I love to travel. On any day, I’ve got tabs open looking for cheap fares to go anywhere.
Getting to the airport and boarding the plane used to make me giddy. Travel used to be so easy. I would just add a couple things to the half packed carry on bag in my bedroom and I was set to go.
Enter my daughter SB and now everything has changed. Yes, I still open that travel tab at work, but my head floods with thoughts of where will we go? Is it a place I want take my daughter at this age? How long will the flight legs be?
Gone are the days of, “let’s go right now!”
So far SB has taken 19 plane rides as a lap infant. When traveling with a baby you need to think of many things. These are rules I’ve set for myself when traveling with my daughter over the past year.
Plan for extra time
I cannot stress to you how important it is to leave extra time for all aspects of your trip. Get to the airport 1.5 to 2 hours early. This way you will have extra time at the ticket counter and to get through security.
In addition to these times if you need to transfer planes, when booking try to ensure you have at least an hour between transfers.
You will need extra time – time to get on the plane, time to exit, and time in the bathroom.
Choosing your seat
When booking your ticket, you usually have the opportunity to choose your seat. Now that SB is older and mobile, I choose the window seat. I personally like the aisle for myself because I have more room and am able to get in and out as I please. However, with an active baby, it is easier to keep them corralled next to the window.
Do know, even though you have picked your seat – even if you check in online, you will have to go to the counter with the child. Your seats may change up until the flight takes off. The flight attendant may move you to a seat with more oxygen masks etc.
Confirm your documentation
Before you travel, double check the airline website to make sure you have the necessary documentation to travel with your child if he or she does not have an ID card or passport.
In addition, if you are traveling with you little one on your lap, confirm that you have them registered as a “lap infant.” If you are booking the tickets online, sometimes the airline will allow you to make this note in the booking process. Other carriers will require you to call in and add the child yourself.
Most airlines just require a copy of the birth certificate. If you are traveling alone with your child, you may need to travel with a letter signed by both guardians.
Dressing Baby for travel
On the day of the flight, dress baby comfortably and in layers. Make sure this outfit makes for comfortable diaper changes.
When I take early morning flights, I dress SB in travel clothes (pajamas with easy access for diaper changes) the night before. I put her shoes and socks in my bag. When we wake up at the butt crack of dawn, I change her diaper and put her in the car. Hopefully she sleeps.
I try to wear shoes that slip on and off easily. This is imperative because as you go through the TSA checkpoint, you will likely have your hands full with your baby. Of late, I have worn comfortable dark jeans with a dark pattern. I have a soft cardigan for myself and my nursing shawl that I wear as a scarf and can double as a blanket for little one.
Dark jeans w/ a pattern, you ask? When your baby spills water, wine or some other fun substance all over you, the dark on dark hides spills.
Pack what you need
First, do not hesitate to check a bag. One thing I’ve noticed now is when I travel, SB has the MOST clothing. All of your room will be taken by your baby’s cute clothing- and diapers, and toys. Check that bag!
Will you be driving once you get to your destination? Don’t forget the car seat. If you are taking a direct flight, most airlines let you check the car seat for free. There are some circumstances where you may need to bring your car seat as a carry on. If you are in this situation, you can always check it at the gate.
Your carry on will mostly be devoted to your baby. You will need Diapers – I usually bring 5, wipes, powder, travel-sized hand sanitizer (more on that later), empty sippy cup, a couple food pouches or breakfast cookies, one extra change of clothes for baby – in case of an accident. I also bring one or two books depending on the length of the flight.
If you plan to do any bottle feeding and plan to bring formula, expressed breast milk, special juices etc., pack them in a separate bag. When you go through security, you will need to notify the TSA agent and put these liquids in a separate bin.
Don’t over pack
On my recent travels, I traveled with only one carry on. That bag contained all of the above plus my wallet, documentation, phone and the charger.
How to carry your baby
If you can wear your child, do so- especially if this is their first time through the airport. At the airport, there are so many people and so much activity. It may be overwhelming to your little one. If they are comfortable in the carrier, it will add some much needed familiarity to a new situation.
The second benefit of wearing your baby in the travel process is less stuff to keep track of.
If your baby is bigger or you plan to bring your stroller, take comfort in knowing you’ve got more space to carry your stuff!!! 🙂
At the TSA checkpoint
When you get to the TSA checkpoint, you will present your boarding passes for yourself and your child.
You will take off your shoes, jackets, hats, etc as necessary. If you have a stroller or car seat, they need to be inspected just like your other baggage.
You may worry about going through the newer high powered X-ray machines with your baby. If you are wearing or carrying your baby, expect to go through the lower powered metal detectors. Once through you will be taken aside and have your hands tested for explosive residue.
Waiting your for flight
Now we’re in! Once I get through security, I double check – do I have everything? Next – do I need to change a diaper?
After TSA I buy water for the sippy cup, an apple and a banana. I know I packed food already but these extra fruits are often good amusements for SB later on.
I’ve been traveling by air with SB since she was 4 months. I’ll say that traveling with a 4 month old is definitely easier than traveling with an 18 month old who wants to run and explore.
Some of the larger airports and terminals have play areas for children. If your little one is fidgety or wants to move about, this might be a good way for them to expend some energy before the flight.
I try to get to my departure gate early and I pick a corner spot that I can easily monitor especially if baby wants to walk about.
This is a great time to allow a little freedom. This past winter, SB and I had to fly standby after being held up too long at the TSA line. While I was starting to feel tired and grumpy, she was pretty happy exploring the carpet and windows. She was doing downward facing dog with a big grin. When I copied her, I got happy too.
Boarding the plane
If the gate attendant calls for early boarding, Take it!
During takeoff and landing
Change in air pressure may cause discomfort in your little ones ears. If you are nursing, takeoff and landing are a great time to nurse or feed your baby. The act of swallowing helps to clear pressure. After all of the excitement of the trip so far, hopefully the comfort of nursing or eating puts your little one to sleep. This is where you may get a good hour (or two) of sleep from baby.
During the Flight
You brought travel sized hand sanitizer, right? On one flight when SB was particularly active, I watched with horror as she put everything in her mouth – the arm rest, the tray table, the airline safety card. After the first time, now I disinfect every surface in my seat with hand sanitizer. It can’t get everything, but I like to think it helps.
If your little one is wakeful on the trip, this is where you will need your snacks, book and favorite small toy. If you have a handheld device or if your plane has TV, you might play movies.If you run out of things to do, in a pinch, the puke bags in the seat pocket in front of you make fun hand puppets.
Exiting the plane
When exiting the plane, if it has been an easy flight and you haven’t had to unpack everything to amuse baby, then feel free to leave and continue your adventure.
Though do know if you have a mess or need extra space to pack up, take all the time you need.
Finally, Just remember
It’s ok to accept help:
I have traveled as a single parent with an infant on a plane managing baby, broken stroller, diaper bag, handbag, snack bag and winter coats. It is hard and tiring. Many times other passengers offered to give a hand. It took me a while to say yes, but when I did it made the experience happier. Do not hesitate to accept help. I am so grateful to the other passengers who helped me. Whether it was helping to push the stroller at the end of a 18 hour day when SB refused to be put down, or the gentleman who made hand puppets with the bags to amuse her, or the countless people who let me put my drink on their trays. I am truly grateful.
Be aware of what affects your child:
I am lucky that SB is an easy going baby. Like most children, she has identifiable triggers. Hers are chocolate and to a lesser extent ice cream. When she sees or has a bite of chocolate in any form, she start to howl and scream for more. I avoid the substance like the plague on travel days.
Don’t stress too much:
Sometimes there will be mishaps. I’ve forgotten the diaper bag, and the car seat has gotten delayed in other cities. You can always buy changing supplies. Luckily, if your car seat gets lost or delayed, the lost baggage claim center usually has a loaner. You can also get car seats at the rental car agency if you are renting a car. Even Uber now has a car seat option as well.
Travel is probably more stressful for the parents than for the baby. Your baby does not know any different. Everything is a new for him/her at this point, so embrace it as a new adventure for you both.