Five Tips for Staying Sane While Flying with a Baby

Just like that, it’s December! 2016 really flew by, especially after the birth of Baby Girl. It’s hard to believe that she is now five months old. Tomorrow we go on our first, long, family vacation. We’ll be spending four days in Mexico City and then heading to Puerto Vallarta for a week and a half. That means three more flights for our little flyer (bringing the count to 12—but who’s counting?).

We’re kind of getting to be pros at flying with a baby. Baby Girl has flown every month of her life except the month she was born (that month we just made a seven-hour road trip to Paris). She’s not only crossed the Atlantic, she’s flown back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. twice already. She even has her own SkyMiles account and Global Entry to the U.S.

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Baby Girl is a great flyer, but it can still be stressful to walk onto a full plane with an infant in your arms. That’s why I thought I’d compile a few tips for any of you facing a mile-high journey with your little one.

Consider your ticket options. When your baby is really little, most airlines will let you fly with him or her as an infant in arms. You will still pay a small percentage of the full ticket, but it’s much cheaper than a full fare. If you have a short flight and/or plan to nurse or bottle feed your baby during takeoff or landing, this option makes sense. Some carriers (particularly the international ones like Air France) even offer a special attachment that connects to your seatbelt so that your child is also buckled in. Just remember, you won’t have a baggage allowance for an infant-in-arms, so pack accordingly.

Give yourself extra time. The last thing you want when you arrive at the airport with a baby is to feel rushed. Just when you are racing for the plane, your sweet little cherub will have a diaper blowout or decide she needs to eat NOW (trust me, getting on the plane with a screaming baby isn’t the best way to make friends with your fellow passengers). So plan at least an extra 45 minutes on top of the hour or more ahead you would normally get to the airport. At the very least, you’ll be able to enjoy a glass of wine latte from Starbucks while you gloat over your stellar planning.

Pick your seats carefully. Flying with a baby means you can’t book exit row seats, so if you want some extra room, you’ll need to pay (or try to get upgraded) for economy comfort or penny up for business or first class seats. On flights that are relatively empty, a kind flight attendant may move you to business class or at least economy comfort (this has happened for us a couple of times), but it’s not something you can count on. We were fortunate enough to be able to fly business class on our move to Monterrey. We had bulkhead seats with the bassinet attachment, giving us some room to move around and the ability to change Baby Girl in the bassinet which was so much easier than doing it in the tiny bathroom.

If you can’t fly business for a long flight, you might want to consider paying for a separate seat for the baby—but still request the bulkhead seats. That way you have the option of putting your baby in her car seat or using the bassinet to give your arms a break. For shorter flights, we typically fly in economy class.

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After trying both infant-in-arms or buying an extra seat, we prefer to buy the extra seat. Not only can you keep your car seat with you the entire time (making it less likely to get damaged by the baggage handlers or in transit), it’s safer and more comfortable for you and the baby. You can buckle her in on takeoff and landing, during rough air or anytime you need a glass of wine break. I now typically feed Baby Girl right before takeoff, tuck her into her car seat, give her a pacifier and she’s sleeping by the time we reach cruising altitude.

Pack a spare set of clothes for the baby…and for you. When we moved from France to Monterrey, we ended up missing our connection in Atlanta. It was the last flight of the day to Monterrey, so we had to spend the night. Fortunately, we had a backup set of clothes for Baby Girl in case she had a diaper blowout or messy burp. Unfortunately, Matt and I didn’t think to pack an extra set of clothes for us. We ended up buying t-shirts in one of the Airport gift shops and, miraculously, Matt found clean underwear for sale in the hotel convenience store. Now, even for short flights, we know to keep at least a clean shirt for each of us.

Wrap up those baby items. Part of the reason we missed our connection in Atlanta to Monterrey was because the airline we were flying lost the booster cushion in our baby car seat. We noticed when we picked up our bags in Atlanta to run them back through security. Hoping the cushion might still be on the plane, we immediately filed a claim with the baggage clerks. That cost us extra time, though, so between that and the long lines in customs, we didn’t make our next flight. The lesson here is to make sure you securely wrap or bag ALL items you check—even those you drop off at the gate. Maybe that should be obvious, but in the flustered frenzy of catching our first flight with our then eight-week-old baby, the car seat was the last thing on our mind. We’ve since bought a special, travel bag for our Peg-Perego car seat. Even if you don’t have a special bag, though, you can ask at the check-in counter for a big plastic bag to put your car seat and any other individual baby items you have.

There are many other little things you can do to help make your flight easier, such as chug a large glass of wine nurse or feed your baby on takeoff and landing, pack a large scarf to double as a cover up, and remembering that alcoholic beverages are normally free on international flights.

Have your own tips? Share them in the comments below.

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