Advice on how to book, secure and get the most out of airplane baby bassinets
By far the most commonly searched topic here on the Globetrotters website is the issue of airline baby bassinets on board long-haul aircraft.
And I can see why. Information on airline websites can be scarce, and new parents especially are not fully informed by either the airline or their ticketing agents of what to expect when booking an infant ticket; having the wrong expectations when you arrive at an airport can significantly add to the stress of your journey with a baby.
We have compiled for you here from both the airlines own websites and our knowledge from over 50 odd international flights travelling with kids what we know about infant bassinets on planes to help you decipher the airline talk and plan what is best for your baby to get you through your long-haul adventures.
In this article we will cover
What is an airplane bassinet?
When you book an infant ticket (children under 2 years of age), an infant is required to sit on an adult’s lap, secured by an extra loop seat belt that fits to the adult’s seat belt. On longer flights, however, most international airlines will provide a baby bassinet so you can lie your child down flat and secure during the flight. (Also called a SkyCot, CarryCot or Travel Cot)
A baby bassinet is a collapsible basket that can be hung from the walls of the aircraft or placed on a special purpose shelf.
What is a bassinet seat?
The airplane seat where the basket is used is commonly referred to as “the bassinet seat”. In economy, it may also be called the bulkhead seats or bulkhead row (usually with either the toilets, galley or cabin divider in front of you).
In business class, and some first-class cabins, many now have special shelves where the bassinet is fitted on a flat surface. These are great as your movement getting in and out of your seat is not restricted by the bassinet – though note some business and first class cabins are not fitted with bassinets at all.
(See more on Business Class flying with kids here)
How does the airplane bassinet work?
The baby bassinet is fitted by the flight attendants after the aircraft is airborne and the seatbelt sign has been switched off. The bassinet can be left in place throughout the flight (with some restrictions we’ll mention below). It will be taken down anywhere up to an hour before landing as part of cabin preparations. The baby is kept secure in the bassinet using a zipper.
The airline will normally provide their own blankets and pillows to line the bassinet, but of course, most babies sleep best in their own familiar clothes, sleeping bags, blankets with any cuddlies or muslin. Definitely, pack your own bedding items if you think this will maximise the possibility your baby will sleep.
Getting “the bassinet seat” can be the holy mecca of airline travel for parents as it allows both you and baby to get better sleep on a long flight and of course free’s up your hands – a commodity you don’t realise the value of until you’re trapped at 38,000 feet!
Restrictions on baby bassinet use
- You can only use the infant bassinet while your infant still comfortably fits (generally up to 12 months – some pointers on what to do beyond this age below). Each airline and aircraft will have its restrictions, based on either your child’s height or weight. Some airlines place age restrictions too, but in reality, as long as your child can fit, age is irrelevant.
- During the flight, if you experience turbulence the baby must be removed, even if sleeping, and held in your lap with the infant seat belt you use for taking off. The zipper on the bassinet holds the baby very securely (more so that a parent’s arms I would have thought) but almost all airlines enforce this rule.
- Note, not all international airlines or flights will come fitted with a baby bassinet, some even have the fittings on the wall but not frustratingly not the basket. This is common in flight under say 4 hours, but a premium airline on international routes over 4 hours, you can almost expect as standard.
- Do your research thoroughly before booking tickets if the bassinet will make or break your experience (trust me, when you’re feeling exhausted and hormonal, it certainly can!).
- Your particular ticket class may not entitle you to book bulkhead seats or may come at extra cost.
Tips and tricks booking the bassinet seat
- Look for your aircraft type before booking and use the chart below to determine what you should expect. Not sure on your aircraft? Put your flight number into Seat Guru (you can also find out how many bassinets are installed on the aircraft, therefore your chances of winning the baby bassinet jackpot!).
- It’s completely wrong to assume because you have booked an infant ticket that the airline will automatically give you priority over the bulkhead seats. In fact, many unscrupulous airlines work hard to avoid this topic so they can sell the bulkhead seats for more money or the extra legroom; ask, ask again and push until you get it – but please don’t be rude! There are only a limited number on each flight, normally allocated first come, first served and despite best efforts you may just miss out.
- Beware the codeshare! If the airline operating your flight is different to the one you booked with, or you change flights during the journey, they are the ones responsible for seat allocation. However, as you did not book your ticket with them you may be unable to speak with their reservations desk directly to confirm your booking.
Although we’d love to think our bundle of joy is going to sleep securely and serenely once they’re in the bassinet, because of where you’re located on the aircraft you can expect a lot of foot traffic and noise going past. We recommend the Cozigo bassinet cover as a great way to help your baby sleep on board an aircraft. Of course, it’s not fail-proof but certainly helps. Otherwise a large muslin square or nursing cover over the bassinet can help.
- If you are in a bulkhead row, you will have an armrest TV screen. Once the bassinet is up in many aircraft, you will no longer be able to move your screen. Always check this before you ask them to install the bassinet.
- Flying over peak times like Christmas, it is ultra-busy, especially with families so there’s a high chance you will not get the bassinet. Airlines tend to prioritise the bassinets based on age so younger babies will get them first (or sometimes loyalty card holders). Try booking early direct with the airline (not codeshare), and arrive early on check in day (some airlines will not give out the bulkheads until they’ve physically seen the baby).
- You may also find when a flight is busy your group cannot be seated together (i.e. only one adult from your group can sit in the bulkhead) as the whole front row is fully booked with families and infants who equally need the bulkhead seats. As first-time flyers this may, of course, come as devastating news but is, unfortunately, a fact to prepare yourself for – and not the end of the world.
- Ultimately, the airline will make the final choice on how they’re bulkhead seats are allocated, there’s no definitive trick to guarantee your seats.
Help my baby no longer fits the bassinet!
Once your infant becomes too large to fit the airline bassinet, should you still book a bulkhead seat? This really depends on how many are travelling in your group, there are a few ideas you could try;
- When we had just one infant, we would still book the bulkhead row if we could as this would allow extra room at your feet, and meant each adult could easily climb in and out on their own – simply much easier for baby handling, but of course means the baby will have to sleep in your arms with armrests that don’t move.
- Once we were up to baby’s number two and three, however, and had older children to accommodate as well, we had a preference to then choose seats further towards the back, and play for the empty seat tactic. Over dozens of flights, this has worked on all but one occasion – the idea being that you book a whole row but the adult seats are ticketed for the aisles, leaving empty seats in the middle. If no one else takes these seats (a middle seat at the back is the least popular choice!) you’ve scored yourself some extra space to lie your infant out flat across the row, and allows you to put the armrests up for older kids to top and toe (not possible in the bulkhead row), maximizing the chance that everyone in your group can get some sleep.
- When I fly on my own with an infant though, I still try to get the bulkhead seat. It is much easier when you’re the only adult to deal with three children at once when you can stand in front of them and the older ones can walk past without waking the sleeping babe in arms. (I even once got the dream scenario of the bulkhead and a spare seat with hubby taking the older kids 2 rows back, can’t beat that for travelling mum excitement!!)
- The other alternative is of course to book your infant a child’s seat, which on most airlines can be done once your child is over 6 months. Some people have a preference to do this from the start so their child can sit securely (and some babies sleep better) in their usual infant seat. Personally, the cost and palaver of trying to drag an infant car seat through the airport along with the multitude of other baby items you need I have not bothered to go down this route, but some swear by it (mostly Americans I think who have terrible international airlines and don’t know the pure joy a baby bassinet can bring!!). The other option open to you when booking an infant their own seat is to use some sort of leg cushion like a jet kids bed box, making a flatbed.
Guide to Baby Bassinets by Airline
So here it is, the information you’ve been searching for, broken down by airline (click on the document to scroll by airline – works best on desktop).Our Globetrotters Guide to Baby Bassinets
Note our review is at January 2016. We have focused on premium international airlines operating long-haul routes. Where information is missing we have contacted the airline and will endeavour to update this document as more information becomes available. Please always call the airline to confirm information before booking.
Further baby flying resources
If you would like to know more about family-friendly facilities by airline, please come and check out our airlines home page. Our detailed guides step you through pregnancy policies, infant luggage allowances, the ability to transfer frequent flyer points between family members and much more.
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So please tell us your bassinet adventures! Do you have a preferred seating methods with infants? Has any airline ever let you down and failed to deliver? We’d love you to share your stories or ask any questions about baby bassinets on planes.
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