One of the biggest excitements of 2017 was taking the public transport with my baby here in Budapest. The close second was taking a plane. And in reality it all happened in a reverse order. Ironic, isn’t it? LittleMK flew much sooner than riding a local bus. And while I find both means of transport unappealing, only one of them proved to be actually difficult. And no, it wasn’t flying.
Back in late September, when Little MK was just past his half-year birthday, we travelled to Switzerland to visit a family member. And even though we’d been to Slovenia a couple of times before with the Little One, it still felt like the first real adventure. Maybe because Switzerland was a totally unknown territory for all of us, or maybe because it involved a you-can’t-fill-up-the-car style of packing and the weary turmoil of getting to the airport and catching a plane on time. Well, undoubtedly it all added up to our excitement. And while I’m planning to tell you a bit later about how we fell in love with this tiny Alpine country (and how we sobered up after), for the time being let me share with you bits and bobs of our first flying experience, as well as some tips just to give you a nudge if you are planning to do the same in the near future.
✈ Flying a baby is cheap. The best news about flying with a baby that it’s relatively cheap up to their second birthday. The airline companies usually charge you a small fee: around 10% of the adult fare (you can check the different airlines here). With easyjet we paid almost 25 euros one-way, which was more or less the same like our discount-price ticket, so not a big deal there. But if you fly long distances it can be a real treat.
✈ Book your seats wisely. Truth to be told, for this money the baby doesn’t get an allocated seat, instead he needs to sit on your lap – but you wouldn’t really expect your chickpea to sit quietly and nicely in his own chair for the entire journey anyway, would you? Of course for longer journies, if you can afford the extra fare, it might be more comfortable to buy your little one his own place. Even if he’s not able to sit alone there yet, you can still bring an infant car seat on board and strap him into it. On long-haul flights many airlines also offer a bassinet – that’s another brilliant option to consider (a travelmum keeps an updated list here on the airline practices for a starting point). If these options are not possible, then select your seats carefully for the most space possible. If you’re flying with someone else, you might want to book an aisle and window seat, leaving the middle one open and hoping that it won’t get filled. And even if it does, the person in-between will probably be happy to switch seats with you. We also tried the two aisle seats option on one of the flights: it was great in terms of space, but not so swell in terms of handling the baby.
✈ Don’t overpack for the carry on. For the tiny infant fare, you can take with you a stroller or pushchair until just before boarding, and with some air companies you even have a free check-in luggage included. With easyjet unfortunately we couldn’t enjoy the luxury of an extra bag, so we needed to learn to pack in two suitcases for the three of us for an entire week. (A separate post on the wizardry of packing is coming up later!) But in return, we could have taken up an additional cabin bag if we’d wanted to. If you take my advice though, don’t really take advantage of that: the more stuff you need to carry around at the airport, the more stressful the whole experience becomes, especially with a baby. You have enough at your hands already.
✈ But be prepared enough for the flight. Keeping your carry on baggage to a minimum is easier said than done. Babies come with tons of stuff, and it’s also good to be prepared.
- You want to bring more diapers, food and spare clothing as you’d think -there can always be an unexpected delay or unforeseen circumstances.
- Yes, you’re definitely allowed to bring along baby food and drink (breast milk, formula, cartoned milk, and baby food of all consistencies and packaging), and they are exempt from the 100 ml rule at the security check. But be ready to take them out, open them or even taste them, if it’s asked. My advice would be to have the sterilised water already in the baby bottles if possible -it doesn’t only make security screening easier, but it’s also handy later on the plane. Bring enough water and offer it to your baby during the flight more times than usual, since the dry air can make them easily dehydrated.
- Have the baby dressed in layers and always have a little cap and a warm cover with you – planes tend to get chilly.
- Also bring a few (silent) toys and entertainment for your Little One, even if they end up playing with the empty water cup, the magazine or the sickness bag.
- Oh, and the most important thing: don’t forget the travel documentation of your child, either!
✈ Take a baby carrier with you. We only took on board a little backpack for us and the diaper bag including the essentials of LittleMK. We chose to take the pushchair with a carseat on it, which later we could also buckle into our rental car. At Budapest Airport we literally pushed the trolley till the stairs of the aircraft, but in Geneva we only got it back at the baggage reclaim, so having the buckle carrier with us proved to be the wisest decision. It was very comfortable maneuvering around with him like this, beside it has given him much security and comfort in the new situation. It came handy on board, too: both ways we put him asleep with the help of it after the plane took off.
✈ Schedule the flight for nap or bed time. There’s a good chance your baby will get exhausted from the hustle of bustle of the airport and the white noise on the plane will easily lull him to sleep anyway. But it really helps if the flight coincides with the time when the Little One usually gets sleepy.
✈ Enjoy priorities. But refuse one of them. At Budapest Airport we checked in and got through security in less than ten minutes. Yes, you heard it right! With a baby we enjoyed priority not only at the boarding but EVERYWHERE. And everybody was so incredibly attentive that we didn’t even need to look out for help. On the way back, at Geneva Airport things were not this baby friendly at all (and the whole facility surprisingly wasn’t really built with families in mind either), so you shouldn’t take these kind of priorities for granted. Rather be prepared and be at the airport on time. Airline companies also offer priority boarding for families with children as a courtesy. Even though we took advantage of it (hah, beginners!), we were wondering if it wasn’t actually wiser to board the plane rather as late as possible. After all, it sometimes takes more than half an hour for all the passengers to come on board, and all of that is just additional time to be spent in a cramped seat with the baby (trying to protect him from the careless packing and pushing of your fellow passengers).
✈ Plan for take-off and landing. The hardest time is probably during take-off and landing time, since the changes in the cabin pressure might bother the baby’s little ears. The best is to breastfeed him, if you feel comfortable with it, but actually any sort of sucking motion will do the work. LittleMK sensed both times that something exciting was happening, so he couldn’t bother less to nurse. But fortunately the pacifier and the water bottle worked like a charm, too. Keep in mind, though, that you’d want to offer the Little One something to suck on before the final descent. Pressure change is most noticeable once the plane begins the initial descent, around half an hour or on long distance flight even a bit more before landing.
✈ Be polite and considerate of fellow passengers. It’s maybe needless to say, but from my childless days I still remember how uncomfortable it can be to be stuck for 10 hours between two nasty kids. So I really try to think for the other passengers as well, and disturb them as little as possible. I’m proud to say that Little MK behaved actually much better during his first flights than many adults on board. I’m not sure the next time it will be as easy, since I’m afraid travelling with a one-year old will be more difficult than a six-month old. But I will still do my best to help him to behave nicely.
✈ Finally, don’t forget to plan your journey to and from the airport, either. The best and most hassle-free way to get to the airport is in your own car. Of course, it depends on the length of your journey, but in many cases it’s cheaper to pay for the parking than taking the cab both ways (at least here, in Budapest). And it gives you much more freedom and ease. In case you opt for a cab though, definitely pre-order it; that’s the only way you might be able to get it with a child seat.
I hope that these little nuggets will help you to have a more peaceful journey as well, if you’re in the planning phase. And if you’re an experienced traveller, please give me a shout with extra ideas – as I said we’re getting ready for our next flight, and I have the jitters once again.