Short haul air travel brings a huge range of holiday destinations to your family’s door but you still need to plan if you want a stress-free trip and holiday
A short haul flight means that the only thing separating you and your family from sun, sea and sand (or snow) is a few hours in the air. But flying with a baby or young children can be challenging, even if you’re a seasoned traveller yourself. Our guide to short haul travel will help you board your flight prepared and help you pack like a pro.
According to Thomas Cook Airlines, a short haul flight is under three hours long. If you’re based in the UK most European destinations, like The Algarve and southern Spain, can be reached in this time. What’s more, the boom in cheap flights means that you’ve got a choice of who to fly with, and if you book early it won’t cost an arm and a leg. As with long haul flights, children under 2 don’t usually pay full price airfares because they don’t have their own seat. But as soon as they hit 2, a short haul ticket can become full price, regardless of whether your toddler’s bum is actually in contact with the seat! Many of the cheap flight operators don’t allocate seats - often it’s a first-come, first-served scramble to get onboard. However, if you have young children you’re usually given priority boarding (that is, you board first). EasyJet also has Speedy Boarding passes - these mean that you’ll be one of the first to board the plane, making it more likely that you can sit with your family. But these come at a price – on a London to Barcelona return flight one pass costs £22 per person.If you’re able to choose your seats (many airlines offer online seat reservations after you’ve bought your ticket) but you’re not able to sit together, think about splitting the kids up – a problem shared is a problem halved! Emma Barnett, co-director of Tots Too family travel specialists, suggests, “If the flight’s not full, see if the airline staff will hold an empty seat next to yours, especially if your toddler [is under 2 and] doesn’t have their own seat.” Children under 11 on a full price fare usually have the same baggage allowance as an adult. Babies without a seat are also usually allowed one piece of hold luggage and one piece of hand luggage. On British Airways this includes “one fully collapsible pushchair (stroller) and one car seat”. On Virgin Airways you can bring a “fully collapsible pushchair or car seat, in addition to [your] free check in luggage allowance”. The moral here is to check what the airline’s policy is before you travel, because it can vary.
Baby car seat
A car seat might seem a strange and cumbersome thing to take on holiday but for young babies it can be a useful bit of kit. Certain car seats may be able to sit in the airline seat and might encourage your baby to sleep (and make your journey more relaxing). Plus if you’ve got a hire car at the other end, you’re guaranteed to have a car seat that works. Take the chassis of your buggy and you can use the car seat as a travel system too. Check with your airline before you travel as to what their buggy and car seat policy is, as you may need to check-in the buggy chassis.
Most cheap airlines don’t supply food (and if they do, you’ll probably need to pre-book a child’s meal), but there’s usually an onboard shop. However, the range is limited to expensive crisps, chocolate, snacks and sandwiches – eat before you fly and take snacks to save space.
Taking cartons of formula (usually 200ml) onboard an aircraft is officially not allowed. A spokesperson for BA confirmed that “no liquids over 100ml can be taken through security”. Some mums say that as long as you’re prepared to taste what you’ve got (yes, really) you can usually take cartons of formula on the plane. Others say that you’ll have to open a third of your cartons so take spares just in case. A sealed tin of formula milk powder is fine to take onboard but not loose powder. Take a flask with you and, once through security, ask an airport coffee shop to fill it with boiling water for you.
Avoid losing your child
“Dress your kids in bright clothes so they’ll be easier to spot if they go astray in a crowd”, says Emma Barnett. Take a recent photo of your children in your hand luggage just in case they get lost.
If you’re staying in a hotel check if there’s a mini bar or fridge that you can use to store milk and snacks.It’s worth taking a small travel kettle for heating milk or for making up formula if the hotel doesn’t have one in the room. Take a bottle brush, miniature bottle of washing-up liquid, cold water sterilising tablets and a lunch box, so you can clean bottles in your room. Alternately, ask if the room has a microwave – if so, you could take a microwave travel steriliser.Find out if your room has a shower or bath and ask if the hotel can supply a baby bath if you need one.In house laundry services are notoriously expensive. Ask if there’s a laundry room, or a launderette nearby. Or, take a tube of travel wash and DIY!Hotels usually have highchairs but it’s worth checking and maybe taking a portable highchair or clamp-on seat – it’ll be handy for when you’re out and about too.If you’re self-catering find out exactly what’s supplied before you set off. Do they have children’s cutlery, crockery, plastic beakers? Is there a highchair? If there’s a cot, what size is it? You don’t want to end up with a tiny crib or Moses basket because you didn’t check in advance. If your toddler’s in a bed ask if a bed guard is supplied.
Whilst it’s important to pack your essentials don’t forget that most short haul destinations are in European countries, so you’ll be probably able to pick up some of your favourite brands, or an equivalent, even if you can’t understand the lingo. This means nappies, wipes and formula (if you’re bottlefeeding or using follow-on milk) don’t need to be packed in bulk.Before you go, look out for miniature giveaways of baby shampoo, nappy cream and moisturiser – there’s nothing like a huge wash bag to weigh you down. Instead of taking a whole bottle of baby Nurofen or Calpol, take sachets. Take travel packs of wipes.Working out what you need for each activity or type of weather you’ll face is one approach that might work for you – rain, sun, wind, beach, swimming, sleeping, eating. Cover all bases and you’ll be prepared for every holiday scenario.
You can download and print the below short haul baby packing checklist and short haul toddler packing checklist for free, in a printer-friendly A4 format.
What to pack in your suitcase
This is your checked-in baggage, so it is not accessible while you’re travelling.
What to pack in your hand luggage
This is your carry-on luggage, so should contain what you'll need once checked-in and while travelling in the aircraft.
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