I recently took Henry on his first flight and to the Big Apple – yes a 5-month old on a long haul flight, 7 hours 50 minutes no less. A few people quoted I was “brave” and/or “mad”, others said “go for it” and some simply said “good luck”!
Since my trip, many have asked me questions about travelling with a baby. Can you take baby milk in hand luggage? What’s the deal with pushchairs on board?
So I thought I’d blog about my learnings and tips which I hope will be of interest to anyone looking to take a little one on their first flight – long or short haul….
I also hope this post gives some of you the push and confidence you need if you are undecided about flying (far) with a baby…It’s totally doable!
When my husband found out about a week long business trip to New York I couldn’t help but tag along, taking baby Henry with me (YOLO and all that). The opportunity for a change of scenery to one of my favourite cities and to see a close friend who lives in Brooklyn was a no brainer.
I did dwell on the idea for a while before making the decision to book. Is it too far to take a baby on his first flight? What if he screams the whole way there? How will he cope with the time difference? How many nappies to pack? What’s the deal with travelling carrying formula?
I am well aware that should I forget wipes or not pack enough nappies, there are happy babies living in NYC and therefore such baby supplies would be readily available at said destination!!
Some say life doesn’t have to (completely) stop just because you’ve had a baby (so fortunately so) and I’m determined to follow that statement.
We’d already conquered our first getaway with baby Henry just a few weeks earlier – a weekend away in the UK to Center Parcs. Granted it’s no 7-hour transatlantic flight, but it did give us good practice for packing and writing check lists for what we’d need to take – which will come in handy for every trip whilst Henry is an infant.
I’ve broken down my main learnings and top tips for flying with a 5-month old baby covering:-
- Luggage allowances
- Cot Seat
- Baby Milk
- Inflight Entertainment
- Clothing and comfort
- Car Seat and Pushchair polices and procedures
- AOB (take off/landing etc)
The biggest thing I seemed to stress over was the luggage allowance.
We flew with British Airways and as every “first-time-mum-flying-with-a-baby-for-the-first-time” stereotype, I checked, checked again, and checked a few more times about what were allowed to take on board in terms of hold luggage, hand luggage, pram/pushchair/stroller (what’s the difference?!) and a car seat.
I checked on their website, tweeted them, called them to triple check as well as speaking to friends who had flown with their young ones on a BA flight.
To summarise, here was our luggage allowances on our long haul flight with British Airways (flying premium economy) for 2 Adults and 1 Infant…
- 5 x cases weighing 23kg each
- 5 x hand luggage (2 are a “modest” sized handbag/laptop bag, 1 is a bag for the infant’s flight essentials i.e. their changing bag)
- 1 x car seat (we checked this as hold baggage, but you can take it on board if you have booked a separate seat for your infant AND if it fits with BA’s car seat policy)
- 1 x pushchair/stroller (optional to check this as hold baggage – pack suitably if so – or to take to the gate. Depending on the size/weight of pushchair, it may arrive at the baggage carousel rather than at the gate on arrival to your destination (so take your baby carrier, i.e. your Baby Bjorn in your hand luggage just in case you have a long walk from the gate to the carousel without your pushchair. #deadarms)
* Checked luggage
We flew in Premium Economy with British Airways which allowed for my husband and I to take 2 cases each, each weighing a maximum of 23kg. Henry was allowed his own case, again weighing a maximum of 23kg. So for all of us, our permitted checked luggage allowance was 5 cases at 23kg each. We didn’t take 5, we didn’t need to, but very good to know the option was there.
* Hand luggage
Between us we could take 5 pieces of hand luggage (we only needed to take 4). My husband and I took a carry on bag each. In addition I took my handbag (your second piece of hand luggage must be of a modest size i.e. a handbag or laptop bag). For Henry we took our changing bag, complete with our ToteSavvy insert containing all of his essentials – nappies, milk, bottles, muslins, bibs, soothers, teething gel, wipes, change of clothes and a few toys.
(Disclaimer: Every airline and destination/route have different luggage polices. Always check with your airline – I would hate to be held responsible for any problems you may have at check in or charges for excess baggage!! I felt the need to check and triple check as I felt the allowance was rather great, but yet so greatly appreciated – thank you British Airways!)
I’m not sure cot seats are always available on short haul flights, but I’m pretty sure they are on most long haul journeys. If you do have the option to book a cot seat for a longer journey then I highly recommend it. It means the baby can have a snooze or entertain themselves with a toy whilst you can be hands free, maybe to enjoy your inflight meal!
On board, British Airways gave us the option of a lay flat bassinet or seat (in the style of a bouncer chair – as pictured).
Henry was more than comfortable in the seat, evident in the fact he played in it quite happily on the outbound journey and slept in it for a lot of the inbound journey.
I was able to pre-book the cot seat (for no extra charge) as soon as I had booked my flight. This may vary between airlines and travel classes so please always check with your airline.
The cot seats tend to be the front row of your class, which also means you get a little bit of extra leg room as a bonus… 😉
You can take baby milk through security in your hand luggage, regardless if it’s over the 100ml allowance. Keep it close to hand, as security will need to take the milk from you to scan before you enter the departures lounge.
I packed most of my formula and ready made cartons in to our checked luggage.
For the milk needed on the flight (plus a few spare in case of any delays and spillages) I pre-ordered online from boots.com a number of ready made cartons of formula (the 200ml/1 serving size) to collect from Boots in Heathrow airport, in departures after security.
When ordering online from boots.com, remember to select the “Airside” store when choosing a pick up point.
Whatever you order for collection at the airport – nappies, milk, wipes etc – may still need to fit within your hand luggage allowance, some airlines are more strict than others.
And if you are travelling to Heathrow terminal 5 there are two “Airside” Boots stores within departures – one upstairs and one downstairs. It is the downstairs store the orders are sent to for collection. You can also order via the Heathrow website, if that is your departure airport.
Here is the link to all Boots stores available across the five terminals at Heathrow and their opening hours… http://www.heathrow.com/shops-and-restaurants/shops-a-z/boots
So my husband and I didn’t really get much of a chance to relax and watch the inflight entertainment, but that’s part of what signing up to be a parent is all about right?!
Instead, WE were the inflight entertainment for Henry!
Our flight was not only in the middle of the day after Henry’s usual nap time, but we wanted to keep him stimulated so that we could help adjust him to the different time zone (-5 hours).
We would take it in turns to play with him – either on our laps or in his designated cot seat.
I packed his Bunny, one of his favourite comforters and one of his favourite toys – Freddie the Firefly is always a winner!
I also deliberately bought a few new (lightweight and small) toys that Henry hadn’t seen before to keep him interested and not bored. One toy included a hand/finger puppet from Mothercare which is probably the best £10 I’d ever spent. It kept Henry entertained and smiling for ages!
I’m not encouraging the idea of putting an iPad in front of a 5 month old, but I had downloaded a few visual nursery rhymes and episodes of Peppa Pig just in case I needed to resort to such measures (which I did for about 10 minutes mid flight).
And I’m not against Henry watching a few minutes here and there of baby friendly television – especially if it gives me a quick time slot to pee, put the dinner on & sterilise his bottles!
CLOTHING AND COMFORT
Remember to dress your baby in a comfortable travel outfit, i.e. leggings and popper vests/tees. Items such as dungarees and jeans may become uncomfortable and also fiddly to undo/take off etc if necessary.
I bought Henry a whole new outfit from Mothercare so that it was soft and had that nice “new” feeling. I got two pairs of leggings and two long sleeve vest tops (as we know, it’s always advised to take a spare outfit for our little ones – for spillages and all sorts) as well as a soft cotton hat and cardigan in case the air conditioning was a little cold.
I also made sure that Henrys outfit was light in colour, which always helps to disguise any small spit ups haha! 😉
I took a lightweight blanket too, one he was familiar with from The White Company, to use when he did have a snooze.
CAR SEAT AND PUSHCHAIR POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
* Car Seat
If you have booked your infant their own seat on the plane, you are permitted to take your car seat on board for your little one to sit in (terms, conditions and car seat policies apply – see the your airline’s car seat policy for more details).
We didn’t book Henry his own seat, we made the decision to have him on our laps. We were still able to take our car seat as a checked piece of baggage (they label it up and log it on to their system) and we then handed it over at the oversized bagged drop off point, as you would with golf clubs, skis and other oversized items.
Having the car seat with us in New York was so invaluable. It allowed us to safely transport Henry in the car to/from the airport and to get from A to B on rainy days. I certainly recommend taking yours, especially on a city break where the occasional car ride in heavy down pour may be necessary. I had to find a YouTube video to learn how to secure a car seat without an ISOFIX base which I am normally used to.
We have not ventured in to the lightweight stroller phase yet. Henry is still little and therefore in his Mama’s and Papa’s Urbo2 pushchair – a rather sturdy two pieced item and far more heavyweight than a “chuck about” lightweight stroller.
On BA’s website they advertise you can take a small, one piece collapsible stroller with you right up to the gate. At the check in desk, I confirmed their call centre had advised me that I could take our two-part, slightly heavier weighted pushchair to the gate, especially as many lightweight strollers are not suitable until infants reach 6 months old.
When she questioned if the pushchair came in two parts, I jumped to attention with a Gate Check bag I had bought from Amazon, for the pushchair to go in to before boarding the aircraft, keeping both parts of the pushchair in one place for ease of loading and unloading.
I also assured her (and offered to demonstrate) that our pushchair was fully collapsable too.
This was all absolutely fine, and she labelled it accordingly. The said BA staff member also looked up our arrival airport to confirm whether we could collect the pram as we disembark the aircraft or if we would have to collect it at baggage reclaim (every airport is different). We flew to JFK airport where the policy was for baggage staff to bring our pushchair up to the gate when we had disembarked the aircraft. Phew!
We did also have the option to place our pushchair in the hold at the check in desk, free of charge and in addition to our cases. I was already armed with my Baby Bjorn carrier to carry Henry throughout the airport, should there have have been any issues and if my pram had to be transported in the hold as a checked piece of oversized baggage.
I would advise purchasing a travel bag/case for your car seat and push chair. Not only will this provide some level of protection, but it means the items can be labelled with flight number, name, destination etc. I ordered ours from a brand called Gate Check, available on Amazon.
Taking your pushchair through security
You will be asked to fully collapse your pushchair as it has to go through the security scanners. To save time, be prepared to whisk the baby out of your pushchair and empty any contents from the pushchair base, collapse it and place on the belt.
Taking your pushchair to the gate
For our outbound flight, we arrived at the gate in a slight rush and on arrival we frantically collapsed the pram in to our Gate Check bag and my husband slung it over his shoulder to carry it to the aircraft.
Between my husband and I we were carrying in our arms the (heavy) pram in a bag (!), our 4 items of hand luggage as well as the circa 16lb baby!!! My husband was sweating by the time we got to the plane and my arms were aching as there was a 10 minute queue in a tunnel to get on to the plane itself. I’d left my Baby Bjorn in the pram base! Oops.
The point here is, do NOT collapse your pram at the gate! After your boarding pass has been scanned, you can take it through the gate and, depending on your last stretch to the plane (i.e. if it’s a walk through a tunnel to the plane door, or a walk to the plane steps or a short bus ride) you don’t have to collapse it right until the last second, basically until the cabin crew tell you to at the door to the plane.
You will be instructed to leave your pushchair just outside the doors to the plane, and from that point simply hope for the best that it turns up at your arrival destination!
Collecting your pushchair on arrival
As mentioned earlier, every airport’s policy varies as to whether you collect your pram from the gate or at baggage reclaim.
We had situations each way regarding the collection of our pushchair from the gate after our flights, which may give you (and airlines) food for thought whether you would prefer to simply check it as a piece of hold luggage…
Outbound to JFK: When we had disembarked the aircraft our pushchair was brought up to us at the gate. The down side of this is that we had to wait for all 400-odd passengers to leave the plane which then meant we ended up at the back of a very long passport/immigration queue – with a young baby who was tired/hungry (not ideal – immigration queues entering the USA can be hours long!). On the plus side, the ground staff at JFK saw us with a baby and kindly invited us to pass through immigration through a different queue saving us a lot of time and potentially a cranky baby.
Inbound to Heathrow: When waiting at the gate the ground staff informed us there wasn’t a pushchair for collection and if (IF?!) it was on the plane, it would have been sent to the carousel. Again, we had waited for all passengers to disembark and we carried a 16lb baby from the gate, through passport control and to baggage reclaim (I’d left my Baby Bjorn in the pram base – again!,). As some of you will know, Heathrow is a BIG airport! My arms were rather numb!
Anyway, there was no sign of our pushchair arriving on the carousel and my husband and I began to worry when all cases had been collected by everyone and we were left there with no pram to take home. The next TWO hours were spent liaising with British Airways staff to try and find the whereabouts of our pram. Because we had taken it to the gate, and not via the checked hold luggage system, they were unable to look on any computer system for it. They had to carry out a human search, looking everywhere it could possibly be. It was eventually found, back at the aircraft (!) in a lift that hadn’t been sent up to the gate (for us to collect from that point).
The pram was in a bright royal blue Gate Check bag – rather unmissable!
This was human error by the ground staff at Heathrow and created worry for us as well as a waste of 2-3 hours of waiting at the carousel and the man power searching for it. Landing at 6:30am is tiring enough, then this, followed by a 2 hour drive home. #wideeyed
I think the idea of “taking/collecting your pushchair to/from the gate” is excellent, a very convenient option for parents travelling with their little ones. However, it could be just my incident above was a one off and unusual, so perhaps I need a bit more convincing whether this is the best option. Is it easier and safer to place the pushchair in to the hold as checked luggage? And then use the baby carrier, such as a Baby Bjorn, to carry one’s infant traveller through the airport?
On board, the British Airways cabin crew were especially pleasant towards Henry, showing him lots of attention and frequently asking if there was anything we needed.
They even gave him his very own booklet to log his miles count, with every journey to be signed by the captain. What a lovely thought and keepsake!
Never panic if you forget anything or don’t have enough of something. It’s very likely your destination will have supermarkets, chemists, clothes stores etc for you to get everything you need.
During take off and landing, our little ones ears could well “pop” or feel sore. To prevent this from occurring I offered Henry his dummy and a bottle of milk. The sucking motion is said to help (hence why I always suck a sweet during take off). Henry drank an entire feed just before take off – he was hungry (aka fidgety) and we were sat on the runway for a while – and so he ended up falling asleep before we were even in the air.
I’m finishing this post well aware of recent events in our world (and on my doorstep in London) creating immense sadness and terror, and I want you all to embrace and enjoy every moment and take every opportunity you get. I want to experience as much as I can with Henry and I want him to enjoy his life and see all the good in the world. Seeing his little happy face on “Top of the Rock” overlooking New York City was just so special.
I hope this post has been somewhat useful and inspiring. If you have any tips to share with me and others please share in the comments box below.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more posts about mine and Henry’s trip to the Big Apple!