Tips for flying with a baby.

April 09, 2014

In Liam's first nine months, we took four flights together to see my family back in Texas and Mississippi. (Well, ten if you count the each one-way flight and connections. TEN.) I've flown with him at two months, five months, seven months and nine months. I've taken a nonstop flight, I've taken a flight with one stop, and I've taken a long, drawn-out connecting flight. And I've flown solo with him on each of these flights except for one one-way flight.

Deep breath.

Needless to say, I've learned many lessons along the way and I can say I have become a bit more efficient each time. Liam, however, has become a little harder to handle each time as he gets bigger and becomes more active.

In honor of flying with him this weekend for the eleventh and twelfth time in what is now 13 months, here are a few tips when flying with a baby.

1. Have a plan for the security line. 

The one plus about flying with a baby is that you get to skip to the front of the line. That's about the only plus about flying with a baby. (Except that they are free to fly. Free is good.)

Certain airports let you have an escort through security. When I flew from Phoenix to Houston for the first time, my husband was able to help me get through security. On the way back, because I was flying the same airline, I assumed my mom would be able to help me. As it turns out, it's by airport and not airline. Call ahead and don't assume unless you want to talk yourself out of a minor meltdown in the middle of the airport.

(You would think that security would see a struggling mom traveling solo with an infant and offer to help. But they don't. And they didn't.)

Everything has to go through security: your car seat, your stroller, all bottles (assuming they are pre-filled with liquid), your iPad or laptop, your shoes, and even the baby's bib and pacifier. No one trusts a baby these days.

So, plan accordingly. I take the bottles out ahead of time and place them in the stroller cupholders. I also grab my iPad and have it out. When I get to the security line, the iPad, bottles and my shoes go into the bin. Then, I take Liam out and undo the car seat with my free hand. The car seat goes onto the belt - make sure it's upside down or else - and my stroller has to get manually checked because it doesn't fit through the conveyor belt. I go through the security machine with Liam and meet all of my items on the other side. It's not the easiest, but if you're lucky, kind strangers will help. (Thank you, sweet, sweet strangers.)

2. Check your car seat and stroller at the gate. 

Flying solo with a baby has made me realize that I need my hands free as much as possible: the security line, bathroom trips, coffee breaks, wandering around to kill an hour or two. By checking the stroller and car seat at the gate right as I am boarding the plane, it means that I can easily cart him and my carry-on bag around without looking like a complete hot mess. 

However, make sure you check in with the gate attendant prior to boarding so they can tag your stroller and car seat. (I know from experience that should you forget this little tidbit, they will not be happy. And you will feel their wrath.)

This is also helpful so that you don't have to use your checked bag allotment towards a stroller and car seat - not to mention how expensive car seat carriers can be. The cheapest one I have found that is guaranteed to hold up for more than one flight costs about $40 - almost as much as two checked bags. (Thank you, Southwest, for relieving this cost.)

3. Bring a bag that's easy to carry. 

In my babyless days, I would pick out my cutest tote and fill it with magazines, books, my laptop, my iPad, snacks and a light jacket, and then I would sit back and enjoy my peaceful flight to whatever destination I chose, enjoying a glass of wine or a cup of coffee along the way.

Enter: baby.

Now I carry a bag purely for survival. The only thing in the bag that has anything to do with me is my iPad - because it encompasses my books, magazines and laptop all in one - and a wristlet with my ID, cards and phone. Everything else revolves around Liam: diapers, wipes, prepared bottles, a blanket, burpcloths, changes of clothes, toys, pacifiers, and snacks. 

Fortunately, my diaper bag has straps that can easily turn it into a backpack. This has been so helpful when traveling solo. You want to bring a bag that's easy to carry, easy to shove under the seat, and easy to access during the flight at least 6,000 times (5,000 if you're lucky.)

Make sure to pack it by priority. Have the bottles easy to grab, and place the diapers and burp cloths near the top. It's real awkward trying to balance a baby in your arms while reaching down under your seat to grab whatever-you-need while feeling around the bag trying to find said item while remaining buckled in because that seatbelt light won't go off while attempting to keep some personal space between you and your neighbor. 

4. Whatever you think you need, bring more. 

If they usually take three bottles in the amount of time you'll be traveling (from the moment you get to the airport until the moment you get to your final destination of a hotel our house), bring four to five. If you think they'll go through three diapers, bring six. If you think they won't ruin an outfit in the span of a two-hour flight, think again and bring two changes of clothes. 

Flights get delayed, babies get antsy, and spit-up happens at the worst time, like as you're boarding the plane. In fact, I would even recommend bringing an extra shirt for yourself unless you want to spend a two-hour flight covered in spit-up. (Been there, done that.)

5. Be prepared for a diaper change. 

No matter if you change the baby right as you are getting ready to board, plan on doing a diaper change mid-flight, especially if they are really young.

One time when flying, Liam's diaper was soaked (even though he had just been changed less than an hour prior). I made my way back to the tiny airplane bathroom to change him. I sat on the closed toilet, put him on his back in my lap, and somehow managed to change his wriggly body. When I got back to my seat, I realized I left his shorts in the bathroom. 

I rang for the flight attendant and asked if she could get them for me. She came back with the shorts and said, "Just for future reference, we do have a bathroom with a changing station. It's on the other side."

So there's that. Ask where the changing station is before heading in for a diaper change.

6. Take care of yourself, too. 

Make a bathroom trip before you board the plane, because it's next to impossible to go to the bathroom in an airplane while holding a baby. I've done it. And I don't wish that on anyone. 

Grab a water bottle for your bag. Don't you love those complimentary drinks they pass out mid-flight? So does your baby. Unless you're willing to chug it, you can give it up now. Grab a bottled drink of choice so you can have a safe, mess-free drink on-hand during the flight. (Although they will give you a cup with a lid if you ask.)

Remind yourself that you will most likely never see any of the people on the flight again (except at baggage claim, of course). The baby will cry and it will sound so much louder and more dramatic to you than anyone else on the plane - I promise. 

You're doing the best you can.

Also read: Thank you, fellow passengers. (A post dedicated to the grace-filled strangers we've flown with along the way.)

Any questions or additional tips? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. Great list! I feel so lucky that I have yet to fly solo... The time is approaching. I'm flagging this post to reread as I pack and prepare. Since my folks have a stroller and car seat for our destination, I'll be doing everything you mentioned but while wearing her in a carrier. The carrier has worked really well to get us through the airport and onto the plane in the past!

  2. These are great tips, Jordan! I wish I had had this list back when my girls were little. We've only flown with them a few times, but it is a stressful thing! I can think of only one thing I would add: make sure your baby is sucking on something (bottle, pacifier, thumb...) when you take off. When I was a baby, my parents flew to Georgia with me and, on take-off, my ears didn't adjust with the pressure change. Apparently I cried the entire flight --all 5+ hours of it-- and my parents still remember the agony vividly to this day! So I've always made sure to have something (now we do gum or lifesavers) for take-offs and landings. Enjoy your next trip! Love and miss you guys :-)


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