Baby Monster is a traveler like his parents, taking his first trip to Puerto Rico at the tender age of 2.5 months. My husband and I were invited to a good friend’s wedding in Puerto Rico way before Baby Monster was conceived. We went back and forth whether or not to go to the wedding with a newborn. In the end, we bit the bullet and booked everything. Our decision to go was made easier because my mom and brother came too (to enjoy Puerto Rico and help with the baby).
It sounds overwhelming to travel with a new human being, especially flying. Baby Monster is now 18 months, and we’ve flown to Europe twice, across the country almost a handful of times, Puerto Rico, and to Seattle. Of those times, Baby Monster and I (meaning without husband) have flown together twice. It’s scary, but doable. I still freak out and I swear I won’t fly by myself again, but we do it. I always get told by other passengers that my son is very well behaved, meanwhile I think he was a hellion. Anyhoo, here are some tips (other than packing lightly) to the parents out there that are freaking out about flying with an infant. These things worked for our family, and hopefully you may find them helpful for yours.
1. Book flights on Wednesday or Saturday
Why Wednesday or Saturday? They tend to be the least busiest, meaning more empty seats! Business travelers tend to fly Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays. And your young friends tend to fly on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays, sometimes Mondays if it’s a long weekend. So yes, Wednesdays and Saturdays (for the most part) are not quite as busy (although I think in summer all bets are off). A full flight is the worse with a baby!
2. Book the aisle (and window if you can)
Most planes now have rows of three. If you fly by yourself with your infant, book the aisle. You get quick access to the bathroom for the diaper changes. And if your infant is a crawler, he can crawl in the aisle. If your partner is flying with you, book that window seat! The last seat fellow travelers will want is that dreaded middle seat. So unless your flight is fully booked, the likelihood of having a free row increases when you book aisle and window. If there is someone who ends up getting stuck in the middle, they will happily exchange for the window seat so you and your partner can sit together.
Some planes, especially international flights, offer a bassinet if you sit at the bulkheads. Don’t book these when you buy your tickets because they charge extra (unless you want to of course). When you are at the desk getting your bags checked, ask if the bulkheads are available. If they are, they can change your seats to the bulkhead free of charge (both United and Virgin Atlantic). There are pros and cons to the bulkhead. The pros are the bassinet is super super nice to have your baby nap in instead of your arms (the bassinet also has a harness to keep them strapped in there), and there’s more room at your feet so your little one can just play on the floor in front of you. The cons are if your baby already rolls over in their sleep the bassinet is pretty useless, and you can’t keep your baby bag in front of you because bags need to go overhead. So keep that in mind. For shorter flights, I could live without the bulkhead. For long flights (5+ hours), the bulkheads are probably best.
3. Gate check your stroller and car seat
Many people don’t know this, but you can check your stroller and car seat free of charge when you are traveling with a baby (and children!). Some people can live without the stroller and prefer a carrier, but we do both. Sometimes we carried Baby Monster and used the stroller to push around our carry ons. But most of the time Baby Monster likes to zip through the airport terminal in his stroller. It definitely gets you to your gate faster.
You can also check your car seat at the desk when you do your check baggage. You can buy a car seat bag (we use the Brica version) or use a garbage bag. You want to cover your car seat to protect it from the elements and grime of plane travel. But before you check your car seat, ask the desk people if your flight is fully booked. If it’s not, and you happen to have an empty row (they really do try to keep rows with lap infants free) you can bring the car seat on the plane with you for free (if your car seat is FAA approved, and it should say so on the side or in your manual). This is great when your baby is super young and they easily sleep in their car seat. It becomes trickier when they are more active, e.g. start rolling, crawling, etc. You have to put your car seat in the window seat, which is fine. You can also do this with a convertible car seat, but it’s trickier (doable, but trickier). Another pro tip is you can stick extra diapers or clothes in the car seat bag if you are checking the car seat in.
Why gate check vs. normal check? The likelihood the airline/airport loses these essential items are minimized if you check them at the gate. Airlines manage to lose luggage or forget to put luggage on a plane. Can you imagine finding out you don’t have your car seat when you get to your destination?! Also your stroller and car seat can easily get damaged from the 50 lb. bags that come shooting out of the baggage carousel.
4. Bring enough food for the flight and more!
It’s actually not that difficult to fly if your baby is strictly on breast milk because their food supply will never run out. If your baby is starting solids and you have formula to boot, it just involves extra planning. You basically need a bottle for take off and a bottle for landing because the sucking helps the babe’s ears deal with the changing cabin pressure. I also find it soothes them during a crazy (and loud) time during the flight. You can also use a pacifier for times like these. Try to keep your baby on the feeding schedule they are used to (home time zone of course). And then plan for extra feedings or food if they get fussy in the middle of the flight. And as a traveler you should know that delays happen (Baby Monster and I dealt with a 2 hour delay last week). So you want to prepare for that as well. You can never have enough food with you. It’s a hassle to get it checked at TSA, but it’s worse when your child is hungry and you are in the air and they can’t eat the wine and cheese plate they are offering for $12.
5. Bring light toys and books
I pack 2 or 3 of his smallest and lightest toys he enjoys. I only take them out one at a time. When he’s bored of one toy, we move on to the next. This usually entertains him for most of the flight. You don’t have to, but I also buy a small light toy or book he’s never seen before. This usually entertains him twice as long because it’s new and exciting. Save these toys and books for the flight. Don’t pull them out before you board.
6. Run around the terminal
Before you board your flight, let your baby explore the terminal especially if they are active! They’ll have more room to move about and the terminal is just as exciting as any toy you brought along. A lot of airports now how safe kid spaces for children to play in before you board. Check to see if your airport offers one. Even if your baby isn’t active, walk them around and point and talk about the new and exciting things they see. The idea behind this is to exhaust and stimulate them that they will be sleepy by the time they get on the plane and you give them that bottle or nurse them at take off.
7. Bring the infant carrier or Ergo
I know it may seem like over kill when you have a stroller and car seat to deal with, but you should bring it. We use the Ergo when we go traveling, but bring whatever you are most comfortable with. Traveling domestically in the US, you can have your baby in a carrier when you go through the metal detector. For international flights you must carry your baby. Having the carrier is super super helpful when going through security because it keeps your hands free. Once TSA checks our boarding passes and IDs and we are about to hit the security bag check, I take Baby Monster out of the stroller and strap him in the Ergo. I then have free hands to get my shoes off and put that in the bin, etc. Depending on how quickly we need to get to the gate (or how comfortable he is), I keep him in the carrier and load up our stuff in the stroller. When they make that announcement at your gate that boarding will begin in 5 minutes, I put him in the Ergo and put our hand carry in the stroller. Again, you have your hands free to fold the stroller and set it aside by the plane, and again when you have to put your hand carry away. We still use the Ergo at 18 months. Do this–you won’t regret it!
I think those are all my pro-tips regarding air travel with a baby. It’s doable. I curse myself every time I have to travel by myself with Baby Monster, but I did it again. And it’s so so so easy flying when they are really young. Flying to Puerto Rico was by far the easiest flight we have ever taken with him. It gets progressively harder as they get older and I hear it doesn’t get better until closer to 3. But don’t let it stop you from traveling because it is doable! And remember the reward you get for traveling!!!