Many people love to travel but if you’re a new mum, the prospect of taking a baby (or multiple kids) on a plane can be terrifying.
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 and demanded a new seat.
Don’t worry – if your baby is little, this scenario won’t happen. Babies – the younger the better – sleep on planes. Even if they do cry, their little cries are drowned out by the sound of the airplane engines. The older the kids get…that’s when things get a bit tricky.
In the first year of his life, my son flew on 10 flights (four were Trans-Atlantic) along with countless train rides lasting entire days in some cases. So 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(s).
- 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”…in most cases this isn’t the case. 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 realise 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.
2. Baby Food
My biggest worry was baby formula when I first travelled. My son was on a specific brand 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 brand 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). 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 in 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 organised, 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, be early.
I can’t stress this enough. Whatever time you give yourself usually if you were flying as a couple – double it. Our most recent holiday started with us nearly missing our flight as we didn’t realise how long it would take to get three kids and their belongings through security. Give yourself an hour to get through security at least, and then remember in some of the bigger airports, your gate could be a good 20 minute walk away so don’t doddle.
In terms of logistics, if the baby is still small, have her/him 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 30 minutes as they took it apart, bit by bit, while she and her daughter cried uncontrollably out of sheer exhaustion and frustration.
Most importantly when going through security, remember to keep calm and keep it simple. I found making an old back-pack into my son’s diaper bag as 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. They will just have to scan it.
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. You’ll probably get a few annoyed looks however at least they can’t say they weren’t warned.
- In-Flight behaviour
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. It was a flight attendant that 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 minutes we were in the air, the place was silent. Most babies like the hum of the airplane engine and like a car, most are gently rocked to sleep by the motion. This will allow you and your baby to rest easy on the flight.
If you have older kids – especially toddler years – bring as many distractions as possible. The iPad will only be amusing for so long. Toys, figurines, colouring books and books are all great to help pass the time in a cramped space.
Even though you’ll feel the hit of a full ticket price, believe me you’ll be happy for the extra space on your lap. Unless your lap is full with a second child…in that case, good luck and just try to keep your sanity.
Toddlers will want to get up and move and they will be loud at some point. Don’t fight it. Try to give yourself and your kid a bit of slack. Most people are aware that small kids are a part of traveling and babies will cry. For the majority of my experience – even with all three kids – most people are fairly kind to mothers and fathers. Or at least most people are hugely passive aggressive so they may huff a bit but thankfully won’t actually say anything.
So get out there and see the world with your little ones. It’s a lot more work but it makes that first holiday cocktail so much sweeter.
Happy flying mums!