By the time my son turned seven months, we traveled traveled together on eight different domestic flights to visit family and friends. Of all the flights, my husband was there to help me during four of them; the other four, it was just my son and me.
Some were good, some were bad, and one was down right ugly (more about that at the end of this post).
After all these experiences I certainly don’t know everything, but I have learned a lot, and the one thing I know for sure is that air travel with infants is one of life’s true adventures.
Air travel with an infant can be very manageable, and if you prepare ahead of time, there is great potential for a pleasant travel adventure. There are a few things we can all do to try and make air travel with infants more smooth and enjoyable.
1. Notify the airline
If you are traveling with an infant in arms, notify the airline when booking the ticket so they can account for the baby on the flight. If this isn’t documented ahead of time, the airline will need to change your boarding pass at the gate. Not a big deal really, but you can save yourself a step on the day of travel by doing this ahead of time. If you are not traveling with an infant in arms, and your baby will have his own seat, skip this step.
2. Rest the baby
Ensuring quality sleep overnight and during naps in the days leading up to a trip will make a world of difference. The baby will likely miss out on sleep during the actual travel day. No need to set ourselves up for failure here by starting out with a sleep debt. A well rested baby is more tolerant of new and unfamiliar situations.
3. Plan an outfit
For all of us breastfeeding moms out there, wearing a nursing tank with a zip-up active wear jacket creates an ideal outfit for public nursing. This allows for super easy and more discrete nursing since there is no need to yank a shirt up. The zip-up is also key for another reason: threading a colorful shoelace through the zipper hole on the jacket. The shoelace is entertaining in itself, but we can also tie toys on the ends of them. Pick a few favorite toys and hide them several days before the trip. Tying toys to the ends of the lace prevents toys falling on the floor of the plane (i.e. the pick-up game). If the child gets bored with a toy, we can swap it out for a new one.
4. Choose stroller or baby carrier
Do whatever works best for the individual baby. A car seat and stroller can be checked as luggage at the ticketing counter for free, or if you are so inclined, you may take them to the gate and check them planeside. Using a stroller is a good option, especially if the baby is a little bit older and a too heavy to carry; just know there is added time when gate checking this item planeside. I personally prefer the baby carrier because it’s simple and takes up less space. A baby carrier is also nice for a quick nap, containing the baby nicely and keeps the parent’s hands free to do other things like take a coveted sip of water.
5. Skip to the front of the security line
When we are traveling with small children, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) usually maintains a separate line for families or allows us to go ahead of others. We keep our eyes peeled for the family line or try to make eye contact with one of the TSA people, and they will usually come let us through the line. Often times, we can keep our shoes on, and we do not need to take anything out of our carry-on bag (i.e. liquids). If the baby is in a carrier, it is possible TSA will allow the baby to stay wrapped while passing through the metal detector.
6. Board the plane last
I know sometimes we are all really eager to board early when traveling with small children because they announce that we can. However being stuck in a seat, trying to teach a baby to sit still for several hours is a real challenge. When we board last it means less time on the plane and less time stuck in a seat with a baby. If additional time is truly needed, go ahead and board early. But if little to no additional time is required to get settled on the plane, feel free to wait until most others finish boarding.
7. Throw the schedule out the window
When we are traveling, focusing on only the present moment really helps. Avoid worrying about if it’s time for a meal or a nap. Feed the baby when he seems hungry. Let the baby sleep when he passes out. Things are frequently so new and exciting, the baby will very likely go longer than usual between meals and naps and without acting bothered.
8. Prepare for cabin pressure changes
Be ready with a bottle or breast during take-off and landing if the baby becomes fussy. Bottle and breast are preferential since swallowing is the action that will alleviate ear pressure rather than simply sucking. Apparently during take-off the ears should equilibrate on their own, and honestly I’ve never experienced an issue with take-off. Offer the bottle or breast on the decent if the baby becomes fussy. However, if the baby doesn’t fuss, don’t worry about it.
9. Look for an open row
Sometimes a flight will have an open row. Look for that. Having a full row gives more room to play, move around, and privacy if nursing the baby. I am all for public nursing, but during airline travel we are often in very tight quarters with strangers. This is sometimes less than ideal, especially if the baby isn’t a particularly polite eater.
As for my ugly experience I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it involved screaming while sitting on the tarmac waiting for take off. Lots and lots of screaming. So much screaming that other passengers graciously offered to take him for us. Yikes. Thankfully, after 30 minutes of inconsolable screaming, he simply passed out and slept the remainder of the flight.
Sometimes there aren’t enough tips in the world to save you from a challenging travel experience, as babies often have a grand plan of their own. However, knowing what to expect and having a plan can help make the trip run smoothly and maybe even make for a fun time.
Our family is gearing up for a big overseas move, which means more travel tips and stories to follow. In the next few months, I’m prepared to share my no-holds-barred accounts of traveling on a 24-hour road trip with a baby and traveling internationally with a baby.
Don’t miss these posts…
- My Top 10 Newborn Sleep Tips to Help Baby Sleep Longer Stretches
- 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know
- How to Help Kids Sleep After Traveling
- International Travel With a Baby
- The Ultimate Newborn Baby Routine That Will Help Baby Fall Asleep Faster
What are your best tips for air travel with infants? I’d love to hear your ideas!