Tips for Flying with Baby

Harper and I have done quite a bit of traveling over the past year. After a dozen flights and two 9-hour road trips, I have quite a few tips to share! We have made three cross-country plane trips:

  • Salt Lake City to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida at 2.5 months (just the two of us - one connection)
  • Salt Lake City to Columbus, Ohio at 7.5 months (us plus Daddy - one connection)
  • Salt Lake City to Pensacola, Florida at 10.5 months (just the two of us - one connection)

Before I present my tips, I have to give a couple disclaimers. First, Harper is a pretty easy baby. She's generally happy and outgoing, and she loves new people/places/experiences. She doesn't generally cry unless she really needs something. Second, we still breastfeed, and that makes things a bit easier (no packing bottles and lots of baby-appropriate food). With that out-of-the-way, here are my tips!

  1. When booking flights, allow NO LESS than one hour in-between flights. I prefer 1.5-2 hours, but one hour is usually okay. Remember, you will need to use the bathroom, change the baby and possibly eat in-between flights. If one of your flights is even a few minutes late, having less than an hour can really cut things close.
  2. Put a copy of your baby's birth certificate in your carry-on just in case any questions arise about his/her age (more important if you are flying with infant in-lap).
  3. Get a lightweight, no-frills stroller just for traveling. I bought this one before our first trip at 2.5 months, and it's taken us all over the country. I also keep it in the trunk of my car since it's so much more mobile than my full-size jogger.
  4. Wear slip-on shoes so getting through security will be easy. Also note that you can usually go to the front of the security line when traveling with infants.
  5. Leave your wrap at home...or packed in your checked bag. I know there are a lot of moms who swear by using wraps during air travel, but I have tried it, and it wasn't the greatest for me. You will get tired. Your shoulders will ache. And you will have to go to the bathroom in the airport. And fiddle with your diaper bag and luggage. Trust me - it's so much easier to just put the baby in the stroller and go. Plus, you can gate-check strollers for free when you pre-board (more on this later). You would think it would be easy to let the baby stay in the wrap during the flights, too, but again...I tried it. It wasn't the greatest. Getting her in and out while anxious airplane passengers give you the evil eye to hurry up and get your luggage out of the overhead bins is a pain in the butt. (Of course, it might work great for you to use a wrap!)
  6. With that said, not having a method of holding your baby during the actual flight can be problematic. I have always had people offer to hold Harper for me when traveling alone. Nice-looking strangers (usually grandmothers) have held her for me to put my stuff through security, go to the bathroom on the plane, etc.
  7. Speaking of using the bathroom on planes... It is possible - even while traveling alone with the baby. I ask the flight attendant before takeoff which restroom is best for changing diapers (usually one has a changing table). If there's no changing table, it's usually because we're on a small plane for a short duration. I try to just avoid changes on those. Once I have figured out which bathroom to go to, I simply use one hand to do my business. The first time is hard. But you get used to it. :) I've had some success with holding her on the changing table while I unzip. Then, I pick her up and put the changing table up (they usually fold down over the toilet). When I'm done, I put her back on the changing table and zip up/wash my hands/etc. (Wouldn't a third arm be so helpful in these situations??!)
  8. As for cloth diapers while traveling...I don't recommend them. Y'all know I am all about some cloth diapers. But, air travel is one of those exceptions for us. They take up a ton of space in your luggage, and they are more difficult to deal with in super-cramped spaces on planes. My advice is to buy some Seventh Generation (or other greener option) and leave the cloth at home. A small package of wet wipes is also crucial during air travel. They're great for all sorts of quick cleanups and hand washes.
  9. If you're embarking on a longer flight that will probably require a diaper change, stick a diaper and wipes in your changing pad and place them in the seat-back pocket before takeoff. This will make it much easier to get to them rather than digging through your carry-on under the seat or in the overhead bin.
  10. If possible, put your carry-on under the seat in front of you instead of the overhead bin.
  11. Stay light on your feet. I like to use my diaper bag as my carry on, and I don't pack anything other than the essentials. That includes a few diapers (depending on how long we will be traveling), wipes, a changing pad, a change of clothes for Harper (and maybe a shirt for me), breast pads for me (when she was younger - I don't really use these anymore), a toy or two, a pacifier (if your baby uses one), my wallet/boarding passes, a small blanket (for warmth and for covering up if you breastfeed) and snacks. I also have a Thermarest travel pillow that I always take on planes, and I love it for putting under Harper when she is sleeping.
  12. If you're traveling alone, don't count on having ANY time to knit, read, etc. If your baby falls asleep, keep in mind that you will still be holding her. You might be able to play with your iPhone or watch the in-flight video, but that's about it. So, don't weigh yourself down with lots of magazines, books and projects.
  13. If your baby likes a pacifier, attach one to his/her clothes in addition to the one you pack. Dropped pacifiers in airports/airplanes = gross.
  14. If your baby eats solids, pack a baggie of Cheerios or other hand-held snacks to occupy them during flight.
  15. When Harper was younger (2.5 mos and 7.5 mos), I dressed her in a one-piece sleeper for the flights (and kept an extra one in her bag). It's just easy and comfortable.
  16. If you are staying with family/friends at your destination, send them a shopping list ahead of time so they can get diapers, wipes, snacks, food, etc. This will make packing much easier since you won't have to carry so much stuff!
  17. Also, don't worry about packing too many clothing items if you will have access to a washer/dryer at your destination.
  18. Take advantage of pre-boarding flights. I like to get on the plane and get settled with Harper before everyone else does. Oftentimes, she will nurse once we sit down and fall asleep. She will sometimes sleep for a good portion of the flight. The worst is when the flight attendant speaks on the intercom. That can be REALLY loud and wake the baby.
  19. If you will be going on a long car ride after arriving at your destination, be sure to pack a bottle or two of breastmilk or formula. You might have a very unhappy baby otherwise.
  20. Don't get too stressed. It's not as hard as you might think.
  21. And finally, don't be afraid to ask for help. At 10.5 months, Harper was really "busy" on our flights. She was still nice and happy, but she wanted to play constantly. The flight attendants actually took turns walking her around the plane at one point just to give me a break. I didn't even ask - they just wanted to do it. Most people are happy to lend a hand with unfolding a stroller, retrieving bags, etc. Just ask!

I know the above tips don't take into account bottles for formula (if you are unable to or have chosen not to breastfeed), but I suppose all that really adds is the need to pack formula and bottles. :) Also, the above tips are more specific to traveling alone with an infant. If you are traveling with a spouse or partner...sheesh...you got it easy! Seriously, don't sweat it. Having a second set of hands around makes everything pretty easy.

Have you traveled with an infant? What are your best tips for newbie moms who are doing it for the first time?