So you’ve received their first passport and now it’s time to fly - but travel with little ones in tow isn’t always that simple. Here are my top tips for air travel with babies and toddlers - I’m compiling this just after our return from a mid-haul trip with a 6 year old, 3 year old and 10 month old.
Before you book your flight you have to weigh up if you’re better with a day flight or night flight. This is completely dependent on what you think will work best for your children. We took the outward flight in the evening and the 10 month old and 3 year old slept the whole way but my 6 year old fought it, determined to watch movies the whole flight and was suitably exhausted when we landed. Our return flight was a day flight and all 3 were awake for most of it, which was busy! Especially with our 10 month old who just wanted to move about. The good news is if you have a young baby the lovely Whooshing noise of the flight should lull them off to sleep beautifully!
1 - Comfortable clothing
My first tip would be to dress comfortably, and that goes for you and your little ones. Remember the airconditioning on flights can be very unpredictable. Sometimes warm, sometimes cold, so comfortable layers will work best. Think leggings or trackies, a t-shirt and a jumper. Things that won’t squeeze their legs and bellies. This will also make it more comfortable for them if they fall asleep on the flight and save you the struggle of trying to change them on board. If you have to take a coat on board then try and make it a lightweight one so it’s easy to squeeze into the overhead compartment!
2 - The art of Distraction - Keep them busy
Make sure you take your little one's favorite playthings with them. Car toys work great on flights along with books. For slightly old toddlers and young children you could bring a colouring set or maybe a tablet with some of their favourite shows downloaded, they’ll probably need headphones to hear over the flight noise but there are lots of good Junior ones available on the market. Avoid bringing things like cars and balls which encourage children to want to move around more than may be practical on the flight.
3 - Something to sleep on
There are tons of options here. I personally would avoid lugging on board the ‘seat extenders’ or ‘bed in a suitcase’ that are available on the market. They are a pain to carry, take up your hand luggage allowance and airlines have LOTS of rules around if and when they can be used for safety reasons. Instead for toddlers and young children (and yourself) invest in a good neck and head support. If your little one is under 12kg (this can vary per airline) then they will be able to sleep in the bassinet which will make your own flight much more comfortable. If you are desperate to try something to extend the seat or fill the gap between one seat and the seat in from then these work quite well and if it is the case that you don’t end up using it it's compact to carry and not an extortionate waste of money.
4 - Feeding, Drinks & Snacks
Bring plenty! Bring a variety.
If you’re breastfeeding then you are winning here because you’ll have a lot less to carry!
If you are bringing baby milk and foods through the airport then these will pass through security safely without having to be under 100ml, they do have to go through some special checks though. To avoid this you can also buy most you need once you get airside. Most UK airports have a Boots who do a ‘click and collect’ service so you can be sure the items you require are there waiting for you.
5 - Sling
If you are like most of us then you will have booked your little one as a lap infant if they’re under 2, which saves on the cost of a seat. Although most airlines provide a cot for small babies, if your baby is overtired or overwhelmed, a sling can give your arms a break while you pace up and down the aisle. Remember a carrier isn’t an alternative to a seatbelt; you will still need to fasten your baby’s seatbelt during take-off and landing.
It’s also great to have on hand at the airports, especially if you have another younger child whose legs might tire with the endless walking. With a sling you can let the older child take the pushchair and you can keep them both close to you whilst you navigate to your gate.
6 - Take a Compact lightweight pushchair
When I first started flying with my child, the compact pushchairs you can take on board didn’t exist and you had to give up your pushchair at the aircraft door and you wouldn't see it again until the baggage carousel. Now there are numerous pushchairs available that you can take on board, from the rather pricey Babyzen Yoyo to the much more affordable Cybex Libelle (we have the Cybex and love it) and they really are worth the investment, especially if you have more than one child. They mean that the moment you step off the plane you have somewhere safe and secure to put your little one.
7 - Check stuff in
Take the advice of a seasoned mum- traveller and check in everything that you don’t need. It's hard enough moving through the airport and getting on board with children alone, never mind having heaps of hand luggage to take with you. I know how it is, you think you’ve finished packing- the suitcases are locked and then you think of 20 different things that should be in there and stick them all in your hand luggage for speed. Don’t worry if this happens to you too, there is usually time at some point at the airport to have a quick re-sort and move things around.
8 - If baby is under 2 book a bassinet seat (even if they’re too heavy to use it)
If you have booked your child under 2 as a lap infant then most mid-long haul airlines will give you the priority when it comes to the bassinet seats. These are worth choosing even if you don’t intend to use the bassinet as these are usually extra legroom seats and mean you will have that little bit extra room when you are onboard. These seats are quick to go so if you can select them when booking then do so, otherwise get there quick when online check in opens.
9 - Bring extra clothes
You may be thinking - well yes of course, I have children, I take spare clothes everywhere I go?! Well, I mean spare clothes for you. Travel sickness can take hold in a moment and if you can’t get to that sick bag quick enough guess who’s going to get covered - yup!
10 - Ignore the Haters!
Sometimes, no matter what you do, your baby or toddler is going to cry LOUDLY on the airplane. You can give them milk, drinks and snacks, try stories and movies, change nappies, and do everything on this list of tips for flying with babies and toddlers. Still, your little one may have a screaming fit in the air. The most important thing is that you try (and that other passengers witness that effort). You have enough to worry about without concerning yourself with every person on the airplane. Take care of your little one, and ignore the haters. Soon enough, your plane will safely land and your family will be ready to explore together.
Most of all have an amazing trip!