Air travel is stressful. There are crowds to deal with at the airport, cramped quarters on the plane and rude passengers. Try adding a baby to the mix! But it doesn’t have to be as bad as you think. We took my daughter on her first flight at 2 months old. I was on maternity leave and felt like a hermit…why not go to Florida to see family, right? Since then she’s flown on over 20 flights. (We’re really taking advantage of the “kids under 2 fly for free” rule)! Some have been as easy as pie and some have been nightmares, but I always make sure I’m prepared and take it in stride. Here is what I’ve learned so far.
CHOOSE YOUR SEAT WISELY One of the worst things in the world is being stuck in a middle seat with a lap child. I learned this the hard way. As bad as that was, I’ve also been lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me, which you better believe I took full advantage of! When my child was younger and unable to sit on her own, I always inquired if there were open seats on the flight. A few friendly employees have rearranged my seating assignment and allowed me to place a carrier in an empty seat. You would not believe how nice it is to not have to hold a baby for 3 hours straight! If your flight has slim pickings, it may be worth it to upgrade to a premium seat or business class for added space. When in doubt, head to the back of the plane, where there’s most likely to be open seats.
COME PREPARED My pre-baby packing checklist looked much different than it does today, and certainly did not include diapers and formula. Don’t leave home without an adequate supply of snacks, diapers and clothes. Now that my little one is a toddler, I have learned that the iPad is my best friend on a long flight, so I make sure it’s loaded with Sesame Street episodes. I also take the Baby Bjorn as a carrier option.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FAMILY BOARDING Most airlines allow passengers traveling with small children early boarding, usually after first class boards. This allows you to not only check your stroller at the gate without a line of anxious people breathing down your neck, but also the chance to get situated in your seat and unload your necessities with ease. Family boarding is especially important on Southwest, where being the last group to board almost guarantees a middle seat.
PREPARE FOR TAKEOFF Have you ever changed a baby in an airplane bathroom? Trust me, it’s not fun. My pre-boarding ritual includes a diaper change and a fresh bottle. Making sure your baby is changed and fed will hopefully prevent an emergency trip to the lavatory. And since changes in pressure can affect children’s ears, a bottle or pacifier can help ease the transition as you ascend.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP My husband and I often fly together, but I’ve also flown alone with child in tow. As you can guess, it’s MUCH easier to have that extra set of hands. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! I’ve asked TSA agents to assist with pushing my bag through the conveyor belt and opening my stroller. It’s worth asking for help if it makes getting through security a little easier.
EXPLORE AIRPORT FACILITIES Thankfully many airports are becoming more family friendly, with designated play areas and women’s lounges. A recent long layover in Dallas went smoothly thanks to their Junior Flyers play area. SFO and O’Hare have great playgrounds, the latter designed by the Children’s Museum of Chicago. Beyond the obvious amenities, we love the AA Admirals Club lounges for the play areas we’ve come across in the Miami and LAX locations. Check online to learn more about your airport’s facilities.
Flying alone with my little one has shown me that there are nice people out there. Without fail, people have offered help every time, whether it’s to carry my bag or grab something from the overhead bin for me. A flight attendant once said she’d hold my baby if I needed to use the restroom. And during an uncharacteristically fussy period, a nice woman seated behind me told me to hand over my little one. She was a pediatrician and must have noticed that I needed a break! Yes, you may get a few eye rolls when you’re heading down the aisle, but I’ve never encountered a rude fellow flyer. Try not to worry to much, flying with kids isn’t as hard as it seems.