We were pretty certain that after we had a kid our travelling would dwindle to the occasional trip to visit family. Thankfully, that’s not happened and we’ve gotten to experience truly wonderful sights and cultures with our child in tow.
P has been charming flight attendants since he was 2 months old, he’s now 2 years old. He’s been to Hawaii 4 times, Maine, Spain, and California many times to visit our family there. We’ve flown non-stop and we’ve had to make connections. Big airports, small airports, customs, baggage, international, trams…we’ve done them all. Our upcoming trips include Boston, Alaska, and California a couple more times for good measure.
P’s always been an easy travelling companion and, with the exception of that one time he had a head cold, he’s never been THAT kid. Here’s my biggest thought on whether a baby/child will be a good traveller. If they eat out at restaurants well, I think it’s a good indication that your child can handle being cooped up in a flying can, with a bunch of strangers, for many hours on end.
Will it be easy? No, not like when you didn’t have kids. And certainly not like when they’re older and can plug into movies or books for hours on end, but it’s very possible and definitely worth it.
Through our travels there are a few things we’ve learned that I think you might also find helpful, or at least worth considering:
- Travel Business/First class if you can afford it
- If you can bring the grandparents, DO IT!
- Give yourself at least 30 minutes longer than you used to (pre-baby) at the airport
- Get a chiropractic adjustment for yourself and baby a couple of days before you go
- Be patient with yourself, others and especially your baby
- Avoid the red-eye if you can
- Make lists and check them
As a side note, if you’re pregnant and planning to fly you should read what WebMD has to say about the subject, talk with your care provider, and then make an educated decision. Here’s the link to the TSA website for travelling with children, where they lay out what your child can expect when trying to get through security.
It can be stressful at times, but after you’ve arrived at your destination it will all have been worth it. Just think how good you’ll feel having accomplished such a task as flying with a baby and all the memories you’re about to make on your trip. I’ll break the rest down by age, since that does indeed make a difference.
Infant – 6 Months
Assuming you had a normal pregnancy and vaginal birth doctors seem to agree that it’s safe for mother and child to fly as soon as 2 weeks after birth (source 1, 2). Why anyone would voluntarily do this at 2 weeks post-partum is beyond me. Barring any big life moves I recommend staying put for a month or two and developing some semblance of
sanity routine before venturing into the world of TSA, cabin pressure and time zone changes.
What To Bring
- Your baby’s passport (required for international travel) or a COPY of their birth certificate. Don’t forget this. Ticketing agents don’t always check them, but when they do you’ll be glad to have it.
- A change of clothes for baby and mom. Let me stress that MOM does indeed want a change of clothes. I’ve experienced the worst possible blowout, EVER, on an airplane and paid for it for the rest of the flight. Not pretty folks, not pretty at all.
- If your breastfeeding you can bring one of those cover/sheet do-dads, but it gets really hot on an airplane. Like Bikram yoga hot. I found that wearing a very large, comfortable, maternity shirt that I could stretch over the baby worked much better. Then you don’t have to fumble around with a giant piece of fabric while confined to a tiny seat either. After a year, I just started whipping out the boob, stare if you want, I don’t give a darn.
- If you’re bottle feeding, bring formula. TSA will let you bring liquids through too, but they will test for the gun powder and flammable liquids that you’re really trying to smuggle in and then they’ll pull you aside for a little one-on-one time. Just you, a TSA agent of the corresponding gender, and some sanitary gloves. Mmm-hmmm.
- A pillow. For the first bunch of flights I brought my Boppie. It was cumbersome, but it made feeding and holding a sleeping baby for hours manageable. It’s worth it to bring some sort of cushion.
- For a wee babe you can carry them in your arms or bring your baby carrier/sling to spare your back and free up a hand for dragging luggage/diaper bag. You should know that even though it seems like a dandy idea to have your baby strapped to you during flight, you will be required to TAKE BABY OUT of said carrier during take off and landing. If you’re flying in Europe with a lap infant they have a special baby seat belt, that connects to your belt, which is required to be around your baby.
- If your baby is sitting up, or able to ride in an umbrella stroller, bring one of those. It’s great for loading up with a baby, or other baby items, that you’re going to trudge around with you for the duration of your trip. It will have to go through security, will be checked at the gate, and (unless the airport staff hates you and sends it to baggage claim) it will be brought to the door of the plane when you exit. Do everyone a favor and leave your jumbo multi-child stroller at home, or at least check it with your baggage.
- Technically, kids under the age of 2 fly free if they sit on your lap. That’s how we’ve always done it. Airlines do this so families won’t stop flying because paying for a baby ticket is outlandishly expensive. If you’re a safety first type then you can bring your car seat on the plane, but you will have to purchase a full price ticket for your baby.
- Bonus while travelling with a child under two is that you will often get to skip to the front of the security line, you don’t have to go through those obnoxious full body scans, and people are generally helpful and friendly.
- You can bring your car seat with you wherever you travel and check it for free with your luggage (unless you get a mean ticketing agent who hates you).
- And in case you’re getting overwhelmed, don’t forget to bring more diapers than you think you’ll need, the appropriate amount of wipes, and your little changing mat. They don’t typically sell these at airports.
I don’t know what it is about flying, but the air pressure seems to squeeze every last bit of bodily function out of your tiny baby while inflight and you’ll have to master the art of changing diapers in a lavatory. It’s very possible that this will be the most traumatic event of your baby’s life and he will scream bloody murder the entire time you’re in the lavatory. Or not. Either way, deep calming breathes become enormously helpful during these times.
Honestly, if it’s just a wet diaper I’ll change it right at our seat. Shhh, don’t tell. It is required that the dirty diapers be thrown away in the lavatory or off the plane. A flight attendant will refuse it in their regular trash pickups.
On The Plane
If it’s your first time flying you may have an overwhelming sense of guilt for what you may be exposing your inflight neighbors to. And yes, it may be loud and involve screams and glares and all sorts of bad stuff. But more often than not, your baby will be fine either eating (during take off and landing to keep their little ears clear) or sleeping. People are generally kind, and if they’re not than I say %$&! ’em.
When your baby is very little they don’t need toys or books, just loving arms and some food. I think travelling with really young babies is actually much easier than older ones, albeit a little boring.
If you’re travelling alone, make sure to get anything out you might need and stick it in the seat pocket, so you won’t be fumbling around too much. Hopefully you’re travelling with your partner, in which case you’re $$$ honey. Two sets of arms, someone to buffer you from the rest of the plane, and a person to feed and water YOU is always nice to have.
6 Months – 18 Months
When your child is older they will obviously be more active and interested in the world around them. This becomes extra fun when you’re flying coach and the person in front of you has big hair that a baby would love to tug on. It also means that when they coo and gaze at strangers they’re often going to get a smile in return, which is nice for everyone.
The previous list holds true here, and if your baby is into toys/books you should bring a couple. Bring a bottle for your baby to sip on (if they’re not still nursing) for take off and landing. If your baby is eating solids, bring them. Again, liquids are okay, but they will be scanned by TSA at security and there’s a good chance you’ll get a
rub pat down too. But mostly, just be ready to be the most interactive parent you’ve ever been in your life. Now, dance monkey!
18 Months – 23 Months
In doing some research I found out that if your baby celebrates their second birthday while in the air, you will indeed have to buy them a ticket. So don’t travel on your baby’s birthday at midnight.
When P was about 18 months he got too big to have a pillow and sit on my lap. I still wore the same huge maternity shirt in case he wanted to nurse (he often didn’t), we brought along a couple of toys/books, and I even loaded movies and apps onto the iPad for the brief time that they would hold his attention.
Honestly, this is the most uncomfortable time to travel with a child. They’re getting bigger, they need to move more and are ready to throw down a tantrum at a moments notice. This is when Business/First class is super nice if you can afford it. More dancing, more monkey, go!
On our most recent trip Porter got his own seats. It was great. Despite his obsession for putting the tray table up and down, we both had space. His interest in airplanes and airports was very inspiring. I brought a pillow (tied up with a shoe lace) in hopes that he would nap, but he didn’t, shoot.
I didn’t bring the umbrella stroller (we checked it with luggage) and instead opted for a Trunki. A lovely carry-on which contained his toys/books/diapers, which is conveniently capable of pulling your child on. You should seriously check it out. Porter rode through the airport some of the way, pulled it some of the way, and when he was over it I just slung it over my shoulder.
Before getting on the plane, talk with your child about what to expect. Get a book (like one of these) that explains the airport/flying process, and certainly remind them that they’ll have to wear a seat belt. Show them the signs on the plane and the different parts. Don’t be afraid to enlist a friendly flight attendant to talk with your child. Sometimes a perfect stranger has a positive effect on your child’s desire to stay seated.
During take off and landing P and I practiced opening our mouths very big. We then licked pretend ice cream cones and swallowed the pretend ice cream. Imagination, works like a charm!
At this point you’ve made it! Now your child is really expensive and considered a full human being – at least to the airlines. Gone are the days of cutting in front of the security lines. On the upside, we’ve mastered art of standing up while changing a diaper in the lavatory. If you have the distinct pleasure of potty training while travelling, more power to you! The success you’ll feel after your baby uses the onboard lavatory for the first time is oddly empowering and definitely a momentous occasion worthy of turbulence and exaltation. Now, go enjoy your trip!