I made the mistake of reading the comments. A few days before our first long-haul flight with a 4-month-old baby I saw an article on Facebook about flying with children and the comments were filled with vitriol for parents that dare to take their offspring overseas. The general consensus was that parents who fly with babies are selfish villains who put their children and other passengers through needless pain.
So it was with these mean thoughts in mind that I headed to Heathrow, somewhat souring the start to our 2-month adventure in New York. But guess what, our little threesome not only survived the 8-hour flight and long day of travelling – we enjoyed it. *Big gasp*
I suspect it was a mixture of pure luck, a lot of planning and (to be frank) spending extra pennies on flying premium economy that made our first experience of flying with a baby a success.
For anyone fearful of taking to the skies with a little ‘un I thought I would share a few tips, thoughts and insights from our journey.
Going to Australia? Read also: Flying to Australia with a baby – our experience and top tips
Tips for flying long-haul with a baby
- Research your aircraft
A good flight really begins in the planning stages, especially when flying with a baby. If you are flying to a destination that has multiple airlines serving it, I recommend you start by researching which airline has the most modern aircraft and what type of bassinet is available for infants.
I also recommend you look up what type of bassinet the airline offers. Virgin Atlantic provide a cradle with a safety harness in economy and premium economy, which means babies don’t have to be taken out and disturbed during turbulence. However, if your baby sleeps in a swaddle like ours does the straps make it impossible for them to get comfortable. Miles lasted about 30 minutes in the cradle before trying to break free of the harness.
- Pre-book the bassinet if possible
Did you know not all airlines let you pre-book the bassinet seats when flying with a baby? From the flights I’ve booked I’ve learned that neither Qantas nor Virgin let you book the bassinet in advance but rather they are assigned on a first come first served basis upon check in.
For our flight to New York we were the only passengers flying with an infant in premium economy so we were able to check into the bassinet seats online the night before.
For the flights to Australia that we’ve booked for later this year we initially looked at Qantas but decided we didn’t want to take the risk so swapped to Singapore Airlines who let you book the bassinet online at time of booking.
I definitely recommend doing a little research into airline policy on bassinets before booking your flights.
- Check flight loading
Another thing you might want to do before booking your flight is check the loading in your cabin. The Virgin Atlantic website lets you view available seats before booking the flight so I went through each flight on our chosen date to make sure we could get 2 seats together by the window (in case we didn’t get the bassinet) on what looked like one of the emptier flights.
As we booked a week out we were able to pick a flight that was only 20% full in economy and premium economy and it really took the pressure off in terms of worrying about disturbing other passengers as there weren’t that many of them!
- Be anally organised
When it comes to packing your hand luggage for your flight I recommend you get more organised than you’ve ever been in your life. I ordered clear travel-sized toiletry bags to arrange all our liquids in and then put them in the top compartment of my Travel Hack Cabin Case, along with my Kindle, so I only needed to open one pocket at security.
Then, after security I repacked all our bags so we only needed to access one of them during the flight.
I created a mini nappy changing kit using a packing cube so I only had to take that small pouch into the airplane loo.
I also packed a small laundry sack for putting dirty clothes and bibs in and on that note make sure you have extra of everything – vests, sleepsuits, muslins etc in case the plane makes baby extra gassy and poopy.
Another thing to give yourself extra of is time – gone are the days when I’ll turn up to the airport an hour before the flight!
- Brief your travel buddy
Once you’ve created your hand luggage system with everything in its rightful place I suggest you run your travel companion through it so there’s no – ‘where did you pack the bottles again?’ – panic on the plane.
- Feed on take-off and landing
According to the crew on our flight the number one reason babies cry on flights is because they can’t equalise so feeding during take off and landing is crucial. As soon as we started to feel our ears pop upon take off we offered the baby a bottle.
During landing he was sleeping and had only just fed so we gave him a dummy to suck and had a bottle handy in case he started to feel discomfort. (He didn’t.)
- Bring extra bottles and formula
One of the things I googled most was with regards to formula feeding on a plane so I will write a separate post on this but, in short, make sure you bring about double what the baby normally needs as if they are like my kid the disturbed routine (and maybe also dehydration?) will mean they want extra feeds.
You’re allowed to take as much instant formula or powder and hot water through security as you need for the flight and you can buy more, either off the shelf or by ordering in advance, from Boots airside.
We kept a bottle holder with a sterilised bottle and instant formula in the seat pocket at all times and had back up formula and a travel sterlisier in our cabin case in case we got through the supply in the changing bag. Miles drinks his milk at room temperature so I didn’t need to ask crew to warm it but they came by regularly to check if we needed anything for him.
The crew also handily gave us a rubbish bag upon boarding so we could pop any empties into that and keep the footwell tidy.
- Lap up the extra attention
Speaking of crew, I found that they are super attentive to travelling parents. We were regularly checked on to make sure we had everything we needed and were given a giant bottle of water when we got on in case we couldn’t get up and go to the galley.
The crew were great with the baby and I appreciated that we weren’t made to feel like a burden for bringing him on board.
- Stagger your meals
Luckily the 30 mins Miles slept in the cradle were during the meal service – the CoziGo bassinet cover was great for making sure he wasn’t disturbed by all the action in the galley – so Justin and I could eat at the same time, but you can ask crew to stagger you and your partner’s meals if one of you needs to hold the baby.
Also pack lots of snacks for you in case you miss the meal service altogether.
- Try not to be anxious
I know it’s tough but try not to worry about what might not happen. I wasted a lot of energy worrying about Miles having a melt down mid-air and he was a dream passenger. Of course, he fussed or made noise when he was hungry but he’s a baby. It happens. Being anally prepared helped us not get in a flap when it did.
- Go Premium if you can
I hope this point doesn’t infuriate anyone who doesn’t have the means to fly anything but coach (we’ll be doing economy all the way to Australia in October!) but I don’t want to pretend that our first flight with the baby wasn’t made easier by being in premium economy.
Just having that slightly wider seat made it so much easier to feed and the extra leg room meant each of us could get up to change nappies etc without disturbing anyone.
The smaller cabin size also made you feel like you were annoying less people with your baby’s presence – although if he had really kicked off I’m sure they’d have heard him in all cabins!
I guess what I’m saying is that mentally being in the PE cabin made the flight less stressful (and the afternoon tea served by Virgin wasn’t bad either!).
Essential items for flying with a baby
Here’s everything we used on the journey.
(This list contains Amazon affiliate links – click here for details.)
Silver Cross Jet Stroller – weighs less than 6kg, can be wheeled like luggage and fits in overhead locker. I’m loving how light and compact it is while we’re here in New York – I’ll try to write a full review at some point.
BabyBjorn mini carrier – super light and cosy, I carried Miles through the airport and onto the plane in this.
Clear toiletry bag – this set of 3 covered me, Justin and the baby!
Packing cubes – you know I love a cube or 6.
Zip sleepsuits – Miles always sleeps in zippy suits as I’m too lazy for poppers but they are especially handy for the baby to travel in.
Travel Hack Cabin Case – a generous, well thought out cabin case designed by a fellow travel blogger. We took this and a changing bag on the plane.
Cozigo – airline bassinet cover that doubles up as a stroller sunshade.
Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions.
Main photo by Omar Prestwich on Unsplash