10 Travel Tips for Flying with a Baby

flying-baby-tips

Flying with a baby (or a baby bump) is an adventure, but we are travelers at heart and we were raised by parents who traveled with their kids (us), so we weren’t going to let our growing family stand in the way of an opportunity to hop on a plane. And, though adding another person means lugging additional baggage which we are now forced to check rather than carry-on, surprisingly not much about our travel traditions have changed.

That said, after looking at our upcoming travel schedule for the early part of summer we feared we may have bitten off more than we could chew. We had a total of four trips and ten flights scheduled over the course of three months (including three trips that were back-to-back, two of which had three hour time changes to deal with). To add another number to the mix, our son would be just five months old at the time of his first flight.

baby-sleeping-flight

Our first trip took us to Portland, OR which is about 2.5 hours from LA and a great starter flight. Our next trip was to Tucson which was a short flight be we upped the difficulty level by also bringing our dog (honestly, are we crazy?) who travels well and stayed comfortably in her carrier under the seat for the duration of the flight and didn’t make a peep.

The last two trips were biggies. New York and Hawaii.

ready-fly-baby

We’re happy to report that all of the flights went well and despite a few moments of uncertainty (it’s amazing how being confined to a tiny space next to a complete stranger magnifies your baby’s volume, crying and cooing alike) for the most part, our son slept peacefully and happily engaged in the various activities we armed ourselves with.

So, as parents who started off with zero experience traveling with a little one but who had plenty of experience standing in line at security behind other people’s fussy kids and seated next to babies who seemed to cry without respite for twelve hours straight, we’d like to share a few tips that have worked well for us thus far. We’ve included some suggestions from friends who have older babies as well and we would love for all you frequent fliers out there to chime in with your personal tips too! A happy baby means a happy flight for everyone.

Pack Light

Having a baby means having to check baggage, so take advantage of it and bring the monitor and swaddle blanket and stuffed “lovie” if you want, but keep the number of bags to a minimum and stash diapers wherever a little extra space is available. You can roll them up and stuff them into the toe-box of your favorite Louboutins or converse and you can use them to pad your chunky bangles and necklaces. Packing healthful snacks is a must, for adults and babies alike, and remember that with a baby, you are allowed to carry-on bottles of water, formula and breast milk.

Making Reservations

Window seats are ideal as some babies love looking outside. It also adds more privacy during feeding times. Scoring a seat toward the front of the place is a bonus as you will be able to deplane earlier. Always check with your airline to confirm their specific rules for traveling with a lap child and be sure to bring a copy of your baby’s birth certificate to prove his age if needed. Remember on most airlines a baby can fly free if they are under two years of age and sit on your lap.

Checking-In

Every airline is slightly different, so again, check with your carrier to confirm their policies regarding car seats and strollers, but when possible we recommend wearing your baby in baby carrier through security, checking your car seat in a large duffel bag (sneak some diapers in there) and using your stroller base to help schlep carry-on bags to the gate. In most cases you can check your stroller at the jet-way and it will be waiting for your when you deplane. If you have an extra seat next to you, use it as an overflow area for toys, snacks and gear and let your baby sit, play, stand or lay down there. Bringing a car seat on board an already tight plane will just cramp you even more.

At Security

If you opt to wear your child through security you will save a good amount of time and hassle. Simply place your stuff on the x-ray belt as usual stroll through the detector with your baby in her carrier. You will be asked to step aside for additional screening which consists of a TSA agent wiping your hands with a cloth to test for explosives. It takes no more than two minutes. If you have chosen to bring water, formula or breast milk it’s best to take it out of your bag and tell the agent what it is. They will then put it through a machine to confirm its safety and you are good to go.

We highly recommend going through the process of getting TSA Precheck. Our family has Global Entry which means we can use the TSA Precheck lines at the security gates and we have expedited lines at customs.

At the Gate

Clean diapers make for more comfortable babies, so find a spot in the corner and try to avoid in-flight changes. If your baby is crawling or walking it’s a good idea to give him free range at the gate while waiting to board. Encourage him to work out his energy and enjoy the last few minutes of physical activity in an open space before transitioning to calm, mental exercises on board. I’ve never been one to board a plane early (I don’t understand wanting to sit in a cramped space any longer than is absolutely necessary) but with a baby, early boarding is a good thing to get on and get organized.

In Flight

Make Nice – Endearing yourself and your baby to fellow passengers and flight attendants before you get in the air and while your baby is in a good mood is a nice ice-breaker and it will almost always encourage their kindness and make them more willing to rally behind you if your little one causes a fuss. I found that holding Hunter facing outward as we enter the plane and giving him a few inconspicuous tickles so passengers think his huge gummy smile was solely for them worked like magic.

The Right Amount of Stimulation – Our son doesn’t watch TV nor does he engage with an iPad or iPhone. This won’t last forever but we are trying to hold out as long as possible. We thought if there was ever a time to let him zone out by watching TV a six-hour flight would be it, but he just wasn’t interested. On a side note, the day before our return flight from Hawaii a father and son had been asked to leave a flight after the plane had already left the gate because the three-year-old boy threw a fit when he was asked to turn off his iPad. Avoid this altogether by leaving the iPad at home, or in mommy’s bag stored above, and prepare for other rich in-flight activities.

Everything is a toy 

Magazines, safety instructions, barf bags, peanut bags, air vents, reading lights, wine bottles, water bottles, and plastic cups are all very interesting to most babies so don’t think that you are without hope if you run out of the traditional toys you brought from home – which leads us to…Surprises. Don’t pull all the toys in your arsenal out at once. Rather reveal them one-by-one while turning each into a little surprise. Our friend Alix suggested pipe cleaners inspire endless creativity and puffy stickers that can be stuck on seats and tray-backs and then peeled off keeping little fingers busy for hours.

flying-baby-travel-tips

Naps

Timing naps for a flight isn’t always feasible but when it works out it’s a dream. Keeping your child on a similar schedule while you travel is important but letting him sleep during check-in and at the gate might not be the best idea if you want him to sleep on the plane. Obviously well-rested children behave better so don’t deprive them of sleep but if you can encourage them to enjoy their surroundings at the airport (which will be exhausting) then you are likely to have a sleepy baby once you get on board.

Feeding

We are breastfeeding but if you are bottle feeding the same applies. Encourage your baby to eat on the ascent and descent as this equalizes the pressure in their ears. Some babies are very sensitive to changes in pressure and will let you know if they are in pain in a not so subtle way. Drinking water out of a sippy cup or sucking on a pacifier can serve the same purpose.

baby-crawling-airport

Relax

Flying can be stressful enough and adding an infant to the mix can amp up your anxiety to levels never before experienced. Keep in mind that your baby can sense this and will innately match your energy, good or bad, so the best thing you can do is to summon your inner yogi, take some deep breaths and remain calm. “This too will pass.” Unless the seat belt sign is on, get up and walk with your baby or even just stand and hold her for a while in the galley area. Most flight attendants are fine with this and are happy to take a moment out of their work-day to engage with a cute baby. We’ve even had attendants offer to hold our son and show him around their workstation.

As with life, there are good days and bad days and the same goes for travel. Take it all in stride and celebrate each victory, no matter how small, brush off the setbacks and keep on traveling. Bon Voyage!

Please share this with your friends and family who will be traveling with a little one and if you’ve got your own tips to share please leave them in the comments.

If you are a parent to a little one you might also enjoy these other articles.

Mining Liquid Gold: My Journey Through the Pleasure and Pain of Breastfeeding

8 New Ways to Use Your Recalled Bumbo Baby Seat

Build a Baby First Aid Kit

Tools for Teething

 

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  • Grace Chen
    17 Aug ’12 at 9:53 am

    Agree on the carseats – that and the electronics were the main
    points of disagreement for me. I have singleton + younger twins and for long
    flights (my longest has been 12 hours to Asia), particularly if you’ve paid for
    a seat (and i think if you can afford it, you should buy another seat if the
    flight is likely to be full) or the more mobile your child is, the carseat is a
    must. And when I bring them and can borrow a stroller at the destination, I
    prefer to just have the carseats + gogo kidz – the ergo or other carrier was
    also key for getting around the airport. From a safety standpoint – the carseat
    is a no-brainer, mainly to help prevent injury when there’s turbulence. I used
    the cares harnesses on one flight and that is a completely useless device from
    the restraint standpoint with no crotch strap – which makes it challengi

    ng when unkind gate agents won’t let
    you bring your carseat on and leave you to grapple with squirrely twins trying
    to move around during taxying.

    Electronics are amazingly valuable for longer flights with children 3 or older,
    but agree they should be introduced only when they become necessary after
    tiring of the other non-electronic entertainment options, and then they allow
    for independent, quiet entertainment the flight and extend the contained,
    seated time vs running up and down the aisles (which fasten seat belt
    turbulence can also hinder). They don’t work well with my < 3 year olds
    because they enjoy the touchpad too much to allow for any form of entertainment
    to run longer than a few seconds, which won't hold their attention. Only works
    if it's outside of their reach and a full show can run.

  • Erica Solomon
    17 Aug ’12 at 9:53 am

    I have 5 kids and we travel quite a bit. We are planning to go
    on a 15 hour flight this summer. I disagree about not bringing a car seat on
    the plane. With a tiny, non squirmy infant, maybe it can work, but if you know
    you have a free seat near you or if you purchase a seat, bring on your childs car
    seat can be a blessing. My babies sleep WAYY better in their car seats than on
    my lap. I am then free to drop down my tray table for my own meal and other
    entertainment. It also limits the kicking of the seat ahead of us. I wouldn’t
    keep the baby strapped in the whole time, but it sure is helpful, not to
    meantion MUCH safer during turbulance or unexpected events. Happy Travels!

  • Jamie Winterton Sam
    17 Aug ’12 at 9:54 am

    I’ve taken my son on 12 flights in his short life (by myself I
    might add). These are good tips. Although I disagree about the electronics. I
    think the ipad (and the like) are a miracle for long flights. I think there are
    much better solutions to avoiding tantrums besides just not bringing them. How
    about just not telling them that you have it and then surprising them with it
    after it’s safe to use electronics. I know I never plan to experience a flight
    without my ipad ever again!

  • Heather Hicks
    17 Aug ’12 at 9:54 am

    We flew last month when our very busy son was 23 months. He was
    on our laps and we did just fine through all 4 flights (2 each way).
    Preplanning and preparation are key. We did use an iPhone loaded with videos of
    him (he likes to watch himself) and it worked out great. Stickers are fab. The
    in-flight magazine actually was really good for him. He looked at it, then
    mostly tore it up. Worked for us and the flight attendant didn’t mind a bit. In
    fact, all of the flight attendants we met were super eager to help us however
    necessary. Extra pretzels? His own bottle of water? More napkins? No problem.
    Don’t be afraid to ask for their help, they want to keep the peace as much as
    you do. And finally, as a last resort, have some lollipops put away. Don’t use
    them unless absolutely necessary, but I guarantee it’ll buy 10 minutes of quiet
    if needed. Our final flight was a two-lollipop flight and I was glad I had
    them.

  • Say Noodle
    17 Aug ’12 at 9:54 am

    Wow! Never thought to take a car seat, that’s a Rad idea. We
    took our eldest on a 12 hour flight when he was a little over 1, not walking
    but definitely crawling and very busy. We paid extra to get a bassinet / child
    seat and it was a disaster. Every time we tried to get him in it he totally
    lost it and we would have to re-settle him. We ended up giving up on the
    bassinet and going with the lap solution with an extra seatbelt attachment. This
    was, for us, the far better option.

  • Kathy Cost
    17 Aug ’12 at 9:55 am

    I don’t have children of my own, but I am a childcare worker. No
    offense, but I never understood the concept of a “lap baby” under age
    two. If you have a child who is not yet mobile and likes to sit on mommy or
    daddy’s lap, I can understand that. But as a child gets older and begins
    crawling and being more independent, the last thing this child wants is to be
    stuck in someone’s arms for 2+ hours. I couldn’t imagine ending up on a full
    flight, and having to hold a squirming child the entire time. It would be
    uncomfortable for me, the baby, and the people sitting around me if the child
    is squirming and kicking. Additionally, if something were to happen on the
    flight, I would want my child properly strapped in. On a recent flight, we had
    to come in at an odd angle due to technical difficulties with the longer
    runway. Even s

    trapped in tight, the plane came to
    a stop so quickly that we were all pretty much thrown forward, and many of us
    bruised. Maybe I am being paranoid, but thinking back to this situation, there
    was no way I would have been able to hold onto a child. One woman was on a
    flight for the first time with her baby, and had debated buying her child a
    seat. She ended up purchasing a seat for her 9 month old (which was good, the
    flight was booked). She stated that after seeing the landing, it was the best
    money she had ever spent, and she would never recommend anyone fly with a lap
    only baby. I do think the lap rule should only apply up to 1 year of age.

    On the plus side, I am glad things have worked out well for you and your son!
    Be safe and thanks for the great tips!

  • Amy Shaffer Kuhn
    17 Aug ’12 at 9:55 am

    Great tips. We swore by stickers…sticker books….colorforms.
    Anything that can be peeled and stuck. And color forms (those plastic things
    that stick to windows and such) are great for the plane window or tray table. I
    also subscribed to the “surprise” bag where I kept a variety of new
    toys/treats to bring out at intervals. I would even wrap a few of them to keep
    the mystery and excitement going. It’s amazing what a wrapped pack of sugar free
    gum can do for a preschooler or a wrapped small toy for an older baby or
    toddler. We are a HUGE fan of the magnet sets for travel too. They come in so
    many themes now (of course, now that my kids are older) and so much fun!