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Family Travel: Lessons Learned from 10 Flights with Baby

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In this post we explore lessons learned having taken ten flights with our baby before she turned one years old.

Note that we the reflections listed below are based upon travel as a couple that sat in economy with a lap-seat ticket for our infant.


[USA] Consider enrolling in TSA Pre✓ & Global Entry programs.

TSA Pre✓ and Global Entry are wonderful tools to use if you plan to travel more than twice in a year. This reduces the need to struggle in organizing yourself to get through security lines and attempt to juggle baby, luggage and shoe removal.

A few benefits of TSA Pre✓:

  • Expedited airport security screening process
  • Comfort of not having to remove shoes, belts or light jackets
  • Ability to leave laptops and TSA-approved liquids and gels in your carry on luggage

A few benefits of Global Entry:

  • No processing lines upon arrival
  • No paperwork to fill out in-flight
  • Reduced wait times
  • TSA Pre✓ eligibility

The process to get a TSA Pre✓ and Global Entry can be tedious but we believe it is well-worth the time invested upfront.

Bring your own carseat.

Yes, it is a hassle check in an oversized carseat carry bag. But the bigger hassle is not being able to enjoy your trip because you are worrying about transit options.

Without bringing your own seat, you become dependent on pricey hotel transport, availability of ride share app drivers who keep one in their car, and having to plan around walking, public transport and other options. In our experience, all of the Uber and Lyfts did not offer car seat availability and few of the hotels had the right car seat (either backward or forward-facing, size restrictions) for rental.

Not having a seat may severely hinder your ability to effectively move around a place and could put a damper on your travel plans.

Select your carry-on luggage wisely.

As you move through the airport and load bags in/out of cars and planes, having the right gear is important. We’ve discussed the benefits of one-bag travel, but understand that traveling with a little one can include additional items like strollers, breast pumps and the rest.

For that reason, we recommend selecting pieces that are flexible and give you the space to throw items in. We recommend a canvas bag with a zip top that can become a catch-all for the do-dads, baby carriers and other items that you might use during the waiting time in the airport, and also be accessible under your feet once in-flight.

Tips:

  • Don’t pick pieces that require perfect, modular packing. If your bag requires you place every item into a packing cube in order to fit into your bag, this is an approach that will be unsuccessful. Babies somehow attract stuff – and a last minute diaper change, acquisition of a new toy or bottle of water should not create packing issues.
  • Select something that you can grab items with a single hand if baby falls asleep on you. How do your
  • Don’t pack everything to capacity – leave 20% space to throw in items that you pick up along the way.

Know how your luggage travels and adjust accordingly.

Know how to wear your purse, backpack or stack your bags in the stroller.

Tips & considerations:

  • Select something that you can grab items with a single hand if baby falls asleep on you. How do your zippers function with a single hand? Can you open your bag if it is on your shoulder, or does it require you to put it down? Does your bag tip over if not full?
  • Can your bag be washed? If your baby soils an outfit, or a banana finds its way to the bottom of your bag, how do you plan on cleaning it?
  • How does your bag wear after 10-minutes? 20? 1 hour?

Delegate responsibilities before travel.

Think through and assign someone to handle:

  • IDs and boarding passes
  • Stroller fold (and gate-check, if required)
  • Diaper changes in-airport and in-flight
  • Water bottle refill
  • Who carries baby in/out of the plane
  • Who puts bags overhead
  • Who has baby on their lap for take off and landing

Baby wear through the airport.

Baby wearing in the airport is fantastic to get through security lines.

We placed our items in the stroller and carried baby around the airport for extra cuddles ahead of the flight.

Change baby’s diaper right before boarding.

Change baby’s diaper right before the flight. Airplane bathrooms are generally not clean. If absolutely necessary, have sanitizing wipes at your fingertips and a large garbage bag to place over the toilet area to keep baby from touching an unsanitary bathroom.

Prepare snacks, water & in-flight activities.

Prepare in-flight activities, snack and outfits. Do not leave it to chance that the flight will have what you need nutritionally or sanitary items.

Lightweight blanket for baby is all you need. Bulky blankets are a hassle to carry around.

Keep sanitizing wipes handy.

Sanitizing wipes for baby hands throughout the flight. Baby can and will touch everything. Anticipate this and keep wipes ready. Wipe down tray table and adjacent areas before take off.

Have something for baby to teethe on.

Have an attachable teething item for baby. Something that they can’t throw on the floor but is interesting to play with or gnaw on.

Have something for baby to suck on as the plane ascends and descends. Whether it is nursing your child, giving them a pacifier, or handing them something to suck on, be prepared for your child’s ears to hurt.

Bring a nursing pillow so baby can rest.

We used a nursing pillow that served as a lay-flat bed during the flight. Baby could nurse to sleep and comfortably rest for the duration of the flight. As she has gotten older, she has learned how to better nestle into the crook of our arms to rest, but when she was small, having a made her experience more peaceful for us all.

Have baby wear socks, not shoes in flight.

Have baby wear socks for the flight but not shoes. Baby’s feet can swell and their shoes may become too tight and uncomfortable. Socks keep their feet protected but give flexibility to move around and accommodate for any in-flight swelling.

Remember that babies will be unpredictable.

A baby’s mood is ever changing and fortunately, other travelers (mostly) get it. Some flight baby will be over tired, other flights baby is happy and smiley. Save for the frazzled traveler who may be having a bad day and is a little snarky, most other travelers are happy to see baby and play a game of peek-a-boo.

Give yourself grace.

As a continuation from the above point, the good news is that other parents have experienced this range of emotions and moods. Do what you can, be apologetic if needed and pay it forward to extend grace to other parents as your own child ages. Be gracious, be kind and everyone will get through it.

Traveling is a muscle. The more you do it, the more you become familiar with what works for you and doesn’t. Horror stories exist if kids screaming for entire flights, but the calm baby stories don’t surface nearly as often. It will be okay, and if it’s not, know you did your best and iterate for the next time.

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