The ultimate guide to flying with a baby during the pandemic

Pamela G. Knowles
Complete parent’s guide to flying with a baby during the pandemic
Image Credit: Shutterstock

However frequent a flyer you might be, adding a baby and a pandemic into the mix can make even the most seasoned expat traveler lose their cool. But planning ahead can make the world of difference. For families travelling overseas during the festive period, here are some tips from parents and former cabin crew on how to fly safely and smoothly with a baby in the new normal.

DO YOUR COVID REQUIREMENTS HOMEWORK

First things first, do not even think about leaving for the airport in the current climate without having checked out the legal requirements for the country you are flying to. If you are a UAE resident then, depending on your UAE visa, you will need to apply to either the GDRFA or ICA for approval to return to the UAE. And, depending on your travel destination, you are likely going to need to take a PCR COVID test and provide a negative certificate, either within a certain timeframe prior to leaving, or on arrival. While children under 12 are exempt from the COVID test requirement in Dubai, every country has different rules and they are constantly being updated, so check on the run-up to your flight and again on the day or day before you’re due to fly – you don’t want to be stuck in an airport with a baby.

TAP UP TECHNOLOGY

Digital has well and truly taken over in the new normal, with everything from menus to boarding passes and hotel room keys now available on your phone or tablet. Be sure your technology is fully charged (pack a charger in your hand luggage) and look into anything that might make your journey smoother – whether that’s checking in online and downloading your boarding pass beforehand, or even making use of the Home Check-In service offered by Emirates. This means you can complete the security check and check-in from your home and have your luggage collected beforehand, so you can saunter straight to immigration when you arrive at the airport (Dh350 for up to seven cases).

INVESTIGATE MASKS

We are used to being required to wear a mask in public at all times in the UAE so having to do so on a plane is not a great change. However, although children below six years old are exempt from having to wear a mask in the UAE, different countries and different airlines have their own policies. On certain US airlines children from the age of two years upwards are required to wear a mask for instance, so you may need to practice mask-wearing with your little one to get them used to it on the run-up to the journey. If you or a family member is not able to wear a mask for any medical reason then you will need documentation to prove this.

PACK SNACKS

It’s possible that the food and beverage offering will be more limited than what you’re used to on your flight during the pandemic, so come prepared with child-friendly food and drinks – mini bread sticks, raisins, rice cakes and other dry finger foods are a good bet for keeping tiny tummies sated without causing too much mess.

BRING BUSY BAGS

Prevent idle hands from causing too much havoc by planning out activities. Stickers, picture books, activity journals, colouring pads, small toys, simple card games like Top Trumps and of course the trusty iPad are all useful options in case the seat TVs don’t do the trick. You may also want to bring your child’s own headphones, as well as a blanket in case they insist on crawling or sitting on the floor at some point.

CHOOSE YOUR SEAT WISELY

Window seats away from the toilet will minimise your contact with other passengers. For tips on whether or not to choose a bassinet seat, see below.

PLAN YOUR COMFORT BREAKS

Limit trips to the cramped airplane bathrooms by ensuring kids use the airport facilities beforehand.

STAY HYDRATED

This will help your nose and throat with the dry air, as well as help keep all body functions running efficiently, thereby reducing your risk of infection. Pack empty sippy cups in your hand luggage and be sure to buy your own bottles of water when you’re through the security gates (for more on baby milk see below).

USE THE SANITARY KIT

Sanitise your seat, arm rests, TV screen/ remote, and table before using them, and keep everything – including children’s toys, pens etc – clean. Also pack individual sanitisers and wipes in an easy-to—reach part of your hand luggage, in case your sanitary kit runs out or is not forthcoming from your airline.

KEEP YOUR AIR VENT ON

There’s evidence to suggest that the air from the vent can create a ‘cone of protection’ that can stop airborne viruses from lingering in the air around you.

Real mums’ tips

Rewards
“While travelling or vacationing, I always carry some of my kids’ favourite toys. They not only provide familiarity and stability, but I can also use them to manage – or let’s say control! – their behaviour. I can take the toys away for bad behaviour and reward the kids with one of their toys for good behaviour.” — Nisha Jain

Get ready
“I download the programmes on the Netflix app and get onto BBC iPlayer well in advance of our trip and download CBeebies episodes to our iPad so we can still watch them when there’s no Wifi.” — Jen Gibson

Plug ’em in
“Take headphones so you can resort to the iPad wherever you are without disturbing other people, and make sure you have an adaptor so you can plug their headphones into the aircraft socket. You can also get a dual jack so you can use two sets of headphones in one iPad – saves a whole lot of fighting!”— Rachel Stone

Stay chilled
“For our recent flight I brought a new toy and a new book for our son so he was occupied with that during take-off and landing when he had to be seated. The rest of the flight we let him walk around and showed him the plane. At the in-laws’ house he slept in a similar cot with similar bedding he has here at home and I also brought along two of his favourite sleeping buddies, so he felt more at home. The transfer from the airport to the city took quite a long time, but I have some cartoon apps on my phone for these situations so he even started singing along. Last tip is not to show your baby you’re stressed or scared because of travelling; they sense it and will become stressed out too.” — Dora Alfarra

Snack smart
“I relax my no-sugar rules when we fly but I try to be creative with snacks so I can still get healthy stuff in there. I’ll go somewhere like Daiso and get small, brightly coloured plastic boxes and fill them with a mix of cereal, dried fruit snacks and chocolate chips. Of course, I’ve also got sweets and lollies hidden in my handbag for when I need to get the big guns out!” — Anna Francis

ASK THE MATERNITY NURSE:

FAQs for parents travelling with a new baby

While travelling with kids of all ages can be a challenge, flying with a small baby for the first time can be particularly daunting for new parents. Jo Holt, Lead Maternity Manager at Malaak Mama & Baby Care and former cabin crew shares her top tips and travel advice for those visiting family this festive season.

Aside from COVID related updates and documents, what are the main points I need to check with the airline?

It is essential you have completed all travel documents required for your final destination.

(As a mother or father traveling alone be mindful some destinations require further documents to be signed off by both parents giving consent for the child to travel. You may check with immigration in Dubai to confirm exactly what destinations require this.)

What is the baggage allowance for Families?

– Confirm with your airline the baggage allowance for adults, children and infants as it can vary depending on the status and category of your ticket.

– It is advisable to check what baby items, like car seats, cots and strollers are included in the infants/child’s baggage allowance and what is not included.

What is the most suitable clothing to wear for me and my baby?

– We advise you wear comfortable and practical clothing that will assist you when feeding your baby.

– Always take a change of clothes for yourself in case you need to change.

– Pack at least 2 – 3 changes of clothes for your baby or child as accidents are common on a flight.

– Be savvy when packing eg a breastfeeding cover is not necessary as a scarf or muslin wrap can have the same affect and both have dual purposes and be a blessing when the cabin temperature is chilly.

Can I breastfeed on a flight?

– Yes, you can breastfeed on a flight.

– If you feel uncomfortable with other passengers seated next to you, then simply request at the check in counter or once you have boarded the flight, that you would appreciate to be seated next to the window or other female passengers.

– Ensure you prepare yourself prior to feeding times eg. safely secure yourself and your baby in correct seatbelts provided, so you can proceed to feed your baby during taxi, takeoff and landing, as the sucking reflex can ease the pressure and any discomfort on the baby’s ears.

Can I take expressed breast milk onto a flight? How can I keep it cool?

– Yes, you are permitted to take expressed breast milk on to a flight.

– It is also best to have it readily available at the security check points to avoid being delayed.

– We would advise you clearly label the inside and outside by placing the cooler bag in a large clear zip lock bag to ensure it remains as sterile as possible.

– A small cooler bag with ice packs such as the Grab & Go Double Bottle Bag is ideal and once on board the aircraft you can request for it to be stored in a chiller at 0-4 degrees celsius. 

Can I take pre-made formula milk onto a flight? How do I keep it cool?

– The airlines do allow premade formula, however we would not recommend the powered formula to be premade as it is recommended to be prepared and consumed within one hour.

– Alternatively, you could take Premixed Liquid Formula that is available in grocery stores or pharmacies as this is not required to be chilled.

What do I need to take with me to prepare bottles of formula milk once on the aircraft?

– We would suggest you take bottles of boiled water filled with more water than you require, as you might be requested to drink the water out of each bottle at the security check points. Carry them all together in a clear sealed bag, in order to make security checks a smooth and easy process.

How many bottles will I need?

– Remember to calculate the journey from door to door including spares for spillage or delays you may face, not just the flight time.

What items do I need to pack to warm the formula milk on board the aircraft?

– We would strongly advise you boil the kettle at home just before you leave for the airport, fill all the bottles with boiled water the baby is familiar with.

– Take an insulated flask with additional boiled water to add to the pre boiled water in each bottle, ensuring the water is the correct temperature your child prefers and you have the accurate mls required for each bottle.

– We would highly recommend you take premeasured formula in a formula dispenser.

Do I need to book a bassinet row?

– It is advisable to book the bassinet row if you have a small baby under 6 months, allowing yourself the possibility to perhaps enjoy a hot drink or meal.

– However please do keep in mind the ratio of infants to bassinets is not always balanced. Majority of airlines have policies in place offering the bassinets to the youngest babies on board.

– If turbulence occurs, you will be requested to hold your baby and abide by the strict safety precautions.

– Note, Most Airlines also have weight restrictions for the bassinets up to 11kg.

Is a night flight or day flight better when travelling with a baby or child?

– It really depends on the age of your children and the duration of your flight.

– We recommend you land at the time they are normally waking up in the morning, as this will make it much easier on you and them.

– Ultimately, travel at a time you feel the most at ease as your baby will feed off your levels of stress and anxieties.

– We would highly recommend you and your baby/child get a good rest the day before your flight.

– Avoid trips to the mall and too much activity that may leave your dehydrated and exhausted.

– Ensure you arrive at the airport as soon as check-in opens giving yourself ample time to check the distance of the gate once you arrive on the concourse, to ensure you arrive at the gate on time. Give yourself time as you may need to change a nappy, feed your baby and most importantly hydrate and refuel yourself.

– Note – the most important tip is to stick to the same routine whilst traveling. Stay on UAE time if you are taking a day flight and try to plan the nap times in advance to avoid you baby becoming over tired. Take on board the aircraft, all the creature comforts your little ones love at home. To help them sleep well take their own sheet to lay on, a favorite blanket, teddy, and even their PJ’s or sleeping bag for day time naps or night flights are total lifesaver

How do I pack when traveling with young children?

– It is essential to pack a variety of healthy snacks for everyone, including yourself, especially if you are breastfeeding. Bananas, porridge and plain crackers fill little toddler tummies, as milk alone can cause more harm than good, bloating tummies and increasing motion sickness. Ideally pack a thermos flask of hot or cold food (I prefer vegetarian options and less coloured foods to avoid clothes being soiled) ensuring your little ones are well fed and hydrated is the key.

– Pack Smart by using pouches/purses/pods to separate items. This will make everything accessible during the flight, especially in the dark or when holding a hungry baby on your lap with limited room to move. Our go to is the clear PacaPod range allowing you to purchase different coloured seams allowing you to separate clean and dirty bottles whilst on the flight or out and about.

Can I take my baby’s car seat onto the flight or do I need to check it in?

– Car seats can be very useful especially if you have more than one child. If your child is normally comfortable in a car seat and also sleeps well, this can be a great benefit to a parent travelling alone.

– We would suggest you check the current regulations with your airline.

– However, you must follow the below guidelines and confirm with your airline the specific requirements for your chosen destination.

– Ensure your car seat has a clear label with the specifications or alternatively carry a copy of the Manufacture Certificate with the design and size.

– The approved Certified Car Seat codes for USA: TSO/C100B or TSO/C100C

– The approved Certified Car Seat codes for Europe: ETSO C100B or ETSO C100C

– The approved Certified Car Seat codes for Australia and New Zealand: AS/NS1754

(Emirates Airline A380 economy seat dimensions are 29.61 inches height,18 inch width, 18 inches depth)

What are the best strollers for travel with young children?

– A cabin-friendly stroller can be very helpful, especially if you have more than one child, a sleepy toddler or you are travelling alone.

– There are several brilliantly designed cabin friendly strollers on the market and from our experience they are worth the investment. Babyzen YOYO2 Bugaboo Bee 6 and the Mountain Buggy Nano are all good options. 

Can I take my stroller onto the flight or do I need to check it in?

– It is sensible to check with your airline the latest regulations relating to cabin friendly strollers.

– Alternatively, most airlines will allow you to take your stroller to the gate. They will then ask you to collect it at the baggage claim at your final destination.

– Note – It is very wise to purchase a travel bag to protect it and ensure it has several ID tags on both the stroller and the bag.

What are the best solutions for a parent travelling alone with one or more children?

– The most important and useful tip is to have your hands free, this is when a baby carrier can be very helpful. The Ergobaby is a popular baby carrier option.

– Compact Car Seats can provide a safe solution when travelling; The Mifold, Beaba and Bombol Pop Up Booster seat are great options.

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