I wish I’d written a few more notes at the time of flying with a baby between Australia and the UK but I think I was so relieved to have survived the journey I wasn’t ready to relive it right-away!
We flew to Australia with our son when he was 9 months old. In case you’re new around here; I’m English, my hubby is Aussie, and we currently reside in the UK. We didn’t choose to travel with a child across the world for 27+ hours for sport, but rather to introduce our little one to his furthest and dearest relatives in Melbourne. We had initially planned to do this trip when Miles was smaller, around 3 months, but had to delay the trip while we sorted out a UK partner visa for my husband. (Always a visa/travel drama going around here.)
So, back to that flight with a 9 month old baby. Overall, I remember thinking it was better than I imagined. We did have meltdowns (the baby, not me, although I came close), we did have other passengers sigh ‘oh no’ very loudly when they boarded and saw our little cherub (I’ve thought the same thing but never been so rude as to voice it!) and we even had a mini drama on the way home when Miles fell ill during our stopover in Singapore and was deemed unfit to fly. FOR 5 DAYS.
But, rather than put you off ever flying long-haul with a baby, I’m hoping that by sharing my less-than-ideal experiences, you’ll feel more prepared for your own journeys. I’ve gone into quite a bit of detail about our specific experience here, but you can just scroll down for the top takeaways if that’s all you need!
Flying with a baby between the UK and Australia
Flying with a baby on Qantas
We were initially due to fly with Singapore Airlines, which is my airline of choice when flying internationally, but when we had to cancel our first trip it worked out too expensive to rebook with them.
Instead we flew with Qantas, which was perfectly fine, but does mean we were in a bit of a lottery in terms of getting a bassinet seat, as Qantas don’t preassign them like Singapore Airlines. Instead you put in a request for the baby bassinet and they are assigned at check in with priority given to younger babies. (At least that’s my understanding – although personally I think that makes little sense as the lighter ones are easier to hold for 14 hours straight compared to a 10kg lump!)
As it turned out we were assigned bassinet seats for all 4 legs of the journey there and back, just unfortunately one of the aircrafts wasn’t equipped with the actual bassinet.
(This was on the Singapore to Melbourne leg so just an 8-ish hour long journey lol. We had looked up the aircraft in advance and knew there was a danger that if we were assigned the centre bulkhead seats there wouldn’t be a bassinet there, but 2 different members of staff swore at check in – in London and again in Singapore – that we had a bassinet. They were wrong – their systems obviously weren’t as familiar with the plane as SeatGuru!)
Luckily, the staff on board were kind enough to reseat the gentlemen who had been assigned to our row (and he was very good to move!) and we ended up with 4 seats in the middle of the plane that we could lie Miles down in when we lost feeling in our arms from holding him.
What we didn’t realise is that with Qantas you also have to request meals for the babies. We had bought enough of our own supplies, but it would have been nice to amuse him for a little while with a pouch or snack he hadn’t seen before. I was able to get my hands on some pouches on one of the flights but was told that technically I should have requested it in advance as they don’t carry baby food as standard. We also weren’t given an amenity kit for Miles for this reason.
If you’re still deciding which airline to fly with, I would say that overall the Qantas crew were kind and the food was quite good, but if I’m honest the crew on our Virgin Atlantic flight to New York had been much more helpful. (They made sure we always had water and staggered our meals, for example, as they knew we had our hands full.) I appreciate the crew have a lot of people to look after on these long-haul journeys but if I was weighing it all up again, I’d go with Singapore Airlines like we initially intended.
Packing baby food and formula for a flight
I think what I googled most before the flight was how much formula and food I could take on board for the baby and in what quantities. The answer is you can take as much sealed baby food and formula (or breast milk) as you like, it will just be subject to additional checks at security.
Baby food and formula are exempt from the 100ml limit rule on liquids. Find the official rules from Heathrow here.
We decided to pack instant formula for Miles, so I didn’t have to worry about sourcing cooled boiled water. I’d given these to him at room temperature since he was little, so we didn’t have to worry about heating them either.
I ended up packing a lot – I think about 10 bottles of 200ml each – to account for all the travel time either side of the flight and a 7hr stopover in Singapore. I also picked up 4 more in Boots airside just for good measure.
You can pre-order formula to be collected at Boots at the airport, but I don’t like doing this as I’ve experienced some lengthy queues that just put a time pressure on you. I prefer to come with as much as I need and then buy a bit more off the shelves if I have time to duck in.
I also packed 6 pouches of Ella’s Kitchen purees – so 2 days’ worth of food – and I put these along with the sealed bottles of instant formula in a separate packing cube, so they were easy to grab out of our hand luggage at security.
Don’t bother putting baby food/formula in clear bags as they get taken off for separate checks.
Security took a little longer while they took these off for testing, but it buys you some time to get the baby in and out of the buggy as you can’t wheel them through in it. (Even if they’re sleeping unfortunately.)
In terms of arriving in Australia, just make sure you declare that you’re bringing baby food and milk in. Throw away any opened items and discard any fresh fruit etc if you have it. I wrote on the customs card that it was baby food we were declaring and thankfully we weren’t searched. We had a lot of bags they would have needed to get through!
Bassinet seats on planes
We’ve taken 6 long-haul flights with Miles and learned that not all bassinet seats are created equal. While Virgin’s are more like a bouncer with a harness (which Miles hated as he sleeps on his side and couldn’t curl up in it) the Qantas bassinets are actual cribs that they can lie flat or sit up and play in.
When they are sleeping in them there is this weird net-like cover attached to a steel bar that you have to cage them in with, so we found we had to rock Miles to sleep in our arms and then very carefully transition him to the bassinet, so he didn’t get weirded out by it. It worked and he slept for the majority of all our flights, it was just very awkward trying to get him successfully in it with very limited movements!
Worth noting is that the weight limit is 11kg on the bassinet and they are not the longest. At 9 months old our leggy baby had to poke his feet out the end of it!
Toys to entertain a baby on a plane
Letting Miles sit up and play in the bassinet was a game changer. He could see most of economy from his lofty perch and, whether they enjoyed it or not, he smiled and played peekaboo with different passengers. On one flight he was awake at the same time as a neighbouring baby, so we sat them up facing each other and they cooed across the plane.
If I’m totally honest, the things he enjoyed playing with the most were the in-flight safety card, an empty water bottle, and my seat buckle when I let him sit in it. (On one flight I had a window seat and sat on the floor so Miles could play in my seat.)
Other items that were worth packing were:
Buckle book toy – for older babies, we didn’t have one of these but I’m getting it for our next flight!
There are many more things we could amuse him with now, but at the age he was at the time he wasn’t into much of anything apart from the above items. I tried to get him to watch cartoons without success, he did enjoy playing with the telly handset though.
Our Singapore Stopover
If there is any way you can make this happen, I 100% recommend you plan a short stopover mid-way, even if it’s just to get a shower. On our outbound journey we gave ourselves a break of 7 hours before our second leg from Singapore to Melbourne and it was a lifesaver on many levels.
We booked a 6 hour stay at the Aerotel Transit Hotel in Terminal 1 and just having that time to put Miles on the floor, eat some food, have a long, hot shower and parent in private was so necessary.
For me, one of the worst things about flying long-haul with a baby is the anxiety from trying to keep the baby happy (and quiet) for many hours, in front of many people, in a very confined flying vessel. A lot of tension melted away once we could close the hotel room door, make as much noise and mess as we please, and starfish in comfy beds. (Even Miles had a cot to get a decent sleep in.)
We didn’t stay any longer than 7 hours on the way out as we did want to get the outbound journey over and done with, but we booked a few nights in Singapore on the way back. The intention was to relax and enjoy a mini holiday while breaking the flight up, but that plan went a little awry when Miles fell ill just hours before our departure. (Perhaps I should share this whole saga in a separate post?!)
Anyway, my point is, book yourself a bed/room half way even if it’s just for a few hours. It will do your mental health wonders!
Find lots more ideas for things to do at Singapore Changi Airport here.
For the sake of full disclosure, I do need to tell you that our generally angelic child did melt down on 2 separate occasions. It happens. Each time it was because we had a late-night departure and he was overtired and overstimulated after being in the airport.
Unfortunately flying around the baby’s nap/sleep times is almost impossible to do when you’re dealing with a 24+ hour journey from one side of the world to the other. We went with flights that landed at decent hours, but the compromise was we departed late and had tears before take-off.
In each case Miles got seriously upset, the kind of crying you only see if they are teething, badly, and it’s very hard not to question all your life decisions and feel like a terrible parent. Then, after about 10 minutes, usually once we were air bound and the engine noise kicked in, he fell asleep, and there were no more tears until landing. The challenge is to hold your nerve in the heat of the melt down!
Top tips for flying with a baby internationally
So that’s a summary of our experience of flying to Oz with a baby. Here are my top takeaways:
- Pack as much food and formula as you deem fit for the journey. Have it packed in a separate bag or packing cube in your hand luggage ready for extra checks at security.
- Get anally organised. I touch on more of this here, but be sure to arrange your hand luggage, of which there will be many bits, in as smart a way as possible. Brief your partner/travel buddy so when you’re hissing ‘pass me the Bongela’ in a darkened cabin they know exactly where to look.
- Buy The Travel Hack Cabin Case which has a separate handbag compartment (I use this for snacks and liquids) and heaps of space for spare clothes and toys in the main section. Find a full review here.
- Get a travel buggy that you can take on the plane with you to lessen the load through the airports. We have the Silver Cross Jet that connects with our car seat but have my eye on a Babyzen Yoyo for our next trip.
- We bought a baby carrier on board for the way out but didn’t bother on the way back as Miles slept fine in the bassinet or while being gently rocked in our arms. We didn’t end up pacing the aisles with him on our front like I pictured, but you know your own kid, bring it if you think it will help!
- Pack a large muslin/swaddle blanket (we have this) for the baby to sleep in. I bought Miles’ usual sleep bag on board with us and it was way too much of a faff trying to get him into it. When he fell asleep on us he would get really hot so I just draped my scarf across him and that’s what he ended up being wrapped up in in the bassinet as I couldn’t extract it.
- Miles travelled in Bonds Wondersuits which really are wonderful for flying. It was easy to pop a few spares in the bag and change him in the toilets when he got covered in food/dribble.
- Stopover, even if it’s just for a few hours, and hide away in an airport hotel.
- Request bassinet seats and infant meals in advance. Some airlines don’t make you do this but ours did.
- Use what’s around you – safety cards, water bottles, seat buckles, other (hopefully willing) passengers – to amuse the baby. If they are sturdy enough prop them up with pillows in the bassinet seat so they can have a look around without you holding them.
- Create a mini nappy changing kit with a packing cube so you don’t have to take your whole bag to the toilet with you.
- Buy a flight log book and ask the crew if the captain will sign it. They might even invite you onto the flight deck to see it being done.
- Don’t forget to look after yourself. Pack snacks in case you don’t have a free lap at mealtimes and pop a Kindle in your hand luggage in case that’s the only entertainment you can reach. You might also want to check out these tips for how to sleep on a plane.
- Most of all don’t panic. Little ones always sleep eventually and hopefully the engine hum will help them happily snooze a lot of the way.
Pin for later:
And that’s it! Wishing you very happy travels with your little families. Let me know if any of these tips help you on your way.