Friday, June 20, 2014

Top Ten Tricks to Surviving Flying Alone with a Baby

I realize this is a Top Ten, rather than a Top Five, but you'll have to work with me here. There were simply too many tips for me narrow it down to only five.

While living in Boston, my husband and I had our first child, which also happens to be the first grandchild on my husbands side. The bad news is that our families live across the country from us in Utah, which has resulted in many airplane trips home. Since my husband is a full time MIT student he can’t always leave his schooling to accompany me, and I often end up flying alone with my baby for these visits.

Since I’ve got a few flights worth of experience I thought I’d jot down my tips in hopes of saving you some headaches if you’re ever in a similar situation.

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  1. Pack light and check as much luggage as you can.

    It might be worth that $25 baggage fee to not have to watch, haul, or maneuver your suitcase while trying to keep your little one calm or when your trying to get settled in your seat.

  2. Make sure you can handle everything you’re bringing by yourself before you’re standing helplessly at the TSA check point.

    I ended up pushing my baby in a stroller, which I had tied the car seat to the back of with a little strap, while carrying a backpack (which I opted for in place of my diaper bag). Thankfully I had been able to check all my luggage. I also brought a baby carrier with me so I could transition my boy to when I needed to collapse and check the stroller, but I knew my back would kill me if I tried to carry him and a backpack around all day.
  3. Have all your liquids in a plastic bag on the top of your diaper bag to speed up going through security.

    Strollers, car seats, diaper bag, and everything else you can image have to go through security, which will probably mean a little bit of unpacking and repacking. Make it as easy as possible on yourself; having all your liquids in a plastic bag on the top of your diaper bag is a lifesaver. (You can bring all kinds of liquids for babies and kids, so pack up that milk and bring ice packs if you need them to keep it cool. Most airlines will let you bring 70 oz of liquid, but double check with yours.)
  4. Bring your car seat, stroller and baby carrier.

    Most airlines will let you bring both a car seat and a stroller at no extra charge, they consider them an assisitive device (but double check with your airline, a few of them will let you bring one or the other, but not both). Bring the stroller you want to use for your whole trip, don’t bring a light one just to conserve space.

    I would also highly suggest bringing a baby carrier. They have so many varieties of these (Hotsling, BabyBjorn, Infantino, Baby K'tan, Moby Wrap, Padded Sling) find one that works for you. Having one gives you the option of freeing up your hands for a few seconds, and can work wonders to calm an over stimulated baby. They are also extremely useful when trying to get situated after going through security or while collapsing a stroller, for a gate check, before getting on the airplane.
  5. Don’t check your car seat.

    Even though it’s a pain to haul around, I would highly suggest not checking your car seat. You don’t know what’s going to happen to it between being check and getting it loaded on the plane (micro cracks from it being dropped or dirt from it falling out of the transport vehicle etc.) and you definitely don’t want to get to your destination and have your car seat lost along the way. You can gate check it when you get on the plane, and if you’re lucky, and if they have an extra seat, they might let you bring it on the plane for your baby to sit in at no extra charge.
  6. Ask if there are any extra seats on the flight.

    If you’re traveling with a lap child ALWAYS ask if there are any extra seats on the flight. If there are, the airline will often move people around so you can have the extra seat. More space for you and your baby makes the flight go so much better.
  7. Change a diaper before you board.

    Having to change the diaper of a squirmy baby in that tiny, gross, motion filled airplane bathroom is an experience to avoid. I always change my baby right before boarding and hope that if he has a dirty diaper it will be contained enough that I can change him on my lap.

  8. Opt for a window seat, near the back of the airplane, and bring the supplies you need for hours of confinement. *sigh*

    Go for the back of the plane because the noise of the engine muffles your baby’s crying so you’re not disrupting the other passengers, and it also muffles the noise other passengers might be making from waking your baby.

    I always try to get a window seat because I think it offers the most privacy. Bring a light blanket and some safety pins and pin a little curtain between you and the seat next to you. This gives you privacy for nursing/feeding, changing a diaper on your lap, and it might keep the extra stimulation down, which will hopefully result in your baby falling asleep.

    If you’re going to be nursing, opts for something that buttons up with a nursing tank under it. This has worked the best for me when I want to feed my baby without exposing myself. Nursing covers also work great, but my boy hated being under one.

    I also stuff a nursing pillow into the top of backpack. I know it’s huge, but it wrapped around me nicely while sitting, kept my baby off of the hard armrests, and allowed my boy to recline on it while flying. That made him so much more relaxed, which made the flight much better for me.

    Bring a change of clothes and a bunch of empty gallon sized plastic bags. Use the gallon sized bags to hold dirty diapers and possibly dirty clothes.

    Bring sanitizing wipes. You may not be able to sanitize everything, and you may not be able to keep your baby from licking the armrest, but at least it helps a little bit, right? You’ll also want them for your hands if you do end up changing a dirty diaper on your lap.
  9. Bring something to drink or to suck on for takeoff and landing so your baby’s ears pop.

    My boy hasn’t had a problem with this so far, but other babies on the flights have, and it seems miserable. A pacifier, bottle, nursing or anything that encourages your baby to swallow can help your baby avoid this particular misery.
  10. Unfortunately, you should just plan on your baby having a melt down (you can be relieved if it doesn’t happen).

    It may be unavoidable, and that’s okay. It’s okay for your baby to cry, and to be stressed, overstimulated and uncomfortable. Heck everyone else on the plane is too, your baby is just young enough to voice it. Know that you and your baby have as much of a right to fly as anyone else, and the rest of the passengers can rest assured that they will be free of the noise when they exit the plane. 

Take a deep breath, tell yourself you can do it, survive the fight, and enjoy the destination.

Do you find these tips useful, or do you have any others you would add to the list? Let me know in the comments, so all of our flights can be that much easier.