Having a baby is crazy stressful but traveling with one can make you pull your hair out, literally. There’s nothing like trying to get yourself and your baby through an airport. It’s stressful but not the end of the world. Don’t stress, just plan ahead. If your baby is that age where they’re still sleeping all the time, it’s actually really easy.
If you have any flexibility in booking your travel, try and fly at non-peak times. Friday afternoons at 5 are PEAK times, people are rushed, maybe a bit less friendly and kids will be viewed as a nuisance. Saturday evenings though, VERY quiet at the airport. Also, try and keep in mind your child’s/children’s nap schedules (if they have such a thing) when planning your travel. We’ve tried to schedule all our flights during her non-napping times, although that hasn’t always worked out as planned. There’s nothing like bringing an over-tired, cranky kid on a plane with you.
Before leaving your home, I would check the TSA website if you have any questions at all. Under no circumstances will TSA separate you from your child. Remember, the TSA employee is just doing their job so if you are prepared and informed, getting through security should really be pretty easy.
Baby girl and I flew on our own for the first time at 5 weeks. I was a mess. I was worried about security, I was worried I was going to be next to some stuffy business man who hated kids, I was worried about the take off and landing. I was just plain worried. I was still nursing so I didn’t have to worry about carrying on liquids but you can bring as much formula/breast milk as you want on the plane. You’ll just need to take it out when you go through security and place it on the belt separately. They aren’t going to make you try it or drink it or throw it out or anything.
First, when you get to security and if your airport has one, get into the family line. The idea behind the family line is that while it may be slower, it’s supposed to be. You can take your time and not feel rushed. I have put my girl into the baby carrier (Ergo or BABYBJÖRN) and carried her through that way. I don’t have to worry about juggling her while trying to throw my bags and shoes onto the belt or the stroller and car seat and all that. The first 3 or 4 times we flew (when she was under 1), I would bring the car seat and stroller to the gate with me as I was kind of nervous about checking them for fear they either wouldn’t arrive or get damaged on the way. It actually hasn’t been that difficult as I can then throw my diaper bag and other crap into the stroller and just push it to the gate. (I also found that if I was on a flight that wasn’t full, and the airline employee was feeling super friendly, they’d give me an extra seat for free and I could use the car seat in the seat next to me.) Now that she’s a little bigger, I still put her in the Ergo carrier for security and getting on the plane and then use the stroller when we’re going to the gate or baggage claim. You can just gate check the stroller as you board your plane.
If your baby is bigger and is in a convertible seat, you’re going to have to check that unless you buy your little one a seat of their own. (If you travel a lot, a Travelmate Booster Car Seats Combo may be a good investment.) Car seats are free if you check them, but you really want to put them in a huge duffel bag or trash bag. I checked my car seat and when I got it back, it was covered in grease. Lovely. Another option for toddlers, is the CARES Child Aviation Restraint System which would allow you to buckle your child in but not lug around the car seat.
Boarding the Plane:
If you have a lot of stuff or need some extra time, get on the plane early. You can board after the First Class folks on most airlines. If you don’t have a lot of things and your kids are mobile, you may want to wait as long as you can to get onto the plane. Let those kids RUN and use up their energy before you board. I’ve found that people on the plane are generally very nice and helpful. Someone will help you to get your bags into the overhead or get everything together.
A couple of other things that I found to be helpful:
- Inflatable Travel Pillow – When my girl was an infant, I could use this to prop up her head when nursing or rest her on if she fell asleep. You can just inflate it and deflate it as you need it.
- Nursing Covers By the time I’d taken my third flight with my baby, I’d already showed my boobs to most of the world and didn’t really care about covering up. A nursing cover is not only a little easier to keep in place, (assuming you’re nursing) but it can also be used as a regular blanket.
- Antibacterial Wipes – When I get on the plane, I wipe everything around me down. The armrests, the window shade, the window, the seat back tray, the back of my own seat – everything. I’m always amazed at all of the things little babies will touch only to then put their hands in their mouth. Gross.
- Stock up that diaper bag. If you think you need 4 diapers, bring 8. If you think a snack size bag of Cheerios is enough, bring 3. You don’t want to be that person who’s plane is stuck on the tarmac for 3 hours and you run out of diapers or things to feed your child.
I haven’t had any problems with the air pressure and little ears, so far. When I was still nursing, I’d be sure to be ready to nurse if I sensed a problem brewing. I’ve done the same with sippy cups/bottles. The swallowing helps to pop their ears if they’re having problems.
I really feel that the key to successful travel is to relax. Give yourself plenty of time to navigate the airport and security so you aren’t trying to run through the airport with kids. Keep your carry on to just the things that you really need, don’t bring a book if there’s no way you’ll be able to read with a baby in your lap. If your kids love to color, maybe crayons will serve you better than pencils that need to be sharpened or markers that they may want to write on the walls with. If you’ve been stashing toys for your kids, looking to give them Aunt Sue’s birthday gift from 4 months ago, this could be a good time to bring it along. The new and exciting toys will keep them entertained longer than some toy they will lose interest in after 5 minutes.
Most importantly, have a good time and don’t forget to enjoy your trip!