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Baby’s first flight - how to have a stress-free plane journey with your tot

Baby's first flight

If you’re taking your tot on a plane for the first time this summer, here’s how to make it a breeze…

Your days of romantic mini breaks might be long gone, but holidaying with your baby abroad can be a lot of fun. ‘Flying with a baby doesn’t have to be stressful,’ says Wendy Shand, founder of travel website Tots To Travel. ‘With forward planning and a realistic expectation that you’re going to have to focus on your baby for a few hours, it’s perfectly manageable.’


Get the best seats

Where you sit can really make or break your experience. As a parent with a baby, you need as much space as you can get, and to be as near to the loo as possible. Book your flight and your seats as early as possible to get first dibs on the best ones. Check out for aircraft seat maps and reviews before you book. ‘On short-haul flights, book seats in rows two to four,’ advises Wendy. 

Book your flight and your seats as early as possible to get first dibs on the best ones

‘You probably won’t be able to book row one or the rows with extra legroom by the wing – these are emergency exit rows – but being near the front means you get the trolley service quickly. And as the trolley moves past, you can get up and walk around or get to the loo.’ On long-haul flights, the bulkhead rows (with extra leg room and bassinets) are best.

Ask for a bassinet

‘These cribs for babies to sleep in are given out on a first come, first served basis,’ says Wendy. ‘So, make sure you contact your airline and book one early.’ Airlines often only allow infants under a certain weight to use a bassinet, so check the limit. Your other option is to book an extra seat for your baby. This bumps up the price of your trip, but not having to keep your baby on your lap for hours may be worth that outlay on a long flight.

Entertain your baby

Use the on-board equipment wherever you can. ‘On long-haul flights, fan your baby’s face with the safety card and make a hand puppet out of the sick bag or put stickers on it,’ suggests Wendy.

Make a hand puppet out of the sick bag or put stickers on it

On shorter journeys, pack some new, small toys and wrap them up to add to the enjoyment. ‘But don’t over-entertain,’ Wendy adds. ‘There’s a lot going on in the airport and on the plane. Often that’s enough for a baby to cope with.’

>> Read more travel advice for at home and abroad

Travel at the right time

If you’re travelling long haul, consider a night-time flight. ‘You’ve got far more chance of your baby sleeping when the cabin lights are low and there aren’t many people moving around the plane,’ says Wendy. For short-haul journeys, a morning or lunchtime flight is better. ‘Eating a meal while on the plane is a great way of killing time and keeping babies and toddlers busy and happy,’ she adds.

Take easy-to-eat food and drinks

Pouches of baby food are easier to eat from than jars and spoons. Likewise, packets of baby rice cakes, rusks and bread sticks are great for your baby to suck on and munch, with minimum mess. ‘Take food in a chiller bag,’ says Wendy. ‘And if you’re going on a long-haul flight, ask airline crew to refrigerate food or baby milk.’ 

You can also often request baby food from the airline in advance. 

Keep your baby hydrated

If you’re breastfeeding, it’s easy to latch the baby on while flying. For bottle-fed babies, work out how much milk you’ll need during the flight. ‘Take enough, but not too much more, as airport security staff may ask you to open and taste each carton or bottle of sterilised water,’ says Wendy. 

Guard against air pressure changes

When air pressure changes on a flight, it can hurt a baby’s ears and cause distress. A baby doesn’t know to yawn or swallow to relieve the pressure, but the sucking motion can help. ‘Bottle- or breastfeed your baby on the plane,’ advises Wendy. ‘Or let your baby suck on a dummy, if she uses one.’

Plan efficient nappy changes

Most planes have a flip-down baby change area in the toilet, but it’s such a small space and there can be long queues to use it. So plan in a nappy change before boarding.

‘If you can avoid changing a nappy on the plane, all the better,’ says Wendy. ‘On long-haul flights this won’t be possible, but a compact nappy-changing wallet containing wipes, nappy bags and nappies will make changes easier.’

Pack smart

Take a large carry-on bag, but divide everything inside into smaller, clear bags – a food bag, a toy bag, etc. Then you just grab what you need. ‘It will save time, rather than rooting around for things,’ says Wendy.

Manage stress levels

If your baby cries lots – as many do – breathe deeply and try not to get upset. ‘Rule out the obvious things, like hunger or a dirty nappy, then try walking up and down the plane with your baby,’ advises Wendy.

Be nice to your fellow passengers

There’s nothing worse than thinking that other travellers are glaring at you and judging while your baby cries. ‘Very often, we imagine how other people are reacting to us, but we make up that story ourselves,’ says Wendy. Smile and chat to the people sitting nearby, as well as the airline staff. ‘Exchange a few words when you get on the plane and get the journey off to a good start,’ Wendy advises.

Fluid limits

When flying with a baby, you can take enough baby food, baby milk and sterilised water for the journey – even if this is over 100ml (the usual limit on liquids going through security). Sterilised water must be in a baby bottle to be allowed through. The security staff at the airport might ask you to open the containers to screen the liquids and ask you to taste them. You can order milk from airport branches of Boots and collect it before take-off.

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