This list is for air travel and is geared toward parents flying alone with one or more children. All of these tips apply to two parents flying together, but let’s be honest – the more adults involved the easier things are. You can share lap duty, pee by yourself, maybe even read a magazine or take a nap.
One thing to keep in mind is that younger your baby is, the easier your trip will be. This is a general rule and obviously will not apply in all situations (like if your baby only stops crying when you walk around or bounce on an exercise ball like mine did) but generally speaking little babies sleep a lot, sleep anywhere and sleep through most noise. The first time I flew with Madeline she was almost 5 months old. I was so nervous that she was going to be the crying baby on the plane. We flew from Seattle to Philadelphia with one stop and she slept through most of it. Subsequent flights have not been as easy. The more mobile they are the more they know what they are missing out on by being stuck on your lap the whole time.
Almost five months old and just chilling out in the airport.
So here is the wisdom I’ve acquired after taking a few cross country tips with Madeline and one family of four trip to California:
1. Don’t bring too much crap. I’ve learned this one the hard way. As a mom you never want to be caught unprepared, but you have to be efficient. Obviously if your kid(s) are in diapers you will need enough of those. Definitely bring an extra outfit because if you don’t the baby will blow out his diaper and get poop on his clothes.
Bring a blanket. In addition to the obvious use if it gets cold, you can also use it to give a little extra cushion next to the armrest for nursing or over your seat belt so they don’t have to sit on it.
Snacks are a must. Houston is currently enrolled in Advanced Placement Puffs Eating in preparation for our trip next week. He is almost coordinated to eat more than three in an hour. Put stuff in a snack trap to keep it sorta neat.
Entertainment is necessary, but be efficient. I cannot say enough good things about the iPad 2. I am expecting it to be worth its weight in gold during our trip and will be sorely disappointed if it isn’t. That thing is a dvd player/coloring book/library/ all wrapped into one neat little package.
Unless you will need it at your destination, consider leaving the stroller at home. I’ve brought one on every trip and really only ended up using it to push my carry-on around while carrying the baby on my chest. That being said, I didn’t mind having the stroller to push the stuff around, but that’s because I usually bring too much crap. It’s just one more thing to get through security. It’s easy enough to check it at the gate, so just do what you think will work for you.
2. Ignore the people who give you dirty looks when your baby cries or your kid whines. Worrying about them will only stress you out more, and it’s not like you aren’t going to do everything you can to calm them down. This is number two because I think it’s super important. You don’t need extra anxiety when flying with kids. Adults have an obligation to bring ear plugs or headphones or something to block out the sound of crying or whining that might interrupt their peaceful flight. Now, noise is one thing but if your kid is a seat kicker you need to get that shit under control quick. People get PISSED when their seat is kicked and you deserve the dirty looks if you don’t take care of it.
3. Whenever possible, take a direct flight. It’s hard these days because of the cost and the airlines not offering a lot, but it is worth a few extra bucks if you can swing it. Anytime you have to stop there is a risk that your next flight will be delayed. One delay can make what is already a really long day into airport/airplane hell. A longer day means you might need more crap. See #1 about not bringing too much crap.
4. Bring a comfort item. No matter how grossed out you will be if it falls on the floor or touches any part of the plane, do not forget their lovey, or blankie, or paci or binky or whatever it is that keeps that calm and accompanies them to bed. This is especially important for long flights where you have a hope/expectation that a nap is on the itinerary.
5. If you are breastfeeding be prepared to do it on the plane. Bring your nursing cover or let it all hang out, but whatever your preference there is a good chance you will be doing it at some point. If your baby takes a bottle I would advise bringing some pumped milk just because a bottle is a little less awkward than nursing in the confines of coach. BUT most moms know that there is no better way to calm a little one (and hopefully get her to sleep) than by sticking a boob in her mouth.
6. If they are offering it, take advantage of the opportunity to pre-board. In the past I’ve had mixed feelings about this. I’ve never wanted to spend more time on the plane than absolutely necessary, but pre-boarding means there is a better chance that a flight attendant will be able to help you. We know they get busy explaining the rules about carry-on luggage five thousand times to the morons who brought a larger than average carry-on and who insist on jamming all their excess crap in the overhead bin rather than under the seat in front of them. Speaking of the overhead bins, pre-boarding guarantees that you will be able to store your carry-on with essential items in the bin and not running the risk of having to check it because everyone carries on these days.
7. Arrive early, but not too early. You want to limit the amount of time you are just hanging out in the airport entertaining your kids and chasing them around the gate area.
8. Dress in layers.
9. Consider using an overnight diaper to limit the number of necessary changes due to wetness. Nothing you can do about poop, but who wants to make more trips to the bathroom than necessary. Especially if you are traveling with more than one kid. If your plane has a changing table that’s great because they’re actually pretty big (considering). If you don’t have one, then you will need to improvise. On a flight from Seattle to Los Angeles I had to change Houston (4 months) on top of the toilet seat. Not easy at that age when all he wants to do is twist and turn and kick.
10. When you check in ask if there are any empty seats. If there are, see whether they can move you around so that you are next to one. If you’re traveling with an infant on your lap it will be nice to have the extra space and you can even forego checking your car seat and bring it with you so that you have somewhere to put him down.
11. If you are traveling with a toddler who now needs her own seat, consider getting one of these harnesses:
CARES Child Aviation Restraint System
Traveling by myself there is no chance I am lugging her car seat through the airport. This thing takes up no space in your bag and is really easy to put on. To be honest it doesn’t seem like the most comfortable option, but Madeline slept the entire way from Los Angeles to Seattle the first time we used it.
12. Get a car seat bag for your car seat. We have this one, but I have never (and probably will never) carry it on my back:
My husband looks just as happy as this guy when using our bag. Yeah, right. No one looks this happy if they are lugging a car seat around the airport.
Brica Car Seat Travel Tote
You can just check your car seat as is and pick it up at baggage claim, but a bag like this will keep it clean. It is also a great place to put extra stuff that might not fit in your checked luggage or if you go to check-in and your bag is over the 50 pound limit (happens to me almost every time). It’s free to check your car seat, so maximize the space in that bag.
So there you have it folks. I’m sure there are things I forgot or haven’t thought of, but this is as thorough as I could come up with. Other parents are by far the best resource for this sort of thing, so do us all a favor and share your tips and tricks.