It was the best of times, it was the most frazzled of times.
It never fails.
Every time I board a plane, I am filled with a childlike sense of awe and wonder. Despite a lifetime of air travel (I won’t put that in years) I marvel at how a multi-tonne machine can move gracefully in thin air, defying nature’s laws and taking us to far-off places in a matter of hours. Imagine!
Air travel is one of the few things that instills true amazement in my adult life.
I’m grateful to share my lifelong obsession with travel with my 15-month old daughter. Let me rephrase that. I’m thrilled to partake in the experience of travelling with her; she does not share my sentiment quite yet.
Flying might make me feel like a kid again, but in reality, most children under the age of 2 are more amused by tossing a toy at the passenger behind.
Nonetheless, I wanted to travel with my daughter on a plane as soon as possible. What a gift to expose her to new experiences and places. I envisioned a symphony of tiny synapses sparking in her developing brain with each novel sight and sound.
Oh it all sounds so wonderful! Until you’re trapped in an air cabin with the little scamp.
A baby has no concept of what the seatbelt light or personal space means. Which means for mom and dad, being on high alert, yet keeping cool. Not always so easy.
If you thought your days of intrepid travel end once you have kids, think again. Flying with a wee one is the real travel adventure.
No worries, new parents! With the right preparation, you’ll be great. I have shared the miracle of air travel (and a pretty well-behaved kiddo, also a miracle) with her on eight flights. So I fancy myself somewhat if an expert and would like to share my experience with you.
Have baby, will travel
Air travel fills me with childlike wonder. We flew from frozen Quebec home to Toronto on Monday. By the following afternoon, we’d thawed out on a Caribbean island.
I can wax poetic about bestowing my love of travel on my daughter, but I realize it’s also a privilege, and I should probably focus on passing on my love of leafy greens.
When baby flies free until the age of two* however, this fanciful idea is worth exploring.
Some women talk about the tick of their biological clocks. Mine came after she was born. Like an alarm going off in my head, I heard the sonorous, “She has less than a year to fly before she is charged an adult airfare!” counting down the months until she’d cost the full price. I hoped clock as much air mileage as possible until she was no longer permitted to fly seated in my lap.
*Read the baby print
It’s always the pesky small print that skews plans!
In this case, I discovered not all airlines have the “baby flies for 24 months free” policy. Moreover, charges, if applicable, vary depending on your destination. So take my advice and do your research (or better yet, get your travel agent to.) Typically, domestic flights on major carriers will allow the little rascal to fly free of charge on your lap. If you realize (perhaps after your first time flying with bebe) that your kiddo would do better in his own seat, you’ll pay for a full priced airfare sooner than you think.
Admittedly, even though I work in travel, I gleaned the no-charge-for-infant policy from others. Fortunately, because the type of flights I booked were domestic and transborder, and she was seated in my lap, her ticket was free of charge.
Read baggage guidelines while you’re at it
Airlines often call them baggage “restrictions”, but when it comes to travelling with a baby, thankfully the rules are much less restrictive.
If you’re boarding a plane with an extra of piece carry-on baggage (by that I mean baby), you are typically permitted to bring on board one additional carry-on item, like a diaper bag. If the child has his own seat, then the standard baggage allowance applies. A stroller and car seat are considered checked baggage. Unless you are travelling with a small infant, a folding umbrella stroller is your best bet and the kind airlines recommend.
The biggest relief for me was that tightly-guarded fluid restrictions are waived for babies. Going through security, I pull out the liquids to avoid any delays after going through the X-ray. For flights under 3 hours, I bring two bottles totalling 500 ml of water, for her to drink alone, as well as mix her formula. A bottle is the surest way to keep her calm and relieve her ears from cabin pressure. (On that note, a bottle of another kind, like an airplane mini of Smirnoff, provides great relief for frazzled flying parents.)
Like child airfares, these are general guidelines and it’s always best to consult your travel agent or the airline.
Charges for infants on flights
These are general guidelines for a standard Economy Class airfare for children under age 2 seated on an adult’s lap (over the age of 16, with a full fare.)
The three Canadian carriers I’ve flown with my pipsqueak offer this standard child fare structure:
Flights within Canada, a child under 2 years may sit on a parent’s lap, free of charge. She may also have her own seat, at the cost of an adult fare and with approved restraining devices.
Flights between Canada & the U.S. , the same conditions as above apply, however taxes are charged for the lap infant.
International flights allow children 2 and under, to sit on a parent’s lap at 10% of the airfare. Or, they can pay a child fare, which is less than an adult ticket.
This is to give you a cost estimate on a child under 24 months airfare , but as I suggested before, check your airline’s individual policy or ask your travel agent for precise pricing.
Flying with a baby rules!
By that I mean, here are some flying with a baby rules. I recommend checking the airline’s regulations before you and your little one take off. I also hope for you that your travels go smoothly, so you’ll actually be able to exclaim, “flying with a baby RULES!” Here are some common ones:
- The minimum age for an infant to fly is usually as young as 7 (seven) days.
- An adult passenger (16 years of age or older) cannot be responsible for more than one infant.
- An infant seated on a parent’s lap must be securely held, as instructed by the flight attendant.
- An infant with its own purchased seat must be secured in an approved device.
Tips for Flying with Baby
Travelling when it was only me and my infant daughter was a memorable (genuinely and euphemistically) experience. I gotta say though, it was a heck of a lot easier on flights with her dad and family members. Or had there been a helpful octopus. The more hands to help you, the better.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from airport staff. The good news is, with the exception of one flight, we were always helped by airline personnel, from ground to air. We even got very lucky when a seating error was rectified by landing us in Premium Economy. This was a game changer, in terms of space, attentive service and extra snacks. If you can afford it, I strongly suggest you go for it.
Don’t wait until last minute to pack. The first time I underestimated how long it would take (your mini-me might be tiny, but they require more outfit changes than we do, not to mention all the diapers and goodies.) I now start packing five days in advance, but the more time you leave to pack and prepare, the less stressed you’ll be.
Bring a limited number of toys. I wasn’t kidding before, my daughter has quite the arm on her and will inevitably chuck her fave doll or stuffed animal at a neighbouring seat, usually when the person is fast asleep. Board books were our saving grace, they kept her busy and she enjoys turning the pages herself, freeing up my hands to read the airline magazine (these days that’s a luxury.)
Speaking of board — it’s tempting to take advantage of the pre-boarding option for young children, but only do so if your little rascal is calm. Which basically means, don’t pre-board, as there’s a greater chance your kidlet will be restless you want to spend as little time in the cabin as possible.
Don’t rush. Leave plenty of time to make that flight. Easier said than done, I know, but at least try. On more than one occasion, as soon as we left for the airport, we had to run out the car and head back upstairs for a last-minute diaper change (the kind that couldn’t wait, of course.)
Smile at other passengers. Luckily my kid does this already. I’ll inevitably have to teach her “stranger danger”, but making nice with those around us helps circumnavigate any raised eyebrows when your little one throws his toys (or tantrums.) You might even get lucky, like we have most times, and the stranger seated behind will play peekaboo with her, which is a very welcome distraction, trust me.
While I can’t promise you that the flight will be fun and easy, I can say with conviction that you won’t regret opening up your child to the new experiences travel offers.
So sit back, buckle up and enjoy the ride!
If you’re ready to spread your wee one’s wings, talk to Flight Centre! Contact a travel expert in-store or at 1 877 967 5302. Happy travels! You got this!
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