Parents’ guide to flying with a baby over the holidays
Many new parents take to the skies for the first time during the holidays. I remember taking my 4-year-old son Dek on a cross-country flight for the first time when he was 3 months old so he could meet his extended family back east. We were so nervous. I terrified the baby when trying to get the changing table down in the bathroom. He peed all over himself once I got his diaper off, and yes, all of this was before we had even left the tarmac.
It doesn’t have to be that stressful. If you can take care of your baby at home you can do it in the air. I promise. In case you don’t believe me, here is a play by play of what to expect.
Give yourself plenty of time
Now is not the time to catch your flight with seconds to spare. Get to the airport at least one and a half hours early; two if you really want to take your time and have to park your car.
Some airlines require you to go to a ticket agent if you are flying with an infant and they will be sitting in your lap, not in their own seat. Get ready to stand in line if this is the case. You can call the airline ahead of time to find out if this will be necessary, or when you check in online 24-hours before your flight you will get a notice from the system that you will need to see an agent to get your boarding pass.
- What you can check. You can check your bags for a fee on most domestic airlines in the U.S. If you are traveling internationally most airlines will let you check one bag for free. Just make sure it is not overweight.
- Baby items you can check for free. Car seat and strollers Note: You cannot check a travel crib for free on most airlines
If you choose to check your car seat, consider buying a car seat bag to protect your car seat from dirt. Want to know a secret? You can also sneak diapers, wipes and other baby items into the car seat bag. Just make sure it is not abnormally heavy for a car seat AND it doesn’t bulge in certain spots. Some Scrooges at the airport may make you unload those extra items you have tucked in (happened to us in PHL) if your car seat bag looks suspicious.
- What you can gate check for free. Car seat, strollers and small travel cribs (like the Lotus Travel Crib). Remember, you will need a tag for your gate-checked items. You can get this from the gate agent.
The wonderful thing about babies is that they don’t need much entertainment those first few months. You are exciting enough. Once they start crawling and especially when they start walking is when things get interesting.
Things to do while you wait:
- Play zones. Many airports have play areas for small children. Ask at the ticket counter or look it up on line ahead of time.
- Take a walk. Let your little one see all that is happening around him or her. Airports are exciting places!
- Check out the holiday décor. Many airports get all dolled up for the season. Look for Christmas trees, lights and even carolers throughout the terminal.
- Keep an eye out for Santa. Many airports, including Seattle and Philadelphia, have Santa and his elves spreading a little extra cheer during the holidays. It’s almost like the airports know parents are extra stressed and kids are about to snap or something.
Boarding the plane
There is conflicting advice about when you should board a plane with a baby. Some say wait until the very last moment so you don’t have to confine your baby. I prefer to board early if it is available. This way I can get our bags stowed, change a diaper if needed, and have everything ready for take off as other passengers get on board.
Don’t forget to leave any gate-checked items at the bottom of the ramp before you board the plane. You will need to get a tag from the gate agent for your items so they go on the correct plane and arrive at your destination.
Every parent’s fear is that his or her baby will cry. You know what? Babies cry. Most passengers understand. As long as you are proactive and trying to help your child you will not make many enemies. If someone makes a rude comment, brush it off. You do not need to bribe your fellow passengers with booze or snack packs.
Take off and landing
Have your pacifier and/or bottle ready. Having something to suck on will help your baby’s ears stay happy while the pressure shifts. If you have a teething baby, considering giving them a little Acetaminophen or teething tablets to help with the pain. Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen can also help with any ear pain that comes along. I usually give it to the baby as we take off if I notice him teething a bit more or tugging his ears due to the teething pain.
Check with your doctor before medicating your child and do NOT give your child Benadryl no matter what. Allergy medicines like Benadryl are not safe for infants. They can also backfire on you by making your child more energetic than sleepy.
Playtime and naps
Chances are you will be traveling through at least one naptime. Try to keep your baby on schedule as much as possible. Snuggle him up in a baby carrier, like the ErgoBaby, and walk the aisle of the plane to get him to sleep or do a little rocking in your seat. Make extra sure you pack any naptime necessities including pacifiers and lovies.
When it is time to play you don’t need an arsenal of toys. Limit yourself to three multipurpose toys if possible. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Small blocks stacked in a Tupperware. You can shake it, stack it, topple things over, etc.
- Finger puppets or a doll. Play hide and seek, peek a boo, and tickle monster until your hearts content.
- Book with photos of other babies and/or a mirror in it. We love the That’s Not My Dragon book from Usbourne. It has fun textures and a mirror for the baby to look at himself.
Want more help? Here are my baby bag must haves.
Feeding and nursing
Bottle feeding and breastfeeding on a plane aren’t scary things. Be mindful and respectful of your fellow passengers, something you would do anyway, and you will be ok. Here are two links that will help you take the guesswork out of feeding your baby no matter which route you go with.
If you are onto solid baby food, grab a few of squeeze packs (ex. Plum Organics and Ella’s Kitchen) and twist on spoons (Plum Baby Spoon Boons can be found at Target and online)
Stay positive and ask for help
The best tool you can bring with you on any flight is a smile and your positive spirit. If you are stressed your baby will be stressed. The holidays bring their own amount of chaos with them. Think of your flight to see family and friends as your calm before the storm. This is when you get a little quiet time with just you and your baby before he starts getting passed to every aunt, uncle, cousin and grandma in the family.
If you need help, ask for it. Your fellow passengers may surprise you and the holidays can bring out the best in people. You will also have a lot more parents flying with you than you normally would. Take advantage of their kindness and generosity. If you can’t figure out how to use the restroom while holding the baby, ask a kind grandmother or fellow parent to hold the baby. Yes, this takes trust, but feel out who would work best around you. Some flight attendants may be able to help you out also if you time it right. Do not count on the flight crew though. They have their own jobs to do and can’t always lend extra assistance. But you know who can? That tall guy two rows down can lift your heavy bag into the overhead while you hold the baby.
Whether this is your first or fiftieth flight we all can get a little overwhelmed during the holidays. Keep your cheer intact even if your fellow passengers mumble ba-humbug. And don’t forget to pack a little snack for you too. You deserve a nice treat for all the hard work you do every day; today you just happen to be on a plane.