Flying with a baby

My daughter took an intercontinental flight for the first time when she was two months and a half. She’s almost two and has made that same trip (from San Francisco / Oakland to Barcelona, connection flight included) three more times already. Plus a few other flights 🙂 People think we’re a bit crazy for taking long flights with a baby (now with a toddler). The truth is it’s not so complicated, you just need to get yourself organized and be aware of a few useful things that are at your disposal. Lucky for you, I’m going to list them in this blog post.

Purchasing a flight ticket for your baby

  • No need to purchase a ticket until your child is 2. However, I strongly recommend getting your baby their own seat if you’re flying for longer than 4 or 5 hours if you want to have a nice and enjoyable trip. Something important and that people tend to forget or not know about, is that even though you don’t need to purchase a ticket for your baby, most airlines will still charge you about a 10% of the price of one adult ticket.
  • Purchase online vs. by phone. In some airlines you can indicate that you’re flying with an infant when you buy your tickets online (Norwegian Airlines, KLM, Air France, Swiss Airlines, Lufthansa, etc.). In others like Southwest, you’ll have to call to add an infant to your reservation.
  • Requesting a bassinet. If you’re going to be in a long flight and your baby is less than a year old you can try to request a bassinet so your baby can sleep comfortably during the flight. In theory you can do that till they’re two, in practice, bassinets in airplanes tend to be pretty small- with some exceptions like the ones in the Airbus 380- so I wouldn’t recommend it after the first year. A few considerations when requesting a bassinet:
    • There’s a limited number of bassinets available per flight (usually 3 or 4), and you’ll have to call to ask for availability. Important: you always need to do that after you purchase your flight tickets (never before or while). This is a bummer because you may end up purchasing a ticket and then finding out there aren’t more bassinets available. Tip: With Norwegian Airlines you always have an hour to cancel your tickets free of charge, so we’ve used that once or twice.
    • Most likely, even if you call to reserve a bassinet, they’re not going to guarantee that you’ll get one. However, if they say there are still some available when you call, and you ask for it first thing when you get in the plane, chances are that you get one.
    • As far as I know, British Airways is about the online airline that will guarantee that you’ll have a bassinet if you call to make a reservation (although we once were able to do that with KLM paying a bit extra). With low cost airlines, e.g. Norwegian Airlines, bassinets get booked really fast, so we’ve never been able to get one.

Strollers, car seats, and baggage policy

  • If possible, avoid traveling with your big / expensive stroller. You won’t be able to take it with you in the aircraft, and it’s easy that it gets damaged (or have you never got a suitcase damaged / lost?). Alternatively, you can bring an umbrella stroller and / or rent / buy one at your destination if you’re really going to need it.
    • Most airlines will let you check in a stroller for free.
    • You can bring umbrella strollers to the gate, they will take them there and leave them at the door of the airplane when you land.
  • Baggage policy. Each airline is different so before purchasing a flight ticket is good to check their baggage policy and specifically the section about flying with babies which usually contains information about strollers, car seats, etc. In general, most airlines will let you take an homologated car seat in the aircraft and check a stroller at no extra cost.
  • Consider traveling with your own car seat. If your flight takes more than 4 or 5 hours and you’re not sure if you’re going to get a bassinet, I recommend bringing your own car seat (needs to be homologated). Specially if you are going to need it at your destination (e.g. to rent a car at the airport). Bear in mind that renting a car seat it’s not cheap neither easy. And by not easy I mean it’s usually subject to availability, so car rental companies won’t normally guarantee that they’ll have one when you pick up your car.

Travel light

This is one of the best pieces of advice that we ever got from a friend: don’t take a stroller or a car seat at all. If you’re able to reserve a bassinet, take a carrier and forget about extra baggage. Specially if you’re traveling with a baby and a toddler.

At the airport

Often airports offer facilities for families traveling with small children which you may not be aware of:

  • Family rooms. Need to feed your baby and can’t find a private area? Look for a family room, most airports have them, even if they’re small.
  • Special access for families at the security check. Some airports, like for example Barcelona El Prat, have a special access for families with more room, cribs so you can leave the baby while you’re going through the scanner, etc. The lines are usually shorter too.
  • Security check, allowed items. If you’re traveling with a baby, at most security checks you’ll be allowed to bring formula (even if liquid) and water (to mix with formula powder, or simply to give it to your baby) with you. Just don’t abuse it and bring two 1.5 liter bottles of water and say they’re for the baby.

Taking off and landing

A couple of important pieces of information:

  • Seat belt. Most airlines will provide a child seat belt which you need to attach to yours and then to your baby.
  • Air pressure. To avoid the air pressure making your baby’s ears ache, it’s good to keep them entertained with a pacifier, a bottle, or if they are still breastfeeding, being fed.

During the flight

Flying with babies is easy: they sleep most of the time. Really, during my child’s first ten hour flight, I fed her at taking off and landing, and she only woke up one more time to breastfeed.

Bring extra diapers, formula (if needed), and a change (or two) of clothes (also for you just in case!). A blanket is never a bad idea since it gets really chilly in airplanes sometimes. Rattles and / or development toys are good in case they decide to stay awake and need to be entertained.

Finally, don’t get nervous if your baby cries for a little bit. Babies cry, it’s ok. In my experience, people are usually understanding of a situation like that. Babies sense your feelings, if you get nervous, you will probably only make it worst.

Featured image designed by Freepik

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