Long haul flights and travel with your baby or toddler

A family holiday with your little ones is what memories are made of but planning is essential if you want to get the most out of your time away. Our travel tips and packing lists will help

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Holidaying with babies or toddlers is, on paper, great fun. But without your home comforts around you, and away from your daily routine, vacation-life can be, well, a bit inconvenient. Our guide to long haul travel will help you pack with precision and plan for every holiday eventuality.

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Flying with a baby or toddler – what you need to know

Babies and toddlers under 2 don’t pay full-price airfares on some airlines because they don’t have their own seat. But that isn’t always the case – as some airlines charge for having a baby on your lap. For more, see our guide on how much it costs to travel with a baby.

When your child reaches 2, that golden age of tantrums and tears, you’ll have to buy them a full-price ticket and they get their own seat. For more on how to find specific airline child ticket policies, head to our instant family guide to airlines.

When you book your seats (usually after you’ve bought the ticket), choose one to be an aisle seat, so you don’t disturb anyone when you pop in and out. And, says Emma Barnett, co-director of luxury family holiday specialist Tots Too, “If 2 parents are travelling you might consider booking 1 seat separate from the others, allowing 1 adult to rest whilst the other manages the kids – swapping at half time of course!”

The British Airways baggage allowance for children under 11 includes, “one fully collapsible pushchair (stroller) and one car seat” but check with your airline as it can vary. Very lightweight, compact buggies can go in the overhead lockers. Others may have go in the hold, although you could take them to the gate.  Again, it’s worth checking with the airline, as the policy on this varies.

With some airlines, you can take your baby in their car seat as it can be strapped onto the airline seat. Your baby won’t be able to travel free if you do this, though – they’ll need their own seat. But it is a great way to encourage your baby to nod off and also means you don’t have to rely on a hire-car car seat on the other side.

If you’re planning to drive to the airport, consider a valet service – so you can just drive up to departures and leave your car keys with them. They then meet you at arrivals on your return. It doesn’t cost much more than the usual car parking fee and it is much less stressful.

On our forum, mums recommended getting your baby’s or toddler’s passport sorted as soon as possible. Saisi says, “Just be careful with the passport. First passports can take a week or they can take absolutely ages (as ours did). You can’t apply until you’ve registered the birth so go immediately and apply for the passport immediately.”

How do bassinets on airlines work?

A bassinet is a detachable carrycot, for a child under two, set up on a bulkhead seat, that is sometimes available for those flying long-haul with a lap infant who cannot yet sit up on his or her own. Different airlines have different policies (and weight limits) on bassinets but some do charge for securing the bulkhead seat – and, whether there’s a charge or not, all bassinets must be reserved in advance.

However and wherever you’re travelling, the key is to make sure you do your research on what your airline’s infant charges and allowances are, and factor in all the costs – including whether it’s worth paying a little more anyway for an additional seat to make the journey less stressful/more comfortable for you…

Top tips for travelling

  • If you’re travelling with both a baby and toddler, take a lightweight buggy and a buggy board. Or use a baby back carrier for one of your brood. For more, see our guide on taking a buggy on a plane
  • Use luggage with wheels for you and your children – you can just about pull a suitcase on wheels and carry a baby in a carrier, and your child can pull along their own case.
  • Put coats into your checked-in luggage so you’ve you got one less thing to carry at the other end.
  • If you’re taking an overnight flight, stick to their usual routine. Before you board, brush their teeth and put their pyjamas on – give them as many cues as you can that it’s still bedtime, even though they’re not at home.
  • Breast or bottle-feed your baby during take off. Sucking and swallowing will stop your baby’s ears popping
  • Pre-book a cot (bassinet) if travelling with a baby – this will guarantee you get a bulk-head seat, which usually has more leg-room. These are great even if your baby doesn’t use the cot to sleep – as they get an area to play
  • “Bassinet cots are often under the movie screen on the plane  – a light sheet can shield your child from disturbance”, says Emma Barnett, of Tots Too. A snoozeshade is an alternative.
  • Ask for a blanket to put down on the floor in case your baby wants to play

How to entertain your baby on a long-haul flight

  • Make sure the toys you bring don’t come with too many small, fiddly bits that will easily drop and roll away
  • Cloth or sensory books with crinkly bits are great for entertaining babies long-haul – plus they’re squashy and easy to pack
  • Bring something they haven’t seen before on the flight – a little present to open
  • Pack food (if your baby is weaned) that takes a long time to eat – like dry cereal or raisins – and pack it in lightweight boxes.
  • Wear a toy your baby can play with! A teething necklace may keep your baby entertained for ages

Or you may be lucky like LavenderRose on our forum. She says, “We took A to America at 6 weeks. Was easy. She slept the whole time, I had to wake her for feeds as it was a 9 hr flight.”

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How to entertain your toddler on a long-haul flight

  • Before you board, and once you’re through security, find a large space where your little one can run off energy before boarding the plane.
  • Once on board, surprise your toddler with a new, toy. The novelty of something new should entertain them for ages. Perhaps wrap it to make it even more exciting!
  • Make sure the things you pack are lightweight and fairly simple – toys with lots of tiny pieces that may get lost are a bad idea
  • Old favourites – like teddies or blankets – are great for helping your child feel safe
  • A children’s magazine can work well, especially if you don’t usually buy them – they’ll feel even more like a treat. Magazines have lots of stories and activities inside that will keep your toddler entertained for ages

In-flight feeding

A spokesperson for BA confirmed that, “no liquids over 100ml can be taken through security”. So taking cartons of formula (usually 200ml) is officially not an option, although mums say that as long as you’re prepared to taste what you’ve got (yes, really) you can usually take it on the plane.

If your departure airport has a Boots chemist through security, you can pre-order formula milk and pick it up on the other side. A sealed tin of milk powder is fine to take onboard but not loose powder.

On our forum, Bambina_mia says, “Only thing I can recommend is using liquid milk and pre-sterilised bottles for the journeys. you can just pour and go then – that’s if you’re bottle feeding.”

Most airlines provide hot water and will warm up milk and food, as long as it’s sealed. “Ask in advance though,” suggest Emma Barnett, “as staff are often busy.” Alternatively take an empty flask and ask a coffee shop to fill it with water once you’re through security.

Sterilising onboard isn’t easy so be prepared to compromise or, if you choose to use single-use sterilised bottles, practice beforehand so your baby is familiar with the teat.

If you’re breastfeeding on a plane, try and time feeds to coincide with take-off or landing, or both. It will help relieve the pain associated with ears ‘popping’.

Your destination – questions to ask

Check that your hotel has a mini bar (for the fridge, not the boozy contents) in the room – it will come in handy to store your baby’s milk and food. Make sure there’s a kettle in the room and ask if there’s a microwave handy for guests.

If you don’t want to rely on often-expensive in-house laundry services, take a tube of travel wash and get scrubbing! If you’re self-catering find out what the facilities are like – do you need a highchair? Is there a microwave? Is there a bath? What about a washing machine? How about a travel cot?

Hotel cots are notoriously under par. Ask for the dimensions in advance, you don’t want to end up with a tiny crib rather than a full sized cot because the words got lost in translation.

Ask if there’s an in-room listening service, or if you’re self-catering check that your baby monitor has a long range – not being able to hear the crying isn’t always a good thing.

A universal bath plug is a strange but don’t-be-without item that’s definitely worth buying for both hotel holidays and self-catered apartments.

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