Flying with a baby presents a bit of a conundrum – the stress of parenthood means you need a holiday more than most, but the act of going on holiday is in itself stressful. It doesn’t need to be, though – a bit of planning, some gritted teeth and the knowledge that there’s a big-ass cocktail awaiting you at the other end and you’re grand.
Looking at (completely unaffordable) flights the other day, my wife and I realised that our 19-month-old has been on something like 16 planes. That’s 16 panicked, sweaty, stressed-out trips to the airport and 16 completely fine flights. The longest flights were 12 hours, the shortest three or so, and while none of the days spent travelling were anyone’s best days ever, we got where we were headed.
That’s the thing – everyone does. Flying with kids seems like this absurd, ridiculous, over-ambitious thing, but it shouldn’t be. So here’s your 10-point guide to make sure the flight goes swimmingly.
1. Don’t Listen To Anyone
When people hear you’re planning on flying with a baby, they make a watching-an-execution type face like you’ve made the worst decision imaginable. They do this at every age.
One of the most annoying things about parenting is that anyone who has done it for a month longer than you feels like they can be smug (while filling you with dread). So don’t listen. Flying with a baby is fine. Yeah, it’s slightly more stressful than flying without one, but there’s nothing to worry about at all.
2. Do It, Loads
Once your child turns two, flying becomes a lot more expensive because they need their own seat, rather than just sitting on your lap. A few years after that you’ll be beholden to term times, and airlines aren’t stupid when it comes to school holidays.
It varies from airline to airline, but most will let you fly with a one-week-old if you can get the paperwork in order. It mightn’t be the best holiday of your life, but it’s manageable – so do it while they’re young.
3. Make Use Of The Ability To Bring More Stuff
If you’re travelling with a baby, you can take a car seat and a buggy – and neither count as part of your baggage allowance. Winner. Nor does the nappy bag, so if you’re going hand luggage only, take a really, really big nappy bag that just happens to also have all your underpants in it. Babies cost a lot, so you might as well take advantage where you can. If it’s a long flight, take a full change of clothes for yourself in your hand luggage in case of any incidents involving sick/wee/nosebleeds/falling asleep while holding a Bloody Mary.
4. Give Yourself Extra Time... Plus Some More Time
Everything takes longer with a baby. Aim to be at the airport 90 minutes before you actually need to be at the airport – then leave slightly earlier than you need to. The worst-case scenario is that you end up with two hours to kill in Duty-Free, Wetherspoons and WH Smith. That’s a pretty fun two hours, if you ask me.
5. Take Your Buggy To The Gate
When you check your cases in, they’ll put a sticker on your buggy so you can keep hold of it through all the airport malarkey and give it up when you’re about to board the plane. This is a lifesaver, although is still worth giving some thought – if your buggy comes apart when you fold it down, for instance, it might be worth getting a bag to keep the two parts together. Baggage handlers are known as “throwers” for a reason.
6. Get Yourself A Baby Carrier
A sling or papoose is worth its weight in gold. Manoeuvring yourself, a baby and a bag or two when the buggy has gone is a lot easier if they’re strapped to your body. You’re using a piece of specialist equipment in order to do a better job, just like James Bond would do (got that, Piers Morgan?).
7. And Get Something They Can Lie On (That Isn’t You)
Flying can take a while and however much you love your child, 10 hours of them lying on you is about nine hours too long. An inflatable breastfeeding pillow makes a comfy place for them to sleep, and can be carefully passed from adult to adult. On some airlines you can request a bassinet row, but be warned – it’s not unknown to be charged to sit in that row only to have airline staff shrug and say: “Yeah, we don’t have one, whoops”.
8. Feed Your Baby While Taking Off
The baby equivalent of sucking on a sugar sweet during takeoff and landing is feeding – swallowing stops their little ears from popping or hurting as the pressure changes. If they refuse to feed, yeah, they’ll probably go nuts for a bit (and if you’ve ever flown with a cold and felt like your head was imploding, you can appreciate why) – but they’ll be okay once it all equalises.
9. To Hell With Everyone Else
There’s a bit of a thing now of parents boarding flights with babies and handing out chocolates and earplugs to their fellow passengers in case their child cries. That’s nice and all, but totally unnecessary. Everyone was a baby once, so anyone rolling their eyes at you needs to put their headphones on and grow up. They might not be huge fans of the noise, but the flight isn’t meant to be the fun bit anyway. What are they possibly going to do if they have a bad flight? Get off at the other end and have a lovely time, while you still have a goddamn baby to look after. They’re fine. Everything is fine.
10. Just Don’t Panic
You’re going on holiday. You’re going to have a nice time. Anything you’ve forgotten, you can buy at the other end. The worst that can happen is a bunch of poo and loads of crying, and that’s not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world. Millions of people with worse kids than you manage it every year.
You’ve got this.