As the UK gears up for the annual British family summer holiday, we've put together a list of top tips to ease the strain of travelling with babies and infants this summer.
Summer holidays are supposed to be a chance to get away from home and switch off. However, any parent of a baby or toddler knows that it can also be a stressful time -- from choosing the right destination and hotel to accommodate a young family, to the practicalities of what to take and how to make the "getting there" element as trouble- and tantrum-free as possible.
1. Be aware of the steep rise in costs once children get older
Most parents don’t fully appreciate the additional cost to the family holiday once toddlers pass their second birthday -- and then they wish they had travelled more when their babies were younger. Parents pay 10% of the ticket price and a reduced rate of taxes and charges for an infant (aged two or younger) travelling on a lap.
The next big change is the price hike during school holidays. We estimate that the average rise in cost of a typical 2-week family holiday is more than 40% from early summer (June) to peak season (late July-August). Smart families with babies and toddlers not yet restricted by school-holiday dates travel the few weeks at either end of peak summer to still enjoy nice weather and avoid the huge price hikes.
2. Get your facts right about airline baggage allowances
Some airlines, like Virgin Atlantic, offer as much as 23kg of checked baggage for infants, but most offer around 10kg as well as the option to check in a collapsible pushchair/car seat. However, some low-cost carriers offer no baggage allowance for infants at all, so you’ll either have to pack light and share your suitcase or pay extra to check in a bag for your child.
3. Plan how you will manage without the pushchair until you get to the baggage carousel
Many a first-time parent flying with a baby has been caught out by this one. Airlines will allow you to take the pushchair right to the plane doors. However, it is then placed in the hold and you won’t see it again until the baggage carousel. Parents travelling alone with a baby should think about how they will carry baby and carry-on luggage with them once they get off the plane at their destination. A good solution is take a backpack as hand luggage, and for young babies a baby-sling works well until you are reunited with your trusty pushchair.
4. Remember to request the bulkhead seats well ahead of time
The majority of airlines do not offer infants under 24 months their own seat, unless you pay a full fare; that means that they will spend the flight on your lap, so reserving a comfortable seat is imperative, especially for long-haul flights. However, choosing your seat can come at an extra cost.
Opting for bulkhead seats (the ones in the front with the wall in front), can be advantageous as they’re far easier to get in to and out of; the extra space allows you to avoid the embarrassing situation of you/your child knocking into the seats in front each time you get up. However, do bear in mind that it’s common for the arm rests on these seats not to move, so if you do have spare seats in your row, you’re unlikely to be able to lay your child down across them to sleep. Despite this, bulkhead seats are probably the best option for families with young children as a large number of extra leg room seats are in the emergency exit aisles and most airlines do not allow children under the age of 15 to occupy these seats for safety purposes. Be sure to make it clear to the airline when you are booking that you are travelling with an infant so they can ensure you are allocated an appropriate seat. Some airlines, such as British Airways, reserve bulkhead seats for families in advance (if they're available), but unsurprisingly, they're often oversubscribed. Bear in mind this option may not be available with all airlines.
5. Consider buying access to airport lounges
Some families may not be aware that airport lounges at most UK airports sell access from £10-£15 for each child, while adults pay up to £40 each. There are deals to be had, though -- Travelzoo recently ran an offer for access to the No.1 Traveller lounges at main UK airports with more than 40% off the regular price, including a buffet and alcoholic drinks. Airport lounge access can often work out cheaper than a family lunch at an airport restaurant and the facilities are far superior, with space to relax before boarding without the stress of stopping babies trying to crawl off across dirty airport floors.
6. Be hyper-organised and plan as much as possible in advance
Planning ahead is the key when flying with infants; you’ll be surprised how accommodating airlines and airports can be if you give them enough notice and book in all your requirements ahead of time. Make your requests as early as possible and ask them to confirm your additional requirements in writing to minimise any hiccups at the airport.
When on board, the use of an arch toy can be a lifesaver. Airline bassinets have similar dimensions to ordinary carry cots and pushchairs, so bring one in your hand luggage and clip it on to turn the bassinet into a makeshift play gym, which will hopefully keep your little ones entertained for far longer while you enjoy an in-flight film. Blackout blinds and snooze shades should fit on to the bassinet in a similar way and can be a great way to encourage children to sleep despite the bright cabin lights and constant distractions.
For toddlers and older tots, pack a supply of games and activities as well as snacks to keep them happy and entertained throughout the flight -- especially on flights without TV. Invest in a new toy that will have novelty value and buy you some time until restlessness kicks in. For long-haul flights (where possible), fly late evening so that most of the flight will be during sleeping hours.
7. For parents of babies -- enjoy the last holiday where it’s all about you!
Babies under the age of 18 months will not be allowed in kids' clubs and will not appreciate children’s entertainment in the form of adults dressed as dancing chickens or pirates. Toddlers and young children will, and you may find that after your child turns two, your holiday "down time" will coincide with the children going crazy at the resort’s kiddy disco. Until that time, be savvy; take advantage of the fact that you can travel outside of peak season and stay in destinations and hotels that cater for adults but also accept babies. A baby will also take daytime naps, so a beautiful poolside room where mummy and daddy can enjoy the peace such breaks allow will be cherished for many years to come.
8. For parents of toddlers -- choose your room wisely!
Family holidays with toddlers means sleeping in a family room so you can be sure your child is nearby and safe. What the term family room means varies from hotel to hotel. In some instances, it means having the whole family crammed into one room after 7pm, while the parents find themselves whispering to each other in the dark over a bottle of the local wine. For a holiday that doesn’t end at 7pm every night, ask for a room with a little separate space such as a small lounge area or (safe) balcony where parents can enjoy staying up and catching up with each other safe in the knowledge their children are right beside them. Many resorts and hotels also offer affordable baby-sitting options, which are often well worth the expense.