Flying with Baby
Four-month old Baby and I took our first plane ride together (without Daddy) last month. I read several articles on flying with an infant before we left and this article is my contribution to the world of airline travel with a baby. Despite the urging from authors to book the flight that coincided with her nap time, I booked a flight that was convenient for ME. She has a pattern she follows, but I don’t want her on a rigid schedule that ties me down. Because of that, her nap time varies. If we’re out and about, she adjusts. It’s a beautiful thing.
We have a ninety-minute drive to the airport and it worked out that she was hungry a few minutes after we left. I gave her a bottle during the drive and she fell asleep. When we arrived at the airport, she was well-fed and well-rested. Whew!
Ninety minutes before our flight, my husband dropped us off at the departure gate. While I was taking her out of the car seat and transferring her to the sling, he carried our luggage up to curb-side check in. There was no line, so he was able to hand it to the attendant and walk back to us so our car was never left unattended. With the diaper bag (which I merged with my purse for the flight, containing only essential items) over my shoulder, and the baby on my chest, we said goodbye and I checked in. I had the baby’s birth certificate with me and got her a boarding pass, but didn’t opt to buy a ticket for her. Even if I’d had a seat for her, she would’ve ended up in my lap.
With my travel documents in a front compartment, I walked up to the security gate, enjoying the oohs and ahhs my sweet girl was receiving from passersby. Thank God for the kind security agent who saw the baby and waved me past the long line. I took off my slip-on shoes and jacket, put my diaper bag on the conveyer belt, and walked through the metal detector with Eliana still in the sling. Security agents swabbed my hands for explosive residue, I gathered my things back up, and we went on our way.
With plenty of time before our flight to relax and wait at the gate, my little angel was wide awake and ready to be out of the sling. I found a seat next to a pleasant-looking older woman who I assumed probably had children also, took her out of the sling, and sat her on my lap. The baby had a great time smiling at all the people walking by, checking out the scenery, and playing with her pacifier. She got hungry about 10 minutes before we boarded and started fussing. I wanted to wait to feed her until we took off so her ears would clear, but I dreaded trying to board the plane with a mad baby. Improvising, I gave her an ounce of her bottle while we waited to be called, which satisfied her enough to keep her calm while we boarded.
It was a Southwest flight and I thought we’d be able to board before everyone else, so I didn’t bother to check in early. As a result, we were late in the B group. I discovered that Southwest does family boarding after the A group (unless you’re in the A group), so I learned my lesson there. Even though the flight attendant said it was a completely full flight, I was able to find an empty window seat. I didn’t want my baby getting bumped by people’s elbows or luggage by sitting on the aisle. The compassionate woman in the aisle seat offered to hold her while I got settled and I took her up on it. Thankfully, no one sat between us. (Probably the only empty seat on the plane…)
When the plane started moving, I gave her the rest of her bottle. I was distressed to find that by the time we actually took off, she had finished it. (Note for future travel: wait until the plane actually leaves the ground before giving the bottle!) Even though she wasn’t all that interested, I put the pacifier in her mouth and that seemed to work. The only time she got fussy on the whole trip was when she was ready to go to sleep. It was her normal behavior, but the seat belt sign was on so I couldn’t walk with her to soothe her. The plane was providing plenty of “white noise”, but she started crying pretty loudly and wiggling around. I pulled out the gas drops I’d brought along and put a little on her tongue. They’re sweet and she stopped crying to enjoy the flavor. Then she settled right down and went to sleep. Amazingly, she slept all the way through the landing.
Once the plane started to clear out, I put her back in the sling and headed out to baggage claim. We stopped in the bathroom and that was easy with her in the sling. A friend met us at baggage claim and took my well-rested and well-fed baby while I got the one large suitcase I’d packed for both of us (only necessities!) and rolled it out to her car. I put Eliana in the borrowed car seat and we all went out for dinner. I used my cover and nursed her at dinner, then afterwards carried her as we did a little shopping. She fell asleep in my arms as we were walking back to the car. She woke up briefly once we got to the house where we stayed; I changed her into pajamas, nursed her, and put her to bed.
In the diaper bag, I had packed feeding supplies, hand sanitizer, my wallet and necessary purse items, diapers, wipes, an extra outfit, a thin blanket, a burp cloth, an extra pacifier, any medicine she might need, and a Ziploc bag in case of a dirty diaper. The lightness of the diaper bag was important to me, so I thought through every item.
I bit the bullet and paid a little extra for a non-stop flight to keep the trip as short as possible. For that reason, there were many things I thought she could do without for a 95-minute flight. She was little enough that she didn’t need a toy because her hands still fascinated her. I painted my fingernails and she loved the color, so she could spend a lot of time examining them. She loved the strap that hooked her pacifier to her clothes too.
I also purposefully didn’t take any flights that I knew would be mainly business travelers – Monday morning or Friday afternoon/evening. Our suitcase was right at 50 pounds. I had the breast pump travel bag in the suitcase and could have easily removed it and checked it separately if the bag was too heavy. (I actually did that on the way home because we had received gifts that I didn’t have space for otherwise.)
I had heard from a friend that it’s a good idea to bring a bunch of blankets along when you travel and put them in the bed with the baby. That helps provide the comforting smell and feel of home, in spite of a different bed. That seemed to work well, even though it took up precious space in our suitcase. I also laid the burp cloth she’d been using under her head each night. (She doesn’t spit up much, so it was clean.)
Our more recent trip with five-month old Baby wasn’t quite as smooth. We drove a typically 8-hour trip and she got very tired of her car seat after a while. She slept well, but was bored and frustrated. I had several toys, music, and her favorite things to distract her, but we had several hours of screaming baby… We made it though!
In July, seven-month old Baby and I plan to travel alone together on a plane to Charlotte, NC, so I can attend a writer/speaker conference. My sister lives there, so she and my mom will watch the baby while I’m gone. That’s another 90-minute flight. I’ll post an update on how that goes afterwards. Fingers crossed for another good experience!
**What are YOUR best tips for traveling with little ones? I’d love to hear!
Update: The baby did GREAT on the flight to Charlotte. Again, I sprung for the more-expensive direct flight and it was worth it. We again borrowed a car seat, which made for a lot less luggage to carry around. I had two suitcases this time because it was a business trip so I needed more clothes,plus I packed baby food and her diapers are bigger now. Next time I’ll just buy diapers and food once I get there. We had people in the seats next to us on both flights, but they were very kind and helpful. My mom and sister watched her during the day while I was at the conference and I snuggled with her at night. The only problem we encountered was on the drive home from the airport. (What I wouldn’t give for a closer airport!) She was tired of traveling and being confined, so she screamed nearly the entire trip – until she was hoarse. We nixed our plans to stop for dinner and drove straight home. Once we arrived, she was back to her happy, normal self again.