Travelling with a Baby - Part Two: 18 tips for flying with an infant
We began planning our first overseas trip to New York, Lisbon and London with Ollie before he was even born, and it was slightly terrifying. We triple checked that we could back out if he turned out to be a particularly difficult baby, if there were any health concerns, or if we were too nervous as parents to bring a newborn on such a long trip. We poured over articles on travelling with a baby, went to a class on the subject, and obsessively wrote and rewrote packing lists for what we would need to bring. As the day grew closer we knew there was no way we would back out. Not only is Ollie a pretty chill baby, but the memories we’d be making as a family from bringing him to such exciting places were so important to us - plus, didn’t we say our lives wouldn’t change once Ollie came along? We’re stubborn, and we had to stick to our word.
If you haven't yet travelled with your baby, navigating busy airports can be intimidating...especially when you're lugging a stroller, carseat, luggage, AND a crying child. Just remember: there have been many before you who have tackled this challenge, and they've succeeded! You can too. Stay organized, take things slowly, and accept help if needed.
1.) Ask about empty seats
If you ask really politely, airlines will often be super accommodating to new parents and help in any way they can to get you a row with an extra empty seat. If they’re unable to accommodate this before hand or at check in, you can always ask a flight attendant once you’re on the plane. Don’t be afraid to ask! It can make all the difference.
2.) Gate check your baby gear
At check in, you’ll typically be asked if you want to check your baby’s car seat and stroller at no extra cost with your luggage, or if you want to check it at the gate. If at all possible, we 100% opt to CHECK IT AT THE GATE. This has three major pros: one, you get the use of the stroller through the airport, (load it up, use it like a cart!), your baby gear is usually treated with care, (instead of being thrown around and often damaged with the rest of the luggage), and best of all: your stroller will be waiting for you right outside the plane as soon as you disembark. If you’re really lucky and have an extra seat, ask if you can bring your car seat on the plane with you for an extra spot to put your babe down for short periods of time.
3.) Request a bassinet
When booking your seats, make sure you’re aware that some flights offer seats that are better for newborns or small infants. These are usually the bulkhead seats, and some planes have bassinets that clip in for small babes to sleep. This feels like such a luxury! We had a bassinet during our flight from New York to Lisbon, and Ollie slept so well. Keep in mind they’ll ask you to hold your baby during take off and landing, and during any turbulence.
4.) Where to sit
Bulkheads are great as they often have more leg room and there is no one in front of you. We like to avoid sitting at the back of the plane as it is typically noisier and often has line ups of people waiting for the bathrooms, (and not to mention flushing toilets!) so we usually opt for the front half of the plane if at all possible. We prefer having an aisle seat if we don't have the row to ourselves, just in case we need to get up - although this is personal preference.
5.) Be prepared to be treated like a rockstar
That's right...you've officially made it! Whether you're a celeb or a new parent, it's all the same when you're in an aiprort (minus the paparazzi). Travelling with an infant means getting ushered into the priority lineups through security, getting to board the plane first, and to receive genuinely kind service from most airport workers. We no longer feel the need to leave super duper early to catch a flight, now that we have our “pass” for priority service! If you don’t see a family line at security, ASK. Most of the time they’ll allow you to go in a separate line regardless.
6.) Be security ready
As mentioned before, make sure you use the priority line through security, which often includes priority for families travelling with small infants. If you don’t see a line, ask.
- Feel free to bring any extra bottles of water or liquids when going through security, just be sure to mention that it’s for your baby’s milk/formula. Have it ready to show or be tested if asked.
- Either wear your baby in a carrier, or have them in their stroller. If you’re wearing your baby, you likely won’t be asked to remove them (saving grace if they’re sleeping, we recommend this if they’re due for a nap!) If your baby is in his or her stroller, you’ll be ask to pick your babe up and carry them through, and the security officer will search the stroller separately.
- To save yourself time, have all your liquids ready to be checked just in case, and any electronics ready for removal. Your hands will be extra full, so you’ll want everything easily accessible. Try packing everything up at home first so you feel ready.
- Always ask for help if needed. Security staff are often quick to assist if you need an extra hand!
7.) Move at your own pace
Always take your time. Unless you’re late for a flight or trying to make a connection, don’t let anyone rush you. People can wait, and there is no reason to add to any potential travel anxiety!
8.) Use priority custom lines
When you arrive in a new country, always check to see if there is a priority line for families. Sometimes it’s not clearly labelled, so make sure to ask. A few times we’ve started waiting in huge line ups that would’ve taken upwards of an hour to make it through customs, but luckily someone spotted us and ushered us into the proper line. We literally zipped through with zero wait!
On The Plane:
First off, don’t panic! We’ve spoken to a lot of new parents who have the same shared anxiety about a newborn’s first flight: will they scream the whole time? Will it hurt their ears? What will the rest of the passengers think? What about germs? We shared some of these same concerns, and Ollie blew us away. On his first flight, the soothing sounds of the airplane (that sounded vaguely like Ollie’s white noise sleep sounds!) put him to sleep immediately, and kept him calm whenever he was awake. The main thing to remember is, DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHAT ANYONE ELSE THINKS. You are doing your best, and you’ll never see these people again! With that said, we’ve been on 14 flights with Ollie so far, and we’ve gotten nothing but adoring smiles from everyone around us, so hopefully you’ll be just as lucky. If your child DOES cry during a flight, remember - it’s not your fault. If any passengers show any disdain, keep in mind that they don’t know what it’s like to be a super parent. Try to relax as your babe will pick up on any anxiety, and enjoy the ride!
9.) Board first (or last!) depending on your babe
If you have a young baby who isn’t very mobile, we highly recommend boarding first as it will give you time to get settled and your baby acclimated to his or her surroundings. You won’t feel rushed, and you can put your gear away before it gets crowded in the aisles. Alternately, if you baby is extra fussy in tight spaces or needs to move around, board last. Change your baby and let them get any energy out while everyone else boards.
10.) Feed/soother during take off and landing
You’ll be asked to hold your babe upright in a burping position during taking off and landing. For every flight, directly after take off, we have Ollie either feed or suck on a pacifier. We’re not sure if it works, but he hasn’t seemed to have had any discomfort from flying, and the sucking movement from eating should help relieve any pressure due to changing elevations. When travelling overseas, we were asked to attach an orange seatbelt to our seatbelt to fasten around Ollie’s waist, so keep that in mind when planning any international trips.
11.) Bring disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer
Be aware of germs, but try not be afraid of them. You won’t be able to avoid them completely, and it’s easier to let some of that fear go. We always use baby wipes to wipe down arm rests, trays, remotes, and surrounding areas of our seats, but if it’s flu season and you’re extra worried, you can always use disinfectant wipes. We often use these in family bathrooms, or to wipe down change tables on the go or on the plane.
12.) Backpack diaper bag
Trust us, you’re going to want to be as hands free as possible. Pack a backpack and make sure all your necessities for baby and yourself are under the seat in front of you if possible, rather than in overhead. You’ll want everything in one place so you’re not digging around.
13.) Feeding and changes
No real tricks here - we use a breastfeeding wrap when on the go, but honestly on a plane, we could care less. If you’re breastfeeding, do whatever is most comfortable for you! We’ve been lucky and always have had a change table on our flights, but we’ve heard that some parents have successfully changed their babes on their laps. If you are feeding your babe formula, it may be helpful to have pre-filled bottles with water so it’s easy to mix in formula.
14.) Bring extra milk/formula
Even if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, we would recommend bringing some extra formula on long flights. The thought of an emergency or something happening to your milk supply mid-flight is scary, so we bring some on every long flight just in case.
15.) Bring all baby essentials in carry on
Bring a few changes of clothes and extra diapers and wipes on the plane with you! Luckily we’ve never had a blowout during a flight, but we sure have experienced them while travelling. It’s always advisable to have extra onesies just in case, especially if (heaven forbid!) the airline loses your luggage. Some carry on plane essentials we pack for Ollie include:
- Baby Tylenol
- Extra diapers (just for the plane - you can buy more when you land)
- Extra wipes
- Diaper cream
- Small container of baby soap
- Disinfectant wipes
- Hand sanitizer
- Soother clip
- Wet bag for dirty clothes
- Disposable bag for dirty diapers
- Baby wrap or carrier
- Extra blankets (one to lay on, one for warmth)
- Extra layers/hat if it’s cold
- Variety of snacks (if baby is eating solids)
- Sippy cup
- Bottle(s) with water
- Extra formula in case of emergency
- Teethers if your baby is teething
- Small toys
16.) Sleeping on the plane
As mentioned before, check if the plane has a bassinet or any baby sleeping solutions. Otherwise, we try to request a row where we have an empty seat between us if possible. We’ll sleep Ollie on this empty seat if he fits, across our laps, or we’ll take turns holding him.
17.) Baby wearing
Lots of parents like to baby wear for some or all of the flight. This works great if you need your hands free to use the restroom, or if you baby sleeps best snuggled against you.
18.) Flying with older babies (over 6 months old)
There’s a reason it’s recommended to start travelling with your little one before the age of 6 months. The lack of mobility in babies of this age makes air travel a dream! However, if your child is on the move, make sure you bring lots and lots of snacks (we like Love Child Organics Love Duck puffs, Trader Joe’s Bambas, fresh fruit like bananas or apple slices, and other snacks that aren’t too messy), and fun toys (preferably toys that your child hasn’t seen before, or hasn’t seen in a while). Now that Ollie is bigger it’s even more important for us to have an aisle seat as we need to get up and walk the aisles often, although not everyone has a baby who’s as energetic and wiggly as Ollie is! Try to pick a flight time that includes your child's nap time so you can get a bit of a break. Finally, we’ve heard this from many experienced parents countless times and we’ll share it again here: there are NO RULES when it comes to flying. This means, pull out the iPad, tablet, iPhone, or what-have-you…do whatever it takes to keep your child satisfied and calm for those longer trips. We want you to keep your sanity - this will make for a happier experience for all! Our secret? We download shows from Netflix onto our devices for travelling emergencies. Ollie has his favourites, and it’s such a treat for him to get some screen time. (And a treat for us to get a break from a squirming baby). Bottom line is, no one is going to judge you for how you parent when flying, so go ahead and do whatever feels right.
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ALL PHOTOS IN THIS BLOG POST WERE TAKEN AND EDITED BY BRIE & REUBEN OF VANCITYWILD. ALL OPINIONS ARE OUR OWN.