someone else you know, it’s a good idea to borrow their table.
* Reclining seats. As you can probably imagine, you don’t have a lot of space when you’re sitting with your little one on your lap, so there isn’t anything more annoying that the person in front of you reclining their seat to have a snooze and making your ‘living space’ even smaller. What you do next is really up to you – there’s no rule saying that they cannot do that if they have a baby sitting behind them, so you can really either be patient and tell yourself it’ll be fine, or kindly have a word with them and hope they’ll understand, and perhaps even recline your own seat in an attempt to gain some space back for the pair of you (hopefully you won’t get the person behind you totally irritated!)
Relax and enjoy!
* Keeping baby happy. Bring some toys, books, teething toys or anything that will keep your baby occupied and entertained for a bit. Remember that things will be dropped (a lot!) so keep an eye out when you leave your seat to ensure you’ve picked everything back up.
* And finally, RELAX! Babies pick up on our moods, so if you’re tense and nervous, your baby will pick up on it and may not be as relaxed as they could be during the flight.
And this is it from us – now fasten your seat belts, relax, enjoy your flight and let us know how you get on!
Special thanks go to Natal teachers Zoe, Laura and Kate for contributing to this post!