Flying with an infant: the essentials

Is there a luggage allowance for babies? Can you take milk through customs? Are you allowed to take a travel cot, car seat and buggy? Annie Ridout answers all your questions regarding flying with an infant (and adds some bonus tips)…

This article was originally published in October 2015

Flying with an infant: the essentials

We recently returned from Spain – a last minute, bonus week of summer for me, 15-month-old Joni and my parents. With a ridiculous amount of luggage, plenty of snacks and a few books – we were set to go.

Except we weren’t, because our last trip – to Tenerife, in the spring, when Joni was eight-months-old, breastfed, slept easily on my chest and couldn’t walk – was much simpler. This time round, things were quite different.

I managed to muddle my way through, with the help of doting and ever-enthusiastic grandparents, but to save you a few tantrums (from the child), tears (your own) and stress (all round), let me share some essential info and top tips…

1. When can I fly with my baby?

This can vary, so here are guidelines from five of the UK’s most popular airlines…

Ryanair – your baby must be over seven days old. Until the age of two, they can sit on your lap – so you pay £20, not the full flight fee – and will be given an infant seatbelt to attach to the your belt. Other seating options are available, at a cost.

Easyjet – babies can travel provided that they are at least 15 days old. Babies and infants under two are not charged a full fare, but will be charged at a flat rate of £22 per flight if they travel on your lap. Only two infants are permitted per adult.

There is the option for infants under twos to have their own seat, but you’ll need to bring a car seat to use on the plane. And this will need to be booked through customer service, not online.

British Airways – infants can travel from birth. An infant fare is charged at 10% of the adult fare, when the infant sits on a parent’s lap. You can reserve a seat for yourself and everyone else in your booking free of charge, as soon as you‘ve made your booking.

Thomson – a baby must be more than 14 days old to travel on an aircraft, ‘for health and safety reasons’. Each infant must be accompanied by one adult, therefore if two infants are travelling, there must be at least two adults with them.

Infants up to the age of two years must travel on the accompanying adult’s lap with a lap-strap safety belt for take-off and landing, and at anytime when the seat belt sign is illuminated.

Virgin – baby must be 48 hours old. Contact special assistance if your baby’s under two weeks old, or under six months and was born prematurely.

2. What can we bring?

Ryanair – a baby bag up to 5kg can be carried by the accompanying adult in addition to their own cabin bag allowance. However, there is no checked-in baggage allowance for infants seated on an adult’s lap. You can pay extra for this option.

Two items of baby equipment are carried free of charge per child – one pushchair plus one of the following items: car seat, booster seat, travel cot. On arrival at the airport the two free items will be tagged and sent to the hold.

Easyjet – you can take up to two of the following items free of charge: travel cot, pushchair, double pushchair, buggy, car seat, pram, booster seat, baby back carrier – each of the items weighing no more than 32kg.

The items must be tagged at the check-in or bag drop desk and they can be carried to the aircraft door or steps. They can be collected from the baggage carousel on arrival. If you have checked in online and are carrying hand baggage only, the items can be tagged at the boarding gate (except the travel cot).

British Airways – your child will have the same free checked baggage allowance as you. If you’re travelling with an infant, in addition to your own free checked baggage allowance, you can also bring: one bag to check in for the infant – up to 23kg/51lb – one fully-collapsible pushchair (stroller), one car seat.

They provide carrycots (for infants up to 12.5kg) and child seats for older infants (also up to 12.5kg). You can reserve a seat suitable for either of these options in advance, but the actual cots and seats are subject to availability once you’ve boarded.

Thomson – infants under the age of two have an individual luggage allowance of 10kg. Folding pushchairs and wheelchairs do not count as part of your baggage allowance and you won’t be charged for them when travelling on their in-house airline.

Child car seats can be used for toddlers or children in accordance with the age, weight and height ranges that are recommended with the manufacturer. You’ll also need to make sure you take a car safety seat that meets this criteria.

Virgin – when travelling with children or infants, you can bring one fully collapsible pushchair and a car seat, in addition to your free checked baggage allowance. Pushchairs will fly in the aircraft’s hold.

Car seats can be used on board (in Economy only) if they meet the necessary requirements. Virgin offer in-flight cots free of charge if you call this number: 0344 874 7747. There’s more info here.

3. Baby milk, food and medicine

The 100ml liquid limitation for adults doesn’t apply in the same way to baby food and drinks – you’re allowed to take milk, sterilised water and baby food as required for the duration of your journey. There is a 2kg limit and the products should be in commercially branded packaging. Here are the UK guidelines.

Likewise, essential medicine and medical equipment. Other than that, you’ll need to stick to the 100ml maximum bottle size for liquids and non-dry food. Biscuits, crackers, Ella’s bars and similar are all fine – but packaging shouldn’t be open as you pass through.

All the main airlines have baby changing facilities on board and cabin crew can warm baby bottles if required. Children’s pushchairs can be used up to the aircraft steps.

4. Packing

This one will depend on where you’re going. For a hot holiday, you’ll need high factor suntan lotion, a sunhat – though my daughter fervently refuses to wear one, so we just keep her in the shade – jelly shoes for the sea are handy, also a beach towel. Water nappies are good, as they don’t expand in water.

For a winter adventure: lots of layers, waterproofs, wooly hat, scarf and gloves. Extra moisturiser for dry skin and chapped lips and these little gel packs are great for warming tiny hands.

Pre-potty training, you’ll need lots of nappies, wipes, muslins. If you’re concerned about having to forfeit your own suitcase space for baby essentials, Travel Tots offer a delivery service – dropping off all these things, plus baby food, sterilising equipment and more to your accommodation.

A selection of familiar toys, books, blankets and any other comforting bits from around the house can be useful. Remember to put some in hand luggage, to be used throughout the flight and on transport to and from the airport.

You may be arriving at your destination at an inconvenient time – like late at night, or super early in the morning – and so shops won’t necessarily be open to buy breakfast or dinner. Plan for this: take fruit, porridge oats, or pick up ready-made sandwiches/salads from the departure lounge.

5. For extra comfort

We flew Ryanair and going out, managed to book seats at the front of the aircraft on the opposite side to the exit (where infants can’t sit) with extra legroom. Joni sat on my lap for take-off and landing then roamed between our legs the rest of the time.

On the way back, we didn’t have these seats and it was fairly cramped with a wriggling, trying-to-walk toddler – who’d missed both her naps – and three long-legged adults. It’s worth paying the extra for a bit of comfort, if possible.

6. Screens

We’re not big screen people at home. We don’t watch much TV, our laptops are for working, we don’t own iPads and we try – though mostly fail – to limit smart phone use to when Joni’s otherwise occupied.

However, I’m now ready to invest in an iPad, with some kids’ apps installed because on long journeys, this might just save me a lot of stress. For older kids (aged 3-9), LeapFrog have a selection of LeapPads with educational games. My neighbour has one and they’re fab.

All kids love screens, so use the iPad or LeapPad to distract them during the flight, while you recline with an overpriced G&T and start reading the book you probably won’t finish before the end of the holiday.