Flying with an Infant

Since we are often flying the friendly skies (between 6-8 trips per year which comes out to about 12-18 plane rides yearly), I thought I would share my thoughts on flying with J at each age. J’s first plane trip was at 6 weeks and he now has his own frequent flyer card.   I will certainly acknowledge that the frequency of our travelling really helps when it comes to his behavior both in the airport and on the plane.  He knows what to expect, he knows what we expect, and he knows what will happen if he breaks the rules.  Of course he wasn’t born this way.  It’s been a learning process for us all (and we’re still learning!).  So here’s a little that I have learned over the past couple years.

First off is babyhood.  This age group is by far the easiest to fly with (at least in my experience so far).  You don’t need anything to entertain them.  They entertain themselves (just see how J is fully engrossed in his fists!).  They will most likely sleep for the majority of the trip which is just beautiful.  Enjoy it!  They grow out of this stage and you will soon be working the whole flight! 

What to Bring (this is not an all-inclusive list; I’m trying to remember back a few years ago!):

  • Extra clothes for baby and for parent – It’s amazing how a child with no prior blow-outs can suddenly surprise you in mid-air.  I always dressed J in the footed pjs so I wasn’t worried about him losing socks.  It was just easy for us.  If you choose to dress your little one in shoes, security does require you to remove their shoes too.  Save a step and leave the shoes in the luggage. 
  • Antibacterial wipes – I wipe down EVERYTHING when we first sit down; who knows who sat there before you and the cleaning crew does NOT clean windows, trays and arm rests thoroughly
  • Diapers and wipes – of course, right?  Pack even more than you would normally need for the duration of travel.  Layovers happen. Blowouts happen.
  • Carrier -this is the easiest way to travel through airports. Most security lines do NOT require you to remove your baby from a wrap/carrier.  **Of course, if they ask you to remove them, don’t ask questions.  It will do no good.  Just comply and move on through.**  Definitely keep them attached to you unless directed otherwise.  This provides one less step while going through security.  I have traveled alone with my infant J in a stroller.  You are left trying to close the stroller, hold your baby (who of course just fell asleep so now you’re waking him up with all the joggling), get that stroller up on the security belt while of course dealing with your other belongings too.  Even if you need a stroller for your trip, I would still recommend wearing baby through the airport.  It’s just easier.
  • Changing mat or burp cloth – I had a small bag that fit inside my larger diaper bag with a changing mat that carried a few diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes.  I liked having this so I didn’t have to carry the big diaper bag down the aisles to that tiny restroom. **Oh and some planes do not have a changing table in the restroom(albiet the smaller ones; honestly we’ve only been on one in all our travels) .  One more reason it’s nice to have that changing mat/cloth just in case. A burp cloth works well since you could potentially use it for other things if needed.
  • Feeding supplies – I nursed J even on the plane, at first using a nursing cover but later I found a zip-up sweater worked even better.  It was one less thing I needed to bring on the plane and honestly I always felt conspicuous with that huge nursing cover whereas I could easily tuck J’s head behind one side of the sweater to nurse and no one even knew.  Nursing works great on a plane.  If you bottle feed, I personally suggest the Drop-Ins for travel.  You only have to bring one actual bottle and then just toss the insert when finished and refill a new insert when needed.  Less bulk to pack, no worries about cleaning out the bottle before the next feeding.  I have used these before during travel and they worked well.  For long flights I dried some dishsoap on a sponge, cut them up into small squares and then used one to clean out the nipple (or later sippy cup) for later use. 
  • Bib– J rarely needed bibs on a normal basis, but I always had one on him during flights.  It saved us from having to change clothes if he were to suddenly spit up or drool excessively. 
  • Small Pillow – this may seem excessive, but it was worth it for me.  I happened to own a small sponge contour pillow that worked perfectly.  It wasn’t bulky, it curved up around the edges to keep J centered.  I could simply lay the pillow on my lap and then J on the pillow which kept us both cooler and more comfortable.  It also worked well as a temporary nursing pillow. 

General Tips:

Stay relaxed and remember this too shall pass. Yes, you will of course hit turbulence RIGHT when you’re in the bathroom, beginning to peel that blow out diaper off your infant.  Yes the pilot will come over the announcement to warn everyone to get back in their seats at that moment.  Just stay relaxed, try and see the humor in the situation.   Yes, your baby might decide to scream through security, even if they’ve never shed a tear prior.  Just keep calm. This too shall pass.  Yes, your infant will fill their diaper to overflowing RIGHT when the plane leaves the gate and you aren’t allowed up to change them while waiting in that 30 minute line for takeoff.  Just stay calm.  This too shall pass. Getting annoyed or stressed does nothing to help you or your little one.  I fully believe our little ones excel in reading body language.  They will read into your stress and become more easily agitated themselves.  That will do no one any good.

Keep a sense of humor about the trip.  I know I mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating.

 Show your little one off to the other passengers when you are waiting to leave the gate (don’t force your baby on them, but let them admire them all they want).  Be friendly with them.  Tell them how old your little one is, even be honest about your nerves but also mention you will do your best to keep your guy calm and content throughout the flight. This serves multiple purposes.  It helps you remain calm.  It helps them remember you are a fellow human, not just some mother who dared bring their child on a plane just to annoy them!  It helps them hold their patience a little longer if that adorable baby decides to cry for awhile…. or stinks up the plane momentarily.

Don’t worry about routines.  On a normal basis, I am a proponent of schedules and routines for J.  On planes, I am just fine with getting off the routine.  If J wanted to sleep longer while flying, fine.  If he wanted to eat more often, no problem.  My goal was keep him content, which has great side benefits:  mom/dad is kept content and of course the other passengers on the plane remain content too. 

Feed baby just before entering airport.  This honestly always worked best for us when J was an infant and young baby.  J would often get a catnap on the way to the airport and I would feed him in the car upon arrival.  This meant he was well-rested and well-fed BEFORE either of us had to deal with the craziness inside.  You don’t want a hungry baby in the security line or while heading onto the plane.  They will also likely be at least hungry enough to feed a little (though not necessary, see next tip for more) upon departure if you want them to suck on something during take-off.

Don’t worry about ear pressure.  That’s seems to be a very common question I get about flying with little ones.  J has never had an issue with his ears while flying.  In talking with other moms, they’ve told me the same thing.  To be safe, I would be sure there is no ear infection prior to your trip and then don’t worry about it.  **I should note that there was one instance where J’s pediatrician found an ear infection in one ear eventhough J had NO symptoms at all.  I had just taken him to the doctor pre-travel as a precaution.  I’m so glad we did.  I wouldn’t want to get on the plane only to realize then that his ears were a problem. **

It’s true that drinking or sucking on something helps to relieve pressure in the ear, so be prepared just in case. But if your little one is sleeping, my suggestion is let them sleep.  Don’t worry about their ears. I see parents on planes waking their sleeping baby up for takeoff/landing to feed them fearful that their little one will be in pain.  Usually they end up with a fussy baby that didn’t want to wake up and doesn’t want to eat.  With the pressurization on planes today, cabin pressure is not a big problem at all.  If you notice anything it would most likely be during the initial descent (about 30 minutes prior to landing), but even then a problem is unlikely.  They are way better with this today than 20 or 30 years ago when we were flying as kids.  Again, J has never had a problem.

Most importantly, flying gets you to where you need to be… and does so quickly (comparitively speaking).  You will make it and your little one will make it.  I would not let fear of travelling with an infant keep me from flying.   Go and have fun!

And you might just make it with ease. Actually while flying with an infant, this is entirely likely!

I’ll be posting my thoughts, experiences and helpful activities for flying with older babies, pretoddlers and toddlers soon.

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7 responses to “Flying with an Infant

  1. I agree completely! One thing I would like to emphasize would be that when traveling with an infant AND older kids, I find the carrier to be absolutely necessary. Since many times I have had to walk on the tarmac and up a steep flight of stairs, with a toddler that needs a hand to be held, the carrier is very helpful. My carrier of choice is a sling for multiple reasons. 1. I have ALWAYS had to take the baby out of the carrier for security and I have a hard time getting them in and out of the Bjorn thing by myself (and even if my husband is miraculously with me, he always seems to have his hands full during security.) 2. When they get sleepy or fall asleep, you can just slide the sling around them and tighten it up and then have your hands free to deal with the other kids or get up for a trip to the bathroom (which on an 11 hr flight is necessary for everyone!)

    I’ve never tried this pillow thing before, but I doubt it would work traveling alone with more than one baby, but I could be wrong. I can’t really picture what you are talking about.

    And I have always needed more than one outfit on the overseas flights, and plastic bags to keep the pooped on clothes in.

    I also have never had any ear problems with the kids. Mine, as infants, always fell asleep on take off though.

    You sound like a pro, Becca! Go get ’em with that infant and toddler! You can do it! I remember always thinking when pregnant with the next one that I guess that was it for traveling without my husband on a plane, but it always ended up being fine.

    • Thanks Kelle for all the helpful hints! I can definitely see a carrier being a must with multiple kids. I think you just convinced me to get a sling too 🙂
      That’s so interesting that you’ve always had to remove them for security though. Is that just overseas travel or U.S. too? Our experience with that is so different.
      Good point. I’m sure the pillow wouldn’t work with multiple kids. It’s nice to have, but when you have carry-on supplies for more than one I’m sure it would not make the cut 🙂
      I don’t think there will be an end to our travelling even when this next one gets here. Grandparents would have something to say about that… and I get too stir-crazy!

  2. Great ideas. One thing I’ve found a must-have is a pump. My babies ZONK out on the flight and there have been times when I really, really needed them to eat, and they really, really would not wake up.

    • While J was really good at sleeping in flight when he was younger, he also was very keen on his meals so he had no problem waking up to eat. But yeah, that could get uncomfortable fast if you had an extra heavy sleeper! The longer the flight the more useful the pump too.
      One thing I did early on was have a bottle of pumped milk as a back-up. I have heard of women having trouble nursing on flights, so I wanted to be prepared just in case that was me. I never had issues though and stopped bringing the extra milk.

  3. I know I’m late in responding but I just saw this post on pinterest. Quick question….I am going to be flying with a 8 1/2 month old to Denver from Tampa. Do you recommend a direct, non-stop flight, or does the stop in between help to get off the plane and move around? The non-stop flights are about 4 hours. And obviously the flights that stop have a longer travel time. I found a Southwest flight that stops, but you don’t change planes. But I’m sure you can get off the plane and walk around the airport a little bit. I’m needing to book my flight and wasn’t sure which route I should take.
    Thanks!
    PS…any particular airline work better for you? I like the idea of Southwest since they don’t charge for baggage.

    • With a flight that short I would definitely take a direct flight. Better to just get it over with. Four hours seems long to you now, but it will go by quickly.

      And many times you cannot get off a plane when it stops. I wouldn’t take that chance.

      We typically fly Continental (now United), but have done many others. SW is actually a great one to fly, just check in online as early as you can to get in one of the early groups for boarding. If the flight isn’t booked, most passengers will choose other seats so that they won’t have to sit in the same row as a baby/toddler. You have a better chance at having an empty seat next to you 🙂 Of course most flights are booked these days, so it’s not always a possibility.

  4. Hi thanks for your fabulous craft ideas and advice. Please post tips and comments on flying with 18month old soon!! We are heading on 18-hour plane ride in a few weeks time, and I’m desperate for how to handle very active toddler on such a long flight!

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