How to fly with a baby

by Lesley on April 16, 2012 · 15 comments

in babies,motherhood,travel

For me, learning how to fly with a baby started years ago when I was trapped between two screaming children on a cross country flight.

I could tell you then what I’d tell you now: wait until the baby is 18. Done! Best advice yet, right?

Yeah, yeah. I know. Not a realistic option these days. I swore to myself I’d never fly with young children…and then…we had a baby. The grandparents don’t live close, and friends are getting married, and yada yada yada. It’s inevitable. Anna is nine months old and she’s already been on six trips / twelve flights. For the most part, she’s been a very agreeable travel companion thanks to some planning, some scheming, some sweat, and (a few times) some onmyknees prayer.

Here’s what I’ve learned: 

Planning ahead

If you have a newborn who doesn’t suffer from a condition like colic, the first three months are probably the easiest time to travel. “Easiest” is a relative term, okay? Let’s not get our expectations too high here…you’re still traveling with a baby.

In the first three months, babies still sleep a lot. In my experience, the movement and jet sounds provide a lovely rush of white noise that keep them sleeping and generally happy. In the event they are not happy, milk almost always does the trick. Boom. Done.

After the first three months, planning to fly with baby starts long before you board the plane. If you have the luxury of planning your flight(s) around nap times, I’d recommend doing so. Once we had a flight that departed right at that time we usually put Anna to sleep for the night. She was already tired and fussy by the end of the day, and it took more coaxing (and some crying) before she fell asleep on my chest. Since then I’ve tried to book mid-day flights. I make sure she gets a good morning nap right before we depart for the airport. By the time we’ve made it onto the plane, she’s usually ready to sleep again and does so somewhat easily as we taxi for takeoff.

Additionally, I usually try to book an aisle seat near the back of the airplane. It seems like people don’t like the seats nearest to the bathrooms, which gives us a greater chance of scoring an open seat nearby. I also figure that if she’s crying in the middle of the plane, she disturbs more people than she might in the back. An aisle seat allows me to easily hop up if she’s fussy, and hang out (and bounce) near the restrooms.

What to bring

All airlines are different in terms of the documentation needed for babies. JetBlue has never asked me for Anna’s birth certificate. Southwest does every time. Prepare to bring a birth certificate. When I forgot, her Kaiser ID card also worked. (It has her birthdate on it, which is what seems to matter.)

One of my good friends, Jenny, has two young children and she’s flown cross country with them multiple times. Before I started flying with Anna I asked for advice. It’s been invaluable. She said to avoid bringing our heavy (and expensive) stroller. Who wants to worry about it getting lost or broken? Instead, we bring our Snap ‘n Go stroller frame and car seat. I always take both to the gate. Why? In the event the flight has extra seats, you may be able to bring the car seat on board for free. (More about that in a second.)

If you have a carrier such as an Ergo or Moby Wrap, I’d highly recommend bringing it on the plane for multiple reasons. If you’re traveling without a partner, which I’ve done several times, you’ll need your hands free in the security line. Additionally, once the baby gets a little older, and heavier, the carrier helps limit the baby’s movement on the plane.

As for your diaper bag? Keep it strategic, folks. You might consider using a backpack if your normal diaper bag isn’t big, or isn’t easy to carry. Pack just what you’d normally need on any given day plus a few distraction items such as baby’s favorite book, Cheerios, and a toy. Cheerios bought us a good 30 minutes on our most recent flight. If I’m traveling alone, I slip everything I need (wallet, phone, magazine, etc.) into that one bag which then stays at my feet rather than the overhead bin. (If you’re lucky enough to get baby to sleep, who wants to risk waking him/her to get up?)

What not to bring

Don’t be stupid and travel with your laptop. Just take it from me. The last time I travelled with my laptop it ended up in New York City, and someone else’s laptop ended up in Southern California with me because I was so distracted at security. Oops. Laptops are one more thing to take out, fold up, put back, and worry about.

Checking in

When you check-in, make sure to remind the attendant that you’re traveling with a lap infant. In the rare case your ticket does not include the baby, they can fix it there rather than discovering the error at security.

Additionally, ask if the flight is full. If not, put on your best doe eyed smile and ask if they’d consider giving you an extra seat for the baby. You’d be surprised–it’s worked for us whenever the flight has room. Then we’re able to take Anna’s car seat on and let her sleep in her seat rather than being held. Score!

Navigating security

Remember when you didn’t travel with kids, you’d scan ahead in line and make sure you were never behind people  traveling with kids? Yeah. Forget that strategy. Now, find the slowest moving people possible and follow them. The elderly, people in wheelchairs, and families are your best bet. They will buy you extra time without feeling guilty you’re holding up Mr. Businessman behind you.

So, here’s what else you need to do if you’re traveling alone. Before entering the line, strap baby on your body. Remember, I told you to also have your stroller. Make sure the stroller is empty. Once your IDs have been checked, let nothing distract you. It’s game time. Shoes off! Jacket off! You know the drill! Everything off but the baby! (And if TSA tells you to take off the baby, tell them they’re wrong. New rules let you keep baby on.) Fold up the stroller and put it on the conveyer belt too. Once you’ve gone through, you’ll need your hands swiped to make sure you’re not hiding a bomb with the baby. This part is annoying, but, honestly, it’s better than asking a stranger to hold your child while you fold up all your crap. (If you are traveling with a spouse or friend, I’d recommend carrying baby through rather than in the carrier.)

Once you’ve made it through security, go straight to the gate. Trust me. Once I stopped for a burger, and then arrived to the gate late only to be yelled at by a gate attendant. It was awful, and she was really in the wrong, but I learned my lesson. Go to the gate first, get tags for your stroller, then (if you have time) look for food and a bathroom.

Pre-flight

I try to avoid bringing a warm meal onto a flight if I’m traveling alone. It’s one more thing to juggle. The one time I did buy a burger I didn’t eat it until landing several hours later. Now I pack snacks or I eat right before boarding. I also make sure to visit the bathroom and change baby’s diaper even if it’s barely dirty. Airplane bathrooms are tight and smelly.

Once on board

I mentioned that I like to travel during nap times, and this means that as soon as I board the plane I start working on getting the baby to sleep.

When Anna was still a newborn I would wait until the plane was taxing for takeoff, and then I’d make her nurse. Nursing is said to help sensitive ear drums, and in our case, it usually would also make her drowsy. As she’s gotten older, and I’ve traveled more alone, I try to avoid feeding her on the plane. This is mostly because I feel awkward nursing when I’m sitting so close to a stranger, and the pressure does not seem to affect her ears.

As soon as my seat mates have arrived and buckled in, I sit down too. Here’s where I get sneaky. Federal regulations don’t allow mothers to wear their carriers during takeoff and landing. I have mixed feelings about this rule. Part of me feels like the airline peeps probably know best. Another part of me feels that, in the event of an emergency, I want my baby strapped on my body where I can hug her and kiss her and not see her flying down the aisle. Morbid, I know. I also know it’s much easier to get Anna to sleep (and to stay sleeping) if she’s in her carrier. So, I put the straps over my shoulders but I don’t latch the back. Then, I put a blanket over the entire carrier. My strategy serves a few purposes. First, everyone assumes I’m nursing, and no one asks to see if she’s strapped or not. This way I get to break the law and do what works best for us. I know, I know. Some of you think a rules a rule. Whatever. I figure, if an emergency happened and someone did need to grab her from me, the fact the carrier is unlatched will actually make it somewhat easy to do. Second, the blanket over us helps make a nice dark space for the baby to fall asleep. I do a little bouncing and shushing in my seat, and she’s out! Victory!

How long she stays sleeping is completely at the mercy of loud noises and seat neighbors needing to use the restroom. If she gets 30 minutes in, she’s often happy the rest of the flight.

What I’m still learning

I haven’t yet taken a flight since Anna started crawling. Our Colorado flight, a month ago, was a few hours long. It was the hardest flight yet because Anna is at a grabby, squirmy stage. It helped to have a kind grandmother type sitting next to us who wanted to play and hold. I’m still learning how to entertain Anna when we’re surrounded by people who aren’t as kind or helpful. I can only say–the early toddler years will require a lot of imagination and hard work to keep her entertained on flights. This brings me to my final point:

What do you find works? What have I forgotten? I’d also love to know about your ideas for traveling with toddlers. We’re going to Hawaii this summer when Anna is 13 months. I’m already gearing up. Please, do help!

update: This post, written by a flight attendant, has several great ideas for flying with a baby and/or toddler. Check it out! I am definitely buying the seat harness she mentions when Anna turns 2.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Share
14 comments
Mary Tennyson
Mary Tennyson

Great ideas! I suggest you pack an extra shirt for mom in the diaper bag, just in case baby gets sick or has a blowout. That has happened to me, and my daughter, on cross-country flights, and it's nice not having to stay stinky the entire flight. A potential disadvantage about taking a red-eye is that if your toddler does not sleep (which my granddaughter did not, on my daughter's first solo cross-country flight with her) then mom is totally exhausted on arrival. We planned the red-eye, assuming she would sleep, as she was a pretty good sleeper. Unfortunately, there's no way to predict how the child will react, but just be prepared for the child not sleeping.

PC
PC

Also I noticed that splurging on the wine and whiskey helped mom and dad's nerves when flew last year with Bryleigh as an infant.

PC
PC

I am so in love with this post. We were almost about to fly to Wisconsin this month, but luckily, my mom decided she would just fly to us instead. We were kind of freaking out about how we were going to manage an infant and a toddler.

Michelle
Michelle

Lesley- I love this! I have the feeling one day this will come in very handy... Such good, practical and honest advice! I've heard from some friends here that we'll have to get our baby a passport before we can go anywhere.

Lesley
Lesley

Ashlee- I agree. Kate is brave enough to say what so many do, and what I am not above trying. :) No judging, no judging.

Ashlee
Ashlee

Bookmarking this post forever. And kudos for Kate Connor up there for mentioning Benadryl. My baby's not even born yet and I am already open to that idea. Barefoot on 45th is a no judging zone, right? ;)

Stacey
Stacey

These are fantastic tips! Since my parents and additional family live out of state, we've already started talking about what we need to do to see them once the baby is born this summer. Flying with our very new little lady terrifies me, but this seems to make it more manageable. Mark even read this post and was encouraged, so thank you!

Emily
Emily

Great tips! I agree with them all! Having been in a plane with my son for a total of 75 hours so far (first flight was at 3 mo and last flight was at 20mo), I feel like I could write a book about how to survive! Two of those flights were to/from Kenya, so those don't really count (Judah was 14mo). When the journey takes 31 hours to complete all you can do is pray hard and keep telling yourself "this flight will end..." That helped my sanity. The only suggestion I will add is take some small, cheap new toys that your kid hasn't seen before. Then gradually give him or her a new toy every once in awhile. The intrigue of the newness will buy you some time. If your kid is old enough, you can wrap them which adds to the excitement. Also, lots of snacks are great. On the last flight I lined up Cheerios on the tray table and made a game out of eating them. Then when all else failed we pulled out the Elmo DVDs! Good luck and remember the flight WILL end!! :)

Kate Conner
Kate Conner

Such good tips! I definitely recommend a backpack instead of a diaper bag no matter how big or handy yours is! It's 10x easier to carry. I shoved some pacifiers in one of the side (water bottle) pockets and a bottle in the other - so they were "quick draw." If I needed them I could grab them while I was walking and holding the baby - much easier than rummaging through a bag that's hanging off your shoulder. It's easier on your back & shoulders too, which is a huge help if you're traveling through big airports! The wrap/carrier didn't work for us because eventually the baby wanted OUT. She was crying, I was trying to get her out, get it off, console her, carry the wrap & the diaper bag, and navigate an airport - nobody has enough hands for that! The best combination for us was 1. A backpack. 2. Carrying the baby. 3. Massive bag of Cheerios. Seriously, if that's what the baby eats for lunch and dinner on your travel day, who cares if it gets everyone from A to B peacefully! I might get some backlash for this, but I'm just going to throw it out there: Benadryl. I flew A LOT when my first was between the ripe ages of 1 and 2 (which we know includes, crawling, playing, screeching, etc.). My pediatrician, who happened to be a family friend and Sunday school teacher @ our church, offered to give me a safe/correct dosage based on my daughter's weight. We trusted him completely, and let me tell you - best thing ever. I gave it to her with her Cheerios just as we were taking off. She snoozed in my arms for the whole flight: she didn't crawl on the people next to me, squirm, kick them, or pull the hair of the people in front of her. We just snuggled. She woke up refreshed and I was totally relaxed for the whole flight. (Every one around us appreciated it, too.) If that's not your thing - no prob. All the stuff mentioned here is GREAT advice and will help you to travel gracefully! :)

Kelly
Kelly

Awesome tips, Lesley! I'm sure I will be looking for this post in the next few months. In an unbelievable turn of events, my parents are moving to Houston. Weird! I can't tell you how happy I am that I will not have to endure a 4 hour flight with the little one to San Fran.

Jacqueline
Jacqueline

These are some really good tips that I'm sure even an experienced traveler can learn from. I didn't know about needing a copy of the birth certificate because I was never asked for before, but I'm flying Southwest next week with Mallory so I'll be sure to bring a copy - thanks Lesley! We flew to Hawaii with Mallory when she was 11 months and our saving grace was the iPad; we loaded it up with her favorite cartoons, Elmo movies, and game apps to keep her entertained. But overall the flight to Hawaii is a long one for toddlers so plan on being busy entertaining her in whatever way possible. I can't even tell you how many times we walked up and down that aisle. Luckily when you're flying to Hawaii, everyone is in a good mood because they're excited to get there! For longer flights I would follow the advice from Anna's comment and take an evening flight, especially on the way home-they're energy levels aren't as high so you don't have to get up to entertain them as often. Good luck!

Erin
Erin

Because our family is also spread throughout the US, we've traveled a lot with the kiddos (incouding an exhausting 22-hr total trip from Los Angeles to New Zealand with a 15-month old while I was 7-months pregnant...I know, what was I thinking?!?!). The one thing that has always worked for me is snacks snacks snacks. Have a variety and just dole them out whenever they get fussy! I also let them move around as much as your situation allows (even if they just stand in between your legs on the floor). Other than that, your tips here are spot on!!

Claire
Claire

These are great! We flew with our son cross country when he was 7 months old and it was great. I then got cocky and flew to LA with him at 22months and our 2nd was 3 weeks old. I'm still recovering from that. Also, I packed a bag of chocolates for the kids to hand out when they got cranky. It diffuses passenger annoyance when they get chocolate. :)

Anna
Anna

When traveling with a crawler I vote redeye. I know every baby is different, but daytime with a mover is. so. exhausting. Mason and I just flew to Chicago and were delayed in SFO for longer than planned (but I guess SF delays should always be expected). Our flight wound up being a redeye and it was awesome. We boarded, got settled, and played for a while (flight was scheduled to depart at 6). Mason fell asleep at 6:45 per usual and only woke up once for about 20 minutes. The return flight - 4.5 hours in the exact middle of the day - it was a blessing both seats next to us were empty, because everyone in our row would have lost their mind. Mason was happy, but BUSY. He crawled, jumped, wiggled, and cruised all three seats for the entire flight (except for 20 min at the very end). HappyBaby Puffs bought us some time, which was good. I think the only way to make it through a midday flight is with snacks and a good attitude. Oh, and smiling and introducing yourself and your baby to every flight attendant - gaining their love - and hoping they let you crawl around in the back of the plane :)

Trackbacks

  1. Alloy Wheel Refurb Leyton

    How to fly with a baby – Barefooton45th Barefooton45th