Many new parents worry about their first overseas trip with a baby. Airline travel, especially in economy class, can be exhausting and stressful at the best of times – let alone with an infant in tow. But it can be done, and without it ruining your holiday.
The key to having a bearable experience is in the planning and preparation of your trip. Selecting the right flight (is it really worth upsetting your child’s routine by booking that 3am flight from Luton just to save a tenner?), packing the appropriate kit (without over-packing), and adopting a positive can-do attitude will help ensure your holiday gets of to the right start.
The first thing to know is that all passengers, including babies, need a passport to travel internationally. In addition, some carriers require photo-ID even for domestic travel. Children under two years of age are generally permitted to travel on your lap, though you will still need to book an infant ticket for them. This ticket is free, though you are still liable for any taxes. Check your airline’s policy on travelling with children beforehand.
Space and luggage allowance in the cabin are at a premium so only take what you need in hand luggage. Although there are no restrictions on the amount of baby food and milk that you can carry on board, you may be asked to open and taste as much as half of all the food and milk items when passing through security, so go easy on the number of yoghurts you pack!
Most airlines (though not all!) offer around 10kg of extra luggage allowance to families travelling with small children, and many allow you to check-in a car seat, a travel-cot, and a pushchair free of charge. You can usually take pushchairs directly to the steps or entrance of the aircraft, though you will generally have to wait until reaching the baggage hall (after passport control) to collect your pushchair at the other end.
To keep your baby happy during the flight, bring several different things to break up the monotony of the journey, such as some of your child’s favourite toys and books, as well as a couple of new items that your baby hasn’t seen before. Age-appropriate snacks and food are always useful for calming children down, and it’s unwise to rely on airline food to feed your child, even if you’ve pre-ordered a special meal. Make sure the food you bring doesn’t require refrigeration and isn’t too messy. You may also want to bring a change of clothing for your baby in case of accidents or spills, as well as an extra shirt for yourself to protect against embarrassing spills or baby accidents.
Most parents will tell you to change your baby’s nappy just before boarding the plane. If you need to do an in-flight nappy change, try to do it when the lights are dim and people are sleeping or watching movies, when you are less likely to be pressured by queues of people waiting for the toilet.
Finally, since air pressure in the cabin can put pressure on little ears during takeoff and landing, aim to feed your baby during those times. If your baby won’t feed, try to get him to suck on a dummy. The action of eating or sucking helps to open the Eustachian tubes, which will allow the inner ears to change pressure as the aircraft climbs and descends (this is equally valid for adults, and the reason some airlines hand out boiled sweets during descent). It is also best to avoid travelling with a cold, since this too can cause blockage in the Eustachian tube and in severe cases can rupture the eardrum. While not life-threatening, it can be quite painful, and is probably not the way you would wish to start off your holiday! If in any doubt, consult a doctor prior to travel.