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What advice would you give to parents flying with their infant for the first time?
We took our baby on a 5-hour flight when he was 4 months old, and he’s flown with us about once a month ever since. Tricks to keep him happy and comfortable change almost every month as he grows, but the airport routine is the same. If you are preparing for your first flight with baby here’s what to expect, some things that we learned, and tricks that have worked well for us:
Bring Your Car Seat And Stroller To The Gate
The baby will need the car seat for the ride to and from the airport anyways, but also bring the compatible stroller. Every major airline will allow you to gate check a car seat and stroller at no charge, and no penalty on your carry-ons. Just remember to go to the gate counter right away and tell them you need 2 tags for your carseat and stroller. The tags are usually bright pink.
Remember Your Baby Needs A Boarding Pass
Sometimes you don’t get the option to signal that you’ll be flying with a baby on your lap when you are buying airline tickets online. In this case, get to the airport a little earlier than usual and go to the airline ticket counter with your boarding pass and ask for an infant boarding pass. They will ask for your baby’s full name and date of birth. If flying internationally, you will need your baby’s US Passport. Otherwise, we’ve never been asked for ID. They will print your baby a boarding pass that looks similar to yours with a unique barcode to scan at the security checkpoint and at the gate.
Discuss The Boarding Handoff With Your Partner
When the gate agent welcomes families traveling with young children to board (usually right after first class passengers), go through the gate quickly and make good use of this time when the plane is empty. Once you get to the door of the plane/end of the jet bridge, one of you should take the baby and as many carry-ons that can be carried safely and go to your seats. The other should start breaking down the stroller and car seat, then place them close to the door at the end of the jet bridge and against the wall so they’re not in the way as passengers load the plane. We like to buckle the seat belts so the pad doesn’t fall out and straps don’t move around. Now grab those remaining carry-ons and find your seat. Don’t worry, the airline knows to retrieve all baby strollers and carseats and put them in cargo.
Discuss The Deplaning Process With Your Partner
Similar to boarding, one of you should exit as fast as possible with baby and some carry-on bags — it’s likely you will be running to the bathroom for a diaper change anyways. The other should wait at the end of the jet bridge by the door for someone to start bringing up carseats and strollers. In our experience, they do this quickly and we have our things well before everyone is off the plane. Assemble the car seat and stroller, throw your carry-ons on it and wheel out.
Pack Whatever Your Baby Will Need To Eat And Drink For An Entire Day Of Travel
There could be flight delays that leave you sitting on the tarmac or having a long layover. TSA allows breast milk, formula, and cooling devices (ice packs/gels) in your carry-ons. They are exempt from the 3-1-1 liquids rule! Separate these things from your carry-on bags and let the TSA agent know what they are. They might be subject to x-ray screening, but in my experience they usually just go down the same cargo scanner as your carry-ons. Most airplanes do not count a diaper bag towards the maximum carry-on allowance. No need to conserve. Pack more than enough milk and food.
Pack A Carrier Or Wrap In Your Carry-On Bag
Even for the calmest and sleepiest babies, you will likely find yourself walking up and down the aisle holding and bouncing your baby to calm down. Your arms will be completely exhausted from holding the baby during the flight that the relief of a carrier will be great. You can also sit for a while wearing the carrier while your baby sleeps. The flight attendant will ask you to take the baby out of the carrier during take-off and landing. I hate this rule (especially when the baby is sleeping peacefully), but they say it every time.
Pack Things That The Baby Usually Plays With Or Chews On In Your Carry-On Bag
As the baby gets older, they get heavier (ouch, sore arms), more aware, and want more stimulation than sitting on your lap or in your arms. If they are an active baby who is used to playing outside or crawling around all day, they will likely be squirmy the entire time they are awake. Take turns playing with the baby.
Use Toys, Read The Same Book 100 Times
While you shouldn’t necessarily expect a rough flight, be prepared for one. You really don’t know how it’s going to go, so thinking through possible and likely scenarios will help you stay calm no matter what happens. This includes sore arms from holding the baby in an uncomfortable seat for many hours, not being able to nap or read or enjoy those plane activities you’re used to doing to pass time, and waiting for that darn fasten seatbelt light to go off so you can walk up and down the aisle while bouncing and rocking a screaming baby.
Pack The Breast Pump In Your Diaper Or Carry-On Bag
If it’s too big or heavy, bring a manual pump. Again, you just never know how long of an adventure you are about to embark on.
For Her: Wear Something You Can Easily And Quickly Feed Your Baby In While In Your Seat
Sometimes the cabin pressure changes will bother the baby’s ears and the best relief is swallowing.
All of this applies if you’re flying business or first class. Pros are that you have more space to be comfortable, baby things are more easily accessible, there is more room in the bathroom for diaper changing, and everything can be cleaner and nicer in general. Cons include people who are far, far less enthusiastic about there being a baby near them, especially if they are on a business trip and planned to sleep or work on the plane.
If you’re deciding between checking bags or just having carry-ons: Pros include having less stuff to go through security and carry on and off plane (although overhead storage is never a problem since you’re first to board the aircraft). Cons include having to wait longer at baggage claim after an exhausting flight, fees, and other general downsides to checking bags like chance of lost luggage.
While babies younger than 2 years old fly free if they sit on your lap, some people choose to buy an extra seat. You can either put the carseat on the seat, or use a harness.
Flying alone? Don’t stress! I’ve done this several times without a problem. It’s worth asking the gate agent if there are any empty seats on the plane that you can sit next to for some extra space for you or napping baby. My best recommendation is to not be afraid to ask for help, often.
Ask someone to help you break down the stroller and car seat while you hold the baby. Ask someone to lift your bags onto the x-ray machine while you hold the baby. Ask someone to put your bags in the overhead compartment while you hold the baby. You get the point. People are happy to help you (and smile at that cute baby of yours). You never want to juggle more than you can handle while holding the little one.
Try to pack light and remember you can buy diapers (which take up a ton of room in your suitcase) at your destination. Good luck!
Helen Min is the director of marketing at Quora. Read more from Quora below: