My little sister is taking her first flight with her 5 month old daughter next week by herself. After two years writing a blog about traveling with babies and kids, I have so much to tell her. Of course, that is also the problem. There is so much information about travel with kids that it can be overwhelming for new parents. Many give up before they even get started.
Recognizing that new parents don’t have much free time, I’ve distilled my in-the-trenches travel experiences into 7 basic tips for your baby’s first flight. These tips will serve you well if you are taking a domestic trip to a standard destination – a beach vacation, grandma’s house, Disney World, etc. If you are interested in planning for more complicated trips (including international travel), stay tuned for a more comprehensive beginner’s guide in the works.
So, without further ado, here are Trips with Tykes’ Top 7 Tips for Baby’s First Flight!
Tip 1: Know Your Airline
Not all airlines are created equal these days. Policies and practices among the US carriers can vary considerably, from checked bag fees, ease of securing seats together as a family, being able to purchase food in-flight, etc.
Depending on where you are located and where you are going, you may have only one or two choices of airlines for baby’s first flight. That is fine, as long as you know what to expect aboard the airline you do book. Check the airline’s website and make sure to read the sections about 1) Travel with Children (if the airline has one – not all do!) and 2) Baggage policies. This will cover 90% of the surprises you may encounter when traveling with kids.
If you do have more than a few airline choices, then may I recommend rewarding the airlines that work harder for traveling families with your business? Confused about which airlines to consider? Check out my post Best and Worst Domestic Airlines to Fly with Kids.
And when traveling with a baby for the first time, I’d avoid the ultra discount carriers unless you are used to traveling on them regularly. These airlines include Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant in the United States and RyanAir, EasyJet, and others in Europe. There are simply too many traps for the unwary.
Tip 2: Pick Flights Where You and Your Baby Are Likely to Be at Your Best
This tip may seen quite obvious — if you pick flights where you and baby are likely to be at your best, then your chances for a successful flight are much greater. But I see many new parents ignore this simple tip in the interests of a few bucks. I’m a big fan of traveling on the cheap, but when you have a new baby, you sometimes need to pay a bit more for an improved travel experience. This is particularly true on your first flight with a baby. Set the stage for travel success.
Before you book any trip with your new baby, think about your child’s daily routine. Try as best you can to book flights that work WITH that routine rather than disrupt it. For infants who have settled into a two-nap-a-day schedule (this usually happens somewhere between 4-6 months), I happen to think a 10 am flight is a perfect choice for a baby’s first flight. You wake up at a normal hour, get to the airport, and time takeoff to coincide with a morning nap. If your baby is colicky or fussy, avoid flights at times where baby is likely to be at his worst — evening flights (6 pm is not called the “witching hour” for nothing), redeyes, etc.
Tip 3: Don’t Overpack…
One of the hardest things about having a new baby is all the gear that comes along with this little person. The reality is that babies don’t really need much. Resist the urge to pack everything and the kitchen sink on your first trip. You will only be frustrated and tired from carrying all of it on parking and rental car shuttles, through security checkpoints, and on airport trains.
Worried you won’t have the essential gear you need at your destination? Consider shipping duplicate baby gear items ahead. It is always a good idea to have an extra Pack n Play and car seat at grandma’s house. Both of our kids have been bouncy seat fanatics, so we found the cheapest $25 bouncy seat Amazon.com had to offer and made sure it was waiting at grandma’s house before our first visit. And remember: if you forget something essential, chances are you can buy it at your destination.
Tip 4: But DO Overpack the Following in Your Carry-On: Diapers, Formula, & Food
I always encourage traveling parents to do their best to travel light. But there are three essential items on which you simply can’t risk being short: diapers, formula & food. These baby items simply aren’t available for purchase in the vast majority of airports. Babies mysteriously seem to go through more of these items during travel days anyway. Add in a flight delay or cancellation and you could run through your entire supply. Consider how much food, formula, and diapers you will need for your trip and double it. You’ll thank me later.
If your baby is breastfed, congratulations! You just freed up some space in the carry on bag. Although you might be wary to nurse in public places like planes, be aware that most airlines are quite supportive of nursing moms and it is much easier and more portable to breastfeed.
Tip 5: Use the TSA Family Lanes
If you haven’t flown regularly in the past few years, you might not be aware that many more airports now offer a separate security screening lines for families. Sometimes these family lines have absolutely no line at all. I’ve saved hours of my life that would otherwise have been wasted in TSA lines by using the family lanes. If family lanes aren’t an option, consider using one of these 7 tips for speeding through airport security with kids.
A few tips for TSA when you do breeze right through airport security. First, remember that liquids in excess of 3.4 oz (prepared formula, milk/juice, etc.) may need special screening. Have liquids ready in a separate Ziploc bag. Second, I have good news for those of you who hate or fear the newer body scanners (a.k.a. the “nude-o-scopes”). You don’t have to go through them with a baby! You will get sent through the standard metal detectors with an infant in arms.
Finally, be aware that you will have to take your little one out of his or her stroller (and sometimes also out of baby carriers) to go through the TSA checkpoint. This is a big pain if you happen to have a sleeping baby. I always try to keep my little one awake until we get through security, if at all possible.
Tip 6: While On-Board, Change It Up
Babies aren’t known for their long attention spans, so your best bet for surviving and thriving on the flight itself is being prepared with new things to do. Depending on the age of your baby, bring a variety of toys or items for him to look at or manipulate. Some of these should be new, and none of them should make serious noise so as not to disturb other passengers (rattles are okay, but nothing with music or bright lights). Sometimes simple is best. At 6 months old, our daughter entertained herself for 15+ minutes on one of our flights by meticulously tearing up our copy of the New York Times.
It is often helpful to get up and walk the aisles with a baby who is squirmy. You can often rock a fussy baby right to sleep this way if you put him or her in a carrier. Just be considerate of other passengers and try to stay out of the flight attendants’ way in the galleys.
Tip 7: Relax – You Can Do It!
Millions of traveling parents have flown with babies before you and lived to tell the tale. Your baby may fuss or cry at times, but most of your fellow passengers will be understanding if you are doing your best to address the situation. If things go wrong during your travels, stay calm and ask for help. Gate agents and flight attendants will be more willing to help you solve a problem if you are kind and in control.
Questions about traveling with kids? Other tips to share? Please comment!
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