Air travel can be stressful enough as a party of one—and adding a baby to the mix takes it up a notch (or 10). I know this because my husband and I recently flew with our almost-five-month-old son. Fortunately, though, not only did we live to tell about it, but we lived to tell about it without any tears (from baby or me). Air high-five!
Below are 10 tips we followed or learned during our trip that helped us fly there and back sans crying. You can also download a free checklist for packing for baby by clicking the blue button at the end of this post.
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One. Give Yourself Plenty of Time. This is obvious, but it’s worth reiterating. Gone are the days of casually strolling into the airport with a carry-on bag and grabbing an adult beverage before you hit your gate. Okay, maybe you’ll still grab an adult beverage, but know that the whole process—from packing your and baby’s suitcase to boarding your flight—takes more time with a little one in tow, so give yourself a buffer.
How much of a buffer? I started packing the day before we left and wished I would have started a couple days sooner. Tiny humans require so much stuff and most of it is mission critical. To ensure I left nothing behind, I made a checklist of baby items to pack, which you can download for free at the end of this post.
You’ll also need a buffer the day of your flight. We left for the airport about an hour earlier than we otherwise would have if we were not traveling with baby. This ended up being plenty early, but it was nice to be able to feed the baby, change his diaper, and grab a latte (priorities) before we boarded without being in a mad dash.
Two. Remove Your Baby Wipes From Your Bag When You Go Through Security. Turns out, baby wipes look suspicious on the x-ray screen, and the TSA agent might dismantle your entire diaper bag while you stand there for 10 minutes holding a 20-pound baby and trying to put your shoes back on. Trust me, it can happen—it did happen to us on our outbound flight. Solution? On our return flight, we removed the wipes from the bag and put them in a bin so TSA could easily see what they were. Problem solved and no diaper bags dismantled.
Three. Buy A Car Seat Travel Bag. A car seat travel bag serves two purposes: (1) it minimizes the number of dings your car seat is sure to endure when you check it; and (2) it makes it easier to carry your car seat to and through the airport. We purchased this BRICA travel bag (currently on sale!), which can be wheeled like a suitcase or carried like a backpack (the value of hands-free travel items when traveling with baby cannot be overstated). This particular bag is made for a toddler car seat, but we used it for our son’s infant car seat and base, and it worked perfectly. We also bubble-wrapped the car seat and base before putting them in the bag for extra protection. Sorry for my trust issues, airline suitcase handlers, but I’ve seen the YouTube videos.
Four. Check Your Car Seat At The Gate. If you’re not taking your car seat on board the airplane with you for your baby to sit in (we didn’t), you can either: (1) check it as you would a suitcase and pick it up at baggage claim at your final destination; or (2) check it at your departing gate and pick it up at your arriving gate upon landing. The downside of option two is you have to carry your car seat through the airport, including on your layover if you have one, but it so beats the downside of option one: arriving at your final destination finding that your car seat did not also arrive. Probably the only thing more stressful than flying with your baby is checking your baby’s car seat with your other luggage and waiting with bated breath that it comes down the baggage carousel—otherwise, you and your baby aren’t going anywhere à la Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal.
Five. Pack A Baby Carrier And/Or Travel Stroller. We packed both the Ergobaby and a travel stroller and alternated between them. When our son wasn’t in the stroller, we used it to haul the diaper bag and coats. The Ergobaby was especially handy during the boarding process, since it freed up our hands to put our other bags away and get settled in our seats. If I was traveling alone, I would absolutely take the travel stroller so I could set my son down during critical moments, like when I need to use the restroom. We borrowed a friend’s travel stroller for our most recent trip, though I have my eye on the UPPAbaby G-LUXE for future trips. Like the car seat, you can check the travel stroller at your gate and pick it up right after you deplane.
Six. Dress Baby In Layers. Even in early January, the inside of the airplane was like a bad Katy Perry song: so hot and then cold (yep, just went there). Dressing your baby in layers allows you to adjust to the moody thermostat. We dressed our son in a long-sleeved onesie, tracksuit pants and jacket, and thick socks, and carried his beanie in the diaper bag, along with several blankets. At one point, he was completely bundled up; at another, he was stripped down to just his onesie. Layers are your baby’s friend.
Seven. Take Blankets. Lots of Blankets. We took three muslin swaddle blankets and one warm baby blanket on the plane with us, and we used every single one of them for various reasons: (1) to bundle up baby (see above); (2) to make a bed for my son to comfortably nurse and fall asleep (every flying parent’s dream); and (3) to catch and absorb my son’s projectile vomit during our final descent (see below). An additional point on (2)—if your baby likes to nurse and fall asleep on Boppy, I would consider taking Boppy on the plane. I thought about it beforehand and opted not to, since it was one more item to carry, but I would seriously consider it next time. Anything that will encourage your baby to get comfortable and nap is worth a little extra hassle.
Eight. Allow Baby To Suckle On Take-Off And Landing. Whether it be on you, a bottle, or a pacifier, allowing baby to suckle during take-off and landing supposedly helps his ears pop. Since my son does not like the bottle or pacifier, we let him nurse, which seemed to work great (no tears!), except that, in my overzealous efforts to ensure he was comfortable (and to encourage him to stay calm and sleep), I overfed him on our return flight. And (as he does when he overeats), he projectile vomited four times on our descent. Fortunately, we had four blankets and a change of clothes handy to soak it all up and get him (and me) dry before we landed.
Nine. Carry On Enough Baby Supplies To Last About 24 Hours. Air travel is unpredictable. A scheduled five-hour trip can easily turn into an overnight-in-some-random-city trip faster than you can say “inclement weather.” We came within two minutes of missing our connecting flight due to delays and, because it was the last flight out, narrowly escaped being schlepped off to a hotel. Airlines do not always give you back your checked luggage when you are stuck overnight, even when you are stuck due to their own mechanical issues. To avoid being stranded and short on baby necessities, pack enough supplies (think diapers, wipes, clothes, formula) in your carry-on luggage to last about a day. Better safe (and weighed down) than sorry.
Ten. Remember—If Your Baby Acts Like The Kanye West Of Babies, You’ll Likely Never See Any Of These People Again Anyway. Smile politely, maybe apologize, but keep on doing what’s best for your baby. The plane will land, and everyone will move on, eventually.
To download your free checklist to refer to when packing for baby, click below!