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I still remember back to my first flight as a mom…San Francisco to Amsterdam. I was absolutely petrified in how to prepare for this flight and what to do during it. Luckily, everything went smoothly and, our subsequent first flights with kid #2 and #3, have been equally uneventful. In thinking retrospectively, here are some tips and products I recommend to make the first flight a breeze.
1. Make sure the airline is aware of baby. We have bought tickets for us (adults) a few times when one of our children was not born yet. Since the airline needs a name and birthday to ticket, we have done that as soon as the child was born. When going international, you may need to pay a portion of the ticket and/or taxes even if the child is not occupying their own seat. The plus side to this is that once they know there is a baby on the itinerary, you can sometimes unlock certain seating areas like the bulkhead to leverage the in-flight bassinet. No extra fee for this, just need to have it requested ahead of time. For domestic flights, you will need to have “infant in arms” specified on your ticket but there should be no cost for a child under age 2. Typically, there will not be a bassinet available but, if you have twins or two children under age 2, there is a limit to the number of lap children per row (based on the number of oxygen masks per row).
2. Packing the right amount of stuff. While it can be tempting to bring everything with for baby’s first flight, you also need to be mindful that you have to carry everything plus look after an infant. If you are traveling with another adult, it is definitely helpful but I still try to minimize our baggage. Check out my flying with kids post for some must-haves in your diaper bag but also think of single-use items for less bulk (I know, not environmentally friendly!). My two non-earth friendly items are the deodorized bags (love these Arm & Hammer ones that come on a keychain) for stinky diapers or other rubbish and single-use changing pads (essentially, puppy pads for babies!) which are great for messy diaper changes, additional coverage on public changing tables and to create a clean place for baby to lay down or sit on the ground in the terminal (we often put one down followed by a blanket).
Consider renting gear, when applicable. Car seats, strollers, pack & plays, baby baths and even toys can be rented in most major cities. When I took my 4 month old son to New York, I wore him through the airport and rented a stroller through Cloud of Goods (get $10 off using this link!). They offer gear rentals in NYC, Orlando, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Anaheim, LA, San Diego and DC). If you’re looking for another destination, start with a simple Google search (ex. City Name Baby Gear Rental) or contact a local baby store and ask them for local referrals.
One other item that I have loved with babies under 12 months is the travel nursing pillow. Even if you’re not nursing, it creates a comfortable place for baby to sleep on your lap and can avoid your arm going numb from supporting their head. Airline pillows are notoriously flat and, while a good supplement, do nothing for a parent’s comfort.
3. Remember, you don’t need to apologize for bringing a baby on a plane. In my almost million miles of flying around this planet, I can honestly say that grown men have annoyed me 90% of the time with the occasional toddler (not baby!) taking a distant second. I am trying to decide if the man who was obnoxiously talking on his phone while we were pretty much taking off or the man who was ripping paper (aka a human paper shredder) for hours on a flight from Nairobi to Atlanta was worse. In short, your baby, even with some crying here and there, will not be bothersome. Most normal humans realize we were all babies at one time and their tiny ears can get uncomfortable. And, look around, most people have noise-cancelling headphones. Please skip the goodie bags and realize your baby has every right to be on the plane as much as the next person.
4. Babies with seat belts? Yes, you heard that right. Internationally, I have been given a secondary smaller belt that loops around baby and then connects to my seat belt. You definitely need to get creative to get comfortable so be forewarned. Anytime I have flown domestic with a little one, I have worn them in a baby carrier onto the plane and sometimes even for the duration of the flight (Baby K’Tan of a similar soft wrap is my favorite so you don’t have a clip digging in your back the whole flight).
5. Have a game plan but also be flexible. These days, I like to have a high level schedule/timetable put together to give me some sanity but then allow for lots of room for unplanned events like flight delays or diaper blowouts. For the airport, we usually pad the pre-flight time a bit to account for traffic, parking, check-in, security and getting settled before the flight (one last on ground diaper change!). During our travels, we aim to have 1-2 things on our “to do” list so we have ample time to accommodate naps and meal time.
6. Don’t forget to commemorate the occasion! Baby’s first flight is a special milestone, be sure to document it! These kind Delta pilots happily posed for a photo for my son’s first flight.
Babies really are great travelers – between the naps and relatively easy feeding, they can tag along easily on your adventures. Personally, I love the 3-8 month range for a first trip when they are past the “fourth trimester” but not mobile yet. Trust me, crawling and then walking changes everything. Separate post on toddlers – they are special little beings – LOL!!!!
Have you traveled with an infant? How was it? Where did you go?