My husband’s family all live in California, so we fly out to see them whenever time and money allow. Now that there is a baby in the mix, we have traveled there with him a total of four times. Each trip presented different challenges based on where J was developmentally, so I wanted to share some thoughts and tips about flying with a baby on an airplane (or, rather, multiple airplanes)!
Put in the work.
Flying with a baby is a lot of work. From thinking of and packing up every single thing the child will need to battling sleep deprivation, time changes, and general travel discomfort – honestly, the easiest part of the trip is the flight! But, as with all things child-rearing, the most challenging tasks have the biggest payoff. We have made such great memories thanks to our efforts!
Pack a carry on suitcase.
Start packing well in advance. Keep a running list on your phone or planner of all the random stuff you need to bring but will definitely forget in the midst of the packing frenzy. Pack most, if not all, of the baby’s stuff in your carry on. When at the gate, DO NOT let them check it to your final destination. We once missed our connecting flight and had to spend the night in a hotel. Thankfully, I had kept our carry on with us and our hotel stay was quite nice! Also, I would have definitely ran out of diapers, and that would have caused big trouble :(.
In this precious carry on suitcase I pack all travel essentials such as: diapers, wipes, and more diapers. You must pack more than you think you’ll need because you just never know what might happen. I also pack Tylenol (adult’s and infant’s/children’s), the baby’s clothes, and emergency clothes for myself and husband in the event we get held up somewhere or the checked bag gets lost.
Pack a carry on backpack.
I suggest a big backpack over a purse or diaper bag because you can fit more stuff securely. While breastfeeding I kept the cover-up and other baby essentials in the backpack. Essentials include: one change of baby clothes, three diapers, a small pouch of wipes, lots of water, toys, and food.
Note on a change of baby clothes: this is super important! While at home we rarely have to change J’s clothes due to bathroom accidents. While traveling, we change his clothes at least once during the round-trip journey.
For toys, I pack a variety of small toys and pull one out at a time, getting another as soon as J becomes bored. If you have extra time, a fun thing to do would be to wrap the toys like presents so that unwrapping can also be an activity. Disclaimer: I’ve never actually done this, but it was a tip I once read in a comment thread. Sounds fun (and time-consuming)!
You are allowed to take food from home on the plane so don’t shy away from packing good food! Easy foods include the fruit/vegetable pouches, bananas, grapes, and puff snacks for babies/crackers for toddlers. I also packed PB&Js for our last trip.
Breastfeed as much as the baby needs.
Wear your best nursing bra and keep your cover-up handy, because breastfeeding on flights is your friend! Sure, it can be weird risking strangers seeing your boob, but it really doesn’t matter. Take the window seat (vital to success in this department!), try your best with the cover-up, and let the baby eat. The most important thing is that the baby is happy and, in my experience, no one seemed to notice what I was doing.
Put the baby to breast during take off and landing to keep their jaws moving throughout altitude changes. The upside is that they will likely fall asleep during take off (hopefully :)!
The most recent trip we took was the first in which we did not nurse. Admittedly, it made my journey much more comfortable. As it turns out, the airline seats are a bit more comfortable when you’re not hunched over, trying to hide your boobs and keep the baby happy for six hours!
So, if you’re a travelling nursing mama, expect to nurse as normal. If your baby is formula fed, make sure you have more than enough formula and water, probably two to three times more that you expect the baby to need. In the event of a delay or travel emergency, you’ll be glad you had it!
Break up the flights evenly.
I learned the hard way that a six hour direct flight with a 14 month old is pretty rough. Six hours of a baby who wouldn’t nap and is not entertained for longer than 15 minutes made for an incredibly long, tedious trip. At age two, J’s patience lasts longer, about four hours. So, it’s helpful to get off the plane and let him run around in a layover airport.
In a perfect world I would choose flights based on a layover that was smack-dab in the middle of our final destination. Unfortunately, it’s challenging to coordinate departure and arrival times, money, and available flights so this goal rarely becomes a reality. Still, it would be nice for the sake of everyone’s patience levels if the flights were broken up evenly, rather than one being very long and the other being very short!
Pick your flight times well.
We try to fly first thing in the morning. This past trip, we left home at 3:30 AM. It wasn’t our favorite thing ever but the upside was that J fell asleep as soon as the plane took off.
Pick your airlines well.
Do some research and pick airlines that offer screens in the back of each chair. Not all airlines offer this, sadly! It is impossible to hold a device and a squirming baby in your lap! Even if the baby (or you) can’t hear what’s playing, it at least provides visual stimulation.
It gets more expensive, but also much easier.
Traveling with toddler J proved to be more fun than travelling with baby J. Toddlers are more independent, can walk/run through an empty terminal, and enjoy the finer foods airlines have to offer. Having just turned two, J got his own seat and he loved looking out the window! Paying for a third seat is worth the cost because it led to more space, comfort, and enjoyment for us all!
All in all, handle airline travelling with your baby or toddler as it unfolds. It’s okay if your child becomes unhappy and fussy! Everyone is unhappy and fussy during long travels!! All you can do is pack well, breathe deeply, and keep your expectations low so that you can be pleasantly surprised when it all goes off without a hitch!
Happy travels 🙂!