This is it – what you’ve been dreading. It’s daunting. It’s intimidating. It’s frightening. It’s… your first flight with your baby.
I don’t know if every new parent feels this way, but I was super nervous to go on an airplane with my baby for the first time. I’ve flown plenty of times, but I didn’t know what to expect with a baby in tow. How would it work with getting my stroller on the plane? Would he cry the whole flight and everyone on the plane would hate us? Is this going to be one of the worst days of my life? Well, that first flight was scary, but I have since flown 10 more times with my baby, most of the time without any other adults to help me, and I’ve learned a lot. You could consider my baby and me pros at this point. So I will share my wisdom with you.
1. Research and Plan Wisely
First and foremost, know your airline’s rules about traveling with an infant. What age can they fly free until? Most airlines let you fly with an infant in your lap until they are two. To save money, I have been keeping my baby in my arms. It makes the already tight space of your seat even more cramped, but I need to save the money. If you are able, then you can buy a seat for your baby and bring their car seat on to fly in. It’s safer and you’ll have much more space.
While you’re researching your airline’s rules, also find out what you need to do in order to travel with the baby. For Delta, you have to call and speak to a reservations agent in order to have them put “Infant In Arms” on your ticket. You’ll need that ticket to get through security. After my first Delta flight with the baby, I assumed all airlines had the same rules. Not so. For Spirit Airlines, I had to bring paperwork from our pediatrician showing our baby’s birth date and immunization records to a ticketing agent at the airport, then they gave me a special pass to bring through security. That caused issues because I was already in another state, so I had to go to a Kinko’s to have the forms faxed. Then, I thought I was just supposed to bring my pediatrician papers to security. So I made it all the way through security when they sent me back to the ticketing desk to show them my paperwork and get the special pass. Ugh. Don’t make the same mistake as me!
2. Figure Out the Best Flight Time
Think about how busy your flight will be. Usually, I have to fly to Atlanta from New Orleans to get anywhere else. Unfortunately, Atlanta flights are always at capacity because it’s the main hub to get other places. So I know that I’m going to have no extra space to spread out. But, if you do some research, you might find that the flights to your particular destination are not as busy on certain days of the week and certain hours of the day. You might want to snag a less packed plane in order to spread out. It’s heavenly when there is nobody sitting in the seat next to you. You can put your diaper bag under the empty seat, put the armrest up, and spread out a bit.
3.Consider Nap Time
Think about what time your baby naps. It’s ideal to be on the plane, ready to take off, right around when your baby is ready to doze off. This way, you can nurse or bottle feed your baby during take off and hopefully they will fall asleep once all the buzzing and humming of the plane begins. This has happened a few times for me, and you can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy the rest of the flight while your baby sleeps.
Sometimes this doesn’t work out. On one of my last trips, our flight got delayed by 4 hours. That meant we had to waste 4 hours of time in the small airport terminal, skip nap time, and have our baby wake up in the middle of the night in a new city when we landed and all the plane’s lights turned on. Not cool! Alas, we survived.
4. Sleep Arrangements
Did you know that most airlines have baby bassinets that attach to the seatback in front of you? Oh my goodness, I wish I had known this sooner. They are for younger infants and I didn’t find out until mine was too big. A lot of them are for babies under 20-25 pounds. If you are traveling with a new baby, this is a lifesaver! Call your airline ahead of time to find out what their restrictions are and how to reserve yours. I also found this great resource that lists all of the airline’s bassinet rules.
I’ve gotten some gnarly back aches from holding my baby while he sleeps for an entire flight. Again, if you get an empty seat next to you or have someone traveling with you, it’s helpful. But if you are alone and will need to hold your baby, pack accordingly. Do you need to put a small pillow or folded up sweater behind your back to be comfortable sitting up for that long? Or maybe you can bring a boppy along and let your baby lie on it in your lap (if it all fits in your seat area).
5. Find a Mother’s Room
I was thrilled to discover that the New Orleans Louis Armstrong airport has a Mother’s Room in the JetBlue terminal. It’s a private room that you can lock with a changing table, chairs, books, and open space. This was great for my new walker when we were delayed for 4 hours on that last trip. I nursed him, but couldn’t get him to fall asleep. So instead I let him walk and crawl and get his energy out so that he would at least be able to sleep when we finally got on the plane. I’ve found that most airport bathrooms are not conducive to changing diapers; they have flat areas by the sink, but they are granite, hard and cold. So it was nice to actually change him lying down on a padded area.
If you have time between security check and boarding, explore the airport. Now is a good time to get some food in your and your baby’s belly. It’s messy and difficult to feed the baby solid foods on the plane. If you have your stroller or baby carrier, get some exercise while letting your baby take in the sights and sounds of the terminal. Some airports might even have play areas or other interesting interactive experiences that your child will enjoy. In one of the terminals at JFK in New York, there is a JetBlue kid’s pretend play area. It’s so cute and fun! It’s also a good educational moment where you can explain to your child what the cockpit is and how the airline and airplane run.
7. Don’t Forget Your Headphones
I didn’t think I’d be able to have any time to myself on a flight with my child, like in the old days when I’d chill out, listen to music, watch a movie, or read. However, once your baby falls asleep, you actually can veg out a little bit! I have forgotten my headphones but found movies on Delta’s seatback TVs that have closed captioning. I watch a lot of things with the sound off, so I didn’t mind this solution. If you can, get the wireless Bluetooth headphones that are on the market now. That way, you won’t have to worry about your cords getting wrapped around the baby anywhere when he squirms in your arms while sleeping. You also won’t have pesky cords tickling your baby and waking up.
8. Stroller Practice
I had some issues with my stroller the first few flights. Someone in TSA was rude to me about putting it on the security scanner belt. I was holding my baby and trying to get my shoes and carry-on onto the belt, with impatient people behind me in line, and then trying to fold my stroller up with one hand. The anxiety got to me. Sometimes, TSA will let you push your stroller around and they will manually check it. So I thought that would happen again, but the guy scolded me and rudely demanded I somehow fold it up and shove it onto the narrow belt and he rolled his eyes at me when I didn’t put it on facing the “correct” way to fit through easier. I say all this to tell you that you should practice folding and unfolding your stroller with one hand.
You’ll have to fold and unfold your stroller again when you get to the gate to get onto the airplane. You always bring your stroller to the door of the plane, then fold it up with its little check tag (the gate agent will give that to you). It will be at your destination in the same spot unless they tell you otherwise and it’s at baggage claim.
9. Smile and Be Polite
When I was alone traveling, there were a handful of times that I just plain needed a little assistance. One time I could not for the life of me get my stroller to fold up. It was new to me and one of the buttons were stuck on the handle to fold it. My baby wasn’t able to sit/stand on his own yet, so I had to hold him. I hadn’t brought the baby carrier with me that day, so I had him in my arms and was trying to also use both hands to unstick the button. Anyway, I needed help. All I could do was smile at the other passengers coming down the gate. When I caught eyes with a fellow friendly stranger, he asked if I needed help. “Oh, could you? I really really appreciate it. It’s stuck and I am having trouble.” He was really nice and helped me fold it up and away we went onto the plane. I thanked him profusely. There has been another time where the luggage handler came up to collect all the strollers and saw me struggling and helped out as well. Thank you, kind strangers!
While I don’t think this is necessary because you can’t help it if your baby cries on a plane and people should understand that, I do often apologize in advance to the folks sitting around me. I tell them that I’ll try my best to keep my baby happy on the flight, but he might cry. They usually are kind in return and say they understand. But I think it is appreciated that you at least acknowledge that it isn’t fun for people to have to sit next to a crying, screaming infant.
10. Protect Your Car Seat (and Your Back)
You can buy travel bags for your car seat. If you have a baby that still needs to stroll and be carried in their car seat, or if you’re going to be taking automobiles anywhere during your trip, you’ll need to bring your car seat along. If your baby is in the car seat in the stroller, you’ll be allowed to check it at the gate like your stroller. Otherwise, you can check it for free before you go through security. Of course, either way, you run the risk of your important gear getting manhandled and thrown about and smacked into other luggage during the flight. I bought this Zohzo Car Seat Backpack that fits most car seats because it was cheaper than the one my car seat brand sells. Not only will the padding protect your precious car seat from damage, but it also makes it easier to lug around on your travels. You can wheel it like a suitcase or put it on your back. It’s still gigantic, but it’s better than trying to carry it while pushing your luggage and stroller. Trust me, I’ve done it.
11. Don’t Panic
Inevitably, you’ll have bad travel days. Try not to be too anxious and panic. The flight will eventually be over. You won’t see the miserable people who complain about your baby ever again. If your baby is inconsolable at your seat, try walking in the aisles and rocking her a bit or let her look at all the interesting strangers up and down the aisles. Take a trip to the bathroom for some peace and quiet. This also can be a good time to let your tears roll if you need to just let out your stress for a few minutes in private. Before you know it, the plane will land and you can feel proud that you made it.
Now go enjoy your vacation!