Guest post: Holiday air travel with a baby by Imogen

Happy holidays, friends! Since I subscribe to the Amy Poehler school of traveling with children, I thought I should call in an expert to offer more appropriate advice for traveling with a baby during the busy holiday travel season. Luckily, my old friend Imogen has a baby and lots of good advice, please join me in welcoming her to Bite-sized Travel! 

The holidays have descended which means a lot cross-continent air travel is near. When I was a graduate student, this meant lugging a backpack full of Ontario wine through Security and returning with a backpack full of Nova Scotia pepperoni [Krista: we have a special kind here, people enjoy it]. Oh, how times have changed. Now, a trip Back East involves a baby, stroller, car seat, diaper bag, breast pump bag, frozen milk, the list goes on. So in the spirit of Christmas/Hanukkah/generic holiday Season, here’s a few travel tips to ease the burden of flying with a baby, especially if you’re doing it alone or for the first time.

Baby travel basics

In the days leading up to your travel, verify your airline’s policies and double-check the rules for the country (or countries) where you are travelling. If you can, print out these policies and rules and take them to the airport with you, just in case.

  • Pack your diaper bag as if you’ll be delayed for a day (loads of diapers, food, and clothes).
  • Bring baby’s birth certificate (or passport if traveling out-of-country) and don’t forget to leave a copy at  home.
  • If you’re traveling without the baby’s other parent, verify in advance whether you need a letter from the non-traveling parent granting permission to travel.
  • You can often bring more checked and carry-on bags for all of baby’s things, check the airline’s policy (for example, Air Canada doesn’t consider the car seat a bag).
  • Breast milk and formula don’t count as liquids in carry-on luggage, but check the rules for your country (I recently brought 2.5 litres of frozen breast milk onto a plane in my carry-on bag).
  • Put your name and address of your destination on your stroller and car seat.
  • Babies under two years can often fly for free on your lap (check with your airline).
  • Feed baby or use a pacifier on takeoff and landing (yes, the feeding position goes against the airlines’ recommended takeoff and landing positions, but really, play the odds here – likelihood of dying in a crash, minimal, likelihood of baby screaming as the pressure changes, maximal.
  • Arrive early for security screening since your baby will probably choose the moment before you get in line to poop.
  • Ask the flight crew for help if you need it.

Advanced baby travel

As I’ve traveled more with my baby, I’ve discovered some advanced tricks and tips for making everything better for baby, me and the people around us:

  • Strollers and car seats: Gate-check your stroller and car seat. This allows you to use the stroller in the airport but not have to deal with stowing it safely in an overhead bin (like that could happen). However, know that the airport staff do not have the same love for your stroller as you do. Some may even view your stroller as a worthy adversary and take every opportunity to enter into a kung fu-inspired battle with it. If you can afford to buy a second ‘travel stroller,’ do so, but ensure it has a large basket underneath to hold all your crap as you sprint thought the terminal. Remove any accessories that hang out over the edges (e.g., cup holders) since you can guarantee that these will be snapped off in transit. And ensure that when it is closed it will stay closed. We purchased a second stroller for travel only to realize at the airport that the clip didn’t work well. We had to bungee cord the stroller together, something I could not do alone while lugging baby, diaper bag, pump bag, and everything else. Make peace with the likelihood your stroller will be damaged en route.
  • Wear your baby. Bring an Ergo, Mei Tei, Moby Wrap, sling, whatever your preferred method for baby-wearing. Even though you aren’t allowed to wear baby during takeoff and landing, you can as you board and leave the plane. With the massive amounts of crap you need to take in your diaper bag ‘in case of emergency,’ your hands will be pretty full, leaving little room for baby after you gate check your stroller. Make life easier for yourself, put baby in the carrier before you make your way down the runway and then as the plane is taxiing to the gate at your destination.
  • Take advantage of pre-boarding. Don’t be a hero, the opportunity to use pre-boarding passes quickly as baby gets older. For my last trip, I made it to the plane with the masses only 20 seconds behind me. I had forgotten to put baby in the Ergo first, so struggled with baby, carrier, stroller, diaper bag, pump bag, and a hot chocolate (don’t buy a hot chocolate minutes before boarding, that was dumb) while being jostled by people who didn’t understand that we leave the gate at the same time whether you push past me or not. Pre-boarding also means that you get the pick of the overhead bins. Sweet! [Krista: I normally complain that people bring too much stuff on board, crowding the overhead bins, but babies get a pass, especially the ones near and dear to me.]
  • Leave your diaper bag by your feet and sit in an aisle seat. If travelling alone with a baby on your lap, you can push the diaper bag into the aisle and, to retrieve items efficiently, perform a one-handed manoeuvre that would make a contortionist proud. This means paying the money to pre-select your seat. You’re already shelling out a fortune to fly during the holidays, so go all-in on this one. [Krista: Hear, hear. Throw a little money at the problem and make life easier for yourself.]
  • Do anything that will entertain your baby during the flight. Bring earphones for you and let baby watch the airplane t.v. I know, I know, “No screens before two” but trust me, good parenting takes a hiatus for a few hours on a plane. Do what works to keep baby happy!
  • Tether baby’s toys to you. Otherwise, they’ll end up on the floor, beneath your seat, in the aisle, or with the jerk in the seat in front of you who will ignore your requests for help, even if you tap him on the shoulder several times. True story, happened on my last flight and the guy was an off duty airline steward. Short version, tether your toys or you can kiss them goodbye.
  • Change is upsetting in baby world. Expect that baby’s sleeping and eating will be messed up for a few days after travel.
  • Be zen. Baby will cry and the more you stress about it, the less you’ll be able to calm her. However, if all else fails, bribe your fellow passengers to compensate for screaming baby. Chocolate works wonders. [Krista: Or the bar cart.]

How do you manage traveling with babies and children during the holidays? Do you have a preferred method for transporting vast amounts of Nova Scotia pepperoni by plane? Fire away in the comments!

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15 comments

  1. People who travel with babies, especially on planes, are very brave. Car trips are difficult enough right now. Maybe one day I’ll travel by plane with M…and I’ll totally print out these tips!

  2. Great tips!!! One thing I could add is when you arrive at the airport is to ask if the flight has any spare seats. If the flight isn’t full, we have been able to get a free seat for our infant and brought the carseat onto the plane with us. This isn’t doable if you are travelling alone with baby (I can’t imagine lugging the carseat around by myself) and we once had a flight attendant question whether or not our seat was “airline approved” (we told her that it was still 1000 safer than holding baby in the case of severe turbulence).

  3. Great list Imogen (Hi Krista). I learned a few things the hard way:
    1. Air Canada charges 10% of the flight for international flights for baby to travel with you.
    2. It is not worth it to pay the extra $90 for “premium” seats on the old Air Canada planes that have the bassinets – they are about 6 inches deep, directly below the 16 sqft tv (old school projection) and, even if we managed to get R to sleep in it, you have to remove the kid whenever you hit turbulence. Save the $90 for drinks for people around you.
    3. Even if you for advanced seat selection or if you are too cheap to pay (unless you buy the premium seats), check in online as soon as that precious email comes in your inbox. 24 hour I paid extra on a recent flight so I figured why bother checking in right away, only to find they had swapped planes and my swanky 35F (window) became 32E (middle). Luckily the boy was home, but if he was in tow I would have likely been arrested at checkin.
    4. If it is a long flight, book toward the middle of a section. Front and back of the sections on big planes have more light and activity (WCs, galleys etc.)
    5. You can carry more than breast milk through security – my wife forgot to empty her water bottle going through and they simply asked, “Is that for baby?” Um, yes. Yes it is.

    • Hi Steve,
      Great tips, thanks for adding them!

      To reiterate, always check with your airline for policies and options. I was on a US Airways transatlantic flight earlier this year where they had more babies than bassinets. They rotated them in shifts!

  4. I agree with feeding baby during take-off and landing. It’s a life-saver! When they get older, you can use Oreo cookies to pacify them – not only does the chewing help relieve ear pressure, but they get a kick out of showing your their cookie-caked teeth (thus making them open their mouths and further relieve pressure)!

  5. I should have consulted before writing the blog, these ate great tips! I also learned that if you’re using disposable diapers (we cloth diaper but I’m not adventurous enough to travel and cloth diaper, that’s a whole other blog topic!), but the bulk of them when you get to your destination. They’re heavy and take up previous luggage space. Thanks for all the comments, folks!

  6. For the slightly older set:

    1. I know they get to travel on lap until two but if you can stretch you budget get the kiddo a seat. Then you can use your car seat (only if needed at your destination) OR after they are one year old, use the CARES system (child aviation restraint system). I found that after the dude learned to walk/ got big I absolutely had to get him his own seat and I adore the CARES belt. It basically turns the airline seat into a car seat and only weighs about a pound in your diaper bag.

    2. If you have an iPod or iPhone or iPad or whatever, there are some awesome apps out there for toddlers. Plus you can download a couple episodes of Sesame Street or Curious George etc. with the built in speakers at low volume the munchkin can still hear the video but nobody else can over the sound of the plane. I’ve seen lots of people with portable DVD players but I really like the iPod route for its multiple entertainment options and compactness.

  7. Brilliant tips. I’ll be flying to London next month with my five month old baby. This is my first time to travel with her. Your post is helpful in my preparations. Bringing a toy that your baby loves is one thing that I think can help. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Good tips – especially tethering your toys! There are so many clip on baby toys around now, they are easy to find. Or I bought lots of linkies to attach toys to – but turns out the linkies themselves were the greatest attraction. Still, it made for a good few minutes entertainment!

    It’s good to know the baggage rules in advance. For any of your readers looking to travel to the UK – here are our baggage rules in brief (see our website for more details: http://www.babyabroad.co.uk/Baby-&-Child-Travel-Information/flying-with-baby-&-children.html)
    – normal liquids no more than 10 items per person, and all must be under 100ml (bottle size not amount in it) and in a sealed plastic bag (like a sandwich bag)
    – baby food and milk are exempt from the 100ml rule but you must only take what is reasonable for the flight
    I add on enough for a delay. And always take them in a resealable container as you may be required to taste it.

    I hope that helps anyone heading this side of the Atlantic!

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