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We are currently building our baby and family travel advice sections on Her Packing List. That’s why we were so, so excited to get this guide from Jemma Beedie – a fairly new mom who has been flying with her baby since she was just 15 weeks old! Take it away, Jemma!
The Ultimate Guide to Traveling with a Baby
Having a baby does not mean the end of exploration. For those of us who spent our twenties hopping around the globe, often taking just a carry-on for months on the road, flying with a baby can seem daunting.
I’m here to tell you that travel with a baby can – and should! – be done.
So, here it is, my ultimate guide to flying with a baby: wear her, take more diapers and clothes than you think you’ll need on the flight, use a dummy, take snacks and a couple of quiet toys, be prepared to spend the whole flight jiggling/rocking/walking, and load up your phone with Hey Bear. Don’t bother with a pram/stroller, but do take your own car seat.
If you want to know exactly how I do it, read on.
My Personal Experience Flying with a Baby
My daughter, S, flew to Berlin for a long weekend at 15 weeks old. That was a tester to see how the experience was and what we might do differently. We were staying with friends in the city, and the idea was that we would be able to see what worked and what didn’t.
If we ended up having the journey from hell, well, at least we’d still be with some friendly faces.
That trip went so smoothly we had no qualms about the rest of our holidays. I really made the most of maternity leave: S went to Bahrain at five months, France at six months, and Portugal at eight months. She has also flown all over the UK.
Flying with a baby can be so manageable, much more so than long car journeys.
How to Pack for You and Baby Together
Packing for travel with a baby will be a little different than when you used to pack a 25L bag for three months of country hopping.
The younger they are, the more times they are going to throw up or poop all over their outfit and need a full change. One of our first trips, I ended up wearing the same stained jeans all weekend in order to have enough space for my baby’s extra clothes.
Editor’s note: A great versatile pant for traveling with baby would be one that washes and dries quickly, like the Anatomie Skyler Pants or HPL’s new favorite Kathmandu Flight Women’s Stretch Travel pants. And if you prefer to wear jeans, pack a pair of backup travel pants or leggings that don’t take up much room.
The luggage you take should be on wheels. A sturdy bag that can be maneuvered with one hand is key. I pop the changing bag directly on top, and then tie it on with a scarf.
I am always buying scarves for pregnant and new-mom friends. A wide, cotton scarf can be a breastfeeding cover, a blanket suitable for swaddling, a towel to mop up accidents, or simply a stylish way to hide the puke stains your little darling has just left all over your top.
I don’t take enough diapers/nappies for the whole trip. There are guides out there that will try to convince you to post a box of nappies to yourself, or to organize enough to pick up at the airport to last your whole holiday. That’s crazy talk!
There are babies all over the world and they all need the same things. You can pick up nappies in every country. They might not be your preferred brand, but you can white-knuckle it for a few days.
My Packing List for Successfully Flying with Baby
The following list contains all my essentials for flying with a baby and staying happy and sane in the process. Some of these points will be discussed in detail later in the article.
- Tula or other soft carrier
- Car seat
- Pop-up tent (for journeys with long layovers)
- Changing bag with: diapers/nappies, changes of clothes, quiet toys, a book, wet wipes, pouch of food/bottles, dummies/pacifiers
- Change of top for mom
- Phone loaded up with Hey Bear
- Sense of humor
Lap Child or Own Ticket?
My Personal Experience with European Airlines
Children under the age of two are eligible to sit on a parent’s lap for the duration of the flight, but if you’re not looking forward to holding baby for the whole flight, do a little research on your airline and destination.
Tickets vary by airline and by country. It’s worth looking to see what the price difference is between an infant ticket and a child’s ticket. Where budget airlines are concerned, an infant’s ticket will probably be a set price, such as £25 each way on easyJet.
Sometimes an adult (or child’s) ticket is less money, and then the baby will also get a full baggage allowance and her own seat, so it’s worth looking to see which is the best option. The first time S flew to Bristol her infant ticket was more expensive than mine, and came with no additional baggage. That was difficult, as babies have so much stuff!
This December, we flew with the same airline to Bristol. This time, S got her own seat, even though she was still only 19 months old. The cost of the ticket was lower, and she got the same baggage allowance as her father and me. The airline’s policy is that babies traveling this way need to be strapped into a car seat, but we usually travel with our own anyway.
Children’s tickets vary by airline, too: they may be charged between 15% and 30% of a full-fare ticket, or they may just cost the same.
Notes on the Rest of the World
Most, if not all, airlines in America let babies under 2 travel for free on an adult’s lap for domestic flights, but international tickets leaving from America still cost even if you don’t purchase a seat. For example, Delta Airline tickets for an infant cost 10% of an adult fare if traveling to Europe on a parent’s lap.
If you opt to purchase a domestic flight seat for a child under two, you might find fares vary. American Airlines, for example, offers seats to infants at 50% off the adult rate for domestic flights.
You might even find a discount for an international flight for a child over two, on many airlines.
Baby Equipment Allowances on Airlines
All the airlines I’ve flown in Europe let you fly with at least two pieces of baby equipment, like a pram, travel cot, or car seat. Be sure to do your research in advance to make the most of your travel experience with baby.
I recommend always taking a car seat (unless you know you are only taking public transport at the other end, of course). You don’t know the condition of the car seats available to hire at your destination and a car seat is the most important piece of safety equipment.
It’s free to take, your baby knows her own seat, and you know how to install it safely.
Getting Through the Airport with Baby
S is older now and can walk a good part of the way in the airport, but I have never travelled with a buggy/pram/stroller. My top tip for flying with a baby is to get a soft carrier like the Tula. It doesn’t count as one of your pieces of baggage (much like a winter coat doesn’t count) and can be rolled up for storage on the plane easily.
Trying to get through an airport with a pram, suitcase, handbag, changing bag… that sounds awful. Strap the baby directly to your body. I carried S on my front until she was around six months old, and now that she’s a great big toddler I always put her on my back.
The Tula is easy to put on by myself and means I can just sling her on at a moment’s notice. She’s comfortable, the weight is spread evenly, and I can walk for miles carrying her.
Why Babies Cry On Planes & How to Soothe
There are many reasons babies might cry, including being in a strange place with new smells and sounds. If your baby is likely to be upset by these, consider wearing an unwashed cardigan. The stronger the smell of you, the more comforting for your child.
The most common cause of crying is sore ears. (It’s worth noting that there’s a genetic element to how much pressure change can affect babies, so yours might not have too much trouble.) A dummy/pacifier is your friend. If your baby will accept one, use it! Pop it in before the plane starts taxiing for take-off and as soon as the seatbelt signs come on for landing.
Even if it’s only for travel, a dummy is the easiest way to keep the jaw moving and break the pressure. If dummies are out, consider putting a little squidge of puree on your (clean) finger and letting them suck on that. Bottle-feeders have it easy here.
Many people will tell you to breastfeed during take-off and landing. Please keep in mind that it is very important to have her sitting safely, with her head on your chest facing outwards. However, some moms and babies may choose to breastfeed at this time for a calm and reassuring experience for everyone involved. You know your baby best.
Changing Diapers and Clothes on the Airplane
Airplanes have changing facilities, though they can be a little fiddly. It will be a flip down table over the toilet. Most people have been good about letting me take S in ahead of the queue to change her, as nobody wants to be standing next to a stinky baby bum.
There will be a bin to dispose of used diapers in the airplane bathroom – I like having a couple of disposable diaper sacks to contain the smell. I don’t recommend using cloth diapers when you travel, as nobody wants to be carrying a week’s worth of used diapers around with them, even if you are eco-friendly at home.
Comfortable clothes with easy access for changing bums is the key for baby travel outfits. In real baby-hood, I just kept S in sleepsuits all day. Now, I am sure to bring an extra change of clothes and also shoes so she can walk around in the aisle and on layovers.
Take 50% more diapers than you think you’ll need on the flight, and at least one extra change of clothes. On one memorable trip S needed three full changes of outfit. Also carry a couple of plastic bags or dry bags for wet clothes so that the rest of the stuff in your hand luggage isn’t affected.
Entertaining the Baby In-Flight & In the Airport
Little old ladies are always the best audiences, but I’ve also had teenage boys spend hours amusing S. When she started toddling, we spent a whole flight back from Exeter walking up and down the aisle, S gently patting the legs of people who were delighted to speak to her.
Take snacks if your baby is over six months. As long as it isn’t liquid, you can travel with as many tupperware boxes as you need.
I take granola bars and raisins for S, but if she liked sandwiches I might do that instead. I also take a couple of pouches of baby food, in amounts of 100ml or less, just in case. You can also usually pick these up after security at the airport.
When we went to Bahrain, I travelled with my 85 year old granny as well as my tiny daughter. Our journey included a five hour layover at Schiphol, and I was so pleased with myself for bringing a tiny pop-up tent.
This little tent meant that S had a safe, clean space to roll around and kick her legs. It also came in handy on the beach, keeping sun and flies off her delicate face.
My Secret Weapon: Hey Bear
My last tip is a bit of a sneaky one. Sometimes babies have meltdowns for no reason you can see, or because of something you can’t address immediately.
S might lose it just as we are about to taxi up the runway, which means I can’t let her walk around or change her nappy. Our tried-and-tested fail-safe is Hey Bear. The bright colors and soothing music are fantastic at holding S’s attention for long enough to avoid a tantrum until we are allowed to leave our seats.
We have used Hey Bear not just on flights, but at 3am in hotel rooms all over the world, in the car when one of us is driving and the other is trying to navigate, and on public transport packed full of other people. This is a great secret weapon to have in your back pocket.
Editor’s Note: The Hey Bear Sensory channel on YouTube has a great variety of infant sensory videos. You can purchase and download individual Hey Bear videos to your device for data-free access from Wayokids or stream them directly from YouTube.
So, in the end, the ultimate guide? Don’t hesitate to share your love of travel with your little one. Wear her and cuddle her close, offer the dummy and snacks, and remember that you know her best.
And have a marvelous, marvelous holiday, creating memories you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.
About the author: Jemma Beedie is a writer, sometimes for passion and sometimes for pay. She loves it when the two overlap. She grew up in Bahrain, where her pale Pictish skin was often frazzled by the intense Arabian sun. She has travelled with family, friends, and alone, though most often with her husband. She lived for a year in a 24-year-old van with her adventure cat, though he much prefers the old Scottish cottage they currently inhabit.