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* Even dealing with jet lag in babies wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.
In fact, our experience of flying to New York with a baby went so smoothly we also travelled as a family to Greece, Australia and Singapore in our son’s first year.
That being said, I suspect it was a mixture of pure luck, a lot of forward planning (including applying for my babies first passport) and – to be entirely honest – spending extra pennies on flying premium economy that made our first experience of flying with a baby a stress-free journey.
But, for anyone else fearful of taking to the skies with a little ‘un, I thought I would share a few tips, thoughts and insights from that journey.
Tips for flying long-haul with a baby
Research the baby bassinet offered by the airline
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 whether they offer a bassinet seat.
One of the ways you can do this is to firstly look at flight search results on Skyscanner to see what airlines and aircraft model are flying on your route. Then input the options into Seat Guru to get an idea of the aircraft layout and the location of bassinets.
Secondly, do some some research into the type of bassinet used by the airline. (This ultimate guide to airline baby bassinets is very helpful.)
We discovered when flying to New York that 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.
On our flight to Australia with Qantas, however, they provided a bassinet with a safety bar across the top and, while it looked like Miles was in baby prison, he slept much better in it.
Find out if you can pre-book the bassinet
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 took later in the year we initially booked with Singapore Airlines as they let you reserve the bassinet online at the time of booking. Unfortunately we had to cancel these flights when our plans changed and we rebooked with Qantas instead. With Qantas, we had to request a bassinet in advance and then wait until check in to see if we were assigned one. We did manage to secure one for 3 out of 4 legs.
If you don’t want to leave it to chance, 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 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 the 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 where you’ve packed everything, so there’s no – ‘where did you pack the bottles again?’ – panic on the airplane.
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 before our flight was about formula feeding on a plane as, despite my best efforts and intentions, I was no longer breastfeeding, as planned, at this point.
If you are bottle feeding your baby then, in short, all you need to do is make sure you have more than enough to cover the timeframe. I went with double the amount of formula and bottles the baby normally needs and we got through most of it. Due to the disturbed routine, feeding on take off and landing, dehydration in the aircraft and the fact you have to throw out unused milk, we needed far more than in a usual day at home.
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 steriliser in our cabin case in case we got through the supply in the changing bag.
This Milton Cold Water Travel Steriliser is great for flying with as you can sterilise a bottle within 15 minutes using cold water. It’s small enough to fit in your hand luggage and you can store a bottle in it when it’s not in use too.
Find the full list of my baby travel essentials here.
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. You might want to bring your own water bottle and ask if you can have it filled when the crew aren’t busy.
During our experience with Virgin Atlantic, 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 with your travel partner
If you’re not flying alone you might want to take turns with your travel buddy when it comes to eating (and sleeping for that matter) while the other cares for the baby.
Luckily in our case, the 30 minutes Miles slept soundly in the infant cradle for 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 politely ask crew to stagger you and your partner’s meals if one of you needs to hold the baby.
But as a backup, don’t forget to pack lots of snacks for you both in case you end up missing the meal service altogether.
Try not to be anxious
I know this is easier said than done but try not to worry too much about what might not happen. I wasted a lot of energy worrying about Miles having an over-tired or teething melt down mid-air and he turned out to be 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 flew economy with the baby to Australia) but I have to be totally honest and admit our first flight with the baby was made much easier by being in premium economy.
Just having that slightly wider seat made it so much easier to hold and feed the baby, and the extra leg room meant each of us could get up to change nappies etc without disturbing anyone else.
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 parts of the aircraft!
I guess what I’m saying is that, mentally at least, being in the premium economy cabin made the flight less stressful, which we especially appreciated as parents flying with an infant for the first time. (The afternoon tea was rather pleasant too!)
Essential items for flying long-haul with a baby
These are all the hand luggage essentials and baby travel gear we took on the plane with us.
(This list contains some Amazon affiliate links – click here for details.)
Silver Cross Jet Stroller – A super light, agile and compact pushchair that weighs less than 6kg, can be wheeled like luggage and fits in the airplane overhead locker. It’s my favourite travel buggy for flying with.
BabyBjorn mini carrier – Really easy to wear and super soft and cosy for the baby. I carried Miles through the airport and onto the plane while sleeping in this. It’s small enough to fit easily in hand luggage or under the travel buggy when not in use.
Clear toiletry bag -To help you feel organised at security. This set of 3 covered me, Justin and the baby!
Packing cubes – For separating yours and the babies items and using as a handy travel changing bag.
Zip sleepsuits – Miles always sleeps in zipper 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 that is perfect hand luggage for families. We took this and our regular changing bag on the plane with us.
Cozigo – An airline bassinet cover that doubles up as a stroller sunshade.
Also flying with a toddler? Here’s what we recommend for keeping toddlers entertained on a plane.
You may also like: Baby travel essentials
Post updated July 2022
Main photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash