Everything you need to make flying with a baby or child under two as easy as possible including our best airport and aeroplane tips.
Taking a baby on a plane can be a daunting prospect for many parents.
Fears they may cry throughout the flight are enough to put many off the idea.
But if you are well-prepared, it can actually be a very good time to fly. Babies sleep a lot (hopefully) and won’t want to run around the plane at this stage!
Airlines and airports can help make it easier for you as long as you plan properly and make any requests as early as possible. We’ve put together a complete guide to flying with a baby or infant to help you.
When can a baby travel?
Airlines have different age restrictions for babies, ranging from two to 15 days old. Doctors recommend you wait until your baby is at least six weeks old when their immune systems are more developed. For a premature baby, they usually base this on their due date age.
Some airlines require a doctor’s note to confirm babies are fit to fly, so double check first.
And if you want to travel long-haul with a baby under three months, you do need to seek medical advice.
Also, if you’ve had a Caesarean, you may not be able to fly until after the six-week postnatal check-up, so check with your doctor first.
If you have two or more babies under six months, you may not be able to travel alone with them as most airlines require that there is one adult with each baby.
The best age to travel
Many agree that the best age to travel with a baby is between three and nine months.
Babies are sleeping better, their immune systems are more developed and they aren’t yet crawling.
Babies need their own passport, which can take a few weeks to get, so make sure it is organised before booking a flight. Babies also need a visa if the destination requires one.
If you have a different surname to your baby, you need to prove you are related. The documents needed, such as a birth certificate, depend on the situation, so check ahead.
What do airlines charge for a baby under two to fly?
A baby or child under two can sit on an adult’s lap on a plane. Sometimes this is free but usually you are charged an infant fare, a percentage of an adult fare. In the UK and Europe, you will be given a belt for them that attaches to your seatbelt, but not in the USA.
Alternatively, you can book them a seat, which can help when they are above six months or so and you can take a car seat to sit in on the plane (see more about this in the car seat section below). You will then have standard luggage allowance for them too, giving you room for all the extra baby stuff you will need to take.
Either way, your baby will require a ticket.
Booking before your baby is born
If you want to book a flight before your baby is born, you are not usually able to do this online so will need to call the airline. Then you confirm all their details nearer to the time.
When to fly
Lots of parents swear by night flights. Put your baby or young child in their sleepsuit or pyjamas, read them a story and try to get them to sleep close to their normal bedtime.
Some airlines will allow you to reserve seats in advance, others when you check in. Make sure you do this as soon as possible to get the best seats if you are not paying to reserve them. And ask if an adjoining seat can be left free if the flight isn’t full, to give you more space.
Ask when checking in and boarding whether the flight is full. If there is space, ask crew if you could have a row of seats to spread out.
Another trick is to book window and aisle seats and leave one in between empty as these are the last to go so may be left empty. If not, the passenger will usually gladly swap for an aisle or window seat.
Where to sit
Decide what is important to you and will suit your baby best. As most airlines don’t give children under two their own seat, unless you pay the full ticket price, you will need to be as comfortable as possible.
There are pros and cons to different positions. Many parents choose an aisle seat near to the front of the plane so that they can walk up and down with their baby. Or, if you are a nursing mother expecting to breastfeed, you may prefer the privacy of a window seat.
Remember, when travelling with children, you can’t book seats next to the emergency exit.
A very popular option are the bulkhead seats.
Bulkhead seats and bassinets/carrycots/skycots
Bulkhead seats are popular as they have more leg room and are easier to get in and out of, very useful when trying to stand up holding a baby.
A bulkhead is a divider between sections of the plane such as a wall, curtain or screen. So sitting in these seats means there is nobody to lie back in front of you.
Be aware that arm rests don’t move as tray tables are often stored in them and there isn’t room under the seats for bags. So you may have to store all your hand luggage in the overhead lockers, at least for take-off and landing.
Bulkhead seat tips
*Request at the time of booking or call the airline as there is usually a waiting list.
*Even if you have reserved one of these bullkhead seats, you may be asked to move for a passenger with greater need such as a wheelchair user.
Bassinets/carrycots/sky cots/reclining chairs
Bassinets are available for passengers in bulkhead seats with some airlines on long haul flights. They can make the journey far more comfortable for you than having the baby on your lap. They are often wall-mounted but some go on the floor.
*There are a limited number so request at the time of booking to avoid disappointment.
*Check your baby fits the size and weight requirements – normally up to 10kg – before you book (and remember that they will be bigger when it is time to fly).
*Face your baby’s legs towards the aisle.
*Bring an arch toy if possible to clip on to the bassinet to make an activity centre/play gym to keep your baby entertained.
*Sheets are usually provided but take a blanket/baby sleeping bag if required, the smell will be familiar for them.
*Lift your television out before you set the bassinet up and get your baby to sleep else it may not unlatch properly.
*Many airlines will ask you to take your baby out if there is turbulence, which can be very annoying if your baby has just gone to sleep.
*They are usually put away for take-off and landing.
*Some airlines including British Airways have reclining child seats for infants up to two years old (depending on their weight), which they attach in the carrycot position, which can be booked online.
When the seat belt sign is on, babies and children under two need to be secured. If they are on an adult’s lap they will use an infant extension seat belt, attached by a loop to the seat belt of the adult whose lap they are sitting on.
Alternatively, they can be put in a car seat or an alternative supplied by the airline.
Car seats in the hold
If you want to take a car seat away with you, airlines usually let you have them in the hold for free.
If you don’t take your own car seat abroad, you can find yourself in a taxi without one (legal but not safe), or one that is very old or the wrong size. Even if we hire a car, we tend to take our own as the standard of some can be poor. (Read our guide for more details about taking car seats abroad).
You don’t have to put children’s car seats in a bag but they can be damaged in transit so we use Venture Car Seat Bags. We also have separate car seats for travel so we don’t risk our usual ones being damaged in a way that might not be obvious.
Many airlines let you check car sears in at the gate, like you can a pushchair, so it doesn’t have to travel with all the luggage, but they are quite bulky to carry around an airport.
Car seats on the plane with you
If you buy your infant their own seat on the aeroplane, airline-approved car seats can be taken on to the aircraft for them to sit in. Some airlines provide them.
Alternatively they can sit in something especially made for planes like the Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES).
Sitting in a car seat on the plane – tips
*Car seats are safer in the event of an accident than an aeroplane lap belt.
*But UK doctors recommend that babies do not sleep in car seats and are not kept in one for more than two hours at a time.
*The size of aircraft seats vary so always check the measurements first and any other requirement such as which direction they can face (often forward facing).
*Car seats are usually put on a window seat so they do not impede an evacuation and can’t be used where airbags are fitted.
With some airlines you can have extra luggage allowance with infant fare – where they sit on your lap.
But if your baby has their own ticket and seat, they will have standard passenger luggage allowance which you can use for all the extra baby stuff you will be carrying!
Buggies go in the hold so have to be checked in as luggage, but this is usually free and on top of your baggage allowance.
Most airlines (not all, so please check first) allow pushchairs to be taken through the airport to the plane door, although there is a maximum weight. Make sure it has a luggage tag put on at check-in and include your contact details.
Then it will be put in the hold for the flight.
Ensure it is collapsible as it has to go through the X-ray scanners. And expect it to get a bit battered so invest in a separate, lightweight travel pushchair if possible.
We bought a buggy bag, which partially protects the pushchair. Our bag has also proved useful in the past for putting extra bits inside, before it went into the hold, such as our coats and milk and nappies collected from Boots, to save carrying them on to the plane.
As an alternative to taking pushchairs all the way to the plane, some prefer to use baby carriers or slings.
If you don’t need your pushchair in the airport, it can be put in the hold with the rest of the luggage when you check in, usually at no extra cost.
Either way, you won’t have the pushchair back with you until you collect your luggage at the baggage reclaim area so if you are on your own with a baby, make sure your hand luggage is easy to carry along with your child, consider a rucksack/backpack.
Airport Security Tips
*Don’t get your baby to sleep in their pushchair just before you go through security! All hand luggage will go through the X-ray machine including buggies/pushchairs/strollers, which will have to be collapsed.
*There are no restrictions for taking baby food and baby milk on board but you will be asked to taste it as you go through security.
*If you want to get through security more quickly, you can usually pre-book online to use an express lane (between around £3 to £13 per person). Sometimes staff call families with babies through these lanes anyway, if they can.
*Don’t wear items you will have to take off, to make it easier for you, such as belts or boots.
*Don’t take more than 100ml of liquids like baby cream or lotion and place any in a clear bag to take through security.
Pre-ordering baby milk and other holiday essentials from Boots.
Many of the main UK airports have a Boots in the departure lounge. So once you have been through security you can buy things like baby wipes, nappies, Calpol, formula and baby food.
What is really useful at some Boots, is the chance to pre-order milk and nappies and other holiday essentials, to be collected one you have been through security.
Boots Airport Order tips
*Baby milk – you can pre-order up to two tubs or 56 ready-to-drink cartons.
*You are allowed one airport shopping bag on to your flight as well as your hand luggage.
*You can pre-order anything that Boots sell except for anything sharp as they will be confiscated and you will not get a refund.
*When checking out, select deliver to store. Make sure it is an airside store (after security) not landside. Delivery is free on orders over £20.
*The order is delivered to the store within five to six working days so make sure you order in plenty of time.
*Leave at least 15 minutes to collect your order in store as they are held elsewhere.
To order simply go to the Boots website, add items to your basket and choose the Collect in Store delivery option. Type the name of the airport in the ‘Find your nearest store’ box. Make sure you choose the ‘after security’ option and the correct terminal if there are more than one. Choose the day of the flight as the collection day.
Airline facilities for babies
Baby changing facilities
Not all short-haul flights have baby changing facilities so check first. Most provide a changing table although there is limited space in the toilets, so just take in what you need. A disposable changing mat is very useful, particularly if there is no changing table. Try to put a clean nappy on just before you board.
Many airlines keep extra nappies and baby food on board so ask if you need anything.
Baby food, toddler meals and milk
Most airlines will provide baby food and toddler meals if you request them in advance. So ask at the time of booking.
Many airlines will heat bottles and baby food for you for free, check in advance if you are concerned and perhaps mention it to the crew at the start of the flight.
But some budget airlines do not have baby meals or food-warming facilities so check first.
Refrigerate baby milk and meals.
Most airlines will refrigerate baby milk and toddler meals for you on long haul flights to stop them getting warm. You can keep them in a cool bag before this. Again, check first.
What to pack in hand luggage when travelling with a baby or infant
Most airlines do not have a hand luggage allowance for infants without their own seats, so it may be tricky to get everything you need within your own allowance. Pack wisely, know where everything is in your bag and keep everything you may need at hand where possible. And don’t forget:
Nappies (more than you think in case of delays)
Large disposable nappy mats
Anti-bacterial hand wipes (use frequently to try to keep other passengers’ germs and bugs at bay)
Spare changes of comfortable clothes/sleepsuits/pyjamas as well as layers in case it is cold
Dummies if used
Favourite toys (depending on age this could include rattles, teethers, sensory toys, stacking cups, shape sorters, books)
A new toy
Blanket/baby sleeping bag
Bag for dirty clothes
Bags for used spoons and bottles etc
Basic first aid kit
We found it much easier when on holiday and certainly when flying, to use the ready-to-drink cartons. Although they are more expensive, it means no worries about boiling bottled water or the tap water abroad. If your baby needs it warmer than room temperature, you can ask airport staff or airline crew if they can warm it or alternatively ask for a big mug or teapot of hot water to put your bottle in briefly. (Always shake and check the temperature before giving to your baby).
How to keep your baby calm while flying
*Give them milk (breastfeed or bottle feed) on take-off and landing. The swallowing will stop the painful pressure build-up in their ears.
*The aeroplane engine noise often helps babies and young children to fall asleep anyway.
*If you haven’t got a bassinet but have managed to get an empty seat next to you, make them a little bed on the seats.
*When awake, walk your baby up and down the plane so he or she can look around.
*If you usually calm your baby down by walking or swaying etc, just do the same in the air!
*Relax and play with and talk to your baby as you usually would and try not to feel silly. Even sing quietly if your baby likes it.
*Babies need lots of milk during a flight as the air conditioning makes them more thirsty.
*DO NOT FORGET THEIR DUMMY if they have one.
*If you are really lucky they will sleep the whole way!
Don’t forget yourself, try to relax and take a book, Kindle or tablet, for when (fingers crossed) they sleep!
Enjoy your holiday!
Have we missed any of your favourite tips, do let us know below.