Here are some handy tips for any and all
parents, grandparents, and brave adults to help you
survive flying with baby!
Our son was born in March 2015; to date, we’ve taken him on four major trips (one involving a three-hour layover), and we will be tacking on another one this summer. I have an extremely type-A personality, and though it gets the best of me sometimes, I’ve come to embrace it. Needless to say, months before we decided to fly with our baby, when I was still breastfeeding and seemed to have copious amounts of time to google on my phone or the iPad, I was researching like crazy to be sure I was over prepared for the first trip we would take when our son was 4 months old. I definitely feel like we have it down to a science now. So, although I realize there are different strokes for different folks, I’m boiling this down to travel survival 101 with a baby (or toddler), and I’m breaking it down into stages: planning, getting through the airport, the plane ride itself.
The Planning Stages
Is your child the kind of kiddo who will nap on the plane? Will he/she rest in your lap and nurse or take a bottle? Naturally, the first time you go anywhere you may not know, but trust your intuition. Book flights around an ideal schedule to the best of your ability. Time change? Generally, I’d say our son has always stayed close to true Arizona time, even on the east coast. I know this varies, but this has been our experience.
Are you buying your child a seat, or not?
Before 2, you can travel with a lap infant for free. Any car seat tech would absolutely insist that you purchase a separate seat and install a car seat on the plane. Again, this is something that you’ll have to decide on and trust your gut. You can also always check in at the gate prior to the flight and sometimes (at least on Southwest), they will let you install the car seat, free of charge, if there are seats available. Be sure you check your manual and/or handy Facebook groups like Car Seats for the Littles so that you’re prepared for install if you go this route and/or buy a seat.
Purchase handy travel items ahead of time
Three things I would absolutely recommend when flying with baby: a bag for your car seat if you are checking it, a bag for your stroller, and a travel crib (links below). If you are checking your car seat, I’d recommend checking it at the gate, and not at the ticket counter, unless you absolutely have to. I did once, when I flew alone, because there was no way I’d be able to get the stroller, car seat, and everything else through security and on my own. Ok, I’m sure I could have, but it would have been a nightmare if I would have needed to change a diaper or anything else.
* This car seat bag has been a life saver. It is sturdy, padded, and holds up like a charm.
* We have the UPPAbaby Vista stroller, and bought this bag. It seems pricey, but they will replace your stroller if it is damaged while using this bag for travel. It’s amazing!
* Finally, a travel crib. We don’t rent cribs, and haven’t ever gone strictly to see family with pack and plays available. My mother-in-law bought this Guava Family Lotus Travel Crib, and it is THE BEST. 13 lbs. Enough said!
Think through a “day in the life” for packing purposes
When I pack, I mentally jog through a regular day at home and think about everything I use/need. Then, I ultimately try and simulate that when I pack. I pack a bottle brush, dish soap, a small amount of laundry detergent, travel size sunscreen, etc. so that we aren’t stuck without things that we need. If you’re short on space, you can also stop when you arrive and buy things like diapers for the week so that you aren’t hauling them there. It’ll take a few tries, but you’ll find a system that works for you.
Getting Through the Airport
Bring a copy of your child’s birth certificate
You need to go to the actual baggage check/full service line at the airport when flying with baby, because this is where you will obtain your baby’s boarding pass (hence the need for the copy of the birth certificate). Be prepared to drop off any and all bags that you don’t need on the plane. We always keep the diaper bag or a bag full of toys, snacks, extra clothes, etc., the stroller, and the car seat. I try and check anything else that we can. We typically put our travel crib in a large suitcase and then pack our son’s clothes in there, so there’s one baby suitcase and one suitcase for us.
Prepare ahead of time for security
You can bring breast milk in a bottle, formula, etc. Be sure you read up on TSA’s guidelines for traveling with a baby. If you do all of this before you get to the line, you’re sure to have a smoother experience. PS – they’ve always sent us in the line that is also for wheelchairs/families/special needs, so you do tend to skip quite a bit of the waiting! SCORE!
Bring a baby carrier
I always wear our son after we check our bags, until we’re settled and through security. This frees up my hands, allows me to wear him through the metal detectors, and simplifies things. You’ll have to unload the car seat from the travel bag at security and deconstruct the stroller. They’ll test the stroller and the car seat and your hands, so be sure you don’t have on lotion or anything else.
Load everything in your bag up, pack the stroller down, and head to the gate
Make a pit stop at the gate counter to get tags for your stroller and your car seat. Allow enough time to pack your stroller into the travel bag, if you have one (we made the mistake of waiting on this the first few times we flew and it resulted in some unneeded stress!). Then I’d get food (take turns eating before the flight with your significant other or family member, if you’re not traveling alone), a bottle of water (we use this to fill a sippy cup now that our son is older), and be sure you do a diaper change before you board. Oh, I’d also recommend getting these Tidy Toppers – they’re disposable, and if you use two, completely cover the changing table on the airplane.
The Plane Ride
Every baby/child is different. You can’t predict how flying with baby will go, but ultimately, you hope for the best. I always nursed for take-off and landing, brought pacifiers, toys, books, and food (3oz puree pouches were truly amazing when our son was old enough to eat them). Try and relax. The more stressed you get, the harder it is to handle. A baby carrier after take-off is a great option if your baby will sleep in one (our son never would). Be sure you also ask the flight attendant where the changing tables are on the plane. We brought disposable diaper bags too. We typically sit in the back: closer to the bathroom where the changing tables typically are, closer to the flight attendants for a drink if we miraculously have 10 minutes of hands-free time while our son sleeps, and generally the more “socially acceptable” portion of the plane for kiddos.
Take pictures and try to enjoy! Traveling with an infant/toddler can be stressful, but the memories and the experiences are worth it. Here’s another great blog post with excellent activity ideas for the plane ride itself! Any tips I left out that you swear by? Add them in the comments below!