When my son was 10 months old we went on his first domestic flight, JUST US TWO. Now let me tell you I was excited for our trip, but dreading the traveling portion. I was always someone who dreaded sitting in front of a traveler with a child. You know, because they cry and kick your seat! Now that I have become that person, I had a feeling karma was going to get me for being secretly annoyed.
I am pleased to report that I survived the experience of flying with a baby, and lived to tell the story; which I will tell you about here. These are the types of tips we need to pass down, around, and along to mothers everywhere! There is definitely a BEST way to do this even though the situation is not the best.
Keeping your baby healthy for travel
Something to think about any time you are taking your child in a crowded closed in area such as a plane is exposure. Your baby is inevitably going to come into contact with new germs that their system has never been introduced to before. I knew with my son only being 10 months old that his immune system is still very immature. I didn’t want any sickness getting in the way of enjoying his time with his grandparents.
About a week before we left, I started giving him dissolvable vitamin C tablets and cod liver oil. Both these supplements contain essential immune-boosting vitamins. I wanted to optimize his system so in addition to this, I stayed on top of his sleep schedule and simplified our schedule so he wouldn’t miss any naps.
There are many other natural methods to optimize your family’s immune system so they are ready for travel.
About booking the flight
Book your flight for the morning if this is at all possible! This is absolutely imperative. Waking up really early is rough but you will be able to accomplish the long list of things it takes to get ready for an adventure like this while the little ones are asleep. You can get yourself together, make the snacks, brew coffee, and load everything into the car before you see the whites of their sweet, precious eyes.
We all know that our kids generally wake up with a refreshed energy and their adventurous hearts are ready and able to take on the day! But as time goes on, so does their ability to tolerate life gracefully and that is of course the beauty of the nap time reset button!
If you can get a flight that leaves between 5 to 7 am, you can scoop them up, put them in the car, and delay starting the clock to a meltdown. I wish I had known this when I booked my flight. I didn’t fly out until 11 am. My son woke up at his usual 7 am, but we wasted 2 of his great waking hours at home. He was wonderfully behaved through getting ready, driving to the airport, and security.
Even the first flight went relatively well! But by the time we had reached my connecting gate, he was a complete disaster. And unfortunately it was even hard to get him to fall asleep in my arms due to how loud and stuffy the airport was.
Get a nonstop flight if it is available. This is the best option for flying with a baby even if it makes for a longer flight. I realize that it is not always available. Sometimes there isn’t the option because you will be going from small airport to small airport. Sometimes the price is too expensive.
The problem with layovers is they can be unpredictable. It adds another layer of logistics and rushing from one gate to the next, stopping for a potty break, and of course unloading and reloading all your carry on items.
If you are unable to avoid the layover I would recommend looking for a flight that has an hour to an hour and a half layover. This time frame is long enough to not feel rushed to get to the next gate, take care of the essentials, but it doesn’t have you waiting around so long adding more time to T minus MELTDOWN!
Should you choose a window or aisle seat? The benefit of a window is that if you are lucky enough to have your baby fall asleep, you won’t have to worry about another passenger needing to get over you to use the toilet in the middle of the flight. You will also have the window as another distraction.
The downside…you may feel cramped, and if your baby is losing it and thrashing around like mine did, you won’t have the buffer of the aisle. If you are still nursing you will have more privacy being next to the window, but you will have more leg room with the aisle. This is such a tough decision!
Make sure to add “infant in arms” to your booking status. This is allowed if your child is under 2 and you won’t have to pay for an extra ticket. If they are over 2 then they have to have their own seat.
What style of carry on bag is best for flying with a baby?
If you are traveling on a plane solo with your baby, you will have to strategically pick your carry on bag. If you have another adult partner to travel with, then this information may not be as important. However I will go over what to pack in the next section!
When I traveled with my son, I used a backpack for my carry on bag. My thought process on this was I could strap it to my back and be hands free. I filled it with TONS of snacks, a sippy cup of water, two bottles of formula powder, his favorite blanket, about 5 toys, my laptop, a jacket for him, etc. I could go on about everything I put in that backpack. I wanted to be prepared! However I completely overpacked.
I got to the airport and strapped the backpack on my back, wore my jacket, and put him in the carrier on my front. I was hands free alright, but my 6 total hours of travel like this left me feeling like I had been hit by a train!
Here is a picture of me, all smiles. Notice Connor’s face…he must have sensed the trouble coming.
My best suggestion about what type of carry on bag to use would be a medium size bucket purse or diaper bag that is no taller than 11 inches, so you easily pull it out from under the seat your foot. You don’t have a lot of space to work with here and you need to be able to reach down and grab what you need without having to fumble with floppy material or zippers.
I also wish I would have had an organizer that would have supported my bag and make everything easily accessible. Something like this would work great…
What to pack in your carry on bag
- A bottle for each flight. You can nurse your baby which would be awesome! My baby was bigger when I flew with him and I knew I wouldn’t be able to easily lay him across my lap without him kicking the passenger next to me so I opted for a bottle. You are allowed to bring breast milk through security.
- Water bottle. You can bring this through security as well if it is for formula. You can buy one once you get through but it will most likely be COLD water, which isn’t great if you need it for formula. They will do some kind of special scan on your water bottle so keep in mind this will add time to getting through security.
- Organic dissolvable puff snacks. Normally I try to feed my child fresh food, not processed. However, for the sake of not having to change a poopy diaper on the plane, dissolvable rice snacks at least contain a bit of nutritional value and seem to have less of a chance of stimulating the bowels! Another benefit of these is their size. If you have a child that is learning to feed themselves, it provides a distraction for some of the flight. Give the puffs one by one and allow them to pick them up. It takes up more time!
- A high calorie snack bar for you. You never know if you will have time in between flights to grab something to eat. You will also be using a lot of energy to care for your little one under these constraints and need fuel to keep going!
- Your child’s birth certificate. You need some kind of document proving they are yours just in case. It is not requested every time but better to have and not need. Check the airline you are flying with for details.
- A touch and feel book. If I could suggest one toy to bring it would be this because it is light, it isn’t noisy, and provides more sensory options. They can turn the pages, feel the sensory additions, and shake the book. You can get OTHER distraction options on the flight such as a plastic cup from the stewardess. Bringing a million toys when your child can’t carry their own little backpack just adds more weight and things you have to keep up with.
- A pacifier or wubanub if your child uses them on a regular basis.
To be honest, other than my phone and wallet this was ALL I brought for my return flights home (other than my laptop which I felt more comfortable carrying with me). It was much better because my bag was lighter. I would love to say bring headphones and download some podcasts. Yea right!
**Side note…If it isn’t the middle of winter I wouldn’t bring a jacket. Between the stress and extra weight you are likely to be sweating like I was. The jacket will become one more thing for you to manually haul around!
How much additional time should you give yourself when flying with a baby?
Let’s ponder upon the wondrous additional layers of complexity involved with bringing a baby on a plane in mathematical terms:
Get the baby out of the carseat and into the stroller or carrier: 5 minutes
Changing dirty diapers as soon as you get in the building: 7 minutes
Extra time through security: 5 minutes
Moving a bit slower: 3 minutes
Murphy’s law: 5-10 minutes
Total extra time needed depending on how conservative you are with the Murphy’s law portion: 25-30 extra minutes
How to get through security and around the airport with your baby
If your baby can’t walk there are two options for you to be hands free to get through security: A stroller or an infant carrier.
**Side note…if you are traveling solo, you COULD get your partner or friend to drive you to the airport and go through security with you. Then you could just carry your baby and not have to deal with a stroller or carrier. You are allowed to get a companion pass to help you go through security.
If you chose the stroller option you need to know that you WILL have to run it through the X-ray belt most of the time. I do not recommend bringing an expensive stroller to use at the airport. It will have to be checked at the gate and will most likely get scratches and dents as the airport employees do not care that you spent $900 dollars on a limited edition silver non-toxic Uppababy stroller with leather accents. Just buy a cheap umbrella stroller a week before you leave!
If you chose to wear a baby carrier you DON’T have to take it off. Someone will scan your hands and potentially wave the wand over you after you walk through.
I highly recommend getting a sturdy carrier like the Ergo baby vs. one of the long wraps. You will be moving around so much and bending over. It is better to have more support and protection than just a knot and stretchy material.
While going through security you will be taking your shoes off so wear easy slip-ons! You will also have to remove all the food and drinks you are bringing through and put them in a separate bin.
If you can afford the extra fee of $85 for a 5 year pass, TSA pre is a great time-saving, line-reducing option, especially if you are coming through a busy airport. You won’t be require to remove your shoes, belt, and jacket OR take your laptop and liquids out of your bag. If you plan on flying with kids a lot this may be a worthy investment! You can apply for that here.
As long as you don’t have to place anything really large in the overhead compartment and are worried that the space will not be available, I recommend waiting to be the last person on the plane. Although most airlines allow families to board pretty early, this prolongs the time your kids are in a tiny metal tube and you sitting in about 16 inches of space.
If you are traveling with a stroller you need to go to the counter at the gate and get it tagged. You will have to leave it as you board the plane. They will store it under the plane and retrieve it for you as you get off. This is why you do not want to bring that nice expensive stroller to the airport.
Another thing to keep in mind: it doesn’t hurt to check in at the gate counter to see if the flight is full. If it isn’t you may be able to negotiate moving to an empty row. I was able to do this on my second flight. I was SO thankful that this option was available because we were really on the struggle-bus that second flight!
Keeping your sanity during the flight
Like any new thing, going on an airplane is very intriguing at first, especially if your baby is old enough to be more aware of the environment. This very quickly this wears off (joy) and sitting in a seat made my son pretty stir crazy. It was a constant battle to show him something new and exciting to prevent any meltdowns. So here are a few suggestions that helped us get through the flight with very few outbursts:
Nurse or give a bottle on the way UP and the way DOWN. This helps release the pressure in their ears.
Offer lots of small snacks especially kinds they can feed themself. Give the snacks little bits at a time to take up as many minutes as possible.
Ask the stewardess for a plastic cup. For some reason this provides a good 10 minutes of entertainment.
Don’t forget to use all the inserts in the seatback pocket as new visual entertainment. (This is why you need to boost their immune system before flying…think of how many people have touched those!)
Use the touch and feel book or whatever toys you brought with you as a distraction.
If you chose the window seat, you could keep the screen closed at first and then open it to allow the baby to look out at something new if you are running out of new distractions.
You could download a movie but allowing young children under age 2 to watch TV isn’t really recommended for healthy development. Sometimes we have to do what we have to do, right mamas?
One thing I chose not to resort to doing is walking the middle aisle on the plane. I could see maybe doing that if you had to take a really long flight. But for shorter flights it seems to me this may train your child to get their way any time they get antsy. I want my son to learn that in some cases he just has to sit still.
Maybe this is unrealistic. I am a new mom after all.
Hopefully you will be sitting next to some nice person who will talk to your baby! It does seem to help a lot when others interact with them. I found the stewardess to be very helpful in that regard.
At the end of my first experience of flying with my son, I truly felt like I needed a glass of wine and a chiropractor. I will say that it is definitely on the list of my top 5 least favorite things to do.
I have heard that flying with a baby is better when they are older. After doing your research, if you decide that flying with a baby isn’t for you, check out my guide on how to survive a long road trip with your kids. I hope this information helped. Please feel free to comment and share!