As soon as you tell people you’re going to be a parent, it happens; the advice starts coming at you from every quarter. Unprompted, and often unwelcome, you become the subject of discussion, debate and scrutiny by “old hands” of the game – who because they’ve had children at some point in the past fifty years think – they’re qualified to advise you on every movement in your life from now on.
So imagine the field day many of these self-appointed aides had when they heard that my wife and I were planning to take our four-month old baby, Eleanor, on a short holiday to Portugal.
“Flying with a baby! You’d be better off booking yourself into an asylum for all the relaxation you’ll get…” and “Once you’ve done it, you’ll realise why they invented cottages in the English countryside…” became order of the day.
However, since were the same people who had told me that if I ate carrots I'd be able to see in the dark, undeterred we went ahead with our plans to go to Portugal.
As the holiday approached, and baby Eleanor went through another period of uncontrollable (and seemingly random) crying, I must admit even our steely determination began to wobble. But reassured by it only being a short haul flight… we packed our bags and headed for the airport.
For prophets of doom and gloom, I’m afraid I have bad news – because the experience of flying from London Gatwick to Faro was pretty much a joy terminal to terminal.
You see, the great thing about travelling with a baby is that everyone is really nice to you – and you get preferential treatment. From the check-in desk to security (where you get whisked through a special quiet aisle) to the airline staff at the gate who let you onto the plane first and help you fold your pram… if you want to feel like a VIP, take a baby.
A note of caution, make sure you book with an airline that guarantees exact seats, and has enough legroom. We travelled with British Airways, who don’t make you fight over seats with your family (something I know can happen with some budget carriers) and have ample room in economy for my long legs (I’m 6’4”) and all of the baby paraphernalia that you'll have with you.
When your baby is only 4-months old, they don’t get a seat – they are expected to travel on the lap of one of the parent's. Although this sounds like it could be a nightmare, in fact it’s probably the best way for a short-haul flight. We were lucky enough to get a spare seat on both the way out and the way back, which meant we could pile the change bag and blankets in the middle and pass baby Eleanor backwards and forwards.
For takeoff and landing, the baby attaches to one of the parents belts using a special extender seatbelt that the staff will show you how to use.
As the engines fired up and the plane began to hurtle down the runway, both my wife and I looked to each other with a sense of dread as Eleanor was startled by the noise and looked on the edge of crying… but then as we lifted off, well, she fell asleep.
The best tip seems to be either feed your baby or give them something to suck during take-off and landing – it will prevent their ears from popping and hopefully relax them to sleep.
Although Eleanor woke during the flight, she seemed far more interested in looking around the plane and smiling at the other passengers than getting upset during our relatively short two-and-a-half hour flight. It was useful to have a little space, and to have some toys to distract her with when she got bored… but ultimately it was no different from being at home with her.
I think the biggest worry is that your baby is going to scream for the entire flight and be inconsolable, or that in some way your baby is going to be “scared” of flying. The reality I found was that it certainly helps to have two people to share the care – but rarely (even when you hear other babies get upset) does any child “lose it” for a whole flight.
We had a lovely trip to Portugal in the sunshine, and it was a rest (and change in weather) that we really needed after four months of intense sleepless nights as new parents. I’m glad we were brave and didn’t listen to the cynics, because otherwise we might have ended up in a caravan in the rain in Bognor, rather than sipping cocktails on the beach in the Algarve. Both have their merits – but in the middle of October, Portugal has the edge for me.
As with any parenting decision, you have to go with your instinct on these things. But having done it, I would heartily recommend being brave and trying flying with your baby. Of course, you need to be ultra-prepared, be more selective of the airline you use (and make more enquiries beforehand), and make sure you have everything with you that you might need.
Once you’ve done it, there’s no looking back…
Tim flew from London Gatwick to Faro with British Airways
Discover the beautiful Algarve with a direct flight from British Airways. With 23kg luggage, drinks and snacks and award winning service all included
Flights to Faro are available from £49 each way
For more information visit ba.com