Flying with Babies
There are SO MANY very thorough and well thought out resources on this topic, I first thought it would be a waste of time to cover. However, mom to mom, we still ask each other about this because someone's personal experience sometimes applies better than a Top 21 List you'll find on a Google search. So, here is my list of personal preferences when flying with a baby. Also, be sure to check out those Top 21 Lists you'll find on a Google search. They are great at reminding you of things, like bring a lot more diapers than you think you'll need and pack extra disposable bags to store all the kid trash that inevitably accumulates over a flight.
This is my top advice for flight sanity with a baby:
1. Buy A Seat. Technically you can travel with a lap child up until your baby is 2, but if you're top priorities are safety, peace and sanity while traveling, your best weapon against wrestling with an active infant or mobile toddler is bringing the car seat on board and buckling that bundle of squirms in it. Babies are used to the confinement of their car seat, but know they can easily wiggle out of your arms if they just fight (and fuss!) long and hard enough. It takes a lot more circus tricks on an almost continuous basis to keep an active baby entertained and out of the the aisles (and off the filthy floor!). Also, it can be dangerous to not have your child secured safely, and many small children have been injured from unexpected, violent turbulence. I personally have flown many times with a lap child, but now don't believe the risk is worth the savings. And having that extra space of an additional seat is incredibly helpful. You will have to make sure your car seat is airline approved and will fit in a seat. Make sure to verify this in advance before purchasing a seat and hauling the car seat all the way to the gate.
2. Wear a Moby. Or any other carrier that can allow baby to face forward. I prefer the wrap style, like the Moby, because it has a flexible feel and allows easy movement of limbs and body for the baby. The next best thing after buckling them in a car seat is strapping them to you. Being able to strap them in facing forward basically has them sitting on your lap without you having to use all your own strength to hold onto them, and keeps them from thinking they can get down if they just struggle enough. I traveled with my Ergo carrier the most, but it just simply doesn't work as well strapping them in facing you. It's cramped and uncomfortable for everyone to try and sit in this position. If you have an Ergo that offers all carry positions (I own the original, which doesn't), then it should work just fine. Somehow it took until my third child to figure out that my wrap was a much better solution to fly with than my ancient but trusty Ergo.
3. Bring more snacks/food/formula than you think you'll need. Every time I hear of an insane flight delay where passengers are stuck on an airplane on the tarmac for like 5 hours, I immediately have a physiological response. I feel the panic, as a mother, of being stuck in that kind of confined space with a baby. If your baby needs formula, make sure to bring a lot more than you think you will need. Delays are so common, and formula is not always easy to find. Always keep high value snacks in abundance. If you have a newer eater, things like melts and puffs are great to keep them entertained. Of course, older babies love these, as well.
4. Bring brand new toys. Do not even bother bringing along something they've already seen, it will immediately end up on the floor. Babies and kids always seem to love things that are made for adults, so I try to keep some of those types of things on hand in addition to actual baby toys. One item all my kids have loved, once they got closer to a year and beyond, is a small, retractable measuring tape. Sounds weird, but they love pulling it out and then pushing the button and watching it all wind back up again. The other thing I generally carry in my purse that little hands love to explore is a collapsible brush/mirror you can find at almost any grocery store. Being able to open and shut something is a fun task that can keep babies busy for quite some time, particularly if they can put something inside and then take it out again, like a crumpled up napkin or piece of paper. Any small container with a cap that is easy for little hands to manipulate is sure to be a winner. Even a pill case (sans pills!) can be fun, particularly if there are a few puffs inside!
5. Sanitizing wipes. No one wants to end up in bed with the flu a day or two after arriving on vacation, and airplanes are not known to be sterile environments! Your baby will touch EVERYTHING, so I typically bring not only hand sanitizer spray, but also sanitizing wipes to wipe down the arm rests, window/windowsills and tray tables. I keep these in the easiest to reach pocket of whatever back I bring onboard to store under the seat.
6. Organize your packing strategy. Since I now travel with three kids, and insist on being over-prepared, I typically pack a change of clothes for everyone, high-value items I don't want the luggage handlers losing, more diapers and wipes than I need and more snacks/entertainment than I think I will need, I typically pack a rolling carry on and a backpack/diaper bag/"personal item."
Everything that I think I won't need while in the air, but want with me, goes in the carry on that will be in the overhead bin.
Everything I expect to use while on the plane goes on the floor in front of me in my "personal item" carry on. And in that carry on, I typically organize most things with ziplocks. All the snacks go in a ziplock, and all the toys go in a ziplock. It's just easier to find everything you need when you group like with like, instead of fumbling around a mass of items while bent over a baby in the tiny, confined space of an airplane seat.
7. Invest in a car seat cart or strap. I always prefer to bring my own car seat while traveling, and prefer not to check it with the luggage whenever possible (any former airline worker will tell you NOT to check in your car seat. They get damaged all the time, and sometimes that damage is unseen, making it incredibly unsafe for baby). In order for a car seat to be manageable in the airport, you have to have a way to transport that bulky item. (This is specific to convertible, forward-facing car seats only. Not infant, rear-facing seats that you can attach to strollers). I purchased the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate, and eight years later, I still use it! It is well worth the investment if you expect years of travel with small ones in tow and want your kids in their car seats on the plane. I also came across straps you can use with your rolling carry on that look like a good alternative to the cart, however, I would recommend purchasing two in the event the strap breaks. Also be sure to test it out ahead of time to make sure you know how to use it and that it will work with your luggage so you aren't panicking in the airport.
8. Bring extra ID. If you don't already have one, I recommend obtaining a State issued ID, in addition to your driver's license, and bringing that along with you (storing in a separate location from your main form of identification!). These are inexpensive and will save you the major hassle that losing your ID can be while traveling. Also, don't carry any important items in your back pocket. And yes, these two things are related. On my last trip my driver's license fell out of my pocket, I believe while using the restroom, and I spent a good part of the week I was on vacation trying to figure out how I was going to get back on the airplane to get home. It is not a quick and easy process. Obtaining additional ID beforehand and bringing it along, however, is a piece of cake!
9. Always board early. Whenever they call for the "passengers needing additional time or assistance," head straight for the line. Airlines are typically happy to get slow-to-board families with small children seated first, and it gives you extra time without the crowds to get yourself, your car seats and your kids situated before mass boarding begins.
Additional tips for traveling with a young baby
1. Make an effort to get baby to sleep. Small babies need lots of sleep, throughout the day, so however you can make that happen, make it a priority. Baby will be much happier if she is well rested and well fed and well changed. My small babies fell asleep easiest in the Moby, when I could wrap them up snug and cover up their faces (make sure baby can still breathe easily in whatever carrier you use!). If you have a different carrier, bringing along a (preferably dark colored!) full coverage nursing shawl is really helpful to darken the environment and shut out visual stimulation, which will help your baby more easily sleep. Or, in the alternative, wear a long, loose cardigan, like this nursing cardigan, that you can simply pull over the both of you for the same effect. Which brings me to my next point:
2. Dress for easiest breastfeeding. Break out your best, most favorite nursing apparel and wear it on travel day. If you're the type to just hike up, or pull down, your shirt every time you nurse, this is the time to invest in a decent nursing top. It will make your life easier, and make nursing in public more discreet. I always loved flying with a top that was similar to this Jinson ruched nursing top, as no part of my chest was exposed, and I didn't have to hike up my shirt. Even my husband never knew when I was breastfeeding, it always just looked like I was holding a sleeping baby! And make sure to dress in layers, my preference always being a nursing tank or t-shirt, with a cardigan to pull on when I got cold. If you're wearing your baby, it is easy to overheat the both of you, so keeping things airy and light with the option to cover up is always a good idea.
3. Look into a bassinet. If you are going on a long-haul flight, I highly recommend reading this post that has the ins and outs of what might be available, how to request what you want and what you can expect from airlines when hoping to secure a bassinet for your baby to sleep in while in flight.
I could seriously go on for days, but there are lots of other great lists out there that cover all the best advice on being prepared to hit the skies with tiny ones in tow. These are my top picks for how I like to prepare for travel with tiny.