Travelling with your baby
If it's the first time you are flying with your baby you'll feel like you've packed everything except the kitchen sink. There's the car seat, stroller, diaper bag, carry on bag and of course the baby. Air travel with a baby isn't easy, and some of the struggles start before you even board the plane. These simple tips will help you manage your baby gear before and after you board the airplane and make the entire air travel experience more pleasant for everyone.
The Car Seat Conundrum
Many parents debate over whether or not to take their baby's car seat. If you plan to travel by car at your destination, you'll need a baby car seat anyway. Car seats are sometimes available for rent, but you never know what the quality will be on a rental seat, and the car seat may have been in an accident, making it a risky choice for your baby. For babies 1yr and under my personal suggestion would be to take your own car seat with you. Better safe than sorry. But you will have one battle on your hands…how to get the car seat into the cabin. The manufacturers recommendation is that you never check a car seat. If it's dropped and has an internal fracture that you can't see, it's no longer safe to use (much like a bike helmet). I suggest you don't ask at the counter and just board the plane with it. On most large planes it will fit into the overheard lockers, the problem starts on smaller planes on short haul flights where sometimes it doens't fit into the overhead lockers. This is where your battle begins with the staff. Will they be kind enough to find an empty seat or an empty storage locker? It's just pot luck, at some point you might loose the battle. If you do have to check it in it should be wrapped well for protection.
Should I Buy Baby his or her own Plane Seat?
For a baby that can fit into a bassinet you absolutetly do not need to pay for a seat. All you need to do is to ask for a bulk head seat and a bassinet. On take off and landing you have to use an infant seat belt and strap the baby to your lap. This is a good time to give your baby some milk or a dummy to get him sucking as the air pressure changes. The air pressure really hurts their ears and this is usually the time babies cry on fights.
As soon as the seat belt signs go off you can then settle your baby into the bassinet and hopefully your baby will sleep to the hum of the plane for the whole journey. One thing to note however is that as soon as the belt signs go on you have to take your baby out of the bassinet and back onto your lap and belted up (cross your fingers you have as little turbulance as possible).
Baby bassinets are only given to infants up to 7 mths so between 7 mths and 2yrs old your child is essentially on your lap for the whole flight. This is when you can consider buying a seat for your child anyway (you'll have to at the age of 2 anyway so you may as well adjust to the extra cost). Some airlines will let you strap the car seat into the plane seat and leave your baby in there for the flight. Check the manual to be sure that your baby's car seat is FAA approved for air travel before taking it on the plane for that purpose. Also note that baby car seats can only be installed in a window seat on most airlines. If you do buy a seat for your baby who is too big for a bassinet but under 2yrs old again they have to sit on your lap for take off, landing and any other time the seat belt signs go on. However for the rest of the flight you can raise the arm rest pop a pillow under thier heads and let them lie across their seat and onto your lap). Make sure in this instance you do NOT ask for a bulk head seat because arm rests are fixed in those seats and won't raise up.
One tip for the bassinet (usually they have little to no padding, if you have a skeepskin cover for your stroller take that on board and use it as a 'mattress' in the bassinet. Another good tip is to carry some clothes pegs with you, great to pin a blanket or muslin over the bassinet to keep the lights out (specially as bulk head seats are close to the toilettes, lights on, lights off, lights on, lights of..... and useful when lights go on for meals). It also means you can watch a movie on the screen right above the bassinet whilst your baby is sleeping without the screen lights disturbing him/her
Carry On Baby Bags
One carry on bag that serves the role of purse, briefcase and baby bag is the most practical choice for air travel. Back pack style bags can be easier than shoulder bags as they get the bag well and truly out of your way. Make a list before you leave, of everything you will need for the duration of the flight - count the number of meals you will need, toys you might need, bibs, blankets, change of clothes, nappies , wipes etc. Also think about the temperature of your destination, you may need a jacket for baby on arrival). Carry your boiled hot water for milk in a flask and extra cold water you boiled before in a spare bottle or two that way you can mix the hot and cold together in the right ratio to get warm milk (no need to mess around with trying to heat the bottle). I also suggest you zip lock each bottle individually as cabin pressure can make the water leak and you don't want a wet baby bag ! I've been there. Another thing to bare in mind is that with new travel restrictions on fluids you can take on board: airlines will allow water and food for babies but some of them will make you taste it at the security check, and if you are a 1st time mother obsessed with sterilising everything you will shudder at the thought of having to drink from your babies bottle, so if it really bothers you then take a paper cup with you and all will go well. Personally I would say just take a sip from the bottle. Oh and the less fuss you make the less likely they are to make you empty the whole bag out.
Strollers - A Travel Must-Have
Even the smallest babies feel heavy after a long time in your arms, and toddlers often decide they can't walk any longer at the most inconvenient times. A stroller solves these problems. Most infant car seats now fit onto a travel system stroller, making it simple to take both along for the trip and you can take it right up to the plane door and hand it in there. Some airports will also have it ready for you at the plane door at the other end (eg HK) some make you go to the baggage belt to collect it (eg UK!!!). It can also depend on the airline. It's worth asking in advance.
Other Ways to Carry Baby in the Airport
A baby sling or backpack carrier may help you carry your baby quickly through an airport, too. Some parents have successfully used a baby sling during the airplane trip to keep a baby close when the baby doesn't have a ticketed seat. Just remember again that during takeoff and landing you have to use the baby seat belts.
Special Travel Gear for Baby
If you're preparing for a long trip, or you travel a lot, invest in some top of the line baby travel gear to lessen travel hassles. Car seat and stroller combinations let you wheel you baby right to the plane and board. Add a set of travel straps to baby's regular car seat and wear it like a backpack. Look for disposable feeding supplies like bibs, bottles, sippy cups and utensils so that you don't have to clean up during your trip. And don't forget to bring a few new toys to keep your baby entertained! You also might consider things like travel sterilisers or microwave steriliser bags, disposable changing mats etc etc etc
Helper or no Helper
I'm a whimp and I always travel with my helper, an extra set of hands on a long flight is invaluable if you can afford it. It also means that you actually get a holiday at your destination with the option to have dinner at a restaurant at dinner time instead of at 6pm with a baby in tow and you have the option to go out during the day without your baby if you need to or whilst he/she naps. But taking your helper doesn't come without its own complications, visas can be expensive and can take up to 3mths to apply for, and helpers have been known to flee at the destination. One way I give myself peace of mind is that I am in charge of all ID cards and passports from check in right to when we get back to HK. I don't give the helper pocket money and I don't let her take day trips on her own. She is with us all day with the baby and in the evenings if we go out she is at the hotel with the baby (I'm yet to hear of a helper running away and leaving a baby unattended, I have however heard of several stories where the helper has been sent on an errand on her own never to return again)