In the first six months of her life, we have taken our sweet girl on 14 flights: 10 international, 2 US domestic, and 2 Australian domestic. She has been in the air for approximately 75 hours, not including the time going through security, exploring airports, and waiting at the gate. We started flying internationally with her when she was only 4 weeks old (yes, dr approved.) Are we crazy? Probably. But we live overseas and were desperate for Abyala’s family in the States to meet her before moving on from our post in Albania to a new one in Nepal. We are also traveling, adventure junkies and couldn’t pass by a recent opportunity to go snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. This all lends itself to some new expertise — flying with a baby. (We would never have thought?)
I’m going to post a few tips that we’ve learned preparing for and during those 75 hours on the plane with our little one. I hope this post helps a few families along the way. I know I was desperately reading blog posts before each of our journeys. Trying to prepare ourselves and to ease the fear. So now I’m trying to pay it forward. Tips follow…
- Reserve the bassinet when you book your flight. Then call the airlines after you receive your ticket confirmation to ensure again that you have the bassinet reserved. When checking in, remind the lady at the ticket counter that you have reserved the bassinet and be sure that it is reflected in their system. If the bassinet is not set-up after the seat belt sign goes off on your flight, remind the stewardess that you want the bassinet. (Note: Bassinets are typically available on all major international flights, but often are not available on short domestic flights.)
- Consider booking a window seat. I have preferred the window seat for privacy while nursing and to help keep people’s hands off my cute baby.
- Ask for a third seat to be blocked off if possible. Many of our flights (especially internationally) were not fully booked and therefore the lady at the ticket counter was able to block off the third of three seats in our row – giving us extra room to take care of our little one and providing a bit more privacy for me as I nursed. This was particularly helpful when Abyala was 6 months old and could sit up and play in the seat (with us hovering over her of course.)
- Pack smart. It’s easy to over-do-it on the packing, but resist the urge, you’ll all be so much happier. Here’s a realistic list of what you need for a 1-2 month old: enough diapers/wipes for your travel time + 1 day in case you get delayed, 3 warm sleepers, hat, socks, 3 receiving blankets (to be used as light blanket, burp clothes and breast feeding cover), 1 warm blanket, gripe water or anti-gas med, 2 pacifiers + pacifier wipes, changing mat, anti-bacterial, a small bag that fits the diaper changing necessities – I use this (so you don’t have to lug a massive bag into a tiny bathroom), a fresh shirt for you. If you bottle feed, then you’ll want to pack for that as well, but I exclusively breast fed so I can’t help you there. For a six month old: Same as above except…only 2 receiving blankets, no warm blanket, no gripe water or anti-gas meds, teething gel/tablets, a ziplock bag of small favorite toys including a few new ones – good toys are key to flying success with a 6 month old.
- Breastfeeding cover-up advice. When my daughter was 1-2 months old, it was easy to nurse her under a blanket and be inconspicuous as I traveled. Most people assumed she was just sleeping. However, as she got older and more raskly it was harder to be inconspicuously nursing her on the flight – so you may want to consider using a cover like this for your own comfort. I used a big pashmina scarf, and it worked well too. I have also preferred having the window seat for privacy.
- Cocoon. I’m a baby wearer, but when my daughter was only 1-2 months old it was more practical for us (comfortable for her) to use the Phil & Teds cocoon to carry her through the airport and onto the plane. It was very little hassle getting her in/out of it to go through security and it provided a cozy bed for her in the airports and often at our destinations.
- Baby carrier. When Abyala was 6 months old, it was easiest and most comfortable wearing her through the airport. It gave us more flexibility and enabled us to make our way through the airport more quickly as we didn’t need to find elevators or wait for it to be given back to us after our flight. (I did need to take her out through security.) It was especially helpful to soothe her to sleep, even on the plane. I’m a baby wearer on a daily basis, so this wasn’t new for Abyala. I wouldn’t recommend using a carrier if your baby isn’t used to it.
- Cons of a stroller. They stow your stroller under the plane right before you board the flight (great!) However, you have to wait for them to bring your stroller out of storage before you can go to your next gate which can be cumbersome if you have a tight layover. You also have to be wary of the way they handle your stroller — it could get damaged during stow/transit. It’s a pain finding an elevator in the airport and again takes addition time. Just things to consider. If you’re a stroller-using family, do everything you can to avoid tight layovers.
- Diaper changes. On all international flights and most domestic, you will have a changing station in the bathroom. It pulls down from above the toilet and is larger than you would anticipate. If you take a small bag or changing kit like I recommended, you’ll have more than enough space. You can dispose of your dirty diapers in the trash beside the sink. Be sure to bring an extra onesie to the bathroom with you in case of big messes. You can also opt to change your baby’s diaper in the bassinet, but I wouldn’t recommend this for 1-2 month olds as they tend to surprise you too often with pee. I also wouldn’t recommend changing a poo diaper anywhere but the bathroom for everyone’s comfort.
- Eating. If you’re on an international flight with food being served, you can ask the flight attendant to serve you or your hubs/partner first and to save the other meal until after the first person has finished. This way, one person can be caring for your baby while the other eats. If your baby is sleeping in the bassinet when the food comes, you won’t have to worry about this.
- Air pressure. As we all know, our ears pop as we ascend and descend during flights, but our babies don’t have the ability to do that on their own yet. Therefore, you will want to nurse, bottle feed, or give your baby a pacifier as the plane ascends and descends. The plane typically begins to descend 30 minutes before landing — so start feeding earlier than later to avoid a painful landing.
- Sleeping. My 1-2 month old fell asleep on every flight as the cabin was being pressurized. Heaven! However, my 6 month old did not. I had to use every trick I had to get her to sleep. I nursed and nursed but eventually had to walk her around the plane in her carrier with a blanket over top to get her to sleep. Be ready to use your own sleep tricks or develop new ones in the weeks before you leave – remembering that you won’t have a stroller or carseat to lull them down. A bonus…the white noise on the plane helps to keep our little ones asleep.
- Grumpy neighbor. We didn’t have this problem, but if you find yourself beside someone less than thrilled to sit next to your baby, kindly remind them that they can be asked to be moved before the flight takes off. This isn’t rude, it’s just helping everyone. If it’s not a full flight, they can probably take another seat, leaving you with the blessing of more space.
- Oblivious neighbor. With my 1-2 month old I was extremely protective. She was my first and felt oh so fragile. During my flights, I felt that some of my neighbors were completely oblivious to her and on one flight a man actually elbowed her in the head. To help raise awareness for your oblivious neighbors, be sure to strike up a kind conversation in the beginning so that they realize there is a little one beside them and a mother who wants her baby to be well protected. Better to be a little over protective and have a safe flight, than sorry.
- Enjoy the ride! Yes, you will be a bit stressed anticipating the flight. But once you’re on the road, you just have to live it to the full. It’s hard work managing a baby on a flight – expect that, but your little one will also make you smile and laugh along the way. Cherish the moments that you can and remember that you’ll be telling funny stories about the rest soon.
This is my list of tips for now, I’ll update this post if I think of others that may be helpful. I hope this is a blessing to some of you rearing up to fly with your little one. Feel free to message me with questions…
Bon voyage !!