Top 10 Tips to Get You Off The Ground: The Beginners Guide to Flying with a Baby
So you’re ready to fly with your baby…
At least you WANT to be ready to fly with your baby, but you’ve seen those families in the airport lugging gobs of gear in, on, under their strollers, on their backs, sometimes dragging an extra toddler behind them on their own little roll-a-board luggage. Whoa. The screaming babies on the planes, double whoa. Sounds awful, stressful, and not at all how you want to start a much needed vacation or trip home for the holidays. But it doesn’t have to be that bad! I promise!!
Now, I’m relatively new to Motherhood, but an old hand at flying, clocking 2-4 business trips per month on average right up until my 36th week of pregnancy thus I refused to let a 9Lb, toothless human impair my carefully honed travel routine. My daughter just had her 1st birthday and has already been on 22 successful flights with me, only 6 of which had co-parent back-up. Through trial and error (and stubbornness) here are my:
Top 10 Tips for Flying with Your Baby
Pre-check, Gate-check, Pre-board
1. SKIP THE BASIC TSA Pre Check which only works for domestic flight departures, instead, pay the extra $15 and get Global Entry ($100) that INCLUDES TSA Pre Check plus expedited entry from international destinations by air, land, and sea ports. You’ll save yourself SO MUCH SWEAT by doing this – you go in a shorter, faster line, can keep on your shoes, and keep electronics in your bag. That alone is worth the cash. Trust me. Carry your baby in a front carrier through the airport, you’ll be allowed to wear them through TSA and won’t have to jostle them in and out of a stroller if they hopefully fall asleep.
2. GATE CHECK THAT BAG. Most airlines will allow you to gate check your smaller roll aboard for free, so pack you and your babies stuff into a carry-on if you’re looking to save both dough and that extra time waiting to check a bag at the ticket counter.
3. CHECK THOSE OTHER BAGS TOO. I’m talking about the car seat bag or the stroller bag. Again, it’s free to check both carseats AND strollers at the ticketing counter for most airlines however if you’ve managed to not need to check a suitcase in the first place then you could skip the lengthy ticket counter line all together and gate check everything free of charge.
This is a fairly personal decision depending on whether you have connections, a partner traveling with you, and your level of patience on your travel day. Sometimes it’s just TOO MUCH SH*T to take to the gate, I get it and have done it both ways and enjoyed each for different reasons. Either way, I STRONGLY recommend, nay INSIST that you buy bags for these two items on Amazon or elsewhere. Because dirt. Grease. Rain. These items sit on jet fuel covered tarmacs in inclement weather and are handled by dozens of people so your chances of getting a funky stroller back are 100% without a bag. Added benefit… you can put other stuff in those bags too like your bulky winter coat when you’re flying to Hawaii. Or whatever. Shhhhh. That’s Mom’s little secret.
On the subject of traveling with your Stroller/Car Seat… I almost always travel with my own carseat unless I can borrow one upon landing from a friend/relative, (i’m not keen on questionable rental carseats). And I bought a super portable and inexpensive travel stroller that has replaced my big stroller in all other areas of life because it’s just as functional for a baby under 25lbs and fits in my trunk like a dream. (see links below).
4. BOOK AN AISLE SEAT. As alluring as a window seat may be, there’s nothing quite as lovely as being able to jump up with your babe and walk the aisle (or run to the restroom). If you travel with a partner consider booking a window AND aisle. There’s a fair chance no one will book that middle seat thus leaving baby a play spot and MOST people will happily switch their middle for your window if they do join you.
5. PRE-BOARD. Absolutely get there a little early to take advantage of the pre-boarding process. Use this time to drop that stroller/car seat, organize your stuff, use the restroom, and wipe down all (yes all) of the surfaces with Clorox wipes. This includes: seats, headrests (yours and the person in front of you), seatbelt clips, arm rests, tray tables and screens. Also move the magazines and safety pamphlets to someone else seat. Babies will touch 1000% of these things with their hands, feet, bottles, and toys.
6. PACK A MEDIUM SIZED DIAPER BAG. Ideally, one that can fit under your seat – But put it in the overhead when you pre-board. Maybe it’s cheating, but good Lord, we need all the help/comfort we can get. If you need it during flight you can pull it down, but keep a smaller, easy to access pouch with diapers/wipes handy so you don’t have to lug the entire bag to the already tiny bathroom. I keep a large ziplock (for cleanliness) in the seat back with toys/snacks/bottle for quick access. (more on bottles below). **Note, ask the stewardess as you board where the changing table is located, checking each bathrooms when you’re in a rush isn’t pretty for anyone. Don’t forget the following items:
- More diapers than you think you’ll need/wipes
- At least 1 bottle of some sort/food pouches
- Change of clothes for baby
- T-shirt for yourself
- Clorox wipes/hand sanitizer
- Large Ziplock bag
- A scarf. Doubles as blankie.
7. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS WALK THE AISLES. Use that baby carrier and walk, then walk and walk some more. She may fall asleep and then you can finally watch your movie.
8. KEEP YOUR CREDIT CARD HANDY. You can’t use cash to buy wine. And sometimes you just need wine.
9. BABY EARS + BREAST MILK/FORMULA. They seem so linked to me. But I now believe our babies ear pain is an anatomical luck of the draw. Their ears will either clear or they won’t, and everyone on the plane expects screaming babies during take off and landing. The short answer on that is, bring something for them to drink or suck on for take off and landing (in addition to your standard issue packable breasts) just in case.
If you’re on a short-ish flight (5 hours or less) and you’re nursing, you’re basically golden and don’t need much else. When my daughter was very small I always brought at least one back up bottle in case she wasn’t interested in my breast, then, when it became age appropriate I travelled with an empty bottle that I could add water to in a pinch, which also saved me the panic of trying to keep my back-up breastmilk bottles cold enough for long enough.
On the topic of bottles, I’ve had some difficulty with bottles leaking from air pressure that is so frustrating I could cry. I generally have success keeping a twist top on the bottle until it’s time to feed, then attach the nipple (formula babies win here since you just add water when ready).
Alternatively, many formulas come in single serving bottles as well and if you expect a layover, that’s a great time to have a food pouch or two with you as well as a bib. Regarding transporting baby food/milk, there is no limit to how much baby food you can bring with you, so bring what you think you may need, rather, bring what helps you not panic.
Frozen milk is less of a concern to TSA than bottled milk but they’ll likely still swipe it with a gauze pad anyways. I keep my milk in a small cooler bag with thin ice packs that i can then set out in a bin ahead for them and always, always, always ask them to use clean gloves when they swab it.
10. OTHER PEOPLE ON THE PLANE. Take all the help you’re offered, ask for any other help you need, and screw the rest. Some people are just crabby. You can apologize once for your screaming kid, but beyond that, it’s generally not your fault, you’re likely doing the best you can, and you don’t need the added stress of other peoples shitty attitudes. Again, DO NOT internalize it, many of the other passengers have children and all WERE children. Cut yourself some slack, and know, that every kid/parent has a tough flight every once in awhile, and it’s cool as hell that you’re traveling with your kid at all!
There you have it Ladies! I’m happy to field any questions about how to travel with frozen milk or your pump etc. Just know that your first flight will be so stressful for you, your 2nd will too, but don’t let it put you off of travel, you’ll find the rhythm that works for you and your baby, cut yourself some slack, use the first bathroom you see, pack extra diapers and hand lotion, just say yes when people try to help you, and especially if you’re traveling solo with babe, ask for help, people want to be there for you, I promise.