I’ve now taken two round-trip flights with Baby. The first was when she was about 16 weeks while the other was early this month, not longer after she’d hit the seven-month mark. That first trip was just me and her and I was worried that it would be a disaster. Thankfully, despite a few fussy moments, it was pretty smooth (I even got to watch multiple movies). It was also easier than our July trip, despite my husband being there.
It turns out that once a baby starts to move, she doesn’t want to stop. My daughter started crawling at six months and wasn’t thrilled that she was restricted to two laps for multiple hours. While she eventually fell asleep, both legs of that trip were stressful. But they were also educational. Below are a few of the tips and tricks I learned.
Where To Sit
For the first time ever, my husband and I paid in advance to make sure that we would sit together. Previously we’ve always just chanced that we’d be able to pick side-by-side seats when we checked in 24 in advance but, even though we’d never been split up in the past, I didn’t want to risk it with a baby. We did try the trick where you pick the window and the aisle in the same three-seat row, in hopes no one would pick the middle seat but both times this strategy failed.
Our middle person took the window while I took the middle seat and Husband the aisle. Some mothers prefer the window because it offers a bit more privacy when breastfeeding. I however preferred easier access to being able to get up and use the bathroom or walk our baby. If your baby is mobile, I highly recommend having access to the aisle.
Some planes offer bassinets on them. If your plane does, and your baby’s small enough, it’s worth it to pay in advance to get one of these seats. Otherwise, I recommend getting the very last row (or, if you’re on a big plane, the row in front of the washrooms or the emergency exit row). There are fewer passengers around to glare at you, it’s near the bathroom and a space where you can at least stand-up with baby and you can put your seat back without incurring the wrath of the person behind you.
What To Carry On
Pre-baby, I would travel with one piece of checked luggage and one small carry-on that I could easily fit under the seat in front of me. Now that I travel with baby… Well, when it was just her and me, nothing changed. I still checked one bag and brought her diaper bag as my carry-on.
Here’s a sampling of what was in that bag: 10 diapers, small pack of wipes, change pad, backup sleeper, backup onesie, backup tank top for me, small cloth, baby Tylenol, muslin blanket, breastfeeding coverup, roll of plastic bags (the ones used for dog poop work nicely), hand sanitizer, Sophie the Giraffe and a couple other small toys. While it was stuffed, the bag was still small enough to fit under the seat, meaning I had easy access to all of baby’s essentials. I also had another small cloth in my jean pocket that could be used for spit-up.
On our most recent trip, Baby was teething so I also wore teething-friendly jewelry, which gave her something that she could easily gnaw on. I also brought a couple packages of baby rice crackers, which she loved. On the way there, we did bring a bottle of milk but that was more for the car trip that awaited us once we landed. If you need bring formula and/or solid food, bring more than you think you need, just in case you’re stuck on the tarmac for multiple hours, like these poor people (not to scare you or anything).
Since that trip involved my husband, it also involved more stuff. He brought his own, rather large carry-on and we ended up returning home with another carry-on bag as my parents had spoiled Baby with stuff. While the gifts were thoughtful, the extra bag was a bit of a hassle to deal with. Ideally, minimize your carry-on luggage as much as possible.
Stroller Vs. Carrier (And A Word About Car Seats)
I did my solo trip with just a carrier (I had a stroller waiting for me at the other end). This worked wonderfully and I would highly recommend it if your baby likes being carried and you have minimal carry-on luggage (just practice using the bathroom while wearing baby before you get to the airport).
Otherwise, bring the stroller through security and gate check-in (which is usually a free process). We actually wore or carried Baby and used the stroller to hold our carry-on bags.
We brought an umbrella stroller on our trip. While we had many reasons for going this route, one of them is that strollers, like all luggage, can get damaged when loaded onto a plane. We decided that it was better to risk the under-$100 umbrella stroller than our much pricer main stroller (and it’s a good thing we did because the canopy on the umbrella stroller did take a bit of a beating).
Fear of damage is why some car seat safety experts recommend that you never check a car seat. In a perfect world, car seats wouldn’t be checked; instead you’d buy a seat for your baby and use your car seat right on the plane (we didn’t do this; instead we had a car seat waiting for us at our destination).
Timing Is Everything
While you obviously don’t want to arrive at the airport too early, do go earlier than normal. Air Canada requires that you physically check in at a counter if you have a lap infant and this extra step can add a good chunk of time depending on the length of the line. (Use this face time to see if you can be moved next to an empty seat. When I was travelling solo, the Air Canada agent I saw did move me though the seat did end up getting filled at the last minute on the one leg.)
Thankfully you can make some of that time up by using the family lane at security. While other travellers waited in a snaking row, we breezed through security in under a minute. To speed the process up, I had all liquids in a plastic baggy that I could easily pull out from the diaper bag (and don’t worry, baby’s bottle doesn’t have to follow the under 100 ml rule). When I wore Baby, I wasn’t asked to remove her from the carrier (though I’ve heard that this isn’t always the case) but we did have to remove her from the stroller, which was then manually wanded.
In order to maximum Baby’s diaper lifespan, I changed her right before we were set to board. When travelling solo, I actually was one of the last the board, so that I could minimize the amount of time we were in the plane. I highly recommend this approach.
In fact, I wanted to take it again on our July trip but Husband was (correctly) worried about where our carry-on luggage would go. We ended up boarding early, along with the other families, and did easily find a spot for our carry-on bags. However, if we had been travelling lighter, we would have been among the last on.
Take Off & Landing
You’ve likely already read that the trick to keeping a baby calm during take-off and landing is to nurse/give a bottle. We did this and it worked nicely. We also didn’t do it because Baby didn’t want to nurse and guess what, there was no screaming or fussing.
If you’re going to nurse, wear your most public-nursing friendly top (Old Navy has some cheap ones) and if you use a cover-up, pop that on once you’re buckled in. Yes, you might look stupid but trust me, it’s easier to get that set up in advance. Also, be prepared that your seat mates/people across the aisle might get flashed. No one should care but if someone does say something, feel free to tell them to fu- I mean, to remind them that you’re legally allowed to breastfeed anywhere.
Whether you’re using the breast or a bottle, figuring out when you should start feeding baby can be tricky. For take off, listen for the pilot to ask the flight attendants to “cross check.” Usually the plane takes off shortly after that request. Usually. For landing, wait until you’ve heard the landing gear descend and then reference the “map” screen to see roughly when you’ll be touching down (and then hope that you don’t end up circling the airport, waiting for a landing slot to open up).
I’ve also been told to avoid giving baby a bath/swim time 24 hours before a flight. This is to prevent water from getting into baby’s ear canal, which can make the pressure change feel worse.
Yeah, yeah, don’t show your baby a screen before age two or their brains will melt. But desperate times, like a screaming infant on a plane, calls for effective solutions and the right video can quiet a baby down.
On our July trip out to Calgary, our row mate, who happened to be the father of a toddler, introduced us to an app called Infant Faces. It instantly distracted a melting-down Baby and we downloaded it as soon as we had wifi. I also downloaded some of Fisher Price’s Laugh & Learn apps, which have been a big hit.
But the biggest hit of all? This YouTube video, called “Mr. Rhino.” The sight of it almost always immediately calms down Baby if she’s crying. Unfortunately it’s not available for sale so I ended up filming the video off my laptop so that I would have access to it on the plane.
“Mr. Rhino” doesn’t do it for every baby so I suggest you spend some time with YouTube and your little one to see what videos she enjoys best.
Still against screen time? What about just music? (Don’t worry about your fellow passengers; they won’t complain about you playing music out loud if it quiets your baby.) While I found that videos are best at distracting Baby, sometimes a simple song also works. Some of her favourites include “Skinnamarink” and several Beatles tracks. Again, spend a few hours pre-trip finding what works best for your little one.
Whatever you decide to do to calm baby down, just make sure it’s something you’re comfortable with. And if it doesn’t work, well remember, eventually the plane has to land and let you off.