Monday, October 28, 2013

Daily Travels - My top tips for flying with baby!

Having just returned from our 10 day trip to the UK to visit my parents, Owen now has a stamp in his passport and 20+ hours of flying time under his belt.  We were prepared for the worst but hoping for the best.  Turns out that he's a pretty good little traveler and handled both flights with relative ease.  That being said, I definitely came away from the experience with a few tips and tricks that I figure may be helpful for somebody out there.  So, here you go (in no particular order of importance)!

Are we there yet?
1) Call your airline to double check their individual policy, but it should be standard allowance to gate check a stroller for free.   Even if the baby's not in it, use it to tote your luggage through the airport.  I highly recommending shelling out the $14 for this gate check stroller bag.  When we arrived at Heathrow, it was raining (no surprises there) and the bag was soaked from making the trip off the tarmac in the rain, but it kept our stroller dry.  It also provides a level of protection against heavy-handed baggage handlers, who would potentially mangle your stroller should it pop open at some point. 

2) If you aren't booking a seat for baby, find out if you can get a bassinet/bulkhead seat.  It may cost a little extra, and there may be weight/age restrictions (depending on the airline) but, if you can't buy a seat for baby, the bassinet is a great option.  It cost us $50 each way, but having somewhere that we could put him down and he could play was well worth the price.  Unfortunately, it meant that he was in front of the screens (not that he was going to let us sit quietly and watch a movie anyway) but on the flip side, the bulkhead gives you a little extra leg room too.  They're available on a first come, first serve basis, so I recommend calling as soon as you book.  [UPDATE: Since writing this, a reader made a good observation that the bassinet option may only be available on international flights.  Something to keep in mind.]

3) Order your meal selection for the baby while you're calling about stroller checks and bassinets.  As it turns out, our request for a low sodium meal for Owen didn't make it into the computer.  The flight attendant very nicely arrived with some Gerber baby jars on a tray for him, and we had to inform her that there was no way he'd eat it.  She was able to procure a meal for us though and he chowed down quite happily on the regular food.

Makes pulling an all-nighter look easy
4) Speaking of, bring some of your own food too.  We packed a couple of the Plum Organics pouches - just make sure you declare them at security.  They didn't even look at them at LAX, and at Heathrow they just took a quick look to make sure the pouch was sealed.  While we didn't on this trip, you can also bring breast milk and formula through security too.  Here is what TSA has to say about it.  

5)  Ask the flight attendant for a bottle of water early on.  They were happy to give us a liter bottle so that we could use it for ourselves, the sippy cup etc.  Much easier for them than having to bring us water repeatedly throughout the flight.  It also made us the envy of our neighboring passenger who asked what the magic trick was to get a bottle, and I informed her that having a baby would do it.  The flight attendants also offered to warm up bottles etc. if we needed it, so that's always a good thing to know.

6) Head off to the dollar store and get some "disposable" toys.  I spent about $5 on some board books, flash cards, plastic discs, etc.  They were new and kept his attention for a few minutes at least.  It was also no hardship if they got lost along the way and it wasn't a question of losing a favorite toy.

7) Alternatively, random things on the airplane make great toys.  Simple things like plastic spoons and cups are easily wiped off and make great toys.  Owen spent quite a bit of time dropping one of his links into a plastic coffee mug over and over.  He also spent a good 20 minutes on the flight to Heathrow "sharing" his coffee with Husband and I.  It's the simple things.

8) Load up some baby apps.  Fisher Price and Baby First both have some nice options.  Some are flash card type apps, others are interactive story books.  Either way, a little screen time isn't bad given the circumstances.  Also, check out the kid's programming for in-flight entertainment as they probably have some kid-friendly options.

9) Bring at least a couple changes of clothes for the baby, plus a change of shirt or two for yourself.  I actually recommend having this in the diaper bag for the entirety of the trip.  It came in super handy when Owen, who had never previously projectile vomited in his 11 months of existence, decided to get a bit Exorcist all over himself, me, and the floor at Waterloo Station.  The horrified look on the face of the teenagers that he almost nailed was classic, and probably did serve as instant birth control.  I was, however, super happy to be able to change us both out of the offending puke covered items and back into something less offensive.

Suggestion:  Drink beer before giving can to baby
10) Dress the baby in an extra layer.  We didn't need any costume changes on the way out, but on the flight back, there was a little more vomiting.  Fortunately, I was able to take off the outer layer of clothing (revealing that Owen is indeed Batman) and let him hang out in a onesie until we could get him an appropriate change of clothes.  It may be worth having an extra layer for yourself case the vomiting is projectile, or a poop-splosion happens.

11) You probably want a stash of plastic bags on you know, to hold all the gross stuff that I just mentioned in the previous two points.  My aunt taught me many years ago how to fold plastic bags into nifty little triangles for space saving.  Here's a video - it's a neat trick.

12) Wear the baby.  I wore Owen through security both times, and was not required to take him out of the carrier.  That freed up the stroller for our carry on luggage.  In an airport like Heathrow, where you have to walk a mile to your gate, that can be a great help.  Be aware that they won't let you wear the baby for take off and landing though.  The airline will provide a lap belt attachment for you to use.  Personally, I feel like they'd be more secure in the carrier, but I don't make the rules.  There was no way that we were going to get Owen to sleep in the bassinet, especially with the screens right there.  We would turn them off and he figured out that if he smacked them, they'd turn on again (the downside of touch screens).  I managed to get him to sleep by popping him in the Ergo and taking him to the galley where I could sing/rock him to my heart's content without bothering our fellow passengers.  Once he was asleep, I went back to the seat and tried not to move too much.

13) Don't forget to ask for wings to mark the first flight!  We were flying Air NZ and they don't have wings, but the flight attendant was nice enough to fetch us a little packet for him to commemorate his first journey. 

14) Find out which bathrooms have changing tables as soon as you can.  Turns out the Air NZ had changing tables in all of their bathrooms, which was a win because it meant no waiting for a particular bathroom to open up. Granted, there is nothing fun about trying to change a poopy diaper in a confined space like that, but you do what you gotta do.  It's also not fun when you find out that your child has figured out how to open the door lock while you are trying to use the facilities, leading to one-armed grappling with baby, pants, and door in an attempt to maintain some kind of modesty.

In the end, it all went much smoother (barfing notwithstanding) than I thought it would and we found everybody to be quite understanding.  We are lucky that Owen is generally very friendly so delivered smiles to security agents, immigration, customs, flight attendants, and neighboring passengers.  I think that people have such a preconceived notion that any baby on a plane is going to be a problem that they are thrilled to see parents trying to make it a pleasant experience.  We never even had to offer up the earplugs that I'd packed in our carry on!

I've probably forgotten some things here, but if this list is helpful to anybody, then I have done my job! Happy travels....


  1. Great tips!! We are planning on flying with B next year, and I'm already terrified. I can't imagine doing an international flight- you are so brave. Pinning this!!

    1. We were nervous, but Owen surprised us with how well he handled it. I'm sure B will do great also!

  2. This is great!! We are flying to Hawaii in 2 weeks and i need all the tips i can get!

  3. Do you know how awesome you are!! Thanks for this lovely and thoughtful post!.. Hugs to you..
    I have a son who turned 1 on 12th of Oct..Would love to visit here more!!