How to Fly With a Baby or Toddler
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The saying goes that ‘It’s not about the journey; it’s the destination’. When flying with young kids, sometimes it is indeed about the destination, and the journey is just a matter of survival.
Here are 11 tips to get you and your family to your destination rested, happy and smiling. Okay, maybe that’s too much of a ask. Here are some tips to get you there at all.
My top tip for families is to visualise how you spend your time at home and if you were stuck on your sofa with your child for whatever the length of your flight. What would you need?
When your baby is small, it could just be your body and a bunch of dummies. Later, it’s books and small toys in lots of small bags. I try to mix the familiar (favourite toys) with something special we get at the airport. We use travel puzzles, stickers, soft toys, books and little figurines to create games on board.
Book the Bassinet
If you have a child under 2, it’s a no-brainer to try and snag the cot seat. Sometimes you can do it online, but if not, it requires a phone call. At best, you have a way for your under 2 to sleep on board (and saved you from buying an extra ticket). At worst, you have your child on your lap all night but have an extra shelf in front of you for all of your goods. In my 100+ flights with my boys, I have never brought a car seat on board, but other parents swear by it.
Get That Energy Out (or Go Shopping)
We get to the airport obscenely early — especially as someone who used to rock up 35 minutes before my business flight at London City Airport. Now, it’s a whole routine of visiting the lounges, play areas and exploring the airport beforehand in the three hours ahead of our flight. The upside: With just a baby, I could get some duty free shopping done. These days, we head to the kids areas and run it out. I’ve met some likeminded parents while having a coffee and watching our kids run around.
Upgrade Your Seat
Over the past four years, I flew approximately 100 times with a baby under 2 and love to take advantage of British Airways’ generous lap infant policy on reward flights. If you take over the two middle seats in Club World with the bassinet, you soon have a family compound to spread out and enjoy. Whether you book with a Companion Pass with your child and infant or use Avios to upgrade, it can be worth spending those well-earned points on the extra space for everyone on those long flights.
Ask, Ask, Ask
Erica Weber from World Wide Webers’ top tip is always ask when you’re traveling with kids.
“When we travel, I am constantly asking for others to help make my life easier”, Weber said. “I’ve stopped feeling embarrassed or worried that I’m annoying by merely asking what’s possible”.
Some of my frequent questions to strangers and crew are: “Do you have milk?”, “Can you help me with my bag?”, or my favourite “Can you watch my older child while I go to the loo with the baby?”
We have used the Plane Pal product, which is essentially an inflatable seat extender for children, for a few years. Whether the airline you’re flying accepts them or not varies tremendously, but I have found that if you quickly pump it up, cover it with a blanket and let your child relax, no one goes out of their way to stop you.
Devices (But Not Too Much If You Want Them to Sleep)
Our oldest son was only allowed screens when on board airplanes until he was over 3 years old, which made him very excited about flying. But even before he could concentrate on screens, we used the children’s song and audiobook function on the inflight entertainment system. Sometimes just looking around and listening to a story helped him stay relaxed and entertained in those tricky ages before screens keep their attention.
Rosey Davidson, a paediatric sleep consultant and founder of Just Chill Baby Sleep, who also attended the TPG UK Family launch event, says that too much device time on board can adversely affect your child from adjusting to the new time.
“Our internal body clocks are sensitive to the white and blue light emitted by screens”, Davidson told TPG UK. “While they can be an effective tool to occupy your child during your flight, be sure to minimise use if you are arriving to your destination at night. Switch off two hours ahead of when your child should be sleeping, or the time you will be putting them to bed”.
I let my sons watch the inflight entertainment until they fall asleep, and like most families, all our screentime rules go out the window when we’re in the air.
Pyjama Time (and Pack Extra Clothes for Everyone)
We all want to be as cozy as possible on flights. So, changing the children into their pyjamas before boarding in order to get in the mode of an overnight flight is our pre-boarding ritual. Some families change on board following their dinner.
The key is to bring extra clothes for the whole family because it doesn’t take much to have a spill or accident, and suddenly the plan on being comfortable is right out the window.
We do two or three snack runs before a flight. Typically, a bulk delivery of snacks a few days before is necessary so that I have a full bag of options, then again at the airport after going through security.
Shanti, the mum of 2-year-old Alexander and author of The Kensington Diaries, shared her tips for packing snacks with TPG UK.
“This involves an Ocado shopping haul stocking up on snacks to last the flight and the first few days of the trip,” Shanti said. “My go-tos are raisins, savoury pouch meals, rice cakes, organic snacks from Ellas and Organix (the sweet corn ones are great) and bananas! Bananas and raisins are a safe bet as you don’t need to wash them and they are easy to take around.”
Rearrange the Plane
Starting with when I book my flight, I try to get on emptier planes in hopes of extra space. Use ExpertFlyer to check your flight in order to make sure you’re not on a nearly full aeroplane. Next, when I check in, I ask how full the flight is and if there is anyone sitting directly next to us. Then, when I’m boarding, I ask again how full the flight is at that stage. Finally, I talk to the cabin crew and discuss if they can offer alternative seats if there are people sitting next to us.
This is most important in business class, where people have paid a premium and may not want to put the divider down and see me breastfeeding or my child licking the window. Some people choose to stay next to us, but at least they had agency in their seat choice, and it takes the pressure off me. Most people want to take an alternative seat.
Keep Yourself Calm
Kids feed off your energy. I put on my noise-cancelling headphones with a good podcast, kick back and enjoy the ride. I also try to keep a sense of humour about everything. A smile and a shrug at a stranger can go a long way.
“Travelling with kids is all about expectations — expect some disasters, keep calm, pack enough snacks to keep them quiet for a week and always pack iPads with their very own character headphones”, Stanton told TPG UK. “If you expect it to be easy then you may be disappointed. Most importantly, remember that if you’re travelling with your partner stay lighthearted, have a beer, try and relax as a holiday is waiting for you on the other side”.
Now you have your cot seat, your snacks and your expectations in check knowing that the flight will only last a few hours and on the other side is a lifetime worth of memories with your kids.
What are your top tips for traveling with young children?
All photos by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen / The Points Guy.