We are counting down the days until we head to California. As it gets closer the reality of flying long-haul solo with an in-lap infant and a soon-to-be 4 year old is dawning on me. Whilst I try and wriggle my flight-averse legs under a hopefully slumbering toddler, my husband will be lording it up the front in business class. He did offer to join us tag-along tourists in the cheap seats. Given that he is actually travelling on business during work hours and that one of us needs to be well-slept to deal with tired children at the other end, I declined. What was I thinking?!
Let me be clear from the offset. This post is most definitely a case of ‘do as I say’ not ‘do what I did’. For some reason I had a rare travel fail when it came to booking the most comfortable options for our 11 hour journey a few months back. The good news is that the lovely staff at Virgin (and they are very lovely and exceedingly patient) helped rectify matters as best they could. To avoid making my mistakes, here are some tips for your next Virgin Atlantic flight with babies and young children:
- Track flight prices
This bit we got right. Check the best time interval before travel to book. Momondo and SkyScanner both offer advice on the cheapest time to book for each destination. You can also use a price alert tool to track prices for your trip’s dates (both these websites offer this too). If they start hiking up you will be the first to know. For the US it’s recommended to book around 22 weeks ahead of time. We obviously missed this deadline (I’m more a weekend-before kind-of-girl…3 months ahead is about my limit) but it was handy knowing when to scoop in and stop dallying about once we saw the prices starting to rise significantly.
- Call to book your flight.
It’s the internet age and all that but when it comes to flying with children I could have saved myself a lot of time and hassle if I had just called up the Virgin Atlantic Contact Centre to buy our flights instead of heading online. You will see why on the points that follow. If you are booking via a third party flight broker then call up Virgin Atlantic right after you’ve booked your flight to sort out the finer details.
- Choose your seats right away (& log in again or call if you can’t).
I own that London tube app that tells you which carriage to get into so that you exit fastest at your stop and my old roomie at uni can confirm that I arrived at our hall of residence super early and pipped her to the bed by the window in our first year. I am not a girl who usually misses out on getting the best spot.
I tried to choose seats for me and the children as soon as we booked online but the option didn’t show up. Maybe Virgin Atlantic would release them closer to the flight? I then promptly forgot all about it. When our e-ticket finally came through just over two weeks before the flight I dashed straight online only to discover to my horror that a considerable number of people had beaten me to it. According to the Virgin Atlantic Contact Centre team the seating plan is always available at point of purchase on Virgin Atlantic flights. It just might need the page refreshing or trying again the next day to load the seating plan in some cases, or again – just call up! Don’t forget to get your seats sorted for the return journey too.
- Check for competitions and offers
Just after we booked our flight I noticed that Virgin Atlantic were running a competition on social media to upgrade two seats on an upcoming flight with your ‘best excuse’ for an upgrade the entry requirement. Points were given for creativity, brand awareness, social influence etc. The children had a whale of a time with our entry (our hard working Bear Air team felt they deserved to enjoy being passengers for once) but were unlucky this time. You never know though…perhaps you might be a winner of a similar future offer? At least we got to eat our carefully chosen Gu puds afterwards and the girls are still playing with their now grounded Virgin Atlantic Bear Air plane. I’m trying to forget about the wedding champagne glass we broke in our entry attempt…what was I thinking?! The point is though, you’ve got to be in it to win it!
- Don’t wait for extra leg room:
One of the reasons we chose to fly Virgin Atlantic (price and timing being main factors) was because of their option to buy an extra leg room seat for a fairly reasonable price. We took advantage of these once before on the way to Cuba when I was five months pregnant with puffy legs. The seats made a real difference. Back then securing the extra legroom involved being at check-in extra early and getting lucky. My poor husband was practically still in his PJ’s on that occasion so eager was I to avoid the tall (pregnant) girl’s curse and we had already discussed how to entertain the children for 4 hours at the airport so we could bag them again this time…
Things have changed though. These days extra leg room seats are released when the flight is and of course they had all gone by the time I clocked this. So again – make sure you book your seats as soon as you buy them and refresh or call up if the plan doesn’t show up online straight away.
- If you are travelling with an in-lap infant, call up to book your seats.
Frustratingly you cannot choose this online and you cannot choose seats for any other children online without first sorting out the accompanying adult. If you’re travelling solo with an in-lap infant and other children then the phone is going to be your only option.
- Ask for a bassinet row.
One way to bag a bit of extra room on your Virgin Atlantic flight when travelling with babies and young children is to request a bassinet. These are allocated on the day of the flight so there is no guarantee but it pays to be early on the list. There are only certain rows where you can have a bassinet anyway so consider booking seats in those rows if you’re hoping to use one. They have to be a little wider to accommodate the shelf for the bassinet so you are already ahead on leg room.
The only trouble is that an ‘infant’ in plane terms includes children between 0 & 2 years. Even though bassinet sizes do vary depending on the plane and class you are flying in, they are definitely not designed for babies at the upper end of this scale. The bassinets offered on our plane require the baby to be no more than 74cm and weigh no more than 9kg. At 19 months Beth is already 2cm too tall. We didn’t even bother weighing her. Looking at the pictures online trying to stuff her into one would have been comedy.
- Book your meals
Virgin Atlantic are really helpful in that they offer baby food for infants and can warm up milk properly for you. If your ‘infant’ is on to proper nosh they can serve them a proper meal too. You will need book online or call ahead though to make sure that the right option for you will be available.
- Give yourself extra space
Calling up the Virgin Atlantic Contact Centre gives you the chance to ask how full your flight is looking. If it’s not jam packed and your flight isn’t too far in the future then consider taking the middle seats of a row of three or four. That way there is a good chance you will end up with an extra seat or two beside you. Consider booking a row near the galley if you have a toddler – it will help avoid running the gauntlet of those narrow aisles every time they want to go walk-about. On a night flight though, remember that this will be the busiest place as people head to the loos and stretch their legs – you might want to keep away if you have light sleepers.
If you are going to need a lot of space for in-flight board-games or wriggle room then it’s also worth asking about Seat Plus. This is only running until May 1st 2016 though and besides, if the flight isn’t full some crafty seat selection is all you need.
- Take a car seat
Virgin Atlantic are quite happy for you to take a car seat on board for your child if they have their own seat booked and you have called ahead to book in the car seat too. It is just one option to make the children (and you) more comfortable. It also means you won’t have to hire a car seat at the other end (check it will fit in with your hire car company) and stops you worrying too about the car seat being banged about by baggage handlers. You’ll need to check that your car seat is compatible with Virgin Atlantic’s in-flight requirements and you also need to call up to book your car seat in.
- Know your baggage allowance
Virgin Atlantic are pretty generous with their baggage allowance for children. Even in-lap infants get 6kg of hand-luggage meaning you can pack a separate changing bag without affecting your own carry-on allowance and kids of over 2 get the 10kg allowance They are also really generous with extras you can take on top of these allowances – infant food, a coat, reading material for the journey and headphones are all permissible extras so long as you have hands left to carry them!
Things change from time to time though so please, please make sure to check the Virgin Atlantic website for the very latest on your luggage allowance before flying. Also be aware that in our case the online booking page is showing 19 month old Beth’s luggage allowance as 10kg. Having spoken to the Virgin Atlantic Contact Centre I know this is an error – she only gets the normal infant 6kg.
I hope these tips will help on your next trip flying with children on Virgin Atlantic. A lot of them probably also apply to flying with other airlines too. Do make sure to double check the info on here before you fly though – things change so quickly these days.
If you have anything to add then please pass on your tips in a comment below – sharing is caring after all. I will report back after our flight experience and let you know how we got on. In the mean time, send plane socks and zzzz’s for the children our way please!