So you have a baby and/or a toddler and are afraid to fly with them? Been there, done that. We were really nervous before our first flight with JJ, who was 2 months at the time. But 15 months and some 35 flights later, we think we can spread the gospel of flying with your little ones. While you can’t control everything, you can control something, and below are some of the things we do before, when and after we fly with JJ, our toddler who is about to turn 18 months as we write this.
Obviously, your mileage may vary. We’re not saying what we do is the best or the only way to fly with an infant, and you may find your own way that suits you better. But if you’re maybe concerned or nervous about your first flight (and again, we totally get that), you may find our tips below helpful, or at least inspiring to give it a go. Flying with an infant is honestly not that different from flying without one. You just have a small baby with you who depends on you with his or her life. So no pressure.
*Disclaimer: We will be dropping the names of services or products we have used in the past. None of these mentions are paid for or sponsored in any other way. When we give tips, we remain independent and just mention the services we really use.
Choosing whether to fly
Easy. You should definitely fly with your baby or toddler. Sure, we had fears and concerns before we first flew with JJ. That’s totally normal. But we can now honestly say that we’d rather fly with JJ for five hours than drive with him for three. Small babies are mostly great on planes: the white noise calms them down, and JJ was mostly asleep and really calm on most of his flights before he turned nine months or so and gained more consciousness about what’s happening around him. And as a toddler, he likes flying too: he loves the people and the unfamiliar environment with buttons, lights and people in uniforms.
Another great reason to fly with an infant is the fact that infants under the age of 2 mostly fly for the low, low price of free. Yes, flying on lap, infants mostly get free airfare. Sometimes you just have to pay the airport fee and tax, which are usually low. We deliberately try to fly as far with JJ now because we know that when he hits two, we will have to start buying that third seat. Sure, age is nothing but a number, but good luck explaining that to the airline.
Honestly, flying with an infant is just like flying alone, but the experience is amplified, for better or worse. It’s like when somebody has an accent: if the person is charming and fun, the accent amplifies that. And if he or she is an idiot, the accent amplifies that part of personalty. Think John Oliver and his British accept, and we will let you choose whether he is charming and fun (our vote), or an idiot.
The same applies to flying with an infant. You know how you hate waiting on the tarmac to take off and after 20 minutes, the captain notifies you on the radio that you’re on a good track and will certainly leave in 5 minutes? (Translation: we’re stuck here forever.) Yeah? Well, an infant on board amplifies that. And when a flight has been great and you land and walk through security without a glitch? Well, having baby amplifies that, too. And so what, your baby cries on the tarmac waiting an hour to leave? Yeah, we’d cry too if we could. And if that’s the worst thing that could happen, it’s honestly not that big of a deal.
Planning your flight
We book most of our flights through SkyScanner. We have also used Google Flights on an occasion or two. Both of these allow you to choose how many adults and infants on lap want to fly. That said, I alway make an alternative search for two adults only, without the infant: some airlines (for instance American Airlines or Delta) do not allow you to book infants online. You have to call. Therefore, a search that includes an infant will not show flights by Delta or American, simply because they do not provide this option online, and you may thus miss a flight that is great but can be only booked by phone. (Which is a drag, btw.)
So you have found a few flights that are all okay. What next? I make sure the flight is as comfortable as possible for both us and JJ. I always search the flight number and see what aircraft is used to service that route. As a general rule,
we always want to sit as near to the front of the plane as possible (more on that later). We always choose our seats before the flight even if it costs more money. Some airlines assign you a seat for whatever reason. If you are unhappy, call them. Sometimes the customer service staff can override that choice.
we prefer bigger (two-aisle) over smaller (single aisle) planes because they give you more freedom of movement for the bored toddler. I also look at seatguru.com to see what might be the best seats on a particular aircraft and airline. Finally, YouTube is full of “trip report” videos that show you what your plane will really look like. Just type in something like “Air France A380 economy” and I guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for. (And yes, I agree, the whole genre is slightly weird.)
Now you don’t honestly have to do any of this, but I do. Why? To make sure you know what to expect. To give you an idea - you might be thinking that sitting in the first row in economy (we’re talking two-aisle planes now) might be great, because you are getting a bit more legroom. And perhaps you might have an extra seat for your toddler to lay on because some passengers avoid the first row. Well, not really. The problem is that on many planes, first row seats might have solid sides that cannot be removed (they typically house the IFE screen and tray table that is normally mounted to the seat in front of you) so you will definitely NOT lay your baby across more seats as you originally planned. So that’s why it’s a good idea to see what your actual plane will look like.
Optional: Business class seats
Now, let’s be honest here. If you have the money and you’re flying overnight or across continents, Business Class is friggin’ awesome. There’s a lot to love. The lounge access. The lie-flat seats. All-you-can-drink Champagne. Nicer flight attendants. Your bags come first on the belt. Did we mention the Champagne? They are much more comfortable for both the baby and the parents. If you book way ahead or find a deal, these tickets might be actually cheaper than you might have thought. (But still more expensive than economy.) Now, you may have heard these stories about people getting upgraded to Business Class at no expense at the airport. Yeah, we have no idea how to do that. And if we knew, we would probably never tell you.
Only downside of business class seats? Getting back to coach on the next flight.
That said, sometimes it might be a good idea to simply ask for the price of upgrade at the airport. If business class is not fully booked, some airlines may offer the seats cheaper to get in some extra buck in. Heck, they sold you your seat already, so why not squeeze some extra cash from you? We always agree in advance on the amount we’d be willing to pay for the upgrade and ask. If it’s over, forget it. If it’s under, well, when can we start with the Champagne, please? (Example: we flew Thai from Bali to Bangkok - a 4:30 flight. Economy was fully booked. On asking, we found that the upgrade to business class cost just over EUR 300 for all of us, so we just went for it, and we were happy we did. Chin chin!)
At the airport
Now, if you’ve never flown with a baby or toddler, you may not know this (honestly, why would you?), but many airports have dedicated lines for families with small kids that allow for a quicker security check. Just ask when you check in. For instance, Prague airport has a line for families with kids on the right side of Terminal 2’s security check area - you have to approach the customs officer sitting by the Business Class entry and ask him or her to let you in. This will save some valuable time and nerves on your way to the aircraft.
Sometimes when you arrive at the airport and find out your flight has been significantly delayed (which actually applied to nearly 50% of all flights in Europe last year), you might consider a lounge. Airport lounges are included in Business Class tickets, but many offer paid entry to economy ticket holders. You may check out services/apps like LoungeBuddy or Priority Pass to see what lounges are available at the airport you are at. The prices can be steep: somewhere in the 40-50 EUR region.
Why spend money on a lounge? Sure, 40 EUR per person is quite a bit of money, BUT in case of a long layover or delayed flight, they offer quote a bit of bang for buck: unlimited consumption of soft and alcoholic drinks (Jan fixed himself a beautiful Boulevardier in Bangkok’s Royal Silk lounge before our Bangkok-Istanbul flight), which can be pricey at the airport shops, access to free food and especially fresh fruit, which we like to serve to JJ and is often quite hard to get in airport shops, often nicely appointed kids playrooms that may not exist in the publicly accessible parts of the airport, and sometimes even beds in separate compartments when your toddler is asleep. And if your layover ends up being three hours, the price of the lounge can pay for itself on the consumed food and drinks alone, and the comfort for you and your little one can be priceless.
When you land in your destination, some airports again offer priority lanes for families with infants, which really speeds up the process. Even if the airport does not seem to have such a priority lane, we suggest you always ask the nearest security/customs officer. The odds are they will let you go through the business class line and make you skip the regular line. Looking tired, teary and overall absolutely miserable helps. Does your little one cry? Even better. We mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You wait the line like everybody else? Yeah. The potential benefit of asking are small while you have virtually nothing to lose. Just go for it and ask.
Boarding the plane, LIFO - last in, first out
We always, always, ALWAYS board the last. They allow families with kids board first. We don’t understand why. It seems like a horrible idea. JJ loves flying. But he absolutely hates just sitting in an airplane. The downside of this approach is the limited space in overhead bins - the will be full by the time you’ll get there. But we are yet to check any cabin luggage: we just say it’s something for the baby (which is probably true anyway), and usually the flight attendants find some space nearby. You also want to sit near the front of the plane. Think of it as the LIFO warehousing - last in, first out, because the same applies to leaving the plane - the sooner the better.
In the plane
Ever since he became a toddler, JJ absolutely can’t stand being strapped in the baby seatbelt with restricted movement. There is quite nothing like waiting in a packed airplane on the tarmac while your little one cries his heart out into the silence. Parents of the year, everyone! Anyway, while this may have happened to us once or twice, it usually doesn’t last that long before you’re airborne, so the inconvenience tends to be short-lived. Don’t panic. It will be over soon, and that lady two rows behind you with noise-cancelling headphones that gives you and your toddler dirty looks can just leave, right? What? She can’t? Oh, that’s too bad. (Also, and we do not endorse this, we sometimes just put the seatbelt around JJ’s waist but don’t actually hook it to the parent’s seatbelt. We know, so wrong, but JJ actually appreciates the extra movement, and we appreciate the lack of tantrums. But you’ve never heard this from us, and we will deny everything.)
On that note: if you never flew with your baby, we think one of the biggest fears is that your baby will cry or have a tantrum and that your fellow passengers will hate you and you will burn in hell forever for this. In the 35 flights we have completed with JJ, we have found nothing but empathy from our fellow passengers - people generally tend to help when you have a baby in a tight space, and if there were any people annoyed by the presence of a baby on flight, they kept it to themselves. So don’t worry. You’ll be fine.
Now, there’s a bit of debate about how to deal with the effects of changing pressure on the child’s ears. The easy solution is to breastfeed (or feed a milk bottle) as you take off and land. Alternatively, letting the kid use a dummy/pacifier will do, or just let him or her chew on something. One of our doctor friends says it’s all a load of bs - the kids’ ear canals are, according to him, so small they cannot really be affected by the changing pressure, and the fact is that we haven’t had a lot of problems with this particular issue in the past, but it’s better to be prepared with some snacks anyway.
The other thing you will eventually tackle with toddlers is boredom. You know how you get bored on a long flight? Guess what. Your kid will get bored too. We think this is no time to prove points or show off what an outstanding parent you are, and we just bring a fully charged iPad with us, especially on shorter flights when the planes do not have IFE screens in every seat. If your seat has an IFE screen, they will usually carry some programs for little kids. Our JJ enjoyed a full hour of Peppa Pig on our Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Bali. In any case, make sure to bring your little one something to be entertained.
If your toddler walks, let him or her walk, or just walk with your toddler. JJ loves walking around the plane and just “chat” with people. Also, we are yet to be on a flight where JJ was the only infant on board. People fly with infants more than you might think. So walking over to the other toddler to say hi and kill some time is a great idea, too.
Not forgetting diapers and wet wipes is a sound decision. All planes have at least one toiled with a changing station. The space is tight but it’s doable. Bring more diapers than you think you’ll need - you never know when your flight will be delayed or cancelled, and most airports don’t sell diapers. On top of that, bring a spare set of clothing in case of a ”big accident” or if your bags don’t make it with you to your destination.
Yes, infants get jet lag, and it sucks. Sure, you may use jet lag-fighting apps like Timeshifter, but let’s be real: your baby’s jetlag is your jetlag. Honestly, we have little advice for dealing with your precious one’s jetlag besides just accepting it as a reality and adjusting your expectations. JJ is sleepy for the first few days following an intercontinental flight, and it takes a while to fall back into the daily routine. But no worries. You’ll get there eventually.
So this is it! We hope you enjoyed these little tips and bits of wisdom we have gathered over the last few months. Have more questions? Ask below or email us! We will be happy to help.