Many people love to travel but if you’re a new mum, the prospect of taking a baby on a plane (especially a long-haul flight) can be terrifying.
Being a Canadian living in the UK, I have to travel frequently to see my family back home.
My little guy was just 3.5 months old when he took his first Trans-Atlantic flight. All I could imagine was a screaming baby in my arms while the people around me judged my parenting abilities, while rolling their eyes and demanding a new seat.
So far that hasn’t happened.
In the first year of his life, my son has flown on 10 flights (four were Trans-Atlantic) along with countless train rides lasting entire days in some cases. As such I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade that I want to share with mums out there who are looking at travelling with their little one.
This was my own experience but I think it can be helpful for a wide range of families as I had to deal with it all.
- Airplane fees.
When you have decided to hop on a plane, the first thing you’ll think is, “at least the baby flies for free”…actually, that’s not true. For any long-haul flight, you’ll be looking at paying at least 10% of the cost of your ticket as a fee for the baby. I found this appalling considering the baby has to sit on your lap for the entire flight and it’s not like he/she will be enjoying any food or in-flight refreshments.
I do however realize that babies have a lot of stuff so airlines are usually good at allowing the baby a carry-on bag (usually a diaper bag with supplies to last a flight) and one bag in the hold. Most airlines also allow you to check either a stroller/pram or a car seat free of charge. *tip – I just asked my parents to buy a cheap fold-up stroller at my destination so I could use it and either leave with them or simply give it away at the end of the visit. It allowed me to bring my car-seat (which is a must) and not have to pay extra to lug around my big pram.
- Baby Food
My biggest worry when heading home was baby food. My son was on a specific brand of formula here in the UK and as I was heading to Canada for 3 weeks (where this brand didn’t exist) I wanted to make sure I could bring as much of his formula as possible.
As we all know, weight is a big issue when checking in your luggage and although I would like to pride myself on my ability to pack light, with a baby, that doesn’t happen. You never truly realize how much stuff a baby needs each day until you try to pack it all into one suitcase. To help with this, I found out that I could order as many pre-made bottles of formula that I needed at the pharmacy inside the terminal. This was a HUGE help as it a) allowed me to get through security without having to wait for the guards to bomb-test each individual bottle (yes they do that); and b) this also allowed me to bring a ton of my son’s food over to Canada without it being counted against my luggage weight restrictions. So no matter where you’re flying out of, check to see if the pharmacy or grocery store inside the terminal provide this service – it’s a life-saver!
Otherwise, if you’re happy for your baby to try new formulas, search online for the closest equivalent formula at your destination. All of the big brands give suggestions on their websites about which brands are closest to their specific formula.
Security is a pain in the butt for most of us even without a screaming baby on your hip. My biggest advice is to stay calm and work as a team with your partner/spouse. If you’re organized, the whole process will be a breeze. I have had to do most of the flying on my own as my husband always had to return home earlier. Because of this, I had security down to a science.
Firstly, have the baby in a baby-Bjorn or a baby carrier of some sort. Leave the stroller at home. A baby carrier is comfortable for you and the baby and it leaves you with TWO free hands to access bags etc. If you do bring a stroller through security, then my advice would be to have it completely clear of all clutter/extra toys/liquids etc. I witnessed a mother coming through the security at Gatwick Airport with a mess of a stroller and she must have been stuck there for at least 40 minutes as they took it apart, bit by bit, while she and her daughter cried uncontrollably out of sheer exhaustion and frustration.
Secondly, keep calm and keep it simple. I found making an old back-pack into my son’s carry-on was the easiest way to carry him, and all of our stuff while still maintaining two free hands. So I had my little guy on the front and the back-pack on my back. No shoulder straps that slip off when I need to attend to my son.
Have your formula/purees etc in one area of your carry-on luggage so you can access it quickly. Security will ask that your bring it out and place it in its own tray so they can do all the necessary testing on it. Although airports don’t advise it, you can bring bottles already filled with breast milk or formula (even if its more than 100 ml). They will just have to scan it.
Lastly, when walking through the security scanner, don’t be alarmed if they ask to pat you and your baby down. Yes – that actually happened to me. I wasn’t sure what they possibly thought I could be smuggling in my baby’s diapers but it does happen so don’t worry.
- In-Flight Bassinet
If your baby is under 20lbs, you can request a bassinet seat. This will usually cost you a bit more however it is completely worth it if you are travelling alone. Your arms will thank you – believe me. The bassinet attaches to the bulk-head wall in front of your seat and has straps to hold the baby in while sleeping.
I would only suggest that you warn the person beside you when they arrive that there will be a bassinet coming. The bassinet infringes quite drastically into the space of the person next to you – in fact I’m surprised airlines seat anyone beside you when they know it’ll be in use during the flight. You’ll probably get a few annoyed looks however at least they can’t say they weren’t pre-warned. I also used this an excuse to chat with the person next to me. I always found that people were happy to help and it made me feel better knowing I had an ally next to me if the little guy kicked off.
- In-Flight behaviour
On that note, don’t worry too much about the other people on the flight. The vast majority will understand that babies cannot be reasoned with.
I’ve experienced it all. From my experience, most babies get upset and are happy to scream from the moment they get into the airplane. Don’t worry if this happens. Yes you’ll get looks and yes, you’ll want to hide in the washrooms, but I promise you, babies fall asleep almost immediately when the plane gets going. A flight attendant told me this and I didn’t believe her at all – until I was sitting in an area surrounded by screaming babies (including my own son) and the minute we were in the air, the place was silent. Most babies like the hum of the plane engine and similar to a car, most are gently rocked to sleep by the motion. This will allow you and your baby to rest easy on the flight.
So there are a few key tips for you when flying with a little one. Just stay calm, give yourself a ton of time at the airport and don’t sweat it if your baby is upset. Most people do understand and are keen to help. As my son turns 1 and he has started to take his first steps, I realize that flying will be even more challenging with a curious, energy-filled toddler so I’ll do a few test-flights (of course, all in the name of research) and report back with my findings. 🙂
Happy flying mums!