If you’re anything like me, you swore both silently and aloud to your partner and to yourself that the arrival of your precious little bundle of joy would not signal the end of your travels. You swore that the plane would not be grounded. These jets would not be cooled, we said.
And then the baby was born.
How could I even think of heading out onto an airplane with this little being when I could barely manage a shower once a week? I wish someone had told me what I learned the hard way but with this handy guide, all your flying-related questions in the first year of baby’s life are answered.
When can I start flying?
Barring any health issues, your baby is ready to travel with you from day 1 of her little life. And frankly, between Day 1 and Month 5-6 you are looking at the best time to travel with bébé. She’s easily transportable, and she’s not going to do much other than eat and sleep; perhaps most importantly, she doesn’t really have a sleep schedule yet so you don’t have to worry too much about disrupting that holiest of sleep patterns, the Nap (a major concern of mine these days).
Buying your tickets
Most airlines consider kiddos under the age of 2 to be an infant and allow you to carry them on your lap for the flight. You can also purchase a seat for them, but they must be strapped into a car seat. In my experience, it’s easier to save the money on the extra seat and ask about open seats when you are checking in at the airport. Very often they can shuffle things around on the day of and you can gate check the stroller and carry on the car seat.
If you decide to go this route and skip paying for an extra seat, be sure to review the airline’s policies, as many require that you notify them that you are traveling with an infant at the time you are purchasing your tickets. (It’s a good idea to do this anyway and some airlines have special infant rates so you can check on that as well).
Picking the flight
When picking a flight, make sure to pick something that will interrupt bébé’s naps as little as possible. What we’ve found is helpful is to pick a time when she’ll fall asleep on the way to the airport, that way she stays asleep for the drive, parking the car, checking in and by the time we are ready to go through security she’s up and ready to go.
It should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway: if possible, pick a nonstop direct flight to your destination. Boarding and deplaning, takeoff and landing…just keep it simple and do it once each way.
Picking your seats
You’ll also want to pick seats as far forward in the plane as possible.
First class, anyone?
Ok, if you’re like us and that’s basically only going to happen on the most special of occasions (read: basically never), make sure to pick seats as far forward as you can. Don’t choose emergency exit or bulkhead seats as they will likely move you with the infant.
If you decide not to purchase a seat on the plane, we’ve found that it’s helpful to bring a sling or baby carrier OR we recently just learned about an FAA-approved Child Harness Device CARES for children weighing 22-44 pounds but we have never used it so we cannot comment on whether or not we recommend it.
Bringing your car seat
There really is no downside to having the car seat on the plane with you. If you’re like me and you grossly misjudged how heavy your baby would be by the time you started flying around the country, you’ll be thankful for a place to deposit him while he naps. Otherwise you’ll be rocking and feeding and moving and swaying and once he’s down for the nap, you’ll be frozen in that position for up to 2 hours, afraid to even breathe in case he wakes and begins terrorizing the passengers around you. Hello stiff shoulders and neck – I got right on that whole beachfront massages thing when we arrived in Hawaii.
At the airport
Don’t forget: Bring a copy of bebe’s birth certificate with you to the airport. On our first trip they asked us for it but luckily we were flying to Hawaii where anything goes and everyone is relaxed so they let it go. But I’ve always got a copy of the birth certificate with me now when I fly.
And the best part about flying with bébé? Family pre-boarding! Get there early and take advantage of that. Do everything early so that bebe’s last minute dirty diaper, meltdown or need to eat RIGHT THIS MINUTE will still leave you enough time to get on that plane.
The flight itself
My #1 most important piece of advice about flying with bébé: make sure that baby is eating or sleeping on takeoff and landing. Feed them however you can, unless they are sleeping, and you will have a happy baby and happy co-travelers all around you. Well, at least for the takeoff and landing part.
PRO TIP: I once made little baggies with earplugs and chocolates and handed them out to the people in our immediate vicinity on the plane. This helped deflect some of the hatred that we’ve come to expect when we walk on a plane with a baby in tow. Another good idea is to offer to buy a round of drinks for everyone, especially if bébé starts getting fussy.