Flying with an infant for the first time is undoubtedly a nerve racking experience. I mean nobody wants to be THAT PARENT with the screaming infant, right?
Travelling with a baby or little one can undoubtedly can be a challenge no matter how well behaved your little one is. Flying can cause unpredictable things to happen, but the better prepared you are, the better you will be able to handle the whole flying experience. So let’s try and get you to your destination with your sanity intact!
The legal bits
Before you go, the obvious thing you will need for your child is a passport. (We talked HERE about how you get your first UK passport issued when living in the UAE). You will also need either their residency visa issued or an exit stamp from immigration if you have not already completed this process.
The next thing you may want to consider if you are flying without both parents present is having a Permission or Consent to Travel letter with you. This is a document signed by both parents/guardians of the child. Most of our mum’s have not encountered any issues with this flying UK to UAE, but if you don’t share the same surname as your children, this may be a prudent step to prevent being held up by immigration officials. Check requirements with your country of arrival and any transit airports.
Airline rules and booking for infants
Most airlines won’t let you travel with a child less than a week old – given how long paperwork takes to organise here, this shouldn’t be an issue!
Infants under 2 years old can travel on a parent’s lap at 10% of the adult ticket price. This is all good and well when they’re tiny, but as they grow and when they’re past a year old, you may wish to consider purchasing a child’s ticket and having them sit in an airline approved infant seat instead (you will have to provide this and ensure it meets the airlines safety rules).
Most airlines will let you book an infant seat in advance of having your child so just call them up to add their name on the ticket once it is known.
The rules constantly change based on current safety threats and advances in technology. At the time of writing, flights from the UAE that fly direct to the USA, don’t allow you to take any electronic items larger than the size of a mobile phone on board – meaning iPads and the likes are out. Currently this is only US bound aircraft but there are rumours that this could expand.
At Dubai airport, all baggage must have at least one flat surface. This can cause issues for large items which will need to be checked in with oversized baggage. Our mums so far have reported no problems getting child seats through in oversized baggage as normal.
Every airport you go through will have slightly different rules on what needs to go through the security scanner. Some will ask for shoes off, or permittable electronics to be taken out of your bag. Almost all will ask for an infant to be out of their buggy, but most will let you walk through with your baby strapped on to you as long as your baby carrier has no metal parts.
Flying out of UAE airports, liquids are restricted to 100ml bottles and must be carried in a clear bag. The exception to this is infant drinks. No specific rules can be found for the UAE but the TSA rules state that ‘a reasonable quantity’ of breast milk, infant formula or juice can be bought on board and may be subjected to xray or testing.
Booking flights and when to fly
Everyone has their favourite strategies and it might depend how many time zones you need to cross. But generally speaking, overnight long-haul flights can work best as your child is naturally sleep anyway and there’s more possibility they will stay still whilst asleep!
If you have the luxury of travelling outside of weekends, school holidays and other peak periods, then do so! With less passengers on board, you may even be able to take up a row or two near the rear of the plane and spread yourselves out.
Book a baby bassinet
One way to avoid needing to carry your infant for the entire flight is to book an infant bassinet seat. Most airlines provide these free of charge to parents carrying infants on a first-come-first-served basis. As soon as you book your infant ticket, call the airline and request for this to be added to your booking.
There’s no guarantee you will get what you reserved but being persistent, staying in touch with the airline and checking in early on the day of your flight will increase your chances of getting this coveted seat on the aircraft.
Why do you want that seat?
Not only does the bulkhead seat have extra leg room, but it means that once the plane is in the air and baby is asleep, you can free up your hands. There are some disadvantages of the bulkhead, mostly that the armrests don’t lift up and you will be near to either the galley or the toilets which are high traffic areas of the aircraft, however, compared to free hands and extra leg space – these are small sacrifices!
Packing for an infant
On board, you will be allowed one extra bag to carry an infant’s essential supplies – normally restricted to 5-7kgs. What you include is up to you and how long your flight will last, but it’s always better safe than sorry, even if your airline does provide some baby amenities to slightly over pack. We’d suggest including:
Nappies and wet wipes
Small toys and any loved sleeping blankets
Nursing cover & breast pads
Feeding gear and snacks
Most airlines will carry cows milk and will be able to heat bottles for you, but not all will be able to sterilise bottles for you.
Check with individual airlines what checked luggage restrictions are. Most will allow an extra 10kg or 1 piece up to 23kg for an infant ticket depending on the route, plus a collapsible stroller, infant seat or bassinet.
Taking a buggy with you can be a tricky beast depending on the airports you will be using. You may either choose not to have the hassle taking it all the way to the aircraft and check them in, hoping to score a complimentary airport buggy (available in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha and an increasing number of worldwide airports, but certainly not all).
If you choose to take your collapsible buggy all the way to the aircraft, then it will need to be labelled at check-in and then once you get to the gate, they are then usually taken from you and then stowed beneath by the ground staff. If your flight’s not too full you may be able to take small, folding umbrella style buggys on board with you, but this does depend on how busy your flight is.
Also, depending on your arrival airport, your buggy will either be returned to your jetty as you get off the aircraft on arrival, or you will need to collect them from the oversized luggage area at your destination. If you have a transit stop you will not be able to take your buggy off as it would be checked in for the entire onward journey.
The increasingly popular ultra-compacts like the McLaren, Yoyo and the Nano can be taken onboard as they fit the overhead locker, and can then be used immediately on disembarking or during transit stops.
Our top tips once you’re on board
If you haven’t booked a separate child’s seat on board, infants that will be sat on your lap for take off and landing are attached to the adults seat belt with an extra extension seat belt that loops through yours. You must use this every time the seat belt sign is on, even in the bassinet seat and the cabin crew will automatically give this to you.
Nursing an infant during take-off and descent
This can really help little ones with their ear pressure – try (if you can) to time these feeds if possible as it can make life easier all round!
Please try not to worry what others around you are thinking. In all likelihood they’ve either been there, and done it themselves (or had a wife that’s done that) or they totally empathise with you. Just do your best to keep baby calm and happy but understand there will be moments when they cry or need soothing.
When the seat belt sign is off and baby is awake, a small change in scenery walking around the plane can help.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a helping hand if you’re travelling alone. Cabin crew can watch a sleeping baby and most will happily help entertain them if you need to go to the loo or are stuck in your seat and need items from the overhead locker. In fact, most will enjoy it and love to help!
Take your time
As is life with a new born in tow, everything seems to take far longer than you could possibly imagine!
Allow a couple of hours before your flight to get to the airport. This gives you time to negotiate the best seating for you, check any oversized items, get through security and plan your feeds and nappy changes well in advance of boarding without feeling rushed.
Once boarding commences, most long-haul flights will call forward ask families with young children to pre-board first. This gives you time to settle into your seats and grab that overhead locker space early before the crowds. If your infant is crawling or walking though, you may want to leave this until the last possible minute!
Do you have any infant flying secrets you’d like to share with your fellow mums? Please comment below!