So… you’re about to take an airplane trip with your baby and/or toddler? It’s one of the most anxiety-inducing experiences for parents to face, but it doesn’t have to be! With a little prior planning and preparation, you can sail through the travel trenches like a pro! These tips have been cultivated over the past few years after my husband, an aviation executive, was asked to give a series of interviews to a mom advice segment that occurs on our nightly news. We asked countless other parents in person and in various mama groups online to get the best advice and boiled it all down just for you. Read on to learn how to survive plane trips with your littles – all without needing to pay for alcoholic beverages on the plane (unless you want to, of course). I’ll break this down by age of child (infant vs. toddler) so you can pick and choose what applies to your situation.
FOR ALL AGES:
1) Bring some type of disinfectant wipe for the seat tray. You never know what other babies or germy people have touched it or (ew) had a diaper changed there. Wipe down the armrests, the window shades and the overhead buttons/air vents for added disinfecting fun. This is especially important if your child is immune-compromised for any reason (prematurity, chronic illness, etc.) or if your kiddo is a lap baby… they like to explore their environment.
2) Parents traveling with babies and toddlers do not need to conform to the 3oz rule for liquids if they are transporting breastmilk, formula, juice, water in a bottle or cup, or medication. This also goes for baby food or pouches. Separate any baby-feeding items from the rest of your liquids and put them in their own bin for screening. The TSA will inspect them for you. They will ask you to open the bottle/sippy cup and potentially one pouch so they can pass a strip over it that detects whatever bad things they’re looking for (explosives?)
3) Ask your airline for assistance if you are connecting flights. They will often provide assistance to families with young children. You can call and request this ahead of time, but frankly, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing in many cases so you can also ask a gate agent directly on the day of travel.
4) You will likely be allowed to pre-board… listen for announcements at the gate for “family boarding” or anyone needing extra time to get down the jetway. There is one major US carrier which does not do this (ahem… think legacy carrier beginning with an “A” ) but everyone else does. When I travel with my hubby, we do the family boarding if allowed and then I get on the plane first with the car seat so I can buckle it in. My husband waits a minute in the jet bridge and then follows with my son. The car seat must be placed in the seat closest to the window and they cannot rear-face if doing so would impair the ability of other people to get in/out of seats or recline. However, for an infant seat, the directions on the seat say to rear-face, so you should be able to do this. If traveling alone, I send my son down in front of me and use my voice to guide him to the seat. This obviously only works if you have a child that can walk; otherwise, I would wear him. It’s a sweaty and exhausting prospect to guide a child and install a seat at the same time but it can be done! Plus, most flight attendants or even other passengers are willing to help.
FOR INFANTS AND YOUNGER TODDLERS (mostly):
5) Many parents find that using a baby carrier is beneficial in the airport. You may wear your child when going through security, and you will not have to unbuckle them until you are seated on the plane. This is a great way to transport your child, especially if you are flying direct. If you are connecting, be aware that you could potentially have a long layover if your second flight is delayed. In that case, wearing your child becomes very heavy. Even if your child is a lap baby, they will not allow you to wear the baby during take-off and landing for safety reasons… just FYI.
6) Carry any items you will need for yourself and your baby in a backpack so that you are hands-free to manage your kiddo. Bring a change of clothes for yourself and your child in the event of illness while flying. Bring at least one diaper for every hour of travel. Most airplanes have changing tables in their bathrooms, but check with your carrier. I literally do not bring anything for myself in the carryon bag… it’s all for my son. Each of your children is entitled to his/her own carryon, though, so technically you could have two diaper bags/backpacks. Older children like to carry on their own little bags or backpacks containing their toys, which frees up space in your backpack.
7) If you choose to use a stroller and/or a car seat in the terminal, you will have to put them through the screening machine and carry the child through the metal detector with you. They will not send you through the newer detector where you have to raise your hands up (you know, the one that sees you naked under your clothes…); you’ll go through the older-fashioned kind. You will also have to gate-check your stroller and the car seat, unless your child is a ticketed passenger and you plan to seat him/her in a seat on the plane. If you are planning to seat your child under the age of 2 on your lap, you may ask the gate agent if the flight is undersold. If so, you will likely be allowed to carry on your car seat so that your child may ride just as s/he would in the car. Strollers and car seats are checked for free. It is not recommended to check your car seat at the ticket counter with the rest of your luggage as you want to keep an eye on it for as long as possible… but truly, once your items are stowed in the cargo area of the plane you won’t know whether the integrity of the seat has been compromised anyway.
8) If you plan to pump or nurse on the plane, check with your carrier regarding their regulations. You will be permitted to feed your child, but you may be asked to be discrete or to use a nursing cover. You are within your rights to refuse to use a cover, but many airline employees are woefully uninformed where this is concerned and unfortunately, nursing mothers have been removed from flights in the past for refusing to cover themselves. That being said, and whether you’re nursing or not, many parents recommend feeding your child on take-off and landing, as it helps the child’s ears adjust to changing pressure.
FOR OLDER TODDLERS/PRESCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN:
9) Bring things like stickers, post-it notes, Play-Doh, books, videos/tablet, and LOTS of favorite snacks (obviously not something s/he is too young for). You might also bring a toy or two your child has never seen before so they will have something novel to occupy their attention. If the airport has a child play area, let your child play and run as much as possible before you get on the plane. I actually gift wrap a few of my son’s regular old toys because it adds a layer of something to do.
10) Try to be relaxed and flexible; children can sense your stress! This seems easier said than done, I know, but it’s true. I always envision that a flight will be the worst experience imaginable… and then it often turns out to be pleasant and no big deal. Probably not a wonderful psychological strategy but it works for me!
Best of luck to you on your air travels and safe trip!
About Jessica Gallagher
Jessica Gallagher is a former English teacher turned stay-at-home mom. Her husband works in the aviation industry, and they have (some times more successfully than others) flown across the country numerous times with their three-year-old son Mikey. They look forward to experiencing the madness of traveling with two littles in June 2017 with the addition of a new baby.