Why is the first flight with your new baby the most frightening experience ever?? I am proud of the fact that I’m a “go with the flow” kind of mom, but when it came to air travel, I was panicking!
I am an uber experienced traveler – for the last 4 years, I traveled to a business conference, trade show or meeting at least twice a month. I still have super status with Marriott. I have my favorite place to park at the RDU airport. I can pack a carryon in about 10 minutes. I sneer at you if you take too long in the security line.
But flying with a baby is a whole other beast. And I prepared for it like a newbie. I had visions of my child screaming the entire trip. I cringed thinking about holding up people while collapsing my stroller in the security line. My child hates to nap while being held, so I thought I would have a very cranky baby with me the entire trip.
In reality, flying with my 9 month old, both by myself and with my husband, wasn’t so bad! She actually slept while I held her! She crawled around during layovers, and loved to people watch. I survived!
However, I definitely made some mistakes…. So today’s post is all about what to think about BEFORE you board that flight, and what to do once you’re on it. Some of these tips may just be baby specific – meaning what worked/didn’t work for my child, may/may not work for yours… like all things when it comes to babies.
WARNING! Lengthy Post! If you want the short/sweet version, there is a video version down below 🙂
Before the Flight:
- The Car Seat – This decision is really trip specific! There are 3 options – 1. Book a second seat on the plane and carry the car seat on, or 2. take the car seat with you and check it either at the check in desk or plane side, OR 3. have a car seat at your destination. Since we were flying to my parents’ house, I decided to send a car seat to their house. This car seat was pretty basic and cheap. It was a tad challenging to install rear facing, but we managed it!
- Moving the Baby in the Airport – So, what’s the best way to haul your little one through the airport? In the research I did, it looked like this answer was based on the age of your child. If they were younger than 4 months, using a carrier or wrap was the easiest option. Older than 4 months, consider bringing a stroller.I purchased the Summer Infant 3D Lite umbrella stroller instead of bringing my Britax B Agile. I wanted a lightweight stroller that I could collapse and lift onto the security belt easily, while holding my baby. I chose the 3D Lite because it almost fully reclined, had a small storage basket, and a small canopy/sun shade. I practiced closing and opening many strollers at Buy Buy Baby, and this one had the bells and whistles of a full size stroller, with the convenient one handed folding and lightweight size of an umbrella stroller.
- Picking the Right Flight – This seemed to be our downfall… We couldn’t do non-stops because of cost. So we chose based on the next best thing – shortest flight time. After our trip, I’ve decided the next thing to consider is a morning flight time. Our little girl is definitely a morning person, and as the day goes on, her energy (and mommy and daddy’s energy) goes down in a death spiral. Others say to schedule the flights around nap times, in hopes that they’ll sleep! Sounds great! If you have a child that is ok being held/rocked to sleep. Mine… not so much.You may also want to consider which airline carrier to use (if costs are about the same). We opted for Southwest, because it isn’t a heavy business traveler airline (who are most likely to be annoyed at you… I should know… I was one), and we could check a bag for free. Not to mention the staff in general is friendlier. But that’s just my opinion.
- The Suitcase (To check or not to check) – I say, if you can, CHECK that suitcase! One less thing to lug around. We chose to fly Southwest just so we could check bags for free. And since on the trip up to Michigan I was flying without my husband, I couldn’t envision lugging a suitcase on to the plane and getting it in the overhead bin while holding a squirming baby. I can barely get them in the overhead bin WITHOUT a baby.
At the Airport:
- Plan Food & Snacks – I figured one of the easiest things to keep my little one entertained on the flight was giving her one Cheerio at a time. And it was helpful! I gathered tons of snacks, and stuffed treats all into one large gallon sized storage bag, and had one to Michigan and one for the flight back. In reality, I didn’t need THAT many snacks. I really over packed them… but better safe than sorry. For formula, I purchased a formula dispenser similar to this one. It was… ok. It was kind of big. In reality, I would have preferred to pack formula in my Medela storage containers, but I didn’t have enough.
- The Diaper Bag – Here is where my BIGGEST mistake ended up. I was so paranoid that all my extra bits and bobs wouldn’t fit in my usual diaper bag, so I ended up buying a large tote (remember my post on finding a weekender bag??) and packing all my items in large gallon-sized storage bags to easily grab things out. Like some small toys in one, another with snacks, one with eating supplies (bib, spoon, etc), and all the diapering supplies in another.What a nightmare. I couldn’t find anything in that large tote. I also found it annoying to dig through the tote, and THEN to dig through a ziplock bag to get something. The bag fit under the seat on the plane, but it was hard pulling it out and finding things while holding a baby on my lap.On the trip back I used my usual diaper bag and just packed it as I would normally, with just a few toys and snacks. Here’s a comparison picture of the two bags. The one on the right is my normal diaper bag.
On the Flight:
- Sit where you’ll be comfortable – Whether you’re choosing seats when you book your ticket, or flying Southwest where you can choose yourself, pick a seat that you’ll feel comfortable in. Don’t feel obligated to pick a seat that you wouldn’t normally, just because you now have a baby. I always sit in an aisle seat, so that’s where I landed. You may also be able to switch your seat assignment once you get to your gate and the flight isn’t jam-packed!
- Prep the drink ahead of time – for the first leg of my journey, I tried to mix a formula bottle while sitting in my seat on the airplane. Dumb. Do you know how hard it is to grab supplies out of a diaper bag (or, at the time, large tote), pour JUST the right amount of water into a bottle, shake formula into said bottle, and mix? So silly. After that, I just mixed the next bottle while we waited in the gate and my daughter was either crawling around on the floor (gross, I know, but she had to get those wiggles out) or in her stroller.
- Pull out some snacks/toys as soon as you sit – before your seat mate joins you (lucky them!), plop your diaper bag on the seat next to you and grab a few things to stick in the seat back pocket, to avoid the diaper bag dig in the middle of the flight.
Additional random things I learned:
- Give yourself plenty of time for check in at the airport. When I traveled for business, I arrived 30 minutes before my flight time, and always made it to the gate as they were boarding, Starbucks in hand. When traveling with a baby, give yourself time to go through security, get a diaper changed (the baby’s, not yours), and purchase some water and anything else you may need.
- Something WILL go wrong, but that’s ok! Just go with the flow. Again, giving yourself plenty of time to get from Point A to Point B will help lower that stress and rushy-rushy feeling.
- Any Dr. Brown’s bottle users out there? This may be a duh/stupid realization, but I learned something on my flight. Dr. Brown’s bottles will leak at high altitude. Couldn’t figure out why my bottle was leaking formula all over me! The milk traveled up that little blue tube! So just be sure to untwist the top a touch!
- Speaking of bottles… I could have saved some space in my diaper bag by not packing the bottle and just bringing her much smaller straw sippy cup. She loves that more! And I love that it’s compact and has oz measurements on it, so I can easily mix up some formula right in it.
- Don’t over pack that carry on/diaper bag. I’ve already talked about it, but it needs to be mentioned again. I didn’t need 16 books and 8 little toys (exaggerating, but you get the point). I only really pulled out one book and my daughter’s little blanket. That was it. She was so entertained by the flight attendants moving around and the other passengers.
- Save some drink or breastfeed during the assent and decent. Of course, this is all well and good if your baby enjoys drinking and wants to. Mine didn’t, but thankfully she sucks her thumb. Which worked. Although she didn’t suck her thumb at all on a decent of one flight, and she seemed just fine. Go figure!
Favorite Blog Posts on Traveling (this list could go on and on!):
Traveling with Babies from HelloBee.com
Packing Checklist for Flying with Children from HelloBee.com
Tips for Flying with a Baby from spoonful.com
Traveling with an Infant, By Airplane from thesmallthingsblog.com
As promised – video: