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Ok, so you decided to take your sweet precious little one on a flight with you. Or if you’re like me, you had some sort of emergency which required you to put on real pants and leave your comfy breastfeeding, binge-watching spot, for an airline seat and a tiny lavatory. For us, it was a death in the family. The matriarch of my husband’s family, his 90-year-old grandmother passed away. Mother was the rock and had passed New Orleans two months after I gave birth to my first son. And, although I did NOT want to change out of my stretchy yoga pants to put on real clothes, love for my husband and his family required me to put on my big girl panties and travel to New Orleans
Whatever circumstances that now put you and your infant on a cross country airplane trip this tip list will help. And honestly, there are some really great reasons for traveling with a new baby. As a flight attendant, I have witnessed some really awesome reasons. A couple adopted a sweet new precious baby girl from Austin, a new mom separated from her military husband was headed home to be with her own momma in Florida, and a couple who experienced an unexpected early delivery while on their babymoon was traveling back home to Tulsa with their brand-new bundle of joy. There are always reasons people are flying with infants and ours was a funeral.
So we flew.
The good news is I work for an airline so my husband and I could fly for free to New Orleans. The bad news, I was a super insecure, brand new mom suffering from postpartum depression and I did not want to leave my house. Actually, I did not want to shower, dress, pack, or even think about packing. But I did it because….well family.
Two babies and countless flights later, I have put together a system that works great for travel. So learn from me, the professional traveler. Try not to stress and instead use these easy quick tips from an experienced mom and flight attendant.
PRO TIP–The flight attendants understand that you are already feeling overly stressed and underprepared bringing a baby on board. But if you are flying an airline like Southwest or JetBlue, their customer service is outstanding and the employees will most likely be especially helpful if/when you need it. All you have to do is ask. Which honestly is what I believe is the key to motherhood in general– asking for help. If you happen to have more than one kiddo and are also traveling with a toddler, here are more tips on How to Fly Smoothly With A Toddler.
Pro-Tip: Don’t forget the birth certificate
The best thing about traveling with babies is they fly for FREE. Take advantage of the savings and travel, travel, travel. Kiddos under two flies free if you are willing to have them sit on your lap for the flight. Be aware, airlines require proof of age for all lap children. Even as an airline employee, my fellow co-workers still required proof of my son’s ages every time we flew. So, bring the birth certificate even if you feel like it’s obvious that your baby is not yet two years old. Remember, babies must be at least 10 days old to fly. There are no exceptions.
Here are some tangible tips and tricks for flying with a baby.
1 Wear Your Baby In the Airport
I can’t emphasize this one enough. For me, babywearing solved a whole lot of my problems; both at home and on the road. My favorite baby wrap is the Baby K’tan. It is super easy to use and grows with your baby. Wearing your baby makes daily activities sooo much easier. It allows you to hold your baby and at the same time keeps both of your hands-free. Whenever we traveled with our baby boys, I would wear them in my Baby K’tan and then put my backpack/diaper bag in the stroller to push through the terminal. It allowed for an extra hand to deal with the second child or a second option to carrying the overstuffed, super heavy diaper bag filled with my purse, electronics, formula, diapers, pacifiers, bottles… you get the picture.
2 Only Carry-on One Bag
As a mom, I know that we want to be prepared for every possible circumstance. But as a professional flight attendant and expert traveler, I can tell you it’s important not to overburden yourself. You want to be able to get through the airport and onto the plane as easily as possible. Carrying a diaper bag, purse, and a roller bag while pushing a stroller is just too much. Save yourself some back pain and stress by checking your luggage. Whenever I fly alone with my kiddos, I just carry a backpack. The right backpack or diaper bag can carry everything you need, including your tablet, phone, wallet, and snacks. I like this large capacity from Bag Nation. If you absolutely need to bring another bag make it a roller bag and skip the stroller. They wear the baby and hang the diaper bag from the roller bag handle.
3 Take Advantage of Pre-boarding or Family Boarding
It amazes me how many families still fail to pre-board. Although every airline has its own rules, most allow families with children under six to pre-board. Boarding early is helpful for a couple of reasons. First, it allows all of your family to sit together in one area or to assist you in getting on and getting everyone settled and the baby comfortable.
Second, it gives you the time to prepare yourself for the flight. Check which lavatories are closest to you and have a changing table. Wipe down seats and tray tables with sanitizer wipes like these. Pre-boarding allows extra time to get baby bottles, water bottles, tablets, books, etc., all out and close at hand. It is also helpful to have your personal entertainment handy in case you win the airplane lottery and the baby sleeps the entire flight.
4 Go Ahead and Bring the Stroller
A stroller makes airport life so much easier. Some minimalist parents may disagree with bringing a stroller but I have two very good reasons to do so. First and foremost, most strollers have cup holders for my much needed medium soy, two shot, dirty Chai tea latte from Starbucks! This stroller is my favorite
Second, I had a lot of medical issues post-pregnancy. It was very hard for me to wear my 10lb+ baby AND carry a diaper bag stuffed to the brim without feeling some sort of pain. Pushing the stroller made traveling easier. I would put my baby in the seat and then hang my bag from the stroller arms. When we arrived at our destination I could put my son in the stroller and help grab our bags off the belt at baggage claim. There were many times when I was traveling alone I would just stack my checked baggage onto the stroller to push to the pickup curb, while my son slept on my chest in the Baby K’ Tan.
5 Invest in a car seat Bag
A stroller bag keeps your stroller and car seat together in one place and lessens the chance one of the pieces might be lost or broken. Most importantly it keeps the fabric from getting dirty or wet in the elements. My family uses this gate check bag. Gate checked items are often last to be loaded into the cargo bin and/or brought up to the gate upon deplaning. I have seen too many car seats brought up the jetway covered in snow or too hot to the touch from sitting out in the sun.
Pro-Tip: Remove every attachment from the stroller, such as the cup holder tray. It is very easy for attachments to get broken or lost during the loading and unloading process. I know from experience.
6 Use the Car Seat on the Plane
Just like in the car, the safest place for your baby to fly is in his or her own car seat. Its true flying is still the safest way to travel. But bringing the car seat on board is helpful for multiple reasons. The number one reason of course is safety. Turbulence is always a possibility and what if your aircraft has to make an emergency landing? You will be glad your precious cargo is buckled in tight. This car seat transitions great from car to aircraft.
Personally, I use a car seat for purely selfish reasons. I don’t necessarily want to hold my babies the entire flight. Also, as my boys have gotten older, I have trained them to stay buckled in their seats as long as the seatbelt sign is on. As the mommy, this has made traveling with two kiddos sooo much easier. If the seatbelt sign is on, my boys know they HAVE to stay buckled in. They are not allowed to crawl around under or on top of the seats or in the aisle. And the best part for me– it eliminates fighting about who gets to sit my lap.
7 Gate Check Your Car Seat and Stroller
Be sure an agent tags your stroller to your destination. Then check and recheck the stroller tag for your correct destination. You don’t want your stroller or car seat ending up in Indianapolis if your destination is Miami. We used the Joovey Groove Ultralight Umbrella Stroller. It was easy to push and has an optional cupholder. If we have a long layover, I like to check our stroller to the layover destination to use in the terminal. On shorter layovers, I would typically just wear one baby and make the other kiddo walk so we would not have to wait for the ramp to offload every bag before sending up our stroller to the jetway.
PRO TIP- If the flight is not sold out, you can bring your baby’s car seat onto the aircraft even if you did not pay for an extra seat. It is always safer for your baby to fly in his or her own car seat rather than sit in your lap. Just like in the car.
8 Pack extra
Put more diapers and formula in your carry on than you think you will need. I would always give my husband a handful of baby items to carry in his carryon backpack just to be sure we had plenty. This backpack is my husband’s favorite to use for travel. If your flight is delayed, or heaven forbid they close the airport due to weather or a massive computer glitch, you won’t have to reuse an old diaper or take off your own shirt and to wrap around your baby’s bottom. (You laugh, but I’ve seen it happen.)
9 Bring nighttime diapers for the plane
Nighttime diapers are great on the plane because they are designed to hold more liquid. If there is turbulence or if the pilot leaves the seat belt sign on indefinitely you are not stuck with a diaper leaking all over the place. A nighttime diaper will keep you from crawling your way to the lavatory. If your infant has not quite sized into nighttime diapers, consider bringing one size larger just for the trip. Otherwise, you can always stick to Tip #8
Pro-Tip: Ask for a trash bag before takeoff and then feel free to change them in your seat if you cannot get to the lavatory for any reason. Just be sure not to leave it in the seatback pocket.
10 Pack Baby Medicine
Don’t forget the baby medicine. You don’t have to pack everything in your baby medicine cabinet, but you will definitely need any prescriptions for you and the baby. It may be difficult to get in touch with your pediatrician if you are out of town and or find a pharmacy to refill any forgotten prescriptions. Gripe Water is also good for a baby’s gassy tummy caused by the rise in altitude. Consider adding this gripe water to your bag.
Pro-Tip: Food pouches are also great for older babies to use during takeoff and landing. Especially if your baby has outgrown a bottle.
11 Bring the blanket, lovie and pacifier
It’s true you will probably feel like you are overpacking but these are just a few more items you will be glad you have. Airplanes get cold, especially in the summer when everyone is dressed for the 100-degree weather. Airplane thermostats tend to stay on freezing to keep temperatures regulated. Bring the baby blanket. And honestly, you should probably bring a sweater for yourself. I inevitably would end up using my sweater as a pillow or blanket for at least one kiddo even if I was cold and using it. But that’s mom life. The pacifier is really good for kiddos who do not want to nurse or take a bottle during takeoff and landing. The change in air pressure from the ascent and descent can be really painful to a baby that does not know how to clear their ears. A pacifier keeps them sucking and negates the need for tears. The sucking action of a water bottle or sippy cup will also work.
Extra Tip: Pack PJs
This is a great tip for babies and kiddos. If you are traveling in the late afternoon or evening, pack a pair of PJs to slip the kiddos into. It is much more comfortable and encourages sleep on the airplane (YAY!). Then when you arrive at your destination the kids are already ready for bed. If you’re traveling early morning, pull the kids right out of bed and put them directly into the car to the airport. Just pack a change of clothes to change into at the airport when everyone is settled with coffee and breakfast.
PRO TIP- Don’t forget shoes.
Check out my favorite baby travel items
Check out my list of baby friendly travel destinations here.