With the holidays quickly approaching, many families will be packing their suitcases and heading off to visit relatives and fun destinations! For first-time moms, like me, the thought of traveling with an infant was daunting. Flashbacks to that screaming baby on the airplane, the frazzled mama walking up and down the aisles, the dirty looks from other passengers… it seemed very overwhelming, but I learned that it doesn’t have to be!
In his first year, my one-year-old has earned his Delta wings after traveling to Honolulu, Denver, Dublin, and Jerusalem. Here is my routine that has helps my family when flying with our little one:
THE WEEK – OR MORE LIKELY THE NIGHT - BEFORE: PACKING
While my husband and I can share a suitcase, believe it or not, my baby has a full-size suitcase of his own. I like to start packing the week(ish) prior to my trip to avoid those late night trips to the store.
While it was relatively easy to find baby items at local stores when traveling within the States, I’ve learned the hard way that not all countries have the same brands you're used to. You know, I never thought I’d find myself in an Irish grocery store scrounging for the closest formula ingredients to Similac.
To avoid issues, here’s what I include in baby’s suitcase:
 at least 2 outfits per day (layers for cooler and hats for warmer climates) and pjs
 a first aid kit with items like thermometer, bulb syringe, saline spray
 8 diapers per day (optional: overnight and swim diapers)
 toiletries; baby brush, travel sized soap and lotions
 car seat (though check with your car rental agency as many can provide a rear-facing carseat for an additional charge)
 if bottlefeeding; bottles and enough formula to last the typical length of your trip plus 4 days
AT THE AIRPORT:
We try to arrive to the airport 2 hours prior to our flight for international trips and 1 hour prior for domestic just to account for the extra time in security. Formula, breast milk and juice for infants or toddlers are permitted in reasonable quantities through the security checkpoint. Believe it or not, though, your diaper bag will most likely be taken apart and formula, liquids even wipes, will be tested. I've noticed some moms find it easiest to skip the stroller altogether and keep baby in a carrier throughout the process.
I like to used a diaper bag backpack to keep my hands free and everything organized.
After security screenings, we find our gates and I take the opportunity to change Ari’s diaper at least once before the flight. The airport bathrooms are a luxury compared to the onboard lavatories! As an infant, I’d walk him in the stroller and now I walk him through the airport to let him burn some energy.
BOARDING AND TAKEOFF
When traveling with the stroller and car seat, I’ll ask for a “pink tag” that will allow me us to check the bag right at the entrance to the plane and retrieve it upon arrival. I find this really convenient!
Most airlines will allow families traveling with little ones to pre-board early, and I always take advantage of this, since it takes a little extra time to get situated once onboard. I like to wipe down the surfaces with a disinfectant wipe, especially when he was putting his mouth on everything – yuck! When younger, Ari enjoyed people watching as they boarded, and now he enjoys iPad-watching. I usually download a few new movies and have found these kid-friendly headphones to work well!
Once everyone’s boarded and we’re taking off, I find it important for Ari to suck on a pacifier or drink a bottle or cup of water. This helps relieve the pressure in his ears from the changing altitude that he can’t regulate on his own. In flight, he’ll watch movies, look out the window, and eat snacks. All. The. Snacks.
I was SO afraid of my first flight with a baby and asked my pediatrician if he could take Benadryl to fall asleep easily. She let me know that a lot of babies actually do really well on planes, and you will be surprised at how well your baby does, too! For longer flights, we try to always book a red-eye/overnight flight so Ari will sleep through most of the night on my chest.
Something about the change in altitude + sucking on a bottle + the whir of the engine makes my baby groggy, and he’ll USUALLY fall asleep by the time we reach 10,000 feet. But when he doesn’t…
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
There are the times when baby will wake up screaming, with a poopy diaper, or just ready to get off the plane. In these cases, here's the good news:
- In general, people are very understanding of the fact that a fussy baby has no control over his crying. Many will let you know that they, too, have a child or grandchild and are very sympathetic, so don’t be discouraged if your baby is unhappy on his first flight. It WILL get easier!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! I haven’t yet taken a solo trip, and I’ve found that having my husband there to shoulder some of the weight – literally- is a lifesaver. I’ve also found flight attendants to love little ones and be incredibly helpful when it comes to things like filling up baby bottles or giving you an extra hand.
- For easier diaper changes, I like to book an aisle seat so that I can hop up easily. While they may not be spacious, many of the lavatories DO come equipped with a changing table. I bring a changing pad to protect baby and LOTS of extra outfits that are comfy, warm, and easy to get on and off. I bring a roll of doggy bags for dirty diapers and in case a "blowout" leads to a clothing "bye-bye".
You made it! Flying with a baby does not have to be overwhelming. Remember, you’ve made it through pregnancy, you’ve made it through motherhood, and you can make it through anything! Your baby will likely do much better than you anticipate, and even if he doesn’t, your vacation awaits you at the end of the flight, so it’s all worth it.
Safe flight! You’ve got this, mama!