Travelling with Children
Planning a family holiday? Here's everything you need to know about travelling with young jet-setters, including the difference in adult and child airfares, what extra baggage you're allowed when travelling with an infant and our tips for ensuring a smooth journey.
Travelling with Small Children
All airlines are different, but most generally consider a “child” to be aged between 2 and 11. Children who fall into this bracket must have their own ticket and occupy their own seat. For domestic flights there is usually no difference between an adult fare and a child fare, however certain fees or taxes might be lower. On international flights, child airfares may be charged at 50% to 80% of the full fare depending on the airline and route.
British citizens aged under 16 years are required to have a child passport, while Brits over the age of 16 will need an adult passport in order to travel internationally. Before travelling, be sure to leave ample time to apply for your child's passport, which will usually take around 3 weeks to be processed and are valid for 5 years.
Carrying a copy of your child’s birth certificate with you is a good idea in case you need proof of age when it comes to booking flights or applying for child discounts at attractions as you travel.
As children (aged 2 to 11) have their own ticket and seat, they are subject to the same baggage restrictions as adults. For carry-on, this generally means 7kg and 23kg for checked baggage. These baggage limits can vary depending on the airline, class of travel and loyalty program membership level so it’s best to check with your chosen airline before heading to the airport.
Many airlines still offer the old-fashioned kid’s activity packs on-board, especially if you’re flying internationally, which include colouring pencils, travel games and toys to take with them after landing. In addition, seat-back entertainment may also be available, which will often include television programmes and movies dedicated to children.
Keeping the kids entertained during the flight is one thing, but don’t forget about waiting times before flights and during stopovers too. Ensuring your young jetsetters have plenty of fun things to keep them busy in their carry-on will mean a much more enjoyable journey for all. Encouraging kids to keep a travel journal is also a great way to keep them occupied while creating a wonderful keepsake.
Don’t worry, be appy!
As most travellers carry personal tablet devices or smartphones these days, there are plenty of apps specifically designed to keep little ones entertained on-the-go, stimulating their young minds at the same time. Here are our top 5 free apps for travelling with kids:
- YouTube Kids
- Amazon FreeTime Unlimited
- Artie's World
- Lego City
Most airlines have kid-friendly meals available. If your child's airfare includes a meal, you can request a child or toddler meal when you make the booking and also specify any allergies or dietary requirements. It’s important for all travellers to keep hydrated while flying so bringing a bottle of water is recommended, although it is usually offered on-board too.
Domestic flights usually have snack items available for purchase and in-flight menus often include juice, soft drink, cookies, chips, savoury biscuits and fresh sandwiches. Keep in mind that sugary food and drinks can sometimes cause travel sickness so it's better to stick to the healthy stuff.
Most of the time when children cry during a flight, it’s because the cabin pressure during take-off and landing is wreaking havoc on their ears (anyone with sinus issues can empathise – it’s not a pleasant experience). However, crying is a natural reaction as kids don’t know how else to make their discomfort heard.
As soon as the captain announces they will be descending shortly, keep your child entertained and comfortable. Some things that can help ease ear discomfort when flying include sucking on lollies (especially eucalyptus sweets or anything that clears the sinuses), chewing gum and using a Vicks Inhaler or VapoRub.
Travelling with Infants
Infants (usually defined as children aged under 24 months) that are nursed on your lap generally fly free of charge on most domestic airlines and are listed on their parent’s ticket. For international flights, infants that don’t occupy their own seat must have their own ticket which is charged at 10% of the adult price plus any relevant fees or taxes.
Some international flights may allow infants aged 6-36 months (or under 18kg) to travel in a separate seat as long as they are secured in an approved child restraint device (CRD) like a car seat or carrier, however the extra seat must be purchased in advance. Check with your airline for the specific details if you’re thinking about using a car seat or CRD on-board.
For international travel, your infant will require a passport regardless of age. Having their passport photo taken can be a mission so be prepared!
Yes there is! While infants themselves do not get a baggage allowance, the adults they are travelling with are usually permitted to take extra items in carry-on and checked baggage. An extra bag, such as a diaper bag, with food and nappies required for your baby during the flight is usually permitted to be taken on board in addition to your own-carry on. However, it is still advised to check with your airline as individual rules may vary.
Many airlines also allow adults accompanying infants to check one or more items for the baby, such as a collapsible stroller, cot or car seat. Any items exceeding the measurement or weight restrictions of the airline will be charged as excess baggage so, once again, check with your airline before you fly.
Depending on the airline, you may be able to take a collapsible stroller with you all the way to the gate where it will then be put in the cargo hold and returned to you when you exit the plane (this is called “gate checked”). If your stroller collapses and meets the carry-on measurements, you may be able to take it in the cabin. Many travellers choose to buy a cheap, lightweight stroller purely for travel that can be taken on-board, or use a sling or carrier instead.
Some airlines allow you to check additional infant items free of charge, while others include these items in your baggage allowance. Another option usually offered is to check your stroller or pram with your checked baggage and use one of the airline's provided strollers whilst in the airport, which is then left with the ground crew at the gate.
Most airlines have bassinets on board, subject to availability. Bassinets are usually first in best dressed, so try to reserve one when you make your booking or by contacting the airline direct. Size and weight restrictions do apply – bassinets are generally suitable for infants up to 11kg for domestic flights and 18kg for international flights. If your child is too big for the bassinet but is still under 24 months of age, they must be nursed on your lap during the flight.
The majority of aircraft these days, excluding very small planes, have baby changing facilities in the bathrooms. Bathrooms are usually busiest after meal trays have just been collected and when the captain announces your descent – not the best time to join the cue for the loo – but using the bathroom for nappy changing is a must.
As changes in diet can lead to upset bellies and airlines do not usually carry spare nappies on-board, it is advisable to bring a few extra (as well as wet wipes) in your carry-on.
Travel sick bags found in your seat pocket can be great to put used nappies into the bathroom bin.
When time allows (i.e. not during meal service), the cabin crew are usually more than happy to heat up bottles or baby food you have brought into the cabin, and also wash bottles and pacifiers. Infant meals are usually available if your airfare is meal inclusive, but must be ordered when you make your booking or no later than 24-hours before departure. Most aircrafts only use UHT (long life) milk for tea and coffee so be sure to bring formula if required as well.
The general consensus is that the best time of day to travel with an infant is during their regular sleep time. In many ways it’s easier to travel with an infant than with a toddler as they are more likely to sleep solidly during the flight and aren’t as restless. Flying at night is particularly good for babies as the cabin is dark and quiet.
Newborns in good health are usually able to travel after their two-week check-up with no problems. If you need to travel earlier, you may need to obtain a travel clearance form from your chosen airline. Ideally, it’s recommended you wait until your baby is two to three months old before travelling to give their immune system a chance to develop.
Infants often experience ear pain in-flight due to the changes in cabin pressure and aren’t afraid to make their discomfort heard. If your baby has a cough, cold, or ear infection, the pain can be very distressing and crying is a way of relieving the pressure. If they suffer from colic, the situation can be a testing one for mums and dads as well – remember that most passengers are parents themselves and understand crying is both natural and unavoidable.
Giving your baby a bottle or nursing during take-off or landing may alleviate discomfort and keep them calm, as does swaying them or going for a little walk if the seatbelt sign is off. You are welcome to breastfeed in the privacy of your own seat at any time on most airlines.