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Flying with a baby or infant under two – our comprehensive guide will help you from the airport to the plane

Flying with a baby or infant under two – our comprehensive guide will help you from the airport to the plane

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.

Passport

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.

A baby sleeping in a parent's arms on a plane

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.

Reserve seats

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.

A baby sleeps in a bassinet on an aeroplane

A wall-mounted bassinet/carrycot for a baby in the bulkhead seats area of the plane.

Bassinet  tips

*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.

Seatbelts

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

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.

A child sleeps in a car seat on a plane by the window

A child’s car seat can sometimes be used on the plane.

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.

Baggage allowance

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!

Buggy/pushchair/stroller

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

Baby wipes

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)

Comforter

A new toy

Bibs

Sterilised bottles

Milk/formula

Baby/toddler food

Baby spoons

Muslins

Blanket/baby sleeping bag

Nappy sacks

Bag for dirty clothes

Bags for used spoons and bottles etc

Basic first aid kit

Baby milk/formula

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).

A baby holding a parent's hand

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!

And…

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.

NOW READ: Flying with children – 10 tips for keeping toddlers and young children happy on a plane

NOW READ: The full guide to child car seats and transport options on a family holiday abroad

Flying with children – 10 tips for keeping toddlers and young children happy on a plane

Flying with children – 10 tips for keeping toddlers and young children happy on a plane

Our best airport and aeroplane hacks to make flying with children an enjoyable experience

Lots of parents worry about taking toddlers and young children on a flight. You hope they will be comfortable and happy but fear they will be noisy, cry or have a tantrum and annoy people around them.

We’ve put together our top tips to make it as easy as possible for you. To read our comprehensive guide on flying with a baby or infant under two, click here.

1. The airport – make it fun

The airport is a big, noisy place for children, with long queues, long waits and people asking questions.

Try to ease the process by explaining ahead what will happen and make each part a game or a challenge. Maybe split up and take two different security lines to see who wins, sit by a window at the airport and do some plane spotting and let the children pull lighter suitcases if they are big enough.

Some airports have a play area for children, which can help pass the time. Also, keep them walking around, they’ll be sitting for long enough on the plane.

And buy them a magazine or book at the shops to take on board – which kills time in the airport and in the air.

2. Buggy/pushchair/stroller/car seat

Airlines normally let you have a pushchair and child car seat in the hold for free, check ahead to avoid extra costs.

Most airlines will let you keep your pushchair with you until you board if you prefer, then crew will put it in the hold for the flight. Buy a buggy bag, it offers some protection for the buggy, which is likely to get a bit battered. Plus, we have managed to fit extra bits like milk and nappies collected from Boots or even coats inside, to save carrying them on to the plane when you are juggling everything and trying to get the children on safely.

We also have protective bags for our car seats – for a full guide to hiring or taking car seats abroad see our article here.

3. Split your boarding

Children and families are often allowed to board first, this can be useful but also means more time on the plane for little ones so we prefer to wait until the end to get on.

Or consider this trick of ours. If there is more than one adult, one boards first with all the hand luggage, sorts the books, tablets/iPads, snacks and drinks out, then pops the bags in the overhead lockers.

The other parent stays with the children to burn off some energy at the departure gate and boards at the end of the process.

4. Where to sit on the plane

Airlines must aim to seat children close to parents or guardians, according to guidance from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Where they can’t, they should be no more than one row apart but there are no guarantees.

The safest way to be sure you are sitting together is to pay to book your seats online in advance. Otherwise, check in early, as soon as free online check-in opens (usually between four days and 24 hours before departure depending on the airline).

When deciding where to sit, look at the aircraft layout plans online and decide the best solution for your family. Many short haul flights are a 3-3 seating arrangement. As a family of four, we prefer to sit in two pairs rather than three together and one across the aisle, allowing us to concentrate on one child each. And we put each child in a window seat.

We never sit our children in aisle seats in case a passing trolley bumps them or catches their fingers or a hot drink is spilled. But also young children will be tempted to keep getting up and running off if they have easy access to the aisle!

If you are sitting one row behind another, consider putting a younger one who may be tempted to kick the seat in front, behind, so they aren’t annoying a stranger!

5. How to get extra seats for free

Ask when checking in and boarding whether the flight is full. If there is space, ask the crew if you could have a row of seats to spread out.

Another trick when booking seats if there are three across, is to book an aisle and a window seat, leaving a seat in the middle. These middle seats are usually last to be sold so if the plane isn’t full it may remain empty. If someone has booked it, they will usually gladly swap to be by the aisle or window.

6. Bulkhead seats

A bulkhead is a divider between sections of the plane such as a wall, curtain or screen.

Some people love bulkhead seats and some hate them, there are pros and cons.

Pros: Bulkhead seats can give more leg room and there is nobody to lie back in front of you. You are also among the first to be served food and drinks. You may be nearer to the toilet.

Cons: The arm rests don’t move, tray tables are often stored in them. There isn’t room under the seats for bags. So if the airline doesn’t allow hand luggage in front of you – always true during take-off and landing – you have to jump up and down a lot to fetch changing bags, activities, food and drink.

7. Entertainment options

Spend time preparing what to take on board to keep children entertained – else you may pay the price in the air when it is too late.

You can buy packs already made up such as the Keep em Quiet bags. But you know your children best and what holds their attention, such as colouring books, plain paper, activity books, pens, crayons and little games (not any with lots of little pieces you will be scrabbling under the chairs to find). I sometimes print out free word searches and colouring pages from the internet to make a little personal pack up for them.

Children do activities on a plane

We split the flight into sections. We don’t give our children anything when we first board, else they get engrossed and miss out on the fun bit! We encourage them to look out of the window and take in the excitement of lifting off the ground and being in the air. We just give them drinks to stop their ears from hurting.

When they start to get bored, we begin to bring out the entertainment. Ours love children’s magazines so we start with a new one and try some reading, colouring and puzzles while they’re still fresh.

Later on in the flight, when they start to get restless, we wheel out the iPads. When taking tablets, remember to check batteries are fully charged and their favourite programmes are downloaded and not just available via Wi-Fi.

And take proper children’s headphones which are designed for small heads so don’t slip off and are also much quieter to protect their ears.

Break up the screen time with a sandwich and snacks and use toilet breaks as an excuse to explore the plane and stretch legs.

8. What else to pack in hand luggage

Don’t forget drinks, snacks, sandwiches, nappies/pull ups for children still in them and comforters.

Remember wipes and proper anti-bacterial hand wipes (we get Lacura travel wipes from Aldi and stock up whenever they are selling them) or hand gel to keep hands germ free on board.

Put children in comfortable, loose-fitting clothes or pyjamas and take spare clothes, extra layers and extra socks in case they are cold.

Consider taking a blanket and an extra blanket or use the onboard one to make a canopy to shield children from the lights if they want to sleep. Just slot it into the headrest (this won’t work in a bulkhead seat).

And don’t forget a Kindle, book or tablet for you, you never know, you might get a few minutes to relax!

You can pre-order holiday essentials including nappies, baby milk, dummies etc to collect at a Boots airport store as you are allowed to take one shopping bag on board. 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. The order needs to be made at least three days before you fly.

9. How to stop those ears popping

There are various tricks to deal with the air pressure during take-off and particularly landing.

Boiled sweets used to be a favourite but they are a choking hazard for younger children.

We give ours drinks. It’s important they drink throughout the flight anyway – but we encourage ours to drink lots of water during take-off and landing, as the swallowing eases the pressure build-up in their ears.

Yawning when your child can see you so they reciprocate, also helps.

Younger children can also have milk or a dummy to help them.

10. And relax

Above all, try to relax and enjoy what you can about this shared experience, a big part of your holiday for them. If you are a nervous flyer, try your best not to show it else they will pick up on it and it will affect how they see it too now and in the future. Treat it as an adventure and a fun part of the holiday.

Fingers crossed and happy holidays!

MUST READ: Flying with a baby or infant under two – our comprehensive guide will help you from the airport to the plane