My first ever flight with a baby in May 2012. We’re now 20 sleeps away from flight 18!
1 – LUGGAGE
Luggage allowance varies very much per airline – and whilst some allow you to check a buggy and car seat into the hold in addition to your luggage allowance, others will count it as part of your allowance. Check this before you book with an airline, as going over your allowance can be very costly.
2 – BUGGIES / CARRIERS FOR TRANSPORTING BABY
Most airlines will allow you to take a fully collapsible stroller to the doors of the plane, which is very handy if you have young children. However, they usually won’t deliver it back to you until baggage reclaim at the other end. This poses problems if you have a baby and no way of carrying them between the plane and luggage carousel, but there are a few options.
Some airports / airlines offer complimentary strollers for use before/after check-in (this is a helpful list, but may be a little out of date) – Emirates is one such airline, but they aren’t always available, so it’s worth having a back-up plan. If you have a baby carrier like a Baby Bjorn or Ergo, take it onto the flight as hand luggage so you have it as you leave the plane. There is also a stroller that collapses small enough to be taken as hand luggage, called Baby Zen YoYo – we have this stroller and it’s very, very handy (UK link, UAE link). Or you could try my new toy, the Ride On Carry On, which attaches to a pull-along cabin-sized suitcase (UK link, UAE orders 050 4762350).
3 – GETTING LIQUIDS / BABY FORMULA THROUGH SECURITY
Formula Milk: Baby milk is exempt from the 100ml liquids rule – but you need to be prepared to taste a third of what you take through security. So if you take 3 bottles, you will be asked to taste one of them. As soon as you get to security, get the bottles out and tell them it is milk for your baby.
I always pre-measure the powder and store it in 2 x Avent Milk Powder Dispensers (UK link, available at Baby Shop and major chemists in the UAE). I then take ready-boiled water in sealed bottles, pouring the powder into the water and shaking to mix when we needed it. As a rule, I take 2 extra bottles/powder than we need in case of delays or spills. I also usually grab a couple of pre-made cartons of formula once we are in the airport lounge to be extra prepared.
Sometimes the air pressure causes my Dr Brown bottles to leak a little bit during take-off, so I store the bottles in a plastic bag. I then top up with a little mineral water if necessary.
If you are in the UK, you can also pre-order ready-to-drink formula cartons from branches of Boots in airport lounges. You can find the branch with this link www.boots.com/en/Store-Locator/. If you forget (or manage to leave your powder at home in a last minute panic), don’t panic as I’ve always found Boots to be pretty well stocked. In Dubai, it isn’t as easy so make sure you are fully stocked with powder/water in bottles.
Water / Drinks for Children: This is a big no-no. I usually fill the boy’s water bottles with a little water each for the car journey to the airport and then drink it / pour out in the bathrooms before security so they are empty as we go through. Then we buy bottled water to re-fill them when we go through.
Food Pouches: Food puree is considered liquid, so make sure you take it out of your bag and tell the security staff (I made this mistake once and had my whole bag searched as I was none the wiser!) You may also be asked to taste it. Airports usually have quite a good stock once you go through (and your baby may also get a jar/pouch as part of their meal on the plane). Check this in advance so you know how much to pack/buy
4 – WHERE TO SIT ON THE FLIGHT
If you have a small baby, make sure you call your airline as soon as you book your flights and pre-book the seats with basinet. This will make your life a lot easier at nap times as you will have your arms free (and it also makes a handy storage facility for baby’s toys / activities when they are awake). The other benefit is that you will have a lot more space for bags and be situated right by the toilets for baby changing. Some airlines require you to take baby out of basinet whenever turbulence occurs (Emirates, for example) and others allow you to keep them in (British Airways comes to mind). You will be told the rules when you board.
However, baby grows quickly and the size/weight allowance of the basinets varies greatly by airline. This ridiculously helpful chart (last updated April 2015) will give you the info you need – and it’s well worth consulting before you book. If you have a choice to go for an airline where baby still fits in basinet, go for it – it will make your flight so much easier.
Once children are slightly older (like mine, aged 16 months and 3 years), I actually prefer to move back to regular rows of seats. This is mainly because we can store our bags under the seats in front right from boarding (with a basinet, you will only be allowed to bring them down from overhead lockers once in the air) and because they can use the seat-back televisions right from boarding to the moment we have to leave the plane (unlike basinets where the fold-out TVs can’t be used during take-off and landing). Do not underestimate the power of a TV to play with / watch while you are trying to unpack and settle!
4 – GENERAL ON BOARD TIPS
Keep them in their seat: My wise expat friend Fiona gave me a tip when I first started flying with children: make them aware that their seat is their space for the whole flight and that walking up and down is not an option. I have never let my children walk up and down the plane and in 17 long-haul flights, they have never asked to do it. Despite having two very active little boys who can’t sit still for a second at home, they have never even been aware that leaving their seats (apart from toilet breaks) is even an option. This has made life so much easier for myself and my husband and I still think it’s the best tip I received! I am aware that we only fly 7/8 hours at a time, so it may be a different story if you fly for 15 hours straight – but do it on your terms. Give them the freedom and they will take it – again and again and again…
Buy headphones: If your child is old enough (in my opinion, this is about 18 months), buy them fun headphones and present as a gift when you board the plane (my boys have some with frogs – UK link, UAE available in Virgin Megastore). The moment we did this was the moment flights got easier! Stanley loves having his own headphones – and once he heard the inflight entertainment, he started to focus on it for longer than a few minutes! For little ones, you can try practicing at home before the flight. Wilfred will get his for the first time during our next flight. Make sure you buy headphones designed for little ears, as their ears are very sensitive.
Extra nappies: Take two extra nappies than you think you need. There’s something about flying that makes my children rather, well, frequent! It is also very wise to pack an extra set of clothes per child – not only for toilet accidents / nappy explosions, but in case turbulence / pesky little hands send your drink flying. It’s also worth me adding that although my 3-year old has been potty trained for 6 months now, we always pop him in a pull-up for a flight (which he still wears at night, so it’s not alien to him). It’s always dry at the end of the day, but it gives me peace of mind in case he suddenly announces he needs a wee during take-off or landing!
Food on board: If your child has their own seat on the flight (over 2 years old), they will get their own meal – but it’s not always automatic that they will get a child’s meal, so pre-book this in advance. If you have a baby on lap, they will probably only be offered a jar of puree (if that) – and if you have a baby between 12 months and 2 years, that won’t cut it. I usually pack a pot of mess-free finger foods and leave it in the fridge until the moment we leave the house – like cheese cubes, sausage chunks, sweetcorn, bread sticks etc. I also pack extra snacks for both children, such as rice cakes, fun fruit snacks, and raisins. Take more than you think you need in case of delays, but pack into clear zip-lock bags rather than pots to save weight.
Helpful reminder: I have generally found it easy enough to fly with my boys – but there has been the odd occasion when they have cried for hours straight or thrown bread rolls or shrieked at two second intervals. People have always been quite understanding, but we do get the odd angry glance, tut, loudly-spoken comment. Over the years, I have learnt to ignore it and stay calm. I just remind myself that we will never see any of these people again – and that in a matter of hours, we will be at our destination and everything will have been worth it. And it is! It always is! I promise!