Flying soon?

Flying soon? January 27, 2014

With spring and summer family vacations being happily planned in many homes, I thought I’d take a turn at posting on “traveling with infants” with a focus on flying. I know we’ve had a few travel posts here at Building Cathedrals – ones that are full of great tips that I will be continuing to reference as we hopefully add to our fold! – but in Pia’s first year we’ve traveled frequently and found a few things that work specifically for infants. In general, the biggest thing is to not forget to plan for what we’ll need on the flight…because that could be different than what we need for the actual trip. I think the first few times, I was so focused on the actual trip, that I failed to fully think through this critical first step… which meant a little more exhaustion when we got to our destination for lack of planning. I know, know, know, there are probably even more suggestions than I have here, so feel free to fill up the comment box with things that work for you too!

  • Research your airline. Some airlines are moving away from allowing families board in advance, and actually moving in the opposite direction. Some airlines still have perks in economy (British Airlines, for example, gave us a full bassinet when we traveled this summer, which meant we all got sleep), but it meant we had to book a bulkhead in advance. I note all of this only for preparation and expectation reasons. If, for example, you were expecting to have a little extra time without other passengers glaring you down while you slipped off your baby carrier, juggled your bags, etc., you may not have the organizational space/time you were hoping for, and this may or may not influence how you pack, say, a diaper bag.
  • Research your airport. Certain airports let families go through security in the first class line, or the handicapped line. This will help with budgeting your time!
  • Flight times do matter. Master of the obvious, I know. Whereas I used to take really early flights as a singleton or even once married, that doesn’t usually fly with really little ones, no pun intended. If you are on a schedule, think through when they usually sleep (including when they usually go down for the night on the other end), and, all ticket prices being equal or similar, shoot for the flight that is going to help you help them. It will make your life easier! If they are really young, this perhaps matters less since they are always sleeping…except for getting out the door in the morning without sheer pandemonium.
  • Check the stroller for the first year, same with the car seat. This is very much personal preference, but we’ve experimented a few times in trying to take our stroller to the gate as well as trying to check the stroller and carry the baby. Hands down (for us!), using a baby carrier is best. Our stroller always seems like a good idea until we wrestle with it in security and then at the gate, trying to reorganize our bags and baby, and finally getting on the plane without taking people out. There is a temptation to carry more with you too if you think you can stash it under the stroller on the way in, but then you still have to get it all on the plane! That being said, if you travel often, I can see the value in a lightweight umbrella stroller once they can fully sit up and start getting too heavy for carriers, and know of folks that have gotten an inexpensive one just for traveling so that they aren’t worried about ruining their real one. For us so far, when we think we’ll need the stroller, we have just checked our real one first thing (it’s free to check it!). We use a padded stroller bag and a padded car seat bag that have been worth their weight in gold.
  • On that note, check at curbside. Compared to the cost of the trip, paying an extra few dollars to curbside check any baby gear and any luggage is just worth it. Always. Even if a certain airline needs to see your documentation for the baby, it means you get to the ticket counter without feeling like you have just lifted weights and done a major workout. So.Much.Easier. If you are a traveling circus like we are and are also parking, it’s even more worth it — have your spouse drop you, the gear, and baby at curbside to check in while they go park.
  • Don’t forget your documents. If you have a three month old and it’s obvious to everyone else in the airport that you have a three month old, the ticket counter clerk may still think she’s actually three YEARS old. Bring a copy of your birth certificate or passport no matter what.
  • Check and double check that your infant is on your ticket. Even if you are traveling with a lap baby, they still need to be on your ticket. Avoid the hassle at the airport when you are probably tired and perhaps a little stressed, and do it in advance.
  • Nursing? No problem. Similar nursing issues appear on planes as they do in, say, the park or other public places, but you also will have a much, much tighter space to do it in. I’ve found that the window seat is the most helpful place to wrestle with a nursing cover, especially if traveling alone (a little more room b/c of the curve of the plane, plus three “walls” for privacy), even though you have to then worry about getting out (long flights you may want to make a different decision and choose the middle and aisle between you and a spouse, using the latter as a helpful barrier.;)). If you are pumping bottles instead, budget in extra time for them to test the milk in security. The biggest thing that was helpful on flights early on, however, was the travel version of the Boppy pillow, which is smaller than the original, zips up even smaller, has a strap for carrying, and a pouch for smaller items. It not only made nursing easier for me, but doubled as a bed for naps, and in general, makes it easier to hold babies, especially young ones on longer flights. With a diaper bag, the pillow can be your second “personal item”, and with a larger diaper bag, it fits inside.
  • Less is more, but plan for the worst. That board book that she might read? Leave it. She goes through 3 diapers in a certain amount of time usually? Bring 6. You don’t want to already be at, say, Newark airport, get delayed 10 hours, and have to buy two diapers in the wrong size for $15 from the concession before it closes, just in case you have to spend the night. (Not that that has happened to me. Ha.) Seriously though, especially for necessities, assume delays or issues and pack more than you will need. Non necessities will matter less at that point when you are in survival mode. Though some of this has changed slightly as the baby’s needs change, we always bring: regular wipes, antibacterial wipes, pacifier/toy wipes, two pacifiers, pacifier clips, diapers that could last us the rest of the day and night, an extra pair of clothes beyond what you already normally need, a very warm lightweight blanket, snacks/bottle/sippy cup as necessary, lightweight changing pad (disposables are great for airports and planes), and small new toys (if you get new ones, you’ll have to bring less because of the novelty, and you don’t have to spend a lot to get this dynamic). Finally, we have found it helpful depending on the length of the trip, to pack the diaper bag and pillow as if we are going to carry it…but then insert it all into a rolling carry-on suitcase to pop out quickly later on the plane.


I’m sure there are more out there, but hope this is helpful as you plan!



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  • Maggie

    I guess my only advice is to enjoy air travel while it lasts! We’re expecting our fourth, and air travel is already completely out of the question with the cost of five tickets. We are now a strictly road trip family, which stinks since our families are 700 miles away :(. We did take several nice trips when our oldest was a lap baby, and all your advice sounds great!

  • FYW

    I learned recently that is not recommended to check your car seat at all! Because it then becomes of unknown history, which generally means it shouldn’t be used anymore. I don’t follow these rules rigidly, but it does give me pause. But it’s also not recommended to use rental car company car seats, which we did in the past so as to avoid the whole car seat issue. Ugh. Such a pain. The issue is that even the FAA recommends that you buy a child a seat, even if they are under 2, but they don’t require it. So for those people who stick with purely the safest rules of flying, checking a car seat isn’t an issue.

    Since M has been mobile and we moved her out of the bucket seat (i.e. she is a pain to try to keep on our laps), we’ve been traveling with a cheap $35 Cosco Scenera car seat. And we have always somehow (*knock on wood*) gotten a seat for her without buying a ticket. We figure that even if we don’t get a seat for her car seat that we’d rather our $35 car seat that is rarely used be of questionable history rather than our more expensive permanent fixture in our car at home. One trick for getting this to work is, if you are traveling with your spouse, to book the aisle and window seat of a row. The middle seats are often the last to go. If there are no other available seats, the person is happy to trade the middle seat for the window or the aisle. If there are any other available seats, the person is generally willing to switch, even to another middle seat (no one wants to sit in between 2 parents traveling with an infant/toddler). Even the flights that we were told were “full,” ended up finding a row for us, often the very last row. That does mean waiting until the end of boarding to find out if you can be accommodated. Like I said, it’s not a fool-proof plan, but it really doesn’t hurt to ask. And once your child is really squirmy and starts with tantrums, etc., having them buckled into a car seat is really a great thing. And you don’t have to worry about their safety should there be sudden turbulence, etc. I’m not an alarmist, but I can see how a lap infant could get hurt in certain circumstance (like flying in and out of Denver! I don’t know how people who travel there regularly do it!).

    Also, once you start lugging your big car seat around, there are carts specifically designed for car seats, but they all are in the $70+ range we found. I saw someone recommend the Conair Heavy-Duty Luggage Cart (–we got it for around $25 from Walmart, I believe). It comes with a bungee cord and really does the trick for carting around our Scenera. We have been stopped so many times at the airport asking what we were using. So much cheaper and works just as well. It’s great.

    Oh, and one more! I felt badly tying up the airplane bathroom when I had to pump but was sitting in an aisle seat on a 4-hour flight, surrounded by men, so I asked the flight attendants if there might be a seat where it would be more discrete. They found a row with 2 women and the middle seat open. I moved there to pump (luckily the women did not care at all), pumped under my nursing cover, then moved back to my seat. I also pumped before at a gate that had just boarded and therefore was empty. I had Googled the Phoenix airport and pumping and learned there was a family restroom in one area that was suggested for pumping, so did that before my return flight. It’s amazing what resources are out there!

    Those are all the tips I can think of! Sorry for the long comment. =) Safe travels, everyone!

  • Bethany

    This is a wealth of awesome info–I wish I flew more to use it! Thanks so much for sharing for our readers.

  • Queen B

    J, what a wealth of travel knowledge and experience you have developed in Pia’s first year! I’ll be expecting her to recite the travel safety features of a Boeing by her third birthday 🙂

  • Kathy

    Certainly a wealth of information. My girls are older but from my memory you are a pro at this travel with infants.