Flying with a baby…

As I mentioned in my last post, we took Theo to Hawaii last month. It was our first time flying with him and we pretty much just dove right into the deep end with a 5 1/2 hour flight. I did quite a bit of research ahead of time on tips for traveling with a baby, but the truth is, you really never know how your baby will act until you just do it. With that said, in case any friends or family need advice, or any strangers stumble upon this blog while searching for tips, here are my two cents based on my limited experience flying with a nine month-old:

Booking the tickets:

Since children under two can ride on your lap without their own ticket, we went this route to save money; however, we purposefully booked an aisle and a window seat for D and me, hoping the middle would stay vacant. Different airlines have different policies, but many will allow you to bring your car seat on and use it in the empty seat if it’s is still vacant at boarding time (here’s Alaska Airlines‘ policy). I figured, best case scenario we get to bring the car seat on for free; worst case scenario, we offer the person in the middle the window seat. It’s not like they’d refuse. Our plan worked on the way there. On the way home our flight was full and we had to gate check the car seat.

Having done it both ways now, I’ll say this: if you can swing it financially to spring for that extra seat, it may be worth it, particularly on a long flight. On the way there when we had the car seat, we were actually able to get him to fall asleep for a little while (he sleeps great in the car, so I imagine it felt similar). On the way home, he squirmed the ENTIRE flight, and I had to stand most of the time. But if you’re on a budget or can’t justify the price of an extra seat, you may just get lucky and have an empty middle seat – especially for a touristy destination like Hawaii where people are less likely to be flying solo. Either way, you definitely want that aisle seat, so you can get up easily. Because chances are you’ll be up a LOT.

In-flight entertainment:

I had read one article that suggested buying a couple new toys to introduce while in flight, hoping the novelty would hold the baby’s attention more than toys they already know. This might work better with an older child. Or maybe my kid is just super ADD. But he was interested in the new toys for all of five minutes before he was squirming again. A napkin, a plastic cup and the in-flight magazine held his attention just as well, so my advice would be to save your money and not go gangbusters buying a bunch of new toys like I did, especially since you aren’t going to want to buy noisy electronic toys, so your selections will be rather limited.

Food actually held his attention much better than toys did. What can I say? My kid loves to eat. I brought some squeezy pouches and a spoon, and fed him small bites of food at a time, and that bought us about an hour. Puffs are always a hit, and as a bonus, you can let them hold and shake the container, which doubles as a rattle.

The best form of in-flight entertainment, I discovered? Other people. For a social baby like mine, having old ladies coo at him was pretty much the greatest thing in the world. Oh, and other babies can be great distraction too. Go on a walk and visit with the other babies on the plane. Chances are, their parents are also trying earnestly to keep them happy and will be grateful for your company for the sake of their own kids’ entertainment.

Mile-high diapers:

Nothing makes you realize just how tiny those airplane bathrooms are like trying to wrestle a squirmy, poopy baby on a changing table the size of a place mat. During turbulence, I might add. (Imagine my horror when the fasten seatbelt sign came on while I was doing damage control on a blowout.) The last thing you want to do is add a giant diaper bag to the mix, especially since there’s nowhere to set it except on the nasty floor. I’d suggest getting something like this; something you can stow in your big diaper bag under your seat, and quickly grab before heading to the lavatory. It folds out into a changing pad, which you’ll want anyway (in case the person before you lost the battle with poopy turbulence!).

Despite the fact that I normally prefer cloth diapers, we went with disposables for the flight (and the entire vacation, actually), which I would highly recommend. They pack more compactly and you don’t have to worry about wet bags or carrying smelly diapers back to your seat. There’s enough going on already when you’re flying with a baby, and there’s something to be said for the convenience of just being able to toss them in the trash and forget about them. I’d say that’s a pretty good overarching theme for flying with a baby: do whatever is most convenient and makes your life easiest. You can save the planet or worry about instilling good habits another day.

One more tip: on many airplanes, only one of the bathrooms has a changing table. It took me forever to figure this out the first time I went into one of the non-changing table lavatories.

What (and how) to pack:

The rules will be different if you’re traveling solo with a baby (and in that case, you have my condolences), but here’s what we did, and it worked well for us:

The diaper bag was my one and only carry-on. I had my wallet, phone, chapstick, gum, and the rest was stuff for Theo. Don’t even bother with magazines or books for you – chances are you won’t have much time for yourself and if you do, count yourself lucky and get some sleep! If you’re feeling really optimistic, maybe consider installing the Kindle app on your phone and downloading a book ahead of time. But you’re better off saving your bag space for baby stuff. Back to the diaper bag: in addition to minimal items for myself, I had my nursing cover, the diaper changer thing I linked to earlier (stocked with diapers, wipes and hand sanitizer), an extra change of clothes for Theo, several small toys and books, and some baby food in a small bottle cooler bag with an ice pack. I put the toys and food in the outside pockets where I could quickly grab them if he started to fuss. I also packed my manual breastpump in case he decided not to nurse and I needed some relief. I ended up not needing it, but if you have a finicky or distracted nurser and a long flight, it may be worth it.

I had D carry our rollaway carry-on bag, which had extra changes of clothes for both of us, extra diapers and anything we couldn’t live without for a couple days in the event our checked luggage got lost. We checked one very large bag with everything else for the three of us. Normally I hate paying to check a bag, but when you’re traveling with a baby you need a lot of crap that’s hard to fit into a carry-on. Plus it was nice to not have to worry about dealing with yet another bag through the airport and onto the plane. So walking through the airport, D carried our rollaway and empty carseat, and I carried the diaper bag with Theo strapped to me in a carrier (I have the Beco Gemini and it’s awesome – it was also a lifesaver for the flight home when I had to stand/walk the aisle the entire time). For a really tiny baby I would have considered bringing our snap and go stroller for the carseat and wheeling him through the airport since you can gate check strollers for free. But since we knew we wouldn’t use the stroller at our destination, we opted not to bring it.

What to wear:

I would recommend wearing pants or a skirt you can get on and off with one hand instead of jeans or anything you need to button, so you can hold the baby with one hand and get your pants up and down with the other (on a related note: if you go to the bathroom to change the baby, don’t forget to go yourself while you’re there – the last thing you want is to have to go later when the baby finally falls asleep on you). If you’re nursing, you’ll obviously want to wear a top with easy access. I would recommend stretchy low necklines as opposed to anything with buttons or clasps. Less to fumble with in already tight quarters.

Footed jammies are convenient for baby. He’ll be comfortable (and hopefully sleep?) and you don’t have to worry about losing shoes or socks. Plus, then you don’t need to take pants completely off to change him and risk dropping them in the nasty lavatory or something. Bring a couple extra changes of clothes – for you and baby. We had a blowout about 20 minutes into our flight, thanks to some antibiotics Theo was on for an ear infection that caused massive explosive poops several times per day. Speaking of ear infections…

Ears

I was really worried about his ears in flight. I had heard babies can sometimes have trouble equalizing the pressure in their ears on takeoff and landing, but surprisingly we didn’t have much of an issue, even though we were dealing with the tail end of an ear infection. He got pretty fussy on takeoff on the way there, but I had him in his car seat and was trying to feed him a cold bottle of pumped milk, which he wasn’t having. About halfway through our ascent with him screaming, I took him out of his car seat and nursed him instead and he instantly calmed down. We nursed most of the way through descent until he lost interest and got distracted by the turbulence (which he thought was fun – laughed and squealed with every bump and drop, even though my stomach was in my throat). Thankfully he didn’t seem bothered by his ears at all.

Security

Security was a lot easier than I expected it would be. On the way there we got waved through a special line and didn’t even have to take off our shoes or remove liquids from our bags. On the way home, we had to go through the whole song and dance, but they still let me wear Theo through the scanner, and even though we had to declare the breastmilk and baby food (they made us take it out, briefly looked at it and then waved us on through), you don’t have to adhere to the 3-1-1 rule when it comes to breastmilk, formula or baby food (or ice packs to keep the aforementioned cold).

Other passengers:

This was perhaps what I was most nervous about – getting dirty looks (or worse) from other passengers. I read somewhere that you should hand out candy or Starbucks gift cards to the people around you, but that just seemed overly apologetic to me. Yes, he’s a baby and he’s rude and noisy sometimes, but he has just as much right to take a vacation with his family as anyone else does. If he were particularly fussy I could see offering to buy your seatmate a drink, but it felt like overkill to me to preemptively apologize for your baby just for being on the flight.

Actually, most people were really nice. A few people even commented about what a good baby Theo was being, or gave me a knowing look and told me I was doing a good job; that they’ve been there before. We only had one rude encounter when the woman across the aisle from me made a loud passive aggressive comment to the person next to her about me standing in the aisle for the whole flight (believe me, lady, I’d much rather be sitting).

I’ve always tried not to show my annoyance toward fussy babies when I know the parents are doing the best they can, but I also can’t say I’ve ever paid any parents a compliment for having a good baby either. But I’ll admit, it really meant a lot to be reassured that I was doing a good job, or even just to hear people tell me how cute Theo was. I’ll remember that next time I fly and will go out of my way to tell a flustered looking parent that they’re doing great.

This turned into a long post and I haven’t even gotten to the actual vacation part yet! I’ll stop here and will save that for a separate post. With that, here are a few pictures of my little flyer.

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