As travel lovers, it’s not surprising that my husband and I were quick to take our little guy to the friendly skies more than once in his first year of life. But, I must admit, we were nervous! Air travel can be a stressful experience on its own — and that’s before you add in your adorable (and loud) extra luggage. But, with a little knowledge and some creativity, air travel with a lap infant can be easier than you’d imagine. That said, here’s a few tips to keep you and your family airborne:
Depending on the age of your little one, certain times of day are more, shall we say, “challenging” than others. If your plans permit, choose flight times that theoretically correspond with naps times and avoid “witching” hours. There’s no guarantee baby will stay on schedule, but at least you’ve stacked the deck in your favor!
Take Advantage of Your “Freebies”
While many airlines are moving toward charging for every little thing (can mama get her complimentary can of Diet Coke, please?!), even some of the worst offenders will allow you to bring baby’s arsenal of stuff free of charge. Do your research ahead of time to confirm what your airline covers (usually listed online), but in my experience the following are usually included for free:
- Car seat & base (counter or gate check) – don’t forget a handy car seat bag to protect it from tears and stains in transit!
- Stroller (counter or gate check)
- Diaper bag (Load it up! Who says your extra undies and toothpaste aren’t property of baby?)
Depending on the length of your flight, you’ll want to tap into different levels of your inner Girl Scout. Bring everything you’d typically pack in your diaper bag, but also consider a few “extras” like medicines (Tylenol, Motrin) that you may not regularly cart around, toys with high entertainment or teething value, an extra blanket, non-messy snacks, and plenty of diapers/wipes!
You’ll also want to ensure that baby has all the documents he or she needs to get on board. While some airlines don’t require special identification, others do. I travel with an extra copy of our little guy’s birth certificate when we fly for those “just in case” moments. And, for you pumping and formula feeding mamas, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows the transport of breastmilk, formula, juice, and accompanying ice packs in your carry on but will generally require they be inspected by x-ray.
Dress Your Little (and Yourself) in Comfy Layers
While you can anticipate your little one will get lots of attention on any airplane, it’s not usually the best time for a baby fashion show. Temperatures vary from plane to plane, so the rule of layers is an excellent one to follow. Try a onesie paired with stretchy, breathable pants and socks. A comfy extra layer like a jacket, sleep sack, or swaddling blanket can also come in handy for chilly flights.
Baby Wearing to the Rescue
Going through security is a hassle. Period. Wearing your little love in a baby carrier or sling is the perfect way to keep your hands free for wrangling all your other baggage through the x-ray machine and performing the ever convenient shoe removal and replacement process while keeping baby safe and secure.
Depending on your baby’s degree of mobility, you might consider making a mobile play station (blanket or cover for the ground and a few small toys or books) for waiting out airport time before boarding. When our little guy was an accomplished sitter but not yet crawling, he had lots of fun on the floor at DFW airport — and got some energy out before his forced confinement to Denver!
Lighten the Mood
Picture yourself pre-baby. You’re nestled uncomfortably into your window seat as the flight boards and there, in the distance, you hear the unmistakable wail of a baby whose mother appears to be headed straight for the empty middle seat right next to you. The terror! Flash to now: You are that mother! Nothing says, “Please excuse my wailing child” like a little humor and humanity. On our last flight, I looked around to my fellow passengers and said, “This is Christopher. He’s seven months, and he told me he’s going to do the very best he can but makes no promises.” A mama friend of mine suggested jokingly offering seat mates a pair of ear plugs — also a winning suggestion.
Take Off and Landing Are Key
Some of the best advice I got before our first flight was to help baby prevent ear distress by nursing or popping a paci in for take off and landing. While we have the ability to pop our ears or chew a stick of gum to equalize air pressure, baby doesn’t. But our littles can achieve the same effect by performing the normal sucking motion they’ve already perfected . . . which will make for a much happier baby at cruising altitude.
Accept Help from Strangers. Yes, Strangers!
Especially if you’re traveling solo, you will find that strangers will trip over themselves to help you. Put your independent mama pride aside and accept the kindness of strangers who want to get your bags down from the overhead compartment. It makes them feel good and every little bit helps.
There’s an unspoken pressure to have a “good baby” on airplanes. But, the fact of the matter is that most babies will feel as uncomfortable as we do being trapped in a flying bus for a few hours. So if you can, give yourself and baby a break and remember . . . once you’ve safely deplaned you never have to see these people again! It’s the little things sometimes.