Short haul flights and travel with your baby or toddler

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

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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.

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

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.

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.

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! For more on specific airline policies, head to our  instant family guide to airlines.

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 – and if your child is over two, you will have to pay for a speedy boarding pass for them, too.

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’re welcome to bring one fully collapsible pushchair and a car seat, in addition to your free checked baggage allowance”. Check what the airline’s policy is before you travel, because it can vary.

Can you book a bassinet on a short haul flight?

An airline bassinet is a carrycot for a baby, that is set up on a bulkhead seat. These are occasionally available on short-haul flights, though usually only on long-haul. Different airlines have different policies on weight-limits, but they all need to be reserved in advance.

How to entertain your baby on a short-haul flight

  • Keep toys simple – nothing that has lots of parts that might easily be dropped and roll away
  • Cloth books are 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

How to entertain your toddler on a short-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 bought from the airport can work well. They have lots of stories and activities inside that will keep your toddler entertained for ages

Top tips for short haul flights

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.

In-flight meals

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.

In-flight feeding

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.

Your destination – questions to ask

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.

What to pack

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 and wipes don’t need to be packed in bulk. Formula brands do vary, though, so if you’re bottle-feeding, it is a good idea to take a sealed box with you.

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.

On our forum, mums suggested, “A hand-held electric fan can be good as well if it very hot.” Sarah-jb.

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 for a short haul trip with a baby (one week)

What to pack in your suitcase

This is your checked-in baggage, so it is not accessible while you’re travelling.

  • 1 lightweight buggy
  • 1 car seat
  • 5 babygrows (2 for night, 3 for day)
  • 1 all-in-one or coat appropriate for weather at your destination (e.g. waterproof if needed)
  • 3 day outfits (including one short sleeved and one long sleeved)
  • 2 baby sleeping bags
  • 2 cot sheets, if needed
  • 1 travel blackout blind
  • 1 plug-in night-light
  • 1 baby monitor
  • 1 small packet of nappies (enough for two days)
  • 1 packet wipes
  • 1 packet disposable changing mats
  • 3 swim nappies (they can be washed, dried and reused)
  • 1 UV protective swimsuit
  • Baby sunscreen SPF 50+
  • 1 sun hat
  • 1 pair of baby sunglasses
  • 1 towelling cape with hood
  • 1 first aid kit (scissors, antiseptic cream, nappy cream, sachets of baby paracetamol/ibuprofen, teething granules, teething gel, plasters, thermometer, antibacterial gel)
  • Miniature samples of baby wash/ shampoo
  • 1 universal bath plug
  • 4 bottles, if you’re not exclusively breastfeed
  • Cartons of formula or a tin of powdered formula milk, if you’re not exclusively breastfeeding or using breast milk
  • 1 portable/travel breast pump plus milk storage containers, if you’re expressing
  • 1 bottle brush
  • Cold water sterilising tablets or portable/travel steriliser, if you’re not exclusively breastfeeding
  • 1 small plastic box (bottle/pump size) for cold water sterilising, if not exclusively breastfeeding
  • 1 small cool bag
  • 1 beaker
  • 1 set of cutlery, if weaning
  • 1 tube of clothing travel wash
  • 1 travel power adaptor
  • A few favourite toys

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.

  • Enough nappies, wipes and nappy sacks for your journey
  • 1 sterilised bottle, if not exclusively breastfeeding
  • 1 tin of powdered formula or enough cartons for the journey plus one spare (in case of spillages), if not exclusively breastfeeding
  • 1 empty flask (ask a coffee shop beyond security to fill it up with boiling water)
  • 1 small cool bag of snacks, if weaning
  • Mini first aid kit (couple of sachets of baby paracetamol/ibuprofen, teething granules and gel, plasters, damp flannel, mini tube of nappy cream, antibacterial gel)
  • 1 light sheet or snooze shade
  • 1 change of baby clothes
  • 1 change of top for you
  • 1 plastic bag for sick incidents/dirty clothes
  • A small selection of toys/books, iPad/tablet
  • Copies of passports
  • Insurance documents

What to pack for a short haul trip with a toddler (one week)

What to pack in your suitcase

This is your checked-in baggage, so it is not accessible while you’re travelling.

  • 1 lightweight buggy
  • 1 car seat
  • 3 day outfits (including one short sleeved and one long sleeved)
  • 1 all-in-one or coat appropriate for weather at your destination (e.g. waterproof if needed)
  • 2 pyjamas
  • 2 sleeping bags, if still used
  • 2 cot sheets, if needed
  • 1 travel blackout blind
  • 1 plug-in night-light
  • 1 baby monitor
  • 1 small packet of nappies/trainer pants (enough for two days), if still used
  • 1 packet wipes
  • 1 packet disposable changing mats, if still using nappies/trainer pants
  • 3 swim nappies (they can be washed, dried and reused)
  • 1 UV protective swimsuit
  • Toddler sunscreen SPF 50+
  • 1 sun hat
  • 1 pair toddler sunglasses
  • 1 towelling cape with hood
  • 1 first aid kit (scissors, antiseptic cream, nappy cream, sachets of baby/child paracetamol/ibuprofen, teething granules, teething gel, plasters, thermometer, antibacterial gel, insect repellent, antihistamine)
  • 1 universal bath plug
  • Miniature samples of shampoo/ bath wash
  • Cartons of UHT milk or a tin of powdered UHT milk
  • 1 small cool bag
  • 1 beaker
  • 1 set of cutlery
  • 1 tube of travel wash
  • 1 travel power adaptor
  • 1 toddler reins
  • A few favourite toys

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.

  • Enough nappies/trainer pants (if still used), wipes and nappy sacks for the journey
  • 1 small cool bag of snacks (fruit/ raisins/mini sandwiches/biscuits)
  • Small tin of powdered UHT milk, cartons of UHT milk or carton of fresh milk (if your toddler still drinks milk regularly)
  • Cartons of drink with a straw
  • 1 beaker
  • 1 empty flask (ask a coffee shop beyond security to fill it up with boiling water), if using powdered milk
  • Mini first aid kit (couple of sachets of baby/child paracetamol/ibuprofen, teething granules and gel, plasters, damp flannel, mini tube of nappy cream, antibacterial gel)
  • 1 change of toddler clothes
  • 1 change of top for you
  • 1 plastic bag for sick incidents/dirty clothes
  • 1 child’s inflatable pillow
  • A small selection of toys/books/sticker books/crayons, iPad/tablet
  • Copies of passports
  • Photograph of your child (in case they get lost)
  • Insurance documents

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