Flying with baby: NZ and the Cook Islands with Air New Zealand

Earlier this year my husband and I packed our bags full of baby gear and prepared to embark on our first overseas family trip with our baby girl.  After much deliberation we booked two weeks in New Zealand and the Cook Islands, hoping to satisfy both my husband’s wish for an adventurous holiday and my desire for serene, tropical relaxation.  But first we had to get there…

Map Australia NZ Cook Islands flight route Air New Zealand

Our trip involved three separate flights with Air New Zealand, the first of which was a tidy three-hour trip from Sydney to Auckland, followed by longer flights from Auckland to Rarotonga (five hours) and finally Rarotonga to Sydney (seven hours).

In this post I’ve summarised the highs and (very minor) lows of our family’s flights to New Zealand and the Cook Islands, and have also included links to important information for flying with babies and children on Air NZ.

In subsequent posts I’ll share our carry-on survival kit (the stuff we took onboard to entertain, nourish and care for baby) and holiday packing list.  In the meantime, if you’d like to read about our adventures in New Zealand and the Cook Islands, you can find those under “Overseas Voyages.”  Enjoy!

Bon voyage! Everyone’s looking happy and relaxed before our first overseas flight.

Voyaging with Air New Zealand

Air NZ is famous for its quirky in-flight safety videos and TV ads featuring a range of celebs, sporting stars and supermodels.  If you haven’t seen them, do yourself a favour and watch this, this and definitely this.

While I’m at it, here are some links to handy info about flying Air NZ with babies and children:

  • General info on flying with babies and children – a must read, it basically summaries each of the other points listed below.
  • Fares for babies, toddlers and children – for international flights, infants under 2 pay 10% of the adult fare.
  • Bassinets – generally available for infants up to about 11.8kg.  You can pre-book for babies up to 8 months of age.  If your baby is between 8 and 15 months and under the weight limit, you may be allocated a bassinet.
  • Prams and strollers – Basically, if you have a 3-wheeler or larger pram, it will have to be checked.  Otherwise, smaller strollers can be taken on board.
  • Meals and feeding – information on heating bottles and food.
  • Using your child’s car seat on board.

Each of our flights with Air NZ was pretty much flawless. Would we recommend them to other travelling families? Yes we would!!  Let me elaborate…

Hands free – we loved our Ergobaby for the airport as well as for getting on and off the plane.

Check-in

Air NZ has self check-in kiosks at a few airports, including Sydney and Auckland. However it turns out that you can’t use them if you’re travelling with a baby. We easily found friendly staffers to check us in, though from there we then had to take our bags to the luggage drop and deposit Coco’s pram with oversize luggage. A little bit of mucking around, but in each instance we were ushered to the front of the queue, with staff clearing a wide path for us and our stuff.

Seating

We were allocated a bassinet on our flight between Auckland and Raro, which we thought would make the flight so much easier.  However, while the bassinet sounded great in theory, we ended up only using it for about five minutes.

For starters, although we managed to successfully transfer our sleeping bub into the bassinet, she was woken up a few minutes later by a loud cabin announcement and wanted out immediately.  (It’s at that point I wished we’d invested in something like the Fly Babee.  I’ve never tried one but in theory they sound great).  Nap forgotten, she then went on a miniature rampage for the rest of the flight.  If I’d kept her on my lap then I feel like she would have been able to get back to sleep, rather than freak out when she woke up in a weird place.

 

Success! But only for five minutes…

The bassinet itself also restricted our space and made it hard to get in and out of our seats.  Additionally, even though we had loads more leg room, for safety reasons we weren’t allowed to plop Coco on the floor to play.  This was a bit of a bummer as she was desperate to get down there and crawl around. Finally, the armrests in the bulkhead row can’t be raised so we had to sit there wedged in our seats gazing wistfully at the two empty seats next to us. Cruel, just cruel.

By contrast, the standard seating we had on our other flights was fine.  We had elected to purchase extra legroom – $10 for an extra 15cm or so, so worth it!  It made a huge difference to our flying experience and I wouldn’t hesitate to pay extra for this option next time we fly, without a doubt!  There was enough legroom (even with the seat in front in the recline position) for us to plonk Coco on the floor in between our legs where she could then sit and play, stand up and ‘chat’ with us and stretch her limbs.

The other huge bonus to selecting a regular seat is that you can raise the armrests and have your bub sleep across both your laps – or, if you’re lucky, in the spare seat between you.  We managed to nab a spare seat on our Raro to Sydney flight and made a little nest for Coco out of blankets and a small pillow we’d brought.  She enjoyed a solid three-hour sleep while John and I wallowed in the luxury of watching movies and drinking wine uninterrupted!  Mid-air bliss!

Spot the baby… Coco tucked up in the spare seat on the flight home.

Staff and facilities

We found the Air NZ crew, including flight attendants and ground crew, to be exceptionally friendly and helpful. They were engaging and attentive, checked on us throughout the flight and also went out of their way to help us in the airport.  One of the highlights was arriving in the Cook Islands and having one of the crew hand deliver our pram to us while we waited at the baggage carousel.  A very thoughtful gesture when you’re busy juggling an excited baby and all of your luggage.

The planes were all in good condition, clean and comfortable.  In-flight entertainment and food was good too.  However if you want access to movies (rather than just TV shows) and a meal make sure you book ‘The Works’ ticket, otherwise you will need to pay on board for these as extras.  The airline uses a colour code system on your headrest so flight attendants can identify which passengers have paid for a meal and movies.  On one of our longer flights there must have been a mix up as initially we were told we weren’t entitled to a meal – queue minor panic as I contemplated hours without food and all those movies I had been looking forward to.  Upon showing them our printed itinerary it was all sorted out, so my advice:  it’s best to carry a copy of your itinerary to avoid any mix ups.

Would we fly Air New Zealand again?

In a word: Yes!

The airline and staff seem really considerate of travelling families.  We had no major issues on any of our flights and would definitely recommend Air New Zealand to others contemplating overseas travel with babies and young kids.

Waiting to board our flight home from the Cook Islands with Air New Zealand – happy times!

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