The Travel Advisor: The epic adventure of traveling with infants

That dread of being in a closed metal container for hours, surrounded by strangers.

Airplane takeoff (photo credit: REUTERS)
Airplane takeoff
(photo credit: REUTERS)
You’re a shaker, a maker of the universe, someone who influences dozens, nay, hundreds of people. Your blog reaches thousands, your Instagram has followers galore. Or you’re young, new to the traveling orbit, barely able to repay your college loans. The truth is, no matter your background, your education, your innate ability to do and know what is right or wrong, traveling with your child, your infant, is something that can only be experienced firsthand.
That dread of being in a closed metal container for hours, surrounded by strangers. Strangers who could be risking your baby to untold diseases in an airtight machine in which the air is recirculated. How does one survive such an endeavor?
Well truth be told people have been flying with their infants for nearly a century and miracle of miracles they and their offspring have survived. Let’s first get the largest myth of flying with a baby out of the way. Babies do not fly free internationally. They don’t get a seat, they don’t get a meal, they may be permitted to check in a bag but no matter the airline, no matter the distance, an infant will pay 10% of the adult fare plus applicable taxes for any such person under the age of two. Moreover if you leave your city of origin with your baby under two and return with that smiling infant over two, you must purchase a seat.
Keep in mind that the decision not to buy a seat for your little tyke who has not reached the age of two is your choice. You can of course opt to make your infant into a child and purchase a seat. Some people like to buy an extra seat for their baby so they can bring the car seat on the plane because they feel this is a safer option.
When flying with a baby, I suggest requesting the front row bulkhead seats at the time of booking, especially for long-haul flights with a baby. With these seats you can request a bassinet for your baby to use in-flight. You may be able to do this yourself online. You may have your travel consultant do it for you. If not, you should try to contact the airline to make a request as early as possible. On packed flights with many babies these seats may be claimed long before the flight. On some airlines the request is confirmed only when physically showing up at the airport for your flight.
The bulkhead seats are situated immediately behind a cabin divider. A fold down bench allows for the bassinet or cradle to be attached when the seat belt sign is off. Yes, international law requires you to hold your darling tot during all takeoff and landings.
The airline that provides the bassinet or cradle may have different polices on their use. This may relate to age, weight or height of baby. The rule of thumb is usually the weight is no more than 10-11 kg. and under eight months. It is important to check individual airline policies before booking. Equally if you are a nursing mother, you may prefer a window seat for privacy purposes.
Next we come to packing. Aim to bring as little as possible through the airport.
The less you carry around, the less you have to worry about at security. Of course don’t cut down too much and forget to bring these essentials for a smooth baby flight!
Whenever you fly it’s important to make sure you bring along all your important documents. This includes a valid passport and visa for everyone flying, the baby not excluded. Printing your tickets in advance and having them handy can save time at the airport. It’s also important to note that if you are flying alone with a child that does not share your last name you may need to bring additional documentation.
Packing carefully for your flight is extremely important. There is nothing worse than having to tear into an overweight bag at check-in when you have a baby with you. Preventing this is easily done. Depending on the airline you fly with and its luggage restrictions, you may want to combine your diaper bag with other carry-on essentials. If so make sure to organize the bag really well into sections so you know exactly where to find everything you need. Make sure your diapers and wipes are always accessible (and well stocked!) and make sure to carry a change of clothes in case the baby has an accident.
Some airlines may suggest checking in your stroller. It may be useful to have a baby carrier or sling to take your baby through the airport. Many fliers have found a wrap cloth style carrier to be great for flying with a baby. You don’t have to take it off completely just to take baby out. This is my top tip for traveling with a baby. It’s kind of like a jumper so it’s better than having to taking everything off and back on again.
When taking a long-haul flight its best to dress the baby in pajamas. This serves two purposes. It keeps them comfortable and, hopefully, mentally prepares them for a nice long sleep. Always bring a spare set of clothes for you. Something thin and easy to pack, like leggings and a spare long sleeve T-shirt. That way you can get them in your day bag. You never know what the baby will throw on you. If your baby has a favorite cuddly this will help it feel comfortable by making the area seem more familiar and safe. While they are awake your number one priority will be heading off any crying. To keep them occupied make sure to bring plenty of toys to keep them entertained. Books and small toys are great for this.
Check-in lines can be long and arduous unless you are flying business or first class. Sometimes airline staff spot those flying with a baby and will allow them to check-in using the business class desk as long as there are no other customers waiting. Most airlines will allow you to check-in a baby travel stroller, a travel baby car seat and in some cases a travel cot. You may prefer to take the stroller to the door of the plane and most airlines will allow this. The airline staff will take the stroller to the stowaway as you board. In some cases it may be available as you disembark or it may come out on the luggage belt.
If at this point you haven’t secured a bulkhead seat you should ask the person checking you in if there are any extra seats on the plane. On an emptier flight they might have mercy on you and give you a row with an empty seat so that your little one has room to move around or lay down and sleep. Your very own travel baby seat is a win, especially when you haven’t paid for it!
So you have checked in, what next? Security. Ensure you have all of your liquids (including the baby’s liquid food and drink) in a transparent ziplock bag. Some airports have family specific queues that you will see signs for or be directed into by the staff. Similar to check-in, if the staff spot you with little ones, they will sometimes invite you to use the “hustle and bustle-free” lane. If you have the baby in a baby carrier, some airports will expect you to take your baby out when passing through security. If you are traveling alone this can make it difficult but having a wrap style carrier can really make things easier. Also, don’t hesitate to ask others for help!
Once you get through security some airports will have a parent room, where you can change diapers, heat food and I have even seen private rooms for nursing mothers. Some of these will even have sectioned off areas with cribs where you can have some quiet time. I cannot say I have seen this in all airports but it is worth checking out the facilities. You can find out ahead of time on the airport’s website whether they have one and where it is located.
When it is time to board, airline staff are keen to have young families board first. Sometimes this may be inconvenient, particularly if your little one is quite active. It may be best to board last if possible to reduce the time in a confined space.
If your little one is under the age of two, they probably won’t be in their own seat and will need to be a on your lap for takeoff, landing and whenever the seat belt sign is on. There is no such a thing as an infant airplane seat, unless of course you take your car seat onboard. Flying with an infant on your lap is not so bad. It’s the toddler stage that is so much harder. On European flights you will be given a seat belt extension to securely fasten your baby to your seat belt.
However one flies with a baby, rules are there to maintain child safety! The only time they will ask you to take the baby out of the bassinet is when there is turbulence. If you do not have a bulkhead seat, the baby must be on your lap for the duration of the flight. Remember, when flying with a baby, the pressure may build up in their ears during ascent and descent. Having your baby nurse or giving them a bottle or pacifier will help. The swallow mechanism will relieve the pressure. If you are flying with baby alone, make sure to ask for help. The cabin crew may be willing to hold your baby for bathroom trips and meal times.
Ensure you keep yourself and your baby well hydrated. The low humidity can be quite dehydrating. This is of particular importance if you are nursing and especially on a long flight with baby. If you need food or milk heated, the crew will be happy to help. If your baby is agitated or upset, walking up and down the aisle may help. If you need to change a diaper all planes have a changing table that folds down in the bathroom. Some planes can be quite cramped so only bring what you need to the bathroom. If your little one is asleep, sit back, relax and have a glass of wine!
Many people have reached out to ask me is flying with a baby safe? Babies may not know how to equalize ear pressure, which of course poses the question can flying damage a baby’s ears? It’s important to give them a drink or let them feed during takeoff and landing. This allows the ears equalize to the new pressure. Being in a closed space with many other people may expose the baby to viruses, coughs and colds. When you air travel with baby, a natural probiotic could be a good option to help protect them on a flight.
Keep in mind that as soon as you have a passport your little one can start flying. My youngest passenger was seven days old, having obtained with his parents’ help an emergency passport the same day the birth certificate arrived. There is no need to worry about how old a baby has to be to fly.
Traveling with your baby is an epic adventure filled with laughter, tears and memories that will last you a lifetime. Oh the places you’ll go.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at [email protected]