Flying with an infant: 9 tips for family travel

Family travel // Flying with an infant or baby // Ten Thousand Hour Mama

The day started inauspiciously. I couldn’t get back to sleep after Peeper’s 3am feeding, my head was pounding and I spent a good chunk of the morning hovering over the toilet and trying not to throw up. (No, I’m not pregnant.) It was as if the universe was telling me, “Good luck flying with an infant today!”

Eric peeked his head into the bathroom. “Should I look into rescheduling?” he asked.

I shook my head. We were getting to New York, no matter how many barf bags I had to use.

Spoiler: We made it!
Spoiler: We made it!

Traveling with a baby: Why can’t it be easier?

Minutes later, with 100 pounds of luggage, an overstuffed diaper bag and a sleeve of Saltines in tow, we headed (predictably late) to the airport. We were flying to the East Coast for a good friend’s wedding and, after that, my brother’s wedding. It would be Peeper’s first time flying.

Luckily, though, everything went more smoothly after my bout with nausea. We dropped off Finn at a friends’ house, parked and checked in with just a few minutes to spare. Even security went well: A female TSA agent said I should be able to carry on milk removal soap so I didn’t have to throw away the bottle.

Edie gets her wings!
Peeper gets her wings!

Peeper was a champ on our flights. She cried a bit but our neighbors were understanding. True to form, four-month-old Peeper didn’t want to stay stationary, so we spent much of the PDX > IAD trip bouncing her in the aisle.

Silver linings to flying with a baby

Thanks to our tiny one, we met dozens of kind people en route: the middle-aged woman whose son demanded to be bopped for hours, too; the grandma who just visited her first grandchild; the seatmate who never complained about letting us into the aisle—again.

Peeper charmed the other passengers, too. The women ahead of us in the puddle jumper from Washington to New York cooed and made silly faces at her while we waited an hour on the tarmac for maintenance to fix a broken overhead compartment. “I’m going to put you in my pocket and take you home!” one said.

I was also grateful I didn’t feel uncomfortable breastfeeding her. I’d read horror stories online of mothers being asked to move to the galley or, worse, hiding in the bathroom to nurse (like here, here and here). I’m not shy about whipping out a boob in public, but I’d hate to be caught in a battle over modesty and my child’s need to eat.

With this leg of our journey complete, I feel much more confident and less worried about flying with an infant next time. We avoided unstoppable meltdowns, pooplosions, ear pain and confrontations with seatmates. The next journey could be different, but I’m hopeful we continue our airborne success.

We were lucky this time. For anyone traveling with babies, I offer this advice. And good luck!

9 tips for flying with an infant

  1. Dress the peanut in an outfit that snaps or zips down the front. (We left Peeper in her jammies.) It will make a wardrobe change easier in the event of a blowout—and flight attendants can’t resist a cute baby in pajamas!
  2. Nurse or bottle feed during takeoff and landing if you can. It’ll help Baby’s ears adjust to the pressure change.
  3. Pack minimal carry-ons. We ended up having to take 6 pounds of luggage out of our checked suitcases to avoid a $100 excess weight fee, and schlepping the extra crap around the airport made our transitions that much more difficult. Plus it’s hard to find the one thing you need if you have to dig through a mountain of stuff.
  4. Manage your expectations. You won’t get to watch the in-flight movie, catch up on back issues of the New Yorker or address birth announcements. When flying with an infant, you won’t have the opportunity to do anything besides attend to the bambino. If you do have a few minutes of spare time, sleep.
  5. Your child’s nap and bedtime schedule are likely to be confused, especially if you’re crossing time zones. There’s no advice for this, I guess, besides don’t be surprised if your prize-winning napper goes on a sleep strike.
  6. Drink water. A lot of water. The dry air on planes turns your skin into a desert under the best conditions. You want to make sure you have enough fluids to make milk if you’re breastfeeding.
  7. Pack snacks. We were lucky enough that we could grab a bite during our layover, but if our first leg had been delayed, we wouldn’t have had that chance. I brought muffins, fruit, nuts and chips.
  8. Pack spare outfits for your baby, yourself and anyone else who’s traveling with you, especially if you have a spitter. We didn’t need ours but I’d rather carry around unused clean clothes than travel for hours smelling of partially digested milk.
  9. Finally, try not to worry if your baby cries. That’s what babies do sometimes. Some (childless) people will roll their eyes, but the majority of folks are understanding. Focus on what your child needs and try not to waste energy on what other passengers think.

Do you have any other tips for flying with an infant? Share your wisdom in the comments!

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