We’ve now been on holiday twice with Evie, first up to Scotland and then just last month to Spain, and in the process she’s got rather accustomed to airports and flying. Granted, none of our flights have been long haul and have been short enough to avoid too much drama, but having got through all four separate journeys relatively unscathed, we’re now a lot more confident about overseas travel with a baby in tow.
I was a bit of a nervous nelly in the run up to that first flight to Scotland, but once over that initial hurdle and thankfully realising it wasn’t as stressful as I’d been imagining, I was a lot calmer by the time our Spain holiday rolled around and didn’t worry about the logistics nearly so much. There’s no doubt that flying with a baby requires a bit more planning than usual and is a tad trickier than rocking up to the airport solo, BUT it’s definitely not as difficult as I anticipated it would be, and with a bit of forward planning it doesn’t need to be stressful.
I thought I’d share a few of my tips for how to make your journey with a little one as easy as it can be, based on some of the things we succeeded on, and learning from those we failed on.
Choose baby friendly flight times
For us this was one of the most important compromises. The cheapest flights are always going to be at odd times – 11pm or 5am – and while if it was just us we would jump at the affordable price and deal with the early/late hour, with a baby it’s just not worth it (well unless you have a baby who doesn’t mind having their usual sleep time messed with that is – we definitely don’t!). For our first flight to Scotland we chose a lunchtime departure, knowing it would give us time in the morning to get Evie organised plus she’d have had a full nights sleep, be fed and be at her most active and happy point of the day, meaning she hopefully wouldn’t be phased by the trip to the airport. It worked, and as this would be a time she’d normally be out and about anyway she was quite happy to get in the car and then have a gander around somewhere new in the form of Gatwick airport. By the time we got on the flight, she was ready for a nap anyway and then once fed was happy enough to sit and play with her toys until we arrived. Our flight back was a morning flight so we had to set off a little earlier but again this worked, as E napped in the car and by the time we reached the airport it was around her usual wake up time anyway.
Obviously the more flights we do, and the more confident we get this might not be such an issue, but for now at least we found avoiding the late night flights to be favourable as getting a tired baby to sleep in a busy airport wouldn’t have been easy, an with lots of to-ing and fro-ing, we knew disrupting Evie at her most tired stage would distress her quite a bit. My advice is to try where possible to choose flights which fit in around their existing sleep/waking patterns.
Check your allowances
We initially thought we’d likely have to pay for checked baggage in order to be able to take excess items like our buggy and car seat with us, but in fact most airlines offer up to two baby items free of charge and some allow even more so it’s worth checking your allowances beforehand. Easyjet allowed two pieces plus a changing bag for baby which we could take on board, but BA allowed two large items plus an additional carry on bag for baby AND a changing bag. Plus they also allowed us to check in a suitcase free of charge to make things easier for us in the airport (If I could afford to always fly BA with a baby I would, they certainly made things a LOT simpler for us and were extremely helpful).
Bring the most hassle free products
I can’t stress this enough. Don’t bother with bulky travel systems or buggy’s that don’t fold up properly, leave the heavy car seat at home, and avoid all paraphernalia that is in any way a hassle to cart around because some airports are big and the walks between gates long and you WILL end up carting everything around like a pack horse for longer periods than you imagined. Choose a lightweight and easy to fold up stroller and only bring the car seat if you really need it. For Scotland we opted for our Baby Jogger City Mini stroller and City Go car seat (see the full review here), as we knew we’d need both items and be doing a lot of walking and driving once there. However for our holiday to Spain, where there would be significantly less moving around once at our destination, we simply took our Baby Jogger City Tour stroller which is by far the lightest and most compact of all the brands offering.
We’ve been using this stroller out and about at home for a good few months now but this was the first time we travelled with it, and it really came into it’s own as a travel/holiday buggy. It’s super lightweight making it easy to lift while folded, while put together and even while housing a baby too. It folds up small enough to be counted as hand luggage should you prefer to take it on the plane with you, but equally can be thrown into it’s compact travel bag quickly and easily at the last minute and left to go in the hold.
I couldn’t get over how light and portable this little number was, and it was totally perfect for cruising around the streets of Spain once we arrived too. The wheels are much lighter and smaller than what you might be used to in many strollers (part of what makes it so lightweight and easy to fold) so it’s ideally suited to cities and towns rather than rough terrain, but we found it a dream for getting around each day. Ideal for hot weather too, the stroller has a UV hood and breathable fabric and Evie was quite at home in it when the heat got too much for her at the beach. We brought along our Snoozeshade too, and we only needed to cover the buggy with that for her to fall straight to sleep. Being in a hot country, I’m so glad we didn’t opt for a bulky, heavy stroller that required a lot of man power to carry and push around – this one was as hassle free as we could have hoped for.
Invest in travel bags for your buggy/car seat
This is a savvy tip if you’re looking to avoid paying for additional baggage and want to try and get away with hand luggage only. Whenever I tell people we only took hand luggage for a full week in Spain with two adults and a baby, they’re always shocked, but we largely got away with it by utilising the space in our car seat and buggy to the max. Make sure you buy a car seat cover ahead of time (you can purchase them on Amazon for under a tenner and they usually come as a bright coloured flight bag with handles to carry like a rucksack making journeys to and from the airport that bit easier) and then pack the seat full of items such as nappies, wipes, blankets, toys, sterilisers and anything else that might be tricky to get in your luggage, and which won’t be damaged in the hold. As your car seat and/or buggy/pram/cot (whichever bulky item you choose to bring) is classed as oversized it doesn’t go through security so simply gets a tag at check in and is then dropped off at the oversized desk. You might as well make use of that extra space and free up room in your suitcase for essentials such as clothes!
Allow plenty of time at the airport
Just like any activity, navigating the airport with a baby takes significantly longer than it would on your own so make sure you allow lots of time. Every time you need to go upstairs you’ll be waiting for a lift instead of hot footing it up the escalator, when you get through security your baby will probably need fed and changed and it’s not as easy to run for a final call when you’re carrying a baby, a buggy and your hand luggage, so however long you think you might need… double it just in case. On route home from Spain, we missed a train and had to wait half an hour for the next connection, wreaking havoc with our pre-planned timings. My husband (who hates being late for anything) was throwing a major wobble when our shuttle bus then got stuck in traffic and our airport time was reducing by the second. Add to that a very long queue for check in once we arrived and stress levels were at an all time high. No matter how organised you are, there’s always things you can’t account for so allow extra time for every eventuality.
Take advantage of the family security route/ check in and speedy boarding
When the above stress was playing out, we were already running late and then saw a very lengthy queue at Barcelona airport, I decided not to take any chances and just waltzed straight to the club members check in at the BA gate, and set about cutting in at the very beginning of the queue, my thinking being ‘we have a baby’. But while my husband was mortified at my brazenness, it turns out that we were totally entitled to do so. Having a baby it seems, entitles you to first dibs on pretty much every part of the airport and flight experience. Separate check in, first to board, breezing through security. Most airports now also have a separate family security area, which allows those travelling with children to avoid the busy and hectic regular security line up, with a much quieter and friendlier version where staff smile and chat to your baby, are aware of the need for additional liquids and generally avoid distress. Gatwick is definitely one of the best, and we found the whole security process to be swift, easy and enjoyable. Barcelona airport wasn’t quite as stress free (Evie got taken off me while I was patted down which I didn’t like, and then she also got patted down which I definitely didn’t like) but it was still faster and less crowded than the regular security run.
I’d also suggest that even if an airline doesn’t specifically call on those travelling with children to board first, you head up there along with the speedy boarders and request an early board (they definitely won’t say no when you’re carrying a baby). We got stung on our flight out to Spain as they called everyone together and boarding was hectic and messy to say the least. Attempting to make my way down the aeroplane with Evie in my arms while people flung suitcases around, shoved past us and huffed and puffed wasn’t my ideal start to the journey.
Do a click and collect of essentials for the airport
When travelling with a baby, you are allowed to bring milk and food with you for the flight in addition to your usual toiletries and it doesn’t need to be under 100ml. However, the chances are you’ll have a lot of stuff to carry anyway, and so if you can avoid taking extra items which need to be taken out and handed over at security for testing, it will save you a lot of time. One way to get around this is to do a Click and Collect Boots order for the other side of the airport so that once through security you can pick up everything you need. We did this ahead of flying to Barcelona, meaning we only needed to take enough milk to see us to the airport and then the rest was waiting for us once there. We also picked up suncream, some fruit pouches and a pack of nappies and wipes so that those didn’t take up too much room in our cases.
Change nappies before getting on the plane
I realise babies don’t fill their nappies to any sort of schedule, and certainly if you’re on a long haul flight it would be almost impossible to avoid changing them on board, but for shorter flights you might just get away with it. Plane facilities are small and cramped and, well, you’re moving at speed so changing a nappy isn’t as easy as usual. We aimed to do a final change once we got to the gate, hoping that would then see us through to the other side. It worked each time and we, as yet, do not have any experience of changing a nappy on an aeroplane, thank goodness. Evie did save a rather gruesome one for us on the train to our destination once in Spain, and with it pulling in and our of stations every few minutes and us jolting back and forward each time, that was as much moving nappy change as I needed.
Aim to feed on take off and landing
The thing that worried me the most about flying with Evie was how she’d cope with the pressure of take off and landing, whether her ears would hurt and whether she’d be in distress. I myself suffer with sore ears when flying and have vivid memories of being in a lot of pain when I was young so I worried this might also be the case for her. The easiest solution for us was to feed her as soon as we began to take off and do the same as we made our way back down. Take off wasn’t as bad pressure wise, but the noise of the plane bolting down the runway and the feeling of suddenly lifting off the ground could be scary for a baby so feeding was the easiest distraction tool and in most cases sent Evie straight to sleep and gave us at least half an hour at the start of the flight where we knew she was ok. On a couple of the flights she got a little upset on the descent and I suspect this was due to the air pressure. As babies don’t understand that they need to swallow to pop their ears, encouraging them to suck is the best way to relieve the pressure for them and provides them some comfort.
Bring plenty of entertainment
If you can get your baby to sleep for part of the flight then you’re winning, and can at least get some rest and peace and quiet yourself. But it would be wishful thinking to imagine they’ll sleep the entire time (this happened once for us on the way out to Spain and it was brilliant) and so you’ll need plenty of entertainment for their waking hours. Conditions are cramped, you can’t always walk around to distract them and they will get bored easily so bring as much different play options as possible. We brought a selection of toys, plus some books and also downloaded a few sensory cartoons to our iPad. And even with all that, we were still having to sing nursery rhymes and create games with the flight manual to keep Evie happy towards the end of the flight, so I can only imagine how much entertainment we’d need to prepare for a long haul flight.
Tell yourself not to worry about other people
You know your baby, you now how to look after your baby and anything they throw at you, you’ll be able to cope with, just like you would at home. I think what makes something like a flight a more nerve-wracking experience for us parents is the thought of everyone else, and what they might think should your baby scream the entire flight, make too much noise or be disruptive. But most people are generally understanding and fully accept that on a public flight there may be a baby crying. As soon as I told myself to stop worrying about other people and simply deal with Evie in the way I normally would, I relieved myself of a lot of stress, which in turn kept Evie calmer too.
Ask for help if you need it
So far, I’ve always had Stu with me to help carry bags, pass Evie to and help get from A to B on our flights and journeys, but I also found most people to be pretty helpful when asked so had I been travelling on my own I’m sure I could have coped by asking for a little extra help from staff and strangers. Flight attendants and airport staff are there to accommodate you so if you need assistance getting up stairs, carrying bags etc then take it.
Overall Evie was an absolute star when it came to travelling and definitely made any worries we previously had seem pretty pointless when it came to it. She took to the whole experience like a pro and for the most part wasn’t phased at all by crowds, strange people or new sights – she took it all in her stride. Now that we’ve tackled busy airports, aeroplanes and foreign security desks with her, I really feel like there’s not much we couldn’t do and am much more confident about travelling with her in the future.
Now we just need to tackle a long haul flight! Have you travelled with a baby? Any other tips I might have missed out?
*This post is part of an ongoing partnership with Baby Jogger but all words, imagery and opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the sponsored content on this blog.*