First time flying
With some forward planning, you’ll enjoy a stress-free says mum and former flight attendant Carrie Bradley
Plan ahead for a happy flight with bub
What’s the secret to having a happy flight with your baby? As a former flight attendant I’ve flown with hundreds of babies. I’m also UK-based and have family in Australia, so I’ve flown back and forth lots of times with my two young daughters. I can safely say, there are lots of secrets to having a relaxed flight with a child! Most of these tricks of the trade are things you can organise before you go, so you can forward plan, then relax and enjoy your flight.
Before booking your tickets, spend time researching different airlines to find the one that best suits your needs, especially if it’s long-haul. Most airlines will allow you to fly with your baby when she’s as young as 14 days old, but with some it’s possible from just two days. Your baby must have her own passport and she’ll also need to be added to your travel insurance policy. Even if you don’t book her a seat of her own, you must add her to your booking, as she’ll need a ticket, and relevant visas.
Once you’ve booked your flights, make your first job to request a bassinet. This is a type of cot that attaches to the bulkhead wall of the plane, which separates the seats from the toilet and crew areas. You’ll also need to book your seat in the bassinet row, which is directly behind the bulkhead wall. It will be shown on the airline’s online seating plan with a cot symbol. Check that the bassinet measurements are suitable for your baby’s age, weight and length. Most have a 10kg and eight-month limit, but this does vary between airlines.
Most airlines only have a few bassinets on board, so you’ll need to request one early. If you’re booking a flight directly with an airline, request a bassinet at the time of your booking. If you’re using a flight comparison site, check whether you can add a bassinet on to your booking. If not, call your airline directly to request one.
Use the extra hand-luggage allowance for your baby... Many airlines offer 5kg to 10kg.
If it’s not possible to book a bassinet, consider whether you want to buy a seat for your baby. This means you can take your car seat with you, but expect to pay around 75 per cent of an adult fare. On long-haul flights, or if you have an older baby, it’s a good idea for her to have her own seat, but younger babies will be fine on your lap for the short haul. To use your car seat on the plane, it needs to carry an AS/NZS 1754 label and many airlines need to pre-approve the car seat before you fly. You won’t be able to use your car seat if it has a separate base or the airline has fitted in-seat airbags. Also check online to make sure it will fit the seat dimensions and find out if your airline has other requirements.
If you don’t buy a seat for your child, and she’s under two years of age, she can fly for around 10 per cent of the adult fare plus taxes. If it’s a full flight, she’ll have to sit on your lap the whole way, but there are ways to make this less stressful. If there are two of you flying with your baby, request seats A and C, D and F, or H and K. Single middle seats are usually the last to be booked, so if it’s not a full flight, you’re more likely to be able to use this seat for your child. Also, ask for an extendable lap belt.
Whether you’ve booked an extra seat or not, ask if you can take your car seat with you, as you’ll be able to use it if there are empty seats available. If not, it will be put in the hold as part of your hold allowance. You’ll also be able to carry on a small stroller, but again, it might be put in the hold if there’s no space in the cabin.
Also use the extra hand-luggage allowance for your baby – you’ll get this whether or not you’ve paid for an extra seat. Many airlines offer 5kg to 10kg, and it can make your life onboard easier. Pack an extra layer of clothes for your baby, so she’s still comfy when the air-conditioning kicks in, along with a full change of clothes for her and a spare top for you and your partner – accidents happen! Also pack nappies, a changing kit, light blanket, baby pain relief, sling and chargers for a breast pump if you’re using one. Bring some new toys and wrap them in paper so she can unwrap them for extra entertainment.
You can take as much expressed breastmilk through security as you need for your journey, as well as any food and snacks for your baby. Always take enough for at least two extra feeds in case of unexpected delays. I buy extra nappies and food from the airport chemist as well.
If you’ve started solids, then feeding her on board needn’t be a hassle. You can
pre-order baby food for most long-haul flights, and most airlines offer baby purees and children’s meals for over-twos. If your baby falls between these stages, take your own food. It’s up to your cabin crew whether they’re happy to heat or chill food for you, but if they’re not, ask for a cup of hot water to warm pouches in, or a bag of ice cubes to keep milk cold. Also take plenty of snacks for your little one – I’ve recently taken fruit, raisins, cold pasta, mini sausages and pouches on flights.
At the departure gate, plan for your partner to board first with your hand luggage and set up camp. You and your baby should board last, so you don’t have to entertain her for an extra 20 minutes on the plane. If you’ve ordered a bassinet, the crew will attach it to the wall once the plane is in the air. During take-off you’ll need to hold her on your lap as you will whenever the seat-belt sign comes on.
I’ve found it works best if you keep your baby in the same sleep routine by getting her ready for bed and reading her a story at the same time as you normally would.
Changing her can be tricky in a small airplane toilet. Most planes have changing tables, but if yours doesn’t, use the toilet as a changing table, after giving it a good once-over with an anti-bacterial wipe. Save time by stripping your baby to her nappy in your seat, then dress her when you get back. Plan for how many changes your baby will need and make up some single-change kits – in a zip-lock bag, place one nappy and a plastic bag containing a few wipes.
Once you land, put your baby in her sling, so you have your hands free for the rest of your bags. Ask if there’s a family queue you can use at customs, as it might help you avoid a long wait. Then smile and get on with your trip – you and your baby have enjoyed your first flight together, hassle free!