Flying with babies and toddlers. How to survive?

  • 01 Oct, 2013
  • Jurga Sefton
  • 29 Comments

father and son at the airport

If your offspring hasn’t reached the school age yet, you may find yourself looking for a sunny mid-year break at pretty much any time of year. Buckets and spades (and even a sun hat!) still stand a good chance of giving your little one a quality time in the September sun. If you are taking the plunge this autumn and booking your first trip abroad with your baby, or a toddler, you might find the packing process overwhelming. Jurga Sefton, one of our team members, shares her tips that hopefully will make your journey easier and stress-free. Or could it really be stress-free?

Liquids! Always have something to drink. Keep a container of powdered milk with other baby essentials in your hand luggage and feel free to ask for warm water at any bar after you pass the security check, or wait until you board the plane and the flight attendants will be able to assist. The trouble is that in most cases you will be given boiling hot water (and loads of warning about the hot contents!) so wait until it cools down. I used to have a small amount of cooled boiled water in the bottle so that it could be mixed with the boiling water to make it the right temperature. If you decide to take any cooled water with you, remember you might be asked to try it straight out of your baby’s bottle during the security check.

Some powdered milk manufacturers also sell ready-to-use cartons (usually 200 ml) which, if sealed, can normally be taken through security (always check with the airport you are travelling from). For example, people travelling from Gatwick airport are advised to carry the amount of baby milk required for the journey in the hand luggage, and the rest should be packed in the checked-in baggage. The airport advises that families can also pre-order cartons of baby milk to collect from Boots in the departures lounge by calling the relevant Boots store.

Sharp items! If you are a well-organised parent who always carries a small pair of scissors to open milk cartons, you may need to check with your airport whether you will be able to take those on board. According to London Heathrow Airport website you can take nail scissors in your hand luggage providing the blades are no longer than 6 cm measured from the point where the blades cross, whereas Gatwick Airport Security Guidelines also state the blunt scissors shorter than 6 cm should also have rounded ends if you want to take them in your hand luggage. It’s probably best to check the up-to-date lists of prohibited items on official sites such as Gov.uk.

Push, carry, avoid! Most parents I know are very protective of their baby carrying equipment and go to great lengths to avoid any possible damage to prams, pushchairs and car seats. You may want to only take something you don’t mind being mishandled slightly; besides, in most cases you will be able to take your child’s pushchair, pram or buggy to the departure gate, or even right up to the aircraft door and it won’t have to be tossed about with other suitcases on the way from the check-in to the aircraft.

Please note that your child might need to come out of the buggy for a while when you go through security checks and the buggy might be checked separately. However, it’s wise to check the arrangements for carrying pushchairs on aircraft and returning them afterwards with the airline you will be flying with.

Airlines have different rules of what can be taken and at what cost, in fact that alone can be key when selecting what airline to fly with. Here’s a list of some of the airlines that fly out of UK’s airports and what their policies are with regard to taking pushchairs (and travelling with infants in general).

Travelling with an Infant Guidelines*:

British Airways – Information on reserving your seat, getting a carrycot and child seat supplied by BA, as well as childrens and infants’ baggage allowances.
Flybe – Details about taking pushchairs, as well as rules and regulations for unaccompanied children.
Monarch – Find out details of luggage allowance.
Emirates – A guide to flying with young people.
easyJet – The airline’s comprehensive Flying with Children Guide (a .pdf file).
Ryanair – Find out about taking infant equipment, boarding, and services available to parents flying with infants.
Wizz Air – What you need to know when booking tickets for infants and children with Wizz Air.
Aer Lingus – Covers various aspects of family traveling with Aer Lingus.
Iberia – The guide is split into different sections based on your child’s age.
Lufthansa – The guide contains the airline’s own travel checklist.
Swiss Air – Questions and Answers section of the airline’s site covering travel with infants.
Austrian Airlines – Tips on bookings, infant equipment and rules for children traveling alone.
Air France – Find advice for travel with infants and children.
KLM – Equipment, children’s meal information, play packages and Junior Set Service.
Virgin Atlantic – Family Flying information.
Air Canada – Contains a useful table of booking, ticketing and seating rules for infants.
Qatar Airways – Child baggage allowance and fares information.

*Use the above guides to find out details and policies on taking car seats for your trip.

Please note that some airlines require that you take a fully collapsible umbrella-style pushchair, which, especially if you are travelling on your own with your offspring, might be difficult to fold while holding the baby. I have been asked to fold it myself with my baby strapped in a front carrier, and leaning forward to do it was a challenge. Having a one hand fold / unfold stroller would be best but not all pushchairs on the market are that easy!

toddler-eating-plane

Food! You probably know this already, but a small snack at a right time can do wonders to your toddler. Always pack something to eat. Need ideas? Small packets of raisins, rice crackers, bread sticks, dried banana chips, sliced apples, rusks – anything that isn’t too runny or requires a spoon is great. You don’t want the passenger in front of you to find your child wiping messy hands onto their hair (as infants under 2 years old have to be held on parent’s lap and they will try to make the most of it!).

If your precious bundle of joy is still breastfed, take a scarf or a wide shawl for privacy (if shy to do it in public, find breastfeeding facilities at UK airports). Some airports have dedicated Mother and Baby rooms where you can nurse in private (for example Gatwick Airport has great facilities where armchairs and playpens are provided for older children when their mum is feeding the baby); however, if you have to breastfeed on board, try to get the window seat – you don’t want people bumping into your baby’s feet or the head if you are sitting in the aisle seat.

Entertainment! A friend of mine swears by giving her baby a glossy magazine to tear while on the plane. Colourful pictures, noisy page turning, excitement – and you can chuck it afterwards. Toys and books are always good to have, however if you are flying with a child younger than 2 years and you have to keep them on your lap throughout the journey, it might be a bit of a stretch to keep picking up that ball that rolls down the aisle every 3 minutes. What I found helpful was taking a toy chain, hooking it onto the foldable tray (or my own safety belt) and then using that to secure the toy (preferably with some hoops / rings). Crayons and a small sketchbook are ideal for older children.

Mess! Be prepared, this will be messy. If you expect to exit the plane at the end of your plane journey wearing crisp cream linen trousers and that floaty white silk blouse with cute flowers, think again. I’d suggest wearing something that can double as a burping cloth (for babies) or a handkerchief / wipe / kitchen towel for toddlers. I have seen mums change in the bathrooms as soon as they land, so if your hand luggage space allows it, have an extra change of clothes for yourself (it goes without saying that you HAVE to have an extra change of clothes for the child!). Choose clothes for the little one that you can layer easily, and peel them off if needed! Especially if you are travelling to a hot climate and the heat will hit you as soon as you step out of the plane.

Nappies! For babies and toddlers take enough nappies and baby wipes. You probably already wonder how you managed to live without baby wipes before becoming a parent, but a plane journey is the time and place where you will absolutely worship the inventors of a baby wipe.

Let’s get packing! Try and distribute key items between various bags, so if there’s a small chance of losing any one bag, you can survive with only having the other. Another tip is to start packing long in advance, e.g. a week before your trip open your main suitcase, leave it somewhere easily accessible and start collecting all the things to take as you go along, don’t worry about the order yet. As time goes on you will get the feel of the volume of your luggage and won’t need to stress the night before when it turns out you can’t fit it all! The times when you could throw a few essential items into your hand luggage and not even worry about a check-in bag are over for a while, and you’d be shocked to realise your baby has more outfits for the holiday than the parents put together.

Cut down! You will say it’s impossible but keep your hand baggage to a minimum. Hats off to people who travel with their baby or a young child on their own (I did that with my 9-month-old and promised myself to either grow another pair of hands or leave it to other people who are more adventurous!). If you are a first-time parent and this is your first flight with a baby, forget your previous life where you could sit back, relax and read a book. You won’t need the book. You have all the entertainment you need! So reduce your hand luggage by removing items that you know you won’t have a chance to use on the plane.

However cutting down is easier said than done. Here’s a checklist of baby/toddler items you should take with you split into two groups – items that should go into your hand luggage and items that can go into hold.

Flying with a Baby Packing Checklist – Google Doc

One thing in the list we thought we’d highlight – if you are taking your child on a trip within European Union make sure you apply for an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for the little one. If you don’t have an EHIC as an adult yet it’s worth getting one for yourself and you’ll be able to add your child to the initial application; however if you are already an EHIC holder you will need to phone them on 0300 3301350 and provide your child’s details so that an individual card is posted to your home address.

Stick to the size! According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines the hand baggage should have maximum length of 22 in (56 cm), width of 18 in (45 cm) and depth of 10 in (25 cm), including wheels, handles, side pockets, etc. However, low-cost airlines might have slightly different requirements for both the size and the weight of your hand luggage, so check before you attempt to cram that 30th nappy into a bag that’s already splitting at the seams.

Out of sight, out of mind! By this I mean use a backpack as your hand luggage, if you don’t see it, it doesn’t need to use up your hands! Another space-saving and hands-freeing piece of equipment is a front baby carrier. The combination of a backpack and a baby carrier is an absolute must if you are travelling with the little one on your own. If all else fails, ask people for help. I asked a complete stranger to hold my baby while I was folding the pushchair at the bottom of the airstairs to get to the plane, as there was no way I could bend forward and do it with him strapped in a baby carrier (and no staff around to help with the folding of the pushchair bit!). The chap who held the baby was flattered to say the least. It was the first time he held a baby, ever.

Older children will be able to take their own backpacks on board with their toys and books, and it will be much easier to spread the load. They will also enjoy ‘feeling the part’, carrying a backpack just like Mummy and Daddy.

Enough of exclamation marks? Time to relax. Take a deep breath and go with the flow, it will be a lovely journey after all; be confident in the knowledge that you know how to survive flying with babies and toddlers!

About Jurga Sefton

I love finding bargains online, whether it's fashion, kids products or travel deals. Also into blogging, SEO, digital marketing and all things Lithuania-related!

29 thoughts on “Flying with babies and toddlers. How to survive?”

  1. Hi my name is Eva Latkova I am 3 month pregnant and would like to know what is your proceeder for scanning pregnant women.I am flying from Prague to London and London to Vancouver Canada. Please let me know how I should handle it

    Sincerelly
    Eva Latkova

  2. Hi Eva, thanks for your comment. To find out more about security checks you’d need to contact both Prague and London airports, or simply visit their official sites to see if there’s any information they have for pregnant women. Asking the airline you are flying with could also help.

  3. Hi Debbie,
    Thanks for your comment.

    I see you have a challenge ahead of you! Depending on the duration of the flight (short trip? long haul?), you might find that the best thing to do on board of the plane is try and make friends with passengers sitting immediately next to you. I’ve witnessed many mums flying alone with two small children who quickly befriended their seat neighbours, to the point where there was free baby sitting available whilst mum took a trip to the WC!

    Another tip is don’t be afraid or embarrassed or shy to ask for help, even if it’s a small thing like asking someone to pick up a toy that rolled under the seats, or place your bags in the overhead holder, or – it happened to me – asking someone to hold the baby whilst you put on your baby carrier.

    Hope it helps, and good luck with your trip!

  4. Hi,
    I am travelling on a budget airline long-haul London to LAX alone with 4 kids age just 1, nearly 3, 9 and 11 years, as soon as we get there family will take over and help we just got to get there!!
    Am i completely mad? Any tips very much appreciated.
    Thanks in advance
    Emma

  5. Hi Jurga,

    I’m travelling next Friday with a 10month old. We have bought him his own car seat (approved for plane use and checked with the airline) can we take a fold away trolley with us to transport it all the way through the airport until we get to the plane?
    Also, the baby uses a powder milk that is not supplied in shops, can we take a fresh unsealed carton through with us?
    Can you recommend any food containers that will be recognised as 100mls as he is on purée foods as well as milk that I can buy in 80g packs. But as gram measurements are not acceptable I’m not sure what to do??
    Bearing in mind my flight is long haul to Sri Lanka… So 10 hours or so…. Any suggestions would be great. I have gone through all security FAQs but still unsure in the above. There are 3 adults in total travelling but also 3 children so any extra help is appreciated

    Thanks in advance

    🙂

  6. Hi Natasha,

    Thanks for your question.

    When you talk about the fold away trolley, is it part of a travel system where your car seat turns into a pram if attached to this trolley? Most airlines list on their websites what is their policy regarding taking a pram/pushchair so if the two items could be treated as one piece of infant equipment (on wheels) you should be able to take it with you. Please double-check with your airline.

    With regards to the ready made baby milk – does the carton contain any English writing on it? Is it a specialised product purchased abroad? Unfortunately I can’t give you an answer to this, you’d need to ask the particular airport. You can even tweet the airport with your enquiry, they are usually prompt in replying.

    Regarding the 80g packs of pureed food – have you considered buying some baby food freezer pots? A quick search on Amazon showed there are some good baby weaning food freezing pots available that are up to 70 ml each, perhaps worth looking into it?

    I hope this helps. Please note we are not an official source of information, so always refer to the airline you are flying with and the airport of your departure.

    Have a lovely trip!

  7. Hi, I’m traveling with my 1 yr old, flying with Wizz Air, can I take a changing bag as an extra hand luggage and if so how big it can be? thanks, Laura

    1. Hi Laura, thanks for your comment.
      The Wizz Air website has a detailed answer to this question: “Is an infant entitled to any baggage allowance?”

      Infants are not entitled to any baggage allowance with the exception of a pushchair / foldable baby carriage / infant car seat per infant (carried free of charge). One of these items will also be carried free of charge for children (between the age of 2 years and 14 years old). Please note that prams and pushchairs shall be checked in with other baggage and will be carried free of charge only if the user of the equipment is travelling. However if no infant or child is involved, these items will be carried as checked-in baggage for an additional fee.

      So you might need to incorporate your personal belongings (perhaps a small handbag) into the baby changing bag, so that it makes one bag.
      Hope it helps!

  8. Hi I’m traveling in 2weeks and am 18 weeks pregnant and have a 7month old any tips? Also would it still be safe to have her seated in my lap during take off?

  9. Hi Sara,

    Thanks for your comment. From what I can imagine your 7month old will have to be seated on your lap, as I suspect you will be flying on your own. If concerned, please contact the airline you are flying with prior to your trip.

    Also, if checking-in online, you might want to think where it would be best for you to sit (if you are able to get allocated seating). Some seats won’t be available to a parent flying with a small baby, but you can still at least opt for the isle seat vs. window seat. I find there’s more space for manoeuvre.

    All the other tips on how to keep your 7month old busy/happy still apply!

  10. Hi, IAM travelling with a 17months old.we take a long flight 18 hours, will stop over once. We take Emirate, they don’t provide child food for under 2year old kid. Only baby puree, but my wee don’t eat puree for a long time. We have to prepare his meal our own. We planned to buy the ready made food like by hipp or Ella kitchen. But seems it can’t pass the security. Can you give us some advise in this situation? Thanks

    1. Hello Christina,
      Thanks for your comment.
      The best source of information is Emirates’ official website, where they state: “Exemptions will be made for medications, baby milk or foods, and special dietary requirements, but you will need to show an appropriate means of verifying the nature of these items.”

      You should still contact the airline directly, especially if you intend on packing some home-made pureed foods. It’s probably best to ask the airline about particular baby food brands (such as Hipp or Ella Kitchen) as many parents would have had the same question.

      Some parenting forums report that you may be asked to open and try one of the shop-bought food pouches you are taking in your hand luggage during security check. Again, it’s best to contact the airline and check the rules applied at security check of particular airport you are flying from. Hope this helps.

  11. HI. I Will travel with my son ( 1 year and 4 month old while traveling) and take wizz air. I would like to make sure if I can bring pushchair and car seat free of charge. Based on information in website: Infants are not entitled to any baggage allowance with the exception of a pushchair / foldable baby carriage / infant car seat per infant (carried free of charge). I also would like to ask what the infant car seat mean because my son now is using car seat for 9kg to 18 kg. Is this kind of car seat free of charge? Thanks.

  12. Thanks for your comment Lin.

    We always advise to contact the airline directly. Their website says:
    “Infants up to the age of 2 may fly for a infant fee, on the accompanying adult’s lap. (…) Infants are not entitled to any baggage allowance with the exception of a pushchair (carried free of charge). Infant car seats cannot be taken on board.”

    However, on their FAQ page they say, as you correctly pointed out:
    “Infants are not entitled to any baggage allowance with the exception of a pushchair / foldable baby carriage / infant car seat per infant (carried free of charge). One of these items will also be carried free of charge for children (between the age of 2 years and 14 years old).”

    I’d say you’d need to make a choice and decide on one piece of infant equipment (whether it is a pushchair or a car seat) if you want it to be carried for free. The best is still to inquire directly with Wizz Air. Hope it helps.

  13. Hi. I am traveling to turkey in a few days time and my 14month old daughter is on full fat cows milk. I have thaught about solutions to cleaning her bottles but i am wondering what will i do about milk for the flight? As i know i wont be able to fill them at home as i cant take it through security. Will it be abailable for me to buy in thw airport in a carton like at home so i can take it on the plane and use when i get there as it will be around 1pm when we arrive. An answer would be great.
    Thanks

    1. Hello Stacey,

      Thanks for your comment. How long is your trip to Turkey, and how many feeds do you expect to require? Also, what airline are you flying with? It may be worth going on your airline’s website and finding out their policies for taking foods for babies and infants. Would your daughter be able to take any other liquids during the flight?

      Personally I haven’t been to Turkey and can’t really tell if you’d be able to get cows milk when landing around 1pm. Perhaps have a look at what shops/facilities are available at the airport of your destination.
      Hope this helps, and happy travels!

  14. Hi my name is Ella. I’m travelling with my 23 months old baby from london to Copenhagen. We live in Birmingham (so we are taking a coach from birmingham to london luton airport). We have 3 bags to check in and 1 hand bag. Are baggage trolleys available right after we get off the coach? And can I put my baby on the trolley as well so that I can push her and the trolley at the airport (she’s really naughty, I’m afraid that if I let her walk she might run away and get lost)… 🙁

    1. Hi Ella,
      Usually baggage trolleys are available as soon as you arrive at the airport. However it is not usually advised to let your child ride on the trolley. At Luton Airport they normally charge £2 for use of a trolley. Hope that helps!

  15. Hiya. I will be travelling a long haul flight with my 2 year old daughter next month. Do you think i should bring a car seat or a harness belt.? I will be travelling alone and just wondering how i would even carry the carseat around til boarding

    1. Hi Kelly, thanks for your comment!

      Most airlines will allow up to 2 pieces of children’s equipment, including a foldable push chair and a car seat, to be carried on the plane free of charge. The pushchair will need to go in the hold once you get to the gate, allowing use if it for as long as possible.

      If you are travelling in economy class, your daughter may even be able to sit in her car seat on her own seat if you have purchased one for her – check your airlines policy on this as the seat needs to meet certain height and safety requirements. (This is not usually an option in other classes).

      I hope that helps!

  16. Hi, I am flying with a 4 month old baby who is on mixed feeding. I had to express milk for her 4 to 5 times a day. I am traveling through emirates and going to Pakistan via Dubai. I want to know can I take some breast milk and a few cartons of ready to feed milk through security. I am traveling from Heathrow airport. I have already booked the basinett seat and a bassinet for her. Also will I be able to express some milk during the flight. She can’t digest formula milk easily so I have to mix feed her

    1. Hi Nadia,

      Thanks for your message!

      You are able to take Breast Milk, Formula Milk and Sterilised Water through security at UK Airports as per the information on the Gov.uk website. You also have the option to pre order formula milk at Boots, which have stores after security across all terminals.

      With regard to expressing on the plane, I am sure this would not be an issue at all, but if you have any concerns or questions, I would check with Emirates directly. You may also wish to inform the passenger sitting next to you (if flying alone with your child) as they may wish to give you some privacy and space to do so to make it more comfortable for you.

      Hope this was of help – have a safe trip!

  17. Hi, im travelling with a 3 year old so no problerm just wanted to know if i was allowed to take fresh milk as my flight is at 9pm & my daughter does not sleap without drinking milk.

  18. Hi there, I’m travelling with my 1&3 yr old, I’m more concerned about how I carry suitcases, carry on luggage , travel cot and push the buggy, checking in isn’t so bad as I can have someone help me, but what do I do when I arrive. Am I entitled to special assistance?

    1. Hi Liz

      I’m not sure whether you mean arriving at your destination or back in the UK, but either way it would mean checking with the airport directly.

      The special assistance service is usually just available to those with reduced mobilty, however it’s always worth speaking to your airline and the airports in advance to see if there is any help available.

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