A few months ago I took my young daughter, Ava, on a plane for the first time and did I ever learn a lot from that experience! She was just 4 months old and not only was I traveling alone with her but we were also traveling Internationally. I hope that my experience and tips can help you prepare for traveling with your own baby whether you are alone or with more members of your family (lucky you!).
Now that I think back, I was actually not very stressed about our trip. Not until I was alone with Ava and all our gear in the airport. I had one large suitcase that I checked with the airline as soon as we got to the airport. Then I was left with the rest of our stuff: the carseat (Chicco Keyfit 30), the snap n go stroller base, my backback, the diaper bag, the base for the carseat, and the Baby Bjorn carrier which I already was wearing. Since it was winter, I also had both our heavy coats. Oh and of course, I had my 4 month old too!
So this is what I did: I put the diaper bag in the bottom basket of the stroller, the carseat snapped onto the stroller base, then the carseat base I placed inside the carseat. I wore the backpack on my back and Ava in her Baby Bjorn on my front. I threw our coats on top of the carseat. It actually worked. For the amount of stuff we had, it worked out very well. That is, it worked until we got to the next airport where we had to change planes. Then that also meant going through customs (more on that later), which meant picking up my huge suitcase and lugging it through customs, then re-checking it again before the next flight. Add a huge suitcase to the mix and it was difficult. Somehow I managed though and I have to say I got really good at maneuvering the stroller with one finger!
Our (round) trip consisted of a total of 5 planes and 4 different airports. We went from Chicago, IL to Calgary, AB to Vancouver, BC to Victoria, BC. On the way back we went from Victoria to Calgary to Chicago.
Tip #1: Pack as light as possible but bring enough. Sounds confusing right? Hear me out.
I scrutinized for days on what to pack, what to bring on the plane, what exactly I would need. I decided for the first time to leave my laptop at home. A very good decision that was. My backpack was already pretty heavy, and the diaper bag was full. You will want to pack light for your carry on luggage, and make sure you know where everything is. This will be crucial when you need something at that exact moment when your little one is screaming on the plane. Also on a couple of the planes we were on, my backpack (which isn’t even as large as a lot of people’s carry on luggage) would not fit under the seat. My diaper bag barely fit too, but at least it did fit. So I had to make sure I had the essentials in the diaper bag in case I had to put the backpack in the overhead bin. And I was not going to be able to get something out of the backpack during the flight.
These are the things I packed and what I recommend:
1. Ava’s coat – this was not actually packed as she was wearing it until we got into the airport, then it was put in the overhead bin with the backpack.
2. Diaper Changer: this thing is a must have and made my life so much easier! (more about this below)
3. Blanket: I kept this on my lap with Ava the whole flight
4. Extra plastic ziplock bags of various sizes, cause you never know when you might need them!
5. Cloth wipes: I LOVE these and don’t go anywhere without some. I took about 4 on the plane, but had many more in my suitcase.
6. Robeez shoes: Ava was actually wearing these on our flight. They are the only things she isn’t able to kick off of her feet and they keep her socks on. A must have for traveling.
7. Teething liquid (Camillia): This stuff didn’t really work that great for us, but we tried everything out of desperation.
8. Extra wet wipes: these were in the backpack – just in case
9. Boogie Wipes
10. Nose sucker: I found this works WAY better than those bulb syringes. We bought about 5 different kinds of bulb syringes and none of them worked. Total disappointment. The nose sucker works amazingly though.
11. Extra diapers – in the backpack. The other diapers were in the diaper changer.
12. Receiving Blanket
13. Extra shirt for me. Just in case she spit up or had explosive whatever all over me. I thought black would be best, and thankfully I never did have to use it. But you never know!!
14. Tummy drops and Tylenol. Definite must have!!! I did use the tylenol too. (more on that below)
15. Pacifier wipes: I always take these everywhere with us. Great for wiping off the soothie if it drops on the ground, or toys that fall.
16. Extra hat
17. Nursing cover
19. Toys: I brought several smallish toys that didn’t take up too much room and also that were relatively quiet. I didn’t want to annoy any of the other passengers. I also bought a brand new toy (a teether) to surprise her with.
20, 21, and 22: one playtex drop-ins bottle, with a baggy containing 3 extra nipples and extra drop in liners. These were LIFE SAVERS!! The bottle does not take up much room and neither do the liners and nipples. But when you are on a plane, there is no where to wash the nipples. I simply used a new nipple and new liner but used the same bottle base. The small containers are Tupperware Midgets which each held enough formula for 1 bottle. ***make sure you bring more than enough formula**** I planned to breastfeed on the plane but it was simply not possible when I had someone sitting so close to me. I was very thankful I had the formula.
24. Hand Sanitizer
25 & 26: extra clothes. I brought a sleeper, a pair of stretch pants, a short sleeved onesie and a long sleeved onesie. None of them took up much space.
27. Disposable change mats: didn’t take up much room, but nice to have just in case
28. Extra soothie in a soothie bag. For my child this is a must have.
29. and then my stuff: one lipgloss, a pack of gum, and some snacks. Yep that’s it. I’m glad I didn’t bring a book or magazine cause there was no time to read anything. I spent the entire flight either trying to entertain my daughter or trying to keep her asleep in my arms. Longest flights of my life.
Now this diaper changer thingy – I’m so glad I got it. You can get these at Walmart and Target and other places like that – they’re made by Fisher Price and are under $20. Well worth it. ( Amazon has a Brica Elite Go Pad which is very similiar for $19.99 with free shipping )
I can fit about 8 diapers in here, a package of wipes and some diaper cream (we use Healing Balm by the Honest Company). There is also a holder for a roll of poop bags (fellow dog owners know what I’m talking about). And these little bags come in very handy!
It folds up into a neat little compact package that you can even clip to a stroller or carry it under your arm. I kept mine right at the top of the diaper bag for easy access.
Now the above were all things I recommend taking if you have a baby between the ages of 2 – 5 months or so. Now Ava is 7 months old and I would add a few things if we were to travel by plane.
1. A spoon and small covered dish
2. Sippy cup for water
3. Orajel for teething
4. Teethers and toy clips/ paci clips. We use these daily as Ava is at the throwing-toys stage. At least if they are clipped to her, they don’t go far.
5. Spoon attachments for the food pouches.
6. Dried organic baby food: simply mix with water or formula
7. Pouches of ready to eat baby food
8. More bibs
Tip #2: Gate Check Items
My sister gave me this tip and I’m so thankful she did! It was very helpful having the stroller to push around the airport, mostly because I was able to throw all our crap into it. As of right now, the airlines let you gate check two baby items for free. I checked the carseat attached to the base as one item and the snap n go folded up as the other. It was a little tricky trying to fit the carseat on the base with one hand while dealing with all my other stuff including a baby strapped to my front, but there were a couple times when other passengers and even the baggage guys took pitty on me and offered to help.
Tip #3: Wear your baby
Another great tip from my sister! This was the perfect situation to start baby wearing for me. Not only was it great as we were making our way through the airport, but Ava really likes being so close to me so she was quite happy. Happy baby = happy mama. Usually. Also though, I wore her for part of the time during the flight as it was easier to bounce her gently, and this helped her sleep. However the moment I stopped bouncing, she woke up. And cried. So I kept bouncing, and bouncing. And bouncing. the whole flight. I started losing feeling in my arms but as long as Ava was quiet, sleeping, and happy, that’s all that mattered.
Tip #4: Ask for another seat
When you get to your gate, go up and ask the flight attendant if it’s a full flight. If it’s not, ask if you could get a seat with an empty seat next to it. You’ve got nothing to lose by asking. I was able to get an empty seat next to me for both of my longest flights, which helped tremendously!!
Tip # 5: Buy a bottle of water (or two) as soon as you get through security.
I specifically asked for a bottle of water that was not cold, as Ava will only drink warm or room temperature bottles.
Tip #6: Have the essentials within reach
I had my diaper bag under the seat in front of me with the diaper changed on top. Then I had a bottle of water, the baby bottle, and a container of formula in the seat pocket in front of me.
Tip #7: Take advantage of the family or wheelchair washrooms.
Especially important when you are alone with your baby. I had so much gear there was no way we’d fit in the regular bathroom.
Tip #8: have the baby Tylenol on hand.
Our first flight I needed it badly and didn’t have it accessible. Ava screamed and screamed as I’m pretty sure her ears were hurting. She screamed all the way through landing and of course we were at the back of the plane. Other passengers looked at me with sympathy as I was almost in tears myself with this screaming child. I explained that I had tylenol for her but it was in my other bag and we had to rush to make our next flight. It was amazing cause then everyone moved aside and insisted we rush out. We still missed our flight. *sigh
But for our other flights I was more prepared. Giving her tylenol on the plane helped her sleep through the landing.
Tip #9: Have more than enough diapers and formula.
Once again, because you never know! I was stuck in this situation on our way there. Our first flight was delayed about an hour and a half due to an air conditioner in the back of the plane not working. They never did fix it, and of course we were sitting in the back of the plane. It was so hot I was nauseous the entire flight. We missed our connecting flight in Calgary and had to be rerouted to Vancouver and then to Victoria. Yep another flight! 3 planes that day instead of 2. I felt like crying when I was told. Especially since our first flight did not go well (this was the one where Ava was screaming her lungs out). So our day of traveling suddenly went from 7 hours to almost 12 hours. Sure glad I had enough diapers and formula with me!
Tip # 10: Feed during landing/ take off
Everyone gave me this tip before we traveled and even the flight attendants all said this to me before we left. It’s supposed to help the baby’s ears if you breastfeed them or bottle feed them as the plane is taking off or when landing. I tried my best but on our last few flights she ended up sleeping through all the landings. Even better.
Tips for International Travel:
Have all your documents organized and handy. I had both our passports, our birth certificates (just in case), my Greencard, and a notarized letter from my husband stating that I was allowed to travel with Ava out of the country. Turns out I only needed the passports but it’s better to be prepared!
Security varies by country. In the USA you are required to put the carseat, base, and snap n go directly on the conveyer belt so it goes through the machine. But they let me wear her in the Baby Bjorn right through. In Canada they had me take her out of the Baby Bjorn, put it on the conveyor belt, and carry Ava through. But they left the carseat and base attached to the snap n go, then they wheeled that around for me.
Airline protocol also varies by country. On the USA flights, they let me keep her attached to me in the Baby Bjorn. On the Canadian flights, they had me take her out of the Baby Bjorn and hold her firmly against me for take off and landing.
Customs. At some point you will have to go through customs, and that means picking up your luggage, and hauling it along with all your other stuff to the customs counter. The officer that I encountered on our trip there was incredibly nice. He must have sensed my stress and I probably looked like I was about to fall over. He asked if anyone had helped me with all my stuff and he was appalled that no one had. He even left his booth and helped me take my big suitcase to the drop off station. Nicest customs guy ever!
So I hope these tips have helped you prepare for your own trip. I’m hoping for our next airplane experience I will be even more prepared and less stressed for our journey!
Tip added by Aunesty:
A lot of international flights offer a seat with a bassinet. If you aren’t assigned to that seat, find out if someone is using it that doesn’t need it and ask to be switched. Those bassinets are amazing, and allow for you to put a sleeping baby down and rest your arms!
Yes they even work for toddlers – to a certain extent
I am taking my 8mo on a six hour flight to Seattle on Friday! Luckily my husband will be with us, but I’m still nervous. Baby is in a very wiggly phase and he hates to be held if we are sitting down. These tips have been helpful in calming my nerves. If you can do it alone, traveling for 12 hours, and 3 flights, we can surely do it for 6 hours and one flight. I’ll definitely be picking up one of those “go pad” diaper changers and some orajel since baby is teething. Thanks for writing about your experience!