I recently flew for the first time with a baby. I googled "flying with children" a 100 times and read a 1,000 tips on how to survive this adventure. Here's my own tips to surviving flying with a baby.
First of all, here's a bit of background. My daughter is 10 months old. My husband was busy and couldn't come with so I was flying alone. My flight to my destination was direct and about 2 hours and 50 minutes. The flight back had one connection and the first leg was 2 hours and the second 1 hour. My layover was about two hours. Oh and I hate the TSA and their screening. :)
My daughter with alllllllll our luggage
My tips for flying with a child...
1) Beg to have someone help you to the gate.
Post 9/11, it's a bit harder to get permission to have a non-ticketed passenger past security; however, I have a few friends that got it done within the past year. I didn't have anyone to help on the way to my destination, but I did have my brother assisting me on the way back...THANK GOODNESS....and let me tell you why.
2) Security screening is by far the worst part of the flying experience ESPECIALLY WITH A BABY.
I had two terrible experiences with security. First, I was at a small airport when I was flying out. Which was nice since the lines were fairly small and I didn't feel quite as bad holding up everyone.
This is what luggage I was traveling with: Baby in Ergo baby carrier on my chest, diaper bag backpack, rolling luggage for carry-on, stroller with car seat snapped in. Every bit of that had to go through the x-ray machine.
If you had someone it would make it much easier to get everything on the belt, but when I was alone, it was quite difficult to lift every thing on to the belt. Also, security required me to take the carrier off and hold my baby. Then you have to get all that stuff off the belt, while the person behind you is ticked you're taking forever.
Definitely wear slip on shoes and be prepared to move quickly, and get dirty looks. Now, on to the bad experience with security....
3) If you formula feed or have pumped breast milk, be prepared to be hassled!
Per many websites, since I formula fed, I got the ready to feed bottles that are nipple ready. If you use formula I would definitely recommend it! Made feeding on the airplane much easier and less messy. If you nurse, bring a blanket & safety pins to create a screen in your seat if you aren't comfortable nursing so close to someone.
On the way down I had a bottle prepared from powder ready for the flight. Since this wasn't a sealed bottle, they had to test it and make sure it's formula. They also insisted on taking all the formula and re-running through the scanner, then make a mess of my organized diaper bag by throwing it all back in.And, they didn't secure the caps all the way and spilled formula all over the bag and my stroller.
On the return trip, I talked to the security agent before entering the x-ray line and she suggested I remove all my liquids/formula in put it in a separate bin to prevent them from having to search them again. Great.
Not so fast.
Not only did all my bags get pulled aside, but since all the formula was ready to feed, they gave me the option of either a) opening it all and testing it all. (which of course would make it all go bad within two hours) or b) search every inch of my luggage and doing a pat down.
What would you do? I chose of course to do the pat down (not much of a choice to make...I have to have the formula). So, I turn to hand my baby to my brother and the security guard says, "Not so fast. You can't give her to your brother because he has been cleared and you'd contaminate him."
Whoa, wait. What am I supposed to do with my daughter?!?
She then explains I can set her on the ground while I do the pat down. No. I'm sorry. I have a ten month old that crawls. Then she says that I can put her in the car seat, but she can't wait for me to strap her in. I instruct my brother to watch her. And imagine this, my formula did not hold explosives. Strange huh.
4) Wear your baby unless you can use a stroller
When I started planning for my trip, I knew this. 1) I didn't want to check my bag 2) I needed a car seat at my destination 3) I needed a diaper bag. So that meant that I was for sure going to have a backpack, a rolling suitcase and a car seat. (Plus a shopping bag as a personal item on the way home) Now I started problem solving and realized that if you added the stroller (which you can gate check with the car seat for no charge), I would actually be in better shape than if I were to forgo the car seat.
I put the rolling suitcase on the car seat that was clicked into the stroller. I put the backpack in the basket under the stroller and wore my baby in a Ergo carrier (which I would highly recommend...the best part is the nap head cover and the zipper pocket in the front..perfect for ID and boarding passes)
You can't wear the baby carrier during take off or landing. So, I kept
the bottom part buckled and just unhooked the shoulder straps. Otherwise, my baby slept the entire flight in the baby carrier.
5) Always read the airline's website!
On my way to my destination, I flew US Airways. US Airways allows you to gate check a stroller OR a car seat. However, I didn't have a problem (maybe since my stroller doesn't work without a car seat.) Plus they consider your diaper bag to be your "personal" item.
However, American Airlines allows you to check both a stroller and car seat. Plus, American Airlines will allow you a personal item in addition to a diaper bag. This was a lifesaver since I had so much extra stuff....the grandparents spoiled the grand baby!
6) Don't be afraid to ask for extras (especially at the gate!)
I'm usually a person that doesn't ask favors while flying. I take what I get. However, the desperation of flying alone with a baby definitely motivated me to ask. Most airlines don't pre-board people with babies anymore. They often want to pre-board their first class or frequent fliers instead.
However, when I asked US Airways, they helped me pre-board (even attempted to break down my stroller!) and they also checked my bag at the gate for free. (which makes it easier to manage with one less bag!) On the way home with American Airlines, the gate person was AWESOME!!! They not only helped me check my bag (again for free). But they also made room for my brother (who wasn't supposed to fly back for a couple more hours) and also moved us so we were next to one another.
7) Schedule flights during nap time
I know this isn't always practical; however, if you can, try to fly when you're baby will sleep. I found that my daughter was entertained by the new experiences through security and waiting to board, but got restless on the plane. I waited to feed her until we were taking off (this is supposed to help with air pressure...although I found she didn't mind if I didn't). Then she was instantly sleepy, and slept (basically) for the entire flight.
8) Prepare for both a fussy and a sleepy baby
I am a serial organizer. I make tons of lists and everything in my diaper bag must be organized. For this trip, I got a carabiner and hooked it to my diaper bag backpack. I hooked toys to this carabiner. Then when I got on the plane, I took that carabiner and hooked it to the pocket. I chose a few important things and put them in the pocket, so if possible, I wouldn't have to get into my backpack.
My "important" things were:
A bottle for take off & a bottle for landing
Wet wipes (for spit up or if I needed to do a diaper change)
Toys clipped to the pocket.
Toys clipped to the pocket.
Since I was lucky and my daughter slept the entire way, I could read my Kindle. Plus, since I baby wore her, I had two hands free. If I hadn't prepared for a sleeping baby, it would have been a really long flight. I've heard that wrapping toys make the toys last longer. I think this is a great idea, except my daughter eats wrapping paper and pukes it up.
9) Great tips I was given
Here's some advice I found throughout the Internet that was helpful.
A. I normally cloth diaper, but used disposables on the trip. However, since I knew that I might not be able to change my little one if she got a soiled diaper (take off..landing), I put a cloth diaper PUL cover over the disposable. This would contain any explosions.
B. Buy the important stuff there. Just bring what you need for the flight...plus some. You don't want to end up with a delay and have no way to feed or change your baby.
C. If your child is old enough for snacks...get something that takes a while to eat. That's usually a pretty good distraction.
D. You may or may not need your child's birth certificate to fly. I've heard of people asking for it, but I didn't have a problem. It's better to be safe than sorry with that type of thing.
E. I brought a large blanket and created a mini play pen with me and the stroller and bags blocking the way. This way my little one could crawl around during delays.
Crawling around at the airport
F. Don't forget to have a change of clothing for your little one and yourself in easy reach. I've heard several stories of moms getting puked on.
G. Find the family restrooms if possible. This was one of the only ways I could go to the restroom and still change my little one.
H. Moms stick together and don't let other people's reactions bother you. I generally found people helpful and nice.
F. Pray. ;)