Baby's first flight: What you need to know
Whether you’re flying long-haul or heading off on a short trip, travelling with a baby is never child’s play but a little forward planning can go a long way
It’s an experience many first-time parents dread – their child’s first flight. But like many things in life, a bit of planning will go a long way. There will be hiccups, but knowing what to expect will invariably make your whole journey smoother.
First things first, how do you go about booking your baby’s flight? Keep in mind that you don’t actually need to wait for a child to be born to buy them a travel ticket. So if there’s a sale on that you want to take advantage of, go ahead. Tickets for babies travelling in their parents’ arms can be booked ahead of time. If you don’t yet know the sex of your child, then the airline will classify the ticket as an infant flight and you can update them with the correct information when your son or daughter has arrived. However, if you want your baby to have their own seat, then you’ll need to wait until they’re born to book their ticket.
How soon can you travel?
Most airlines will allow babies on planes at just a few days old, but double check with whichever airline you’re flying with, as restrictions vary.
Babies typically need to be at least seven days old to fly with Etihad or Emirates. For Gwen Morvan, a flying nanny with Etihad, the youngest baby she has seen on board was three weeks old.
Dr Muhammad Hudyfa, a paediatric specialist at Medcare Hospital Sharjah, confirms that babies are usually medically fit to fly when they are three days old. “Rules for flying with a newborn baby can vary worldwide, but after a normal delivery, a baby with stable vital signs is considered medically well enough to travel on their third day. To fly with a baby in the first week, you’ll need a medical clearance letter,” says Dr Hudyfa. “For mums who have had a Caesarean birth, they should wait until at least 10 days after the delivery,” he adds.
Getting the paperwork right
In the past, children could travel on their parents’ passports until a certain age, but that’s no longer the case, so make sure you have your child’s passport organised ahead of time.
The requirements for applying for a passport from the UAE differ from country to country. Check with your embassy to find out exactly what you need to do and the time frame to do it in.
Typically, you’ll need your birth notification letter – the piece of paper the hospital gives you to register your child’s birth; an attested birth certificate for your child; and lots of passport photographs in the specified size. If you’re travelling as a single parent, then it’s worth organising a No Objection Certificate from your partner, especially if your surname is different to that of your child.
It’s also helpful to have your child’s birth certificate and your marriage certificate with you, too, something that Abu Dhabi resident Emma Delport discovered a little too late. “We were going [from Dubai] to South Africa, where my husband is from, and had our daughter’s passport with us but we weren’t told that we also needed her original birth certificate. We found out at check-in and my sister-in-law drove from Abu Dhabi to try to bring it, but there wasn’t enough time. We missed the flight which delayed our trip and added to my preflight nerves,” she explains.
As well as paperwork, flying with a baby can involve a lot of carry-on equipment. Ideally, your first flight with your baby should be with another adult in tow – it will make simple things like carrying bags and buggies, or going to the washroom, so much easier.
One way to reduce what you need to bring on-board is to check what your chosen airline will provide. Etihad staff will distribute milk, baby meals and nappies, and Emirates crew will hand out bags typically containing baby wipes and a nappy.
Your carry-on bag will be your saviour. Inside, put everything that you might need for the duration of the flight – nappies, wipes, a foldable changing mat, milk bottles, medicine, bibs and earmuffs are essential. Bring extra clothes – you never know what’s going to happen and you don’t want to have to leave your child in wet clothes if they have an accident.
And don’t forget about yourself. “Make sure you pack a change of your own clothes as the chances are you’re going to get covered in something and you don’t want to be sat on a long-haul flight in sick-soaked clothing,” says Delport.
Morvan advises packing something that your little one is familiar with. “Parents can bring a blanket from home or a favourite toy as the familiarity of it will help little ones relax.”
It might help to create a packing list that you can print out and check items off as you pack them. This will ensure you don’t get to 38,000 feet before you realise you’ve forgotten something important.
For Rosalie Logan, a Canadian expat living in Abu Dhabi and the mother of two small girls, a baby carrier or harness is a must. Wearing this means it’s easier to settle your baby before leaving the plane and you won’t need to struggle with bags and children and opening or closing a stroller.
Morvan agrees, especially for people travelling with another adult in tow. “If travelling in a pair, a carrier is much easier than using a stroller. Make sure you can fit the infant seat belt around the baby carrier for take-off and landing.”
Where to sit?
If you’re flying long-haul, be sure to request a bulkhead seat where you’ll have access to a bassinet or sky-cot. For Delport, securing this on her first flight with her five-month-old daughter was invaluable. “Getting a seat with a bassinet saved me on that first flight. I was worried about it, but the bassinet really helped. My daughter was an angel in it; she literally slept through the whole thing,” she recalls.
Logan agrees that bassinet seats are extremely useful but adds: “It’s helpful to know that if you hit turbulence, you’ll have to lift your baby out of the crib until things settle down again.”
Etihad’s nanny confirms: “If the seat-belt sign comes on, parents need to remove babies from the bassinet as it’s not secure enough for strong turbulence.” Morvan also points out that pre-booking bassinet seats doesn’t guarantee you’ll get one, as it depends on the size and weight of your baby on the day of travel.
Avoiding air-borne illness
Something you shouldn’t worry too much about is picking up extra germs on flights. Dr Hudfya explains: “The air inside an aircraft cabin is recycled using hi-tech biological filters and cleaning has to be carried out to high international standards. That means most planes nowadays have better hygiene than what you’re likely to find at your child’s day-care centre.” So, unless the passenger next to you is ill, you should be safe. However, he also advises that parents “turn the air vents around you and your child on at a moderate level throughout the flight to help air continue to circulate”.
When it comes to children who are sick, any doctor-approved medicines should be packed in your carry-on bags. “Bring any medication that your child takes on the flight with you. Even if children are not sick before travel, it’s a good idea to have an anti-fever medication with you for temporary use until you can get your baby to a doctor.” Anti-colic medications, inhalers for children with asthma and an emergency epi-pen for children who have known allergies should also be brought on board.
Dr Hudyfa advises using ear protection to shield your baby’s developing ears from the noise. There are many brands of earmuffs suitable for newborns that are designed to protect internal ear structures from loud noises. An added benefit to these is that they can also help young children sleep easier. “To get the best protection make sure the earmuffs are adjusted properly to fit your child and check there is no gap in the seal of the ear cup,” he says. “Sucking on a dummy or chewing on a teething toy can also help with ear pain.”
If possible, plan to feed your baby during take-off. This can also help ease ear pain. Even if this means having a hungry infant for a short period before your flight departs, it’ll be worth it so that they don’t feel any discomfort during take-off. When flying long-haul, try to time the baby’s feeds throughout the flight so that they are ready to feed again when you’re landing.
“If you’re breastfeeding, a nursing scarf is a must – it makes feeding on the plane so much easier. If you’re bottle feeding, take milk cartons or bottles with easy twist-off lids and let the cabin crew know when you want it to be heated up,” says Delport.
For Dr Hudyfa, pre-filled formula bottles are a good choice so all you need to do is get the crew to add hot water. He adds: “Any freshly expressed breast milk can safely sit at room temperatures for up to four hours.” Therefore, if you’re flying long-haul, it’s a good idea to pack an emergency bottle of formula, even if you usually breastfeed – r
emember that formula and breast milk, as well as baby food, are exempt from the 100-millilitre limits in place for other types of liquids.
Morvan has also noticed that most breastfeeding women like to have window seats so they can have a little privacy.
One of the most consistent pieces of advice when it comes to your first flight with your child is to try not to stress. “Don’t be worried about other passengers and bothering them, as that will just stress you out more. Your priority is your baby,” explains Delport. While this may be easier said than done, it’s something Morvan agrees with. “When your baby cries, do not panic. It’s fine, it happens.” She advises parents to replicate at-home soothing techniques such as walking up and down or rocking babies in their arms. “Try to stay calm. If you can do this as a parent, your children will pick up on it and that will help them to relax.”
One thing that Morvan doesn’t recommend is joining the rising trend of parents bringing goodie packs or apology bags to put on other passengers’ seats in order to compensate for a crying child. “It’s a baby, it’s normal to cry and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed. If you want to give out gifts to make you feel better, then that’s OK, but I wouldn’t encourage it. People realise that small children cry. Also, drawing attention to it might even make people notice it more.”
She concludes by saying that in her two years of working as a flying nanny with Etihad, she had yet to receive a single complaint from another passenger about a crying baby. And if all of the above fails, just remember – no flight lasts for ever.
Updated: August 14, 2019 03:42 PM