My first adventure flying with a baby was when Annabelle was 4 months old, to Savannah, Georgia. Not only were we going to visit her Aunt, we were going to enjoy a nice reprieve from being cooped up at home during cold and flu season. Even though I considered myself a frequent flyer everything changes when you are traveling with a baby.
I do this for a living and I still spent hours scouring the internet for tips for flying with a baby. I was actually that mom who made small bags of treats with earplugs and a “Hi, it’s our first time flying, sorry if I cry” sticker. While our fellow passengers seemed to appreciate it, what really made our experience special was the flight crew. I have always brought on little Starbucks coffee packets as a pick me up for the crew (thanks, Goddess of all things travel – Samantha Brown for the tip) For this trip I upped the ante and added a hydrating sheet mask and hand lotion. The crews on both our flight down and back were SO grateful and went out of their way to make sure we had everything we needed…including helping me navigate my first mile high diaper change.
I was prepared for the adventure and it ended up going really well, despite Annabelle’s teething on the return trip. I spent hours and hours researching before our flight – to save you from having to do the same, I put everything together AND added some things I learned on the way.
Preparing for your Flight begins long before you step foot on the plane. Gone are the days when you can jump on a flight with 3 layovers and a plane change because you saw a last minute deal. You want to plan your trip with your baby and baby’s schedule in mind.
Now this is going to be pretty difficult because if your kid is like mine their schedule changes daily, but if you at least have an idea of when they are supposed to be sleeping, you can try to choose flight times around that.
According to the FAA, the safest place for a baby is in an FAA approved car seat which would mean you would have to purchase a seat. The concern here is that if there is unexpected turbulence, that you would not be able to hold the baby in your lap even if they qualify as a lap child. I asked my pediatrician about this and he suggested that I not spend the money because with it being a new experience Annabelle was most likely going to want to be with me for comfort anyway. Now that she is a bit older and mobile I did purchase seats for her on some of the flights we have coming up. How did I decide? First I took into account flight length – I will not be struggling to hold an active child for 6 hours on my flights to California or Greece. I also purchased a seat for her for our trip to North Carolina. It is just her and I on that flight, and I will only have to worry about one other person being affected by her wriggles. It will also allow me some extra space to deal with all of the stuff. Walt Disney World in December, she will be a lap infant. We are going to celebrate her birthday with both sides of the family so we will have at least 4 family members + my husband to help wrangle.
If you are traveling with a young infant, get the window seat. You will have a little extra space and they will love looking out the window. If you have an active toddler you will need the aisle.
If it is an option for you to pay the extra money to have a direct flight….DO IT!!! If you are flying between two points that do not have a direct option, you will want to choose a long layover. This was a huge adjustment for me because I always made my layovers as short as possible and found myself sprinting between gates many a time. You cannot sprint with a baby and all their stuff. It is also an opportunity to let them run around and shake their sillies out before getting back into a confined space. Choose your layover airport based on their amenities for kids – many have great play spaces now. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the airport layout so if you do need to change gates quickly, you know the most efficient route.
Do some research. Unfortunately, not all flight attendants know what you are or are not allowed to do with kids. The FAA recommends rear facing in approved car seats to a certain age, but I have heard many parents be told they need to turn it around. Know your rights, know the policy and be able to pull it up should it be questioned.
This goes for TSA as well. You are allowed to travel with breastmilk, formula and baby food over the allotted 3 ounces. You will need to put this into a separate bag (ziploc is fine) to be screened separately. Each airport does handle this a bit differently so give yourself plenty of time and expect anything. Flying from Boston we had no problem and they just swabbed the inside of the bag, tested it and we moved on. The Savannah airport insisted that either my husband or I be patted down. Prepare for the additional screening, and also be prepared for the TSA agents not to be familiar with the policies. It does not happen often but it does happen. Head to the TSA Website for the most up to date policies. Be prepared to site them should any issues arise.
It is good for 10 years, kids under 12 can go with you, just do it. You are juggling your bag, the baby’s bag, the stroller, the baby – do you really want to take off your shoes?
Pack more than you think you will need. Your flight may be delayed. Your baby may go through more diapers than usual. Be prepared. I usually put what I think I will need for the flight in the diaper backpack and the rest in the carry-on luggage in the overhead bin, so I have it if I need it but I am not a sherpa. Don’t forget to bring enough for the return trip. I pack return supplies in my checked luggage, so even if I am picking up or shipping some to my destination I don’t forget to have enough for the return.
Not only will this prevent meltdowns from hanger, it also keeps little ones busy. If I can get 15-20 minutes of entertainment out of a handful of Gerber Puffs you bet I am bringing a whole bottle. If you have a toddler, consider bringing snacks they aren’t allowed to have at home. Those twizzlers or lollipop will keep them happy AND they will enjoy flying.
Dirty diapers, wet clothes, the bag of snacks you tried to open and exploded everywhere all find a nice home in empty Ziploc bags.
I know some of you may be reading this as preparation before your bundle of joy arrives, but if you are already a Mom you know an extra change of clothes for your child is a necessity. I am going to take this one further and advise you pack an extra change of clothes for yourself. If you have a lap infant with a diaper blowout or spilt juice where do you think that is going? Yep. It is going to end up on you, and you shouldn’t have to sit in it for the duration of your flight.
Bring some of your child’s favorite toys (but none that would be devastating if lost) for a sense of familiarity, but also throw in a few new toys to pique interest.
Many destinations offer services where you can rent the baby gear you need. If you are renting a car and not using a car seat on the plane, consider adding a car seat to your rental. Ask your hotel if they provide pack and plays. The least amount of items you have to deal with at the airport the better.
I tend to book early morning flights. They are more likely to be on time, the airport is not as crowded, and you get more time at your destination. I shower and bathe the baby the night before. I slip on my yoga pants and a tank top and lay out the t-shirt and sweater I am going to wear on the plane. If you have a later flight just lay out everyone’s clothes the night before so you don’t have to scramble looking for the other shoe. You’ll have enough to do.
It is one less thing you have to worry about when trying to get everyone out the door. We typically have one backpack with our ipads and toiletries that gets packed in the morning. I leave the checklist of everything that needs to go in it right on top and try to charge the electronics nearby so I don’t have to find anything.
Even though you are already dressed, your suitcases in the car, something is going to prevent you from leaving when you want to. There may be an unexpected blowout or you inevitably forgot something. Leave yourself an extra few minutes. Be careful though, don’t give yourself so much time that you are wondering what to do with the kids in the airport.
Do not try to be a hero. Check as many things as you possibly can. Gone are the days when you could board a flight for a weeks vacation with just a carry on (ok, ok! I could never do this even without kids but some people can…okay?) Sign up for an airline credit card that gives you free checked bags (I love Delta’s Amex) or fly an airline that never charges (<3 Southwest) or spring for the fare that includes checked bags (it is only a few dollars more on Jetblue.) If you are traveling direct and don’t plan on using it on the plane, go ahead and check the carseat. It will be one less thing to worry about. If you have a connection I would gate check it to ensure it arrives at your destination with you. Use the curbside check in. The extra few dollars tip is worth not having to bring it to the desk with you. Ask them to print a boarding pass for you, if you are traveling with an infant in arms they most likely will not allow you to use the app to board or even print at home. Have them do it here so you don’t have to wait in line.
So going through the airport I usually have the diaper bag to go under my seat and have one rolling bag with all the other may need items – I also include a few necessities to get us through the first day should our luggage not arrive. Between the backpack, rolling bag, baby and stroller you have enough to handle. That brings me to ….
This depends on the age of your baby. If your child is small enough to be worn through the airport, that is a great option and leaves your hands free. On the other hand your stroller is a personal luggage cart. I don’t like to risk the stroller being damaged or lost, so I prefer to gate check it. While most airports will have your gate checked items waiting in the gangway as you deplane some send them to baggage claim with everything else. This is something to just be aware of and not be concerned about if your items are not there. What I usually do is I wear the baby and push the stroller with my luggage in it. Don’t judge! But make sure you can handle the luggage if your stroller is not on the gangway.
In terms of security, most strollers will be too big to go through the scanner so you will need to remove it from any bags and take everything out/off of it. Most airports will allow you to wear baby through the scanner, just make sure your carrier has no metal parts and that it is easy to slip the baby out of should it be requested. I like this sling wrap from Mamaway, it is not complicated like a regular wrap and does not have any buckles or anything that may set off the scanner.
Many airlines are getting rid of pre-boarding for families. This is a little bit of a disappointment because it is not easy to juggle everything and get everyone settled with someone trying to push past you. If you are flying with two adults your best course of attack is for one of you to board as early as possible, put the luggage overhead, clip in the car seat, and disinfect the tray (or save the step and get one of these amazing tray covers). The other parent should be one of the last people to board…that just gave you 20 less minutes of trying to make an active baby sit still, and everything is ready when you board.
One of the main reasons for the screaming baby on a plane is that they do not understand the sensation the air pressure creates in their ears, and it can often be painful. If your baby is nursing, plan to do so on takeoff and landing. If not, a bottle or juicebox will help. Another great option if your child is a little older is a lollipop.
If you have a row to yourself, feel free to change a wet diaper by laying the baby across the seat. If it is stinky or you have some seatmates, do them the courtesy of going into the bathroom. There is a changing table over the toilet with a latch to release it down. I would recommend putting your foot on the toilet using your knee to brace it in case it falls.
Now you are ready to go on your next adventure. The more you travel with kids the easier it becomes. Just expect the unexpected.
Are you ready to have the family vacation you’ve been dreaming of, but are starting to feel overwhelmed with the amount of choices you have, as well as the time it takes to research these choices? Travel is one of the best ways to get away from daily routines and reconnect as a family, but with so much to see and experience, it can be difficult to narrow down the best options for your family. I’m here to help busy working Moms plan, organize and book your trip. With me, all you have to worry about is enjoying your well-earned time away with your family. If you are ready to stop trying to do everything on your own and see how I can help you schedule a complimentary trip planning session now.
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