Travel with a baby; is it really like an episode of Survivor at 30,000 feet?

As a mother of two, who often travels for her job and has permanently itchy feet, I have run the gauntlet of airlines and angry passengers for over five years. In that time I have come up with a few tips and suggestions of my own:

Choose your airline carefully: Airlines have very different policies when it comes to children. On a flight with a certain national carrier, I was treated like a terrible annoyance for having a nine month old with me. The flight staff ignored requests to bring my child’s baby meal, glared at us constantly and my husband was told off for letting our son stand on his lap. I will give a medal to anyone who can keep a child that age sitting still for ten hours.  If an airline has a great child policy then the staff are far more likely to be friendly to children and infants. The current top three child-friendly airlines in the world are (according to SkyTrax):

Lufthansa: Great activity packs, child friendly meals that will meet the standards of the pickiest eaters, infant cots that fit toddlers up to eighteen months and friendly staff.

British Airways: A cute activity pack that is shaped like Paddington Bear’s suitcase, Britax seats for children up two years, cots for infants, a wide variety of children’s movies and a caring crew.

Emirates: Parents with toddlers or babies are provided with Emirates strollers to use in the airport. If you are flying in business or first class there are special play areas in all Emirates airport lounges. On board your kids will receive activity packs based on their ages, even infants will receive a cuddly toy. The airline stocks nappies, formula and bottled water in case you run out. You will find cots for infants, a wide variety of children’s entertainment channels with movies, audio books and interactive games and some of the friendliest crew in the skies.

Once you have an airline in mind for your trip then check its child policies and ask other parents about them using online forums. You will quickly pick up which airlines will make your trip as relaxing as possible and which will make you hate every minute of your flight.

Should you buy your child their own seat?

One obvious pro to the standard airline policy of allowing a child under two to sit on an adults lap is the cost factor, you will usually pay between ten and fifteen percent of a full fare and some airlines even allow lap infants to fly for free. The problem is getting a small child to sit on your lap for a long haul flight. If your baby is very young and you can get a bassinet then it can be a great saving but having your almost two year old on your lap can be challenging and your child my battle to sleep.  You need to take your child into account and judge if they will be happy to sit and sleep on your lap or if it will be one long fight. I would suggest getting their own seat from eighteen months or even younger if you have a big or restless child. The cost will be worth the peaceful flight.

If you are worried about your small child in an airplane seat and let’s be honest they can slide under the seatbelt in an emergency landing there are a few options available.

You can bring an FAA or similar aviation authority approved car seat on most flights, check with the manufacturer or look for the FAA logo on the side of the chair. The car seat does need to be a fairly narrow to fit on airline seats and make sure it is light as you will be carrying it around airports.  You will be asked to show that it meets aviation standards and remember it needs to fix in with an airline seat belt and not an ISOFIX or over the shoulder seatbelt.

Flying with Virgin Atlantic you can use their custom child seats that fit children up to twenty kilograms or 100cm tall. My son hated this chair and found it very uncomfortable. A number of parents have complained that the chair is too hard but some kids do love it. If you do chose this option then bring along extra soft blankets in case your child does find the seat uncomfortable.

A new option is the C.A.R.E.S restraint system which is a seatbelt designed for small children that clips onto the planes seat and standard seatbelt. You can use this restraint on any airline until your child is five years old. They can be purchased from http://www.cossaviation.com

 

Things you will need on the plane:

There is a horror story of a family sitting in a plane on tarmac in Chicago for seven hours due to airport delays. They ran out of formula and nappies as their flight should only have been four hours. The baby screamed but the airline refused to give them any milk as it was for first class passenger’s coffee. This is a worst case scenario and a very good reason to choose your airline carefully but things can go wrong. On a recent flight to London my son had an asthma attack for the first time. The crew where excellent and helped out the entire time. I can never praise VA enough for their help on the flight and changing our flights to the USA. The problem came when we were stuck in London for twenty seven hours at the mercy of the NHS while our checked luggage was having a nice holiday in Miami. We didn’t have warm clothes and it was 7 degrees in London. I had no spare clothes for myself or my husband and just a pair of pyjamas for our son. It was a nightmare that taught me to pack for every eventuality.

So here is my packing list for a long haul flight:

Nappies- enough for three times as long as your flight is. Babies have a knack for doing extra poops on planes.

Pyjamas to help set the mood for sleep; I change my kids just before we board as children often fall asleep during take-off

Formula and bottles- Take enough to tide you over with delays and to help babies with ear pain on takeoff and landing. Pre-packaged is excellent for ease of use and getting through airport security.

A change of clothes for you and your partner- children will spill or vomit on your during the flight. It is almost guaranteed.

Two changes of clothes for each child – yes they will make a mess in some way. Take more for babies under three months. You don’t need to carry a baby smelling of puked up milk for hours.

Plenty of wipes- take more wipes then you think you will need. They can be used to clean sticky faces when the bathroom queue is long.

Buy a few cheap toys and wrap them. – A present will make any child smile and keep them entertained. If they get lost on the plane then it isn’t a great financial loss.  Toys that work well include colouring books, draw and wipe slates, magnetic puzzles and stickers. In the case of an infant bring their favourite cuddly toy.

Extra wraps and blankets – a light wrap can be used over the infant cots or draped over your child’s seat to make it dark. The lights on planes are very bright and make sleep difficult. Children often find planes cold so wrap them up in extra blankets.

Your best smile at check-in: use this if you haven’t pre-booked your seat assignments to make sure you all sit together. Charm can get you extra leg room seats which will make all the difference when travelling with kids. Hey, you might even get an upgrade and you can leave the kids with your partner in economy.

 

Lastly…

Travel with a baby can be calm and relaxing if you plan carefully. Don’t be afraid to travel with a child, most people are a lot more tolerant of small children on a plane then you think. I wish you happy travels with your child and a sleeping baby on the plane. If it all goes wrong have a sip of wine and take a deep breath.