To survive traveling with a toddler or baby on a plane you pretty much need an exhaustive checklist. Unfortunately, as a first time mom traveling with her 6 month old, I didn’t know that. I thought “my child” would be different from the others I’d seen having a fit on a plane. To be honest he was, but if I could hit the reset button and try it again, I’d definitely do several things differently. Here are my most highly recommended Dos and Things to Avoid for Baby Air Travel.
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Must Dos and Don’ts for Baby Air Travel
My son was born in June of 2016 and my mother and father came to visit, from Jamaica, right after he was born. My husband and I came up with the brilliant idea to take my son to Jamaica for Christmas that year, so that the rest of my family could meet him and he could start becoming familiar with the other side of his family. We quickly discovered why people try to avoid air travel with babies and infants, especially international air travel.
Must Dos Before the Actual Air Travel
Passport Picture and Passport
A few tips even before you get ready for the actual plane ride, go to a professional passport picture facility. I don’t even know why now, but for some reason I attempted to use a picture I had taken at home on a white background. It didn’t work. During the actual taking of the picture, my son and I were utterly frustrated and I still had to end up going to Walgreens anyway. Take my advice, unless you’re a photographer or have better equipment than your phone, don’t even attempt it.
The actual process to get my son’s passport was fairly simple. We had to fill out the form, pay the application fee and submit the picture, then wait.
Pro tip: Make sure to start this process way ahead of your travel plans.
Purchasing the tickets was also not terrible because my husband was coming on the trip too. We had been warned by others that if one parent was not a part of the international travel plans, the procedure differed slightly. If only one parent is traveling, you should have a letter from the parent not traveling stating their awareness of the trip and that you have their permission for the child to leave the country (I’ll speak more on that later since the second time I traveled with my son, my husband did not accompany us).
Preparing for Baby Air International Travel
Most recommendations say to book an early or late flight to try to take advantage of sleep schedules. Our son tended to be a bit cranky around bedtime and we had a pretty intricate sleep schedule, so we booked an earlier flight thinking that Kingston, my son, might still be sleepy and would sleep for most of the flight.
How to Carry your Baby for Air International Travel
I have heard variations on how to travel with your baby on an international and air flight and we decided that we had no interest in carrying our huge stroller. Instead we used our Ergo baby carrier, so that our hands would not be occupied and we would both be able to assist with luggage and carry on materials.
I was already a huge fan of the Ergo line, but it was a lifesaver during our travels.
Dos and Don’ts of Toddler and Baby Air International Travel Outfit: Part 1
At home, Kingston spend a lot of time in white cotton tees, onesies and his diaper. He also had a large collection of full covered zippered onesies. We decided to dress him in a zippered fleece onesie for ultimate comfort (I would come to regret that decision later). Under his onesie, he also wore a white cotton short sleeved shirt, with his diaper of course.
Flying with a baby on your lap
We did not purchase a seat for him and decided to fly with him in our laps.(Double check this option with the airline you will be flying with.) To be honest, I’m still split on this decision to fly with my son in our laps for a few reasons. One, it was an international holiday flight, which tends to be booked and I wasn’t sure who’d be in the seat next to us (We got lucky and had the sweetest elderly lady, who bonded with our son), next it doesn’t give the option for a break and three, his car-seat had to travel away from us and I worried about the exposure to dirt etc.
We went with the option of flying with our baby in our laps because my son was exclusively breastfed and at the time was going through a growth spurt where he was pretty much attached to me at all times. We thought a seat would be futile and a waste of money. However, he did sleep (some of it while nursing) quite a bit and mommy now thinks it would have been nice to have the option set him down in his car-seat, so I could have gotten some rest as well.
Dos and Don’ts of Baby Air International Travel Outfit: Part 2
Now back to the onesie debacle. Like I mentioned before, I decided to dress my son in a white cotton shirt under his full covered zippered fleece onesie for travel. I wanted him to be comfortable and warm throughout the flight and at first, I thought it was a very good move. That is until I started getting a waft of something that smelled awful a few minutes into our flight. Immediately, I knew it was my son.
My suspicions turned to horror when I felt something moist on the hand that was cupping the rear of my precious sleeping angel. When I turned him over, I saw a familiar yellowish, green substance seeping into his gray fleece onesie. From my position in the window seat (I have to sit there or I feel awful during flights), I gave my son to my husband and started making my way to the aisle. In the aisle, I grabbed his diaper bag and headed to the restroom.
Once there, I realized that the too small for just me bathroom was even worse for a mom trying to change a blowout diaper. I did the best that I could, which was to sit on the toilet myself and lay my son’s travel changing pad on my lap and then start to peel his little legs out of the zippered fleece onesie.
Of course at this exact moment, we encountered turbulence and the seat-belt sign came on. Trying not to cry, I soldiered on through removing the soiled diaper and no longer white t-shirt (yes, the content of his blowout diaper had made its way up his back as well.
Once I removed all the soiled items, wiped him down and then put on clean diapers, I realized another problem horror, I had not put a change of clothes in his actual diaper bag. The change of clothes was in our carry on, which was under our seat, but not with me in the bathroom.
Left no other choice, I wiped the soiled area on his onesie and laundered it as best I could then patted it dry (luckily not much has made it to the onesie. Most of it had been caught by his shirt). After all that, I toted my baby back to our seats, where I found my husband fast asleep. Of course as soon as I sat, my son decided he was starving again. Oh, the joys of growth spurts.
How to Keep Baby Happy on a Plane
You can figure out from this point that my number one tip to keeping a baby happy on a plane is to nurse. If that option is available to you, use it. Out of 3 and a half hours on that flight, I’d say 2 hours was spent nursing ( ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but he nursed a lot.)
Another highly recommended suggestion to keep your baby happy on a plane are toys, books and a lovey. Our son had a lovey called Leo (tiny blanket with a lion attached that helps to keep him calm and was also a makeshift toy. In addition, we packed his Vtech remote and a few small board books. When Kingston wasn’t nursing, he was engaged with one of these 3 things.
We ended up with a bonus distraction that we hadn’t bargained for. Sitting next to us in our row was an older lady. I was in the window seat, my husband was in the middle and then there was the older lady. As my husband and I took turns holding and amusing him when he wasn’t nursing, Kingston kept on trying to play with the lady. He would coo at her, reach for her hair or touch her face. We kept apologizing profusely, but she would wave us off and focus on him.
Finally, on one of the occasions where he tried to play with her, she put her hands out for him and he went. He is not the type of baby that went to strangers, so my husband and I were floored. They played together for a bit and then it was time for our descent, so I got him back and nursed him through that portion of the flight as well.
Must Dos and Don’ts for New Moms While Traveling with a Baby
An important and frequently overlooked part of traveling with a baby is what mom needs. I was guilty of this and this is one of the areas, I’d do differently. If you are to take care of your baby, you have to take care of yourself first and there are certain things new moms need to have readily accessible. Here are my top items:
Especially, if you’re nursing, the crackers they give in-flight, if they give out crackers, will not be enough. Pack your favorite breastfeeding snacks (granola bars or dried fruit). While I was nursing, I was obsessed with Ritz peanut butter mini crackers.
Change of clothes:
Nursing moms know that spit up happens. Tiny bit, large amount, projectile, you name it. Don’t be caught unaware on an international flight, have a change of clothing. At minimum a top, at best an entire outfit.
If you are breastfeeding, don’t forget your nursing cover in all the excitement of getting everything ready. I did. Thankfully I was wearing a jacket and used it as a shield. Yes, as mothers, we’ll do whatever we need to for our babies, but I didn’t feel like being exposed in a cold plane.
Yes, in hindsight, I probably would have purchased a seat for my son and not checked his car-seat, so I could have tried to set him down once he went to sleep. Since, we didn’t I wasn’t really able to rest while he slept.
Extra Pair of Hands:
If you must travel alone, I understand, but if you’re traveling with a baby and have an option for some help, take it. Having my husband on the trip was invaluable. It also helped to break up the monotony for my son, which kept him entertained much longer.
Must Dos for Baby Air Travel (Descent and Getting Off)
Luckily for me, I was was about to breastfeed and my son nursed through the plane’s descent.If you are not breastfeeding, you will want to look into headphones or other solutions for the changing altitude.
My tip for getting off the plane is to resist the urge to stand immediately. Allow the traffic to lessen, unless you have some well mannered people in flight who offer to let you go ahead of them. Give yourself ample time to collect all your items, so that you don’t accidentally leave anything behind.
I give this advice because even with my husband in tow, we almost forgot, Leo, my son’s lovey, on the plane in our desire to quickly disembark the plane. He grabbed our carry on and I grabbed my son. Luckily someone saw that we were leaving it and got our attention. Losing that lovey would have made for a rather terrible trip, so we’re so thankful they let us know.
It was absolutely worth it taking my son home to Jamaica to see my family for Christmas. My parents were over the moon having their grand-baby there for his first Christmas. All my aunts and uncles got to love on him and I got to experience the surreal feeling of seeing my child in my childhood home.
All the chaos of preparing for and actually getting through the flight was worth it. I will share that on our return flight, we were pros by then, we alternated laps, amused our son with his lovey, books and toys, but unfortunately there was another blowout diaper. I handled it because at this point I was a professional and even though I wasn't looking forward to it, I knew I’d do better than my husband who hadn’t mastered changing a baby on lap during the flight to Jamaica.
Thankfully his t-shirt caught the majority of the blowout again and I was able to change the undergarments and keep the zippered footed onesie that was on top.
I hope I’ve given you what you need to master baby air travel. Enjoy creating memories and making new experiences with your baby.