As we prepare for our next round of flights, I realize that we have reached the world of toddler-hood. This is wonderful and exciting for all three Freemans! But our time of flying with an infant is behind us. So, with 25+ legs of air travel under Joey’s belt (his first flight was at 4 weeks old), here are our top tips for flying with an infant (not yet walking).
Baby Carriers. Use Them.
I LOVE baby carriers all of the time, but especially for air travel. For 0-6 months, my favorite was the Boba Wrap. At 4 months we started using our Ergo Performance Carrier as well. I pop Joey in it straight out of the car and he stayed there until we got to the gate. He then got some floor time on a jacket and a diaper change before boarding. He could nurse and receive a bottle in both carriers, and would often fall asleep in the carrier, making my life even easier. I have always been able to ‘wear’ Joey through the metal detector at the security checkpoint without trouble. However, other traveling moms have reported issues with having to take the baby out of the carrier at this time. Even so, they are SO very helpful for being able to go to the bathroom, eat a sandwich, move your luggage around, etc.
If you are stressed, your baby gets stressed. All babies cry sometimes – if yours does on a plane, it is OK! Don’t worry about everyone around you getting upset (you’ll probably never see them again anyway), and focus on caring for your child.
Consider things like how often your child would normally eat during your projected flight time, and make sure you are prepared for that plus one meal. Change diapers immediately before boarding, and have everything you need for the projected number of diaper changes plus one.
Keep everything you need in flight to a minimum, in a small, open-topped bag you can have in front of you. Emergency items can be stored in your regular carry-on in the overhead locker (things like baby tylenol, extra food & diapers, extra clothes). It is wise to have these accessible, but you most likely won’t need them in flight so give yourself extra space. Our child was far more interested in other passengers, the window, the flight attendants, and the magazines than any toys or books that we brought him from home. I always had a blanket (usually Aden & Anais Swaddles) to help keep Joey warm and comfy while he napped, and use as a partial cover while nursing. Baby milk, formula, and food are exempt from the 3 oz carry-on limitation. You just need to pull it out and declare it at security. Flight attendants will provide bottled water to mix powdered formula, but never assume that they will have milk, juice, or snacks that are suitable for baby.
We have always traveled with Joey as a lap child (we are cheap!) and it has worked out fine for us. Make sure you add them to your reservation – if you book on miles, you need to then call on the phone to explain the lap child. You need to bring proof of age to check-in (a passport or birth certificate). They will issue a boarding document, that you need to show at the security gate and when boarding. Most airlines allow children under 2 to fly free as a lap child on domestic flights, and for a 10% of full ticket price fee on international.
Use Priority Boarding
Most airlines let you board first with small children, and it is usually worthwhile. It means you have your choice of overhead locker space for your carry-ons, and lots of time to get situated with your small one. I keep a small bag in front of me (under the seat) with in-flight necessities (see above), but most of our equipment is stored overhead for the duration.
Choose Seats Wisely
We preferred window seats nearer to the front of the plane if possible. There is a bit more elbow room on the window side, baby enjoys looking out when awake, and it is also more discreet for nursing and diaper changes.
We were often told to have Joey nurse or suck on something during take-off and landing to help his ears pop. That is great in theory, but in our experience not worth waking a sleeping baby for. He tended to pass out as soon as the engines turned on, and it was better to leave him that way. If he did wake up, we let him nurse, take a bottle, or suck on a pacifier. Descent tends to be hard on them than ascent. We never had any major problems though. Smiling and laughing do just as much for helping ears pop (it is all about getting them to move their jaw).
For the first 4 months, you don’t need much entertainment. Food and an airplane window will do just fine, or perhaps bring one toy. After about 6 months, the in flight magazine is a delightful toy to page through and tear apart. Never bring more than 2-3 toys/books in flight, and don’t bring favorites as they may get lost. A walk up and down the aisle is always fun, as is peek-a-boo with willing passengers in the rows ahead of or behind you. If you can find another baby, this works well for a long time!
Get the Bassinet
International flight? Request a bassinet seat. You will have to request this 18 times – when you book your ticket, about a week before flight on the phone, when you check in and print your ticket, and at the gate. It is well worth it if you can get one, however. Even if baby doesn’t nap in the bassinet, they can play in there and give you a break.
Try to time the flight with your child’s nap. If you aren’t on a schedule yet but you know they always nap after eating, hold off on feeding until you are settled in your seat. If you are on a schedule, try to time your flights accordingly. One dead arm is a small price to pay for a sleeping child in-flight. Joey fell asleep to the engine noise quickly on almost all of his flights and often stayed asleep longer than he would at home.
Car Seat & Stroller
Most airlines allow you to gate-check one car seat and one stroller per child for free. I have always preferred to check these when I get my ticket so that I don’t have to haul them through the airport – free doesn’t mean easy! We got a travel bag for the car seat which gives it some protection from tearing and dirt, and also allows me to stuff extra diapers and clothes inside. If you have purchased a seat for your infant or if you are hoping to snag an empty seat next to you for them (some airlines will give you this option if the flight isn’t full- it has never happened for me), then hang on to the car seat.
Use cloth diapers? No problem! You can use them on an airplane too. For our first several flights we switched to paper diapers for the flight and kind of regretted it. I pack a full 2 day stash of diapers (and usually stuff it in the car seat bag 🙂 ) for trips, and bring with me only what I think I’ll need for travel time plus two emergency diapers. Although bulkier, I usually find it easiest to use one-piece diapers inflight. For us that means stuffed pockets. Beyond that, the drill is the same as a normal outing- when diapers are changed, dirty diapers are stored in a wet bag. I usually put a doubler in the first pocket Joey gets in flight, which will extend it to 6-8 hours unless he poops.
I know, I already said don’t stress. But seriously- babies fly all of the time. Even if you are unlucky enough to have a rude neighbor, most passengers are very considerate and understanding of littles even if they have a hard time. Remember to focus on what you can control, and not worry about the rest.