Flying With Your Baby For The First Time


Flying with your baby for the first time this summer and daunted by the logistics of it all?

Relax, we have asked expert Aaron Ritoper, the General Manager of (and father of one) the answers to all your questions.

Read on for everything you need to know.

What currently is typically allowed on board a flight and in the hold, on top of your own luggage allowance? Does a baby get their own luggage allowance, and what do you do about the pushchair and the car seat? Are you allowed extra hand luggage for the changing bag?

It all depends on the airline you are flying with, so call ahead and talk to them about what they offer and what you have to pay extra for and what you can book in advance. There's nothing worse than arriving to check in and being hit by extra fees that could have been avoided by a little advance planning.

Some airlines like Virgin Atlantic offer as much as 23kg of checked baggage for infants, but as a rule of thumb, most airlines offer around 10kg of checked luggage for infants under the age of two, as well as the option to check in a collapsible pushchair and car seat.

However, take note: some low-cost carriers offer no baggage allowance for infants at all so you'll either have to pack light and share your suitcase or pay extra to check in a bag for your child.

Most airlines also offer no hand luggage allowance for infants, so you'll have to make sure all you need for yourself and your baby fits into your own carry-on allowance.

Do you need a special kind of collapsible/light pushchair for travel?

Even low-cost carriers allow infants to check in one pushchair free of charge; however, each airline has a different weight limit so phone ahead and check yours meets the weight and dimension restrictions.

The pushchair will need to be fully collapsible as it will need to go through the same x-ray security procedures as other baggage.

Purely for ease of use, the lighter foldable pushchairs are much more airport-friendly than the larger 'designer buggies' that come apart into two pieces. A lightweight Maclaren can be a godsend when going through the X-ray scanner with impatient passengers behind you.

You can see our shopping guide to lightweight pushchairs here.

What is the recommended way to get babies to and from the airport at each end in a taxi - do you need a car seat and must it be your own?

In the UK, as with many other countries, it is a legal requirement that children are appropriately restrained when travelling in a car, however, taxis are exempt from this rule and so children and infants can travel in the rear unrestrained.

However, it has been made clear that this rule was introduced for practical and not safety reasons and I would still highly discourage travelling with your infant unrestrained. When possible and booked in advance, car seats offered by taxi firms must conform to the United Nations standard, ECE Regulation 44-03, be suitable for the child's weight and size and be correctly fitted according to the manufacturer's instructions. For peace of mind, I would recommend travelling with your child's own car seat where possible.

Having your own seat may mean a bit of extra luggage to check in at the airport but it will give you the peace of mind to know that you can hop into a cab at the airport with your child safely strapped into their own car seat. It also means that if the rest of the family are flagging a little on any outings when you're away, you can easily jump into a taxi with limited hassle.

On long haul flights, do you get given a carrycot by the airline or must you bring your own?

Most airlines offer parents the option to book a carrycot for their infant to travel in, making the journey far more comfortable than if the infant travels on your lap. However, be aware that these must be arranged in advance and are often available on a first-come-first-served basis, due to the limited number carried by each aircraft, so ask for a carrycot when you are making your initial booking to avoid disappointment.

It's also worth bearing in mind that airlines often have weight restrictions on infants using the carrycot. Most allow infants up to around 10kgs, so if your child is nearing two it is likely they may exceed this.

Check with the airline before you book the carrycot, and remember to think ahead. It may sound obvious, but when asking how much your child weighs; you'll have to estimate their weight for the time of travel, not the time of booking!

Will they let you heat up baby food on a plane?

Most airlines will provide baby food and toddler meals if requested in advance, so mention this at the time of booking. Most major airlines will also be happy to heat up baby food or milk upon request whilst onboard at no extra cost.

But there are a few exceptions; a small number of budget airlines in particular have very limited facilities for feeding infants, with no baby meals to order or food-warming facilities on offer, so check the airline website before you book your tickets; an alternative airline may cost a little more but could make for a far more relaxed flight for both parent and child.

You'll also find that most airlines will be more than happy to refrigerate milk and baby meals for you to avoid them getting warm on long haul flights - keep them in a cool bag until you board and then ask a steward before you take off. Again, it's always worth asking your airline in advance if this is something they can do so you can make up a backup plan.

How do you get the baby-friendly bulkhead seats (the ones at the front of the cabin with more leg room for a carrycot)?

The majority of airlines do not offer infants under 24 months their own seat, unless you pay a full fare, meaning that they will spend the flight on your lap, and so reserving a comfortable seat is imperative. Choosing your seat does come at an extra cost, as seats with extra leg room can be in high demand.

Opting for bulkhead seats can be advantageous as they're far easier to get in to and out of, give you extra space to move around and avoid the embarrassing situation of you or your child knocking into the seats in front each time you get up. But do bear in mind that it's common for the arm rests on these seats not to move, so if you do have spare seats in your row, you're unlikely to be able to lie your child down across them to sleep.

Despite this, they are probably the best option for families with young children as a large number of 'extra leg room' seats are in the emergency exit aisles and most airlines do not allow children under the age of 15 to occupy these seats for safety purposes; so be sure to make it clear to the airline when you are booking that you are travelling with an infant so they can ensure you are allocated an appropriate seat.

Some airlines reserve 'bulkhead' seats for families only, but unsurprisingly there is a waiting list, so request to be added to the list when you make your booking and be sure to have booked seats with extra leg room as a backup should you fail to make the top of the list.

Are you allowed to take your pushchair to the gate with you at most British airports? Do you then take it as hand luggage?

Collapsible pushchairs must be stowed in the hold and so checked in as luggage, not carried on board, however, most airports will let you take the pushchair all the way to the plane to make things easier for families at the airport.

Do bear in mind that there are a few airlines and airports that do not or cannot offer this service - it should be clearly outlined on their website but my advice is to call ahead and check to avoid nasty surprises at the check-in desk.

Make it clear that this is what you would like to do at the check-in desk and they will tag the chair in the same way they do your suitcase; you can then proceed with your infant in the chair all the way to the point of boarding the plane, where your pushchair will be loaded into the hold at the last minute, leaving you to carry your child onboard.

You will, however, need to collapse the chair to pass through security - but it should cause no further disruption to your travels and will be offloaded first at the other end to ensure you can put your child back in it when you leave the plane and head for baggage reclaim. Remember the walk to the baggage reclaim at the other end may be long so consider taking a backpack as hand baggage so your hands can be free to carry baby.

Do you need a special bag to put the car seat in if checking it in?

You are not required to place the seat in a special bag but I would recommend it to minimise any damage that may be caused in transit. Alternatively many airlines will allow you to check it in to the hold at the gate in the same way you do your pushchair which can reduce the seat's 'journey' through the airport and minimise the risk of damage, but call ahead to check what your airline/ airport can offer.

Any other advice?

Don't leave it all to the last minute. Planning in advance is the key when flying with infants; you'll be surprised how accommodating airlines and airports can be if you give them enough notice and book in all your requirements in advance.

Make your requests as early as possible and ask them to confirm your additional requirements in writing to minimise any hiccups with your booking at the airport.

When onboard, the use of an arch toy can be a lifesaver. Airline bassinets have similar dimensions to ordinary carry cots and pushchairs, so bring one in your hand luggage and clip it on to turn the bassinet into a makeshift play gym, which hopefully will keep your little ones entertained for far longer while you enjoy an in-flight film.

Black-out blinds and snooze shades should fit on to the bassinet in a similar way and can be a great way to encourage children to sleep despite the bright cabin lights and constant distraction, making the flight a more pleasurable experience for all onboard.

And pack right - when travelling with young children it is almost a given that you will need something for them the moment you actually sit in your chair, only to realise that you've put that special something at the bottom of your carry on suitcase which is now lodged in the back of a crowded storage bin.

Having a small bag that fits in your carry-on bag that you can take out easily with all must-haves could make travelling a much more pleasant experience.