I so enjoyed re-living our hiking adventures when I wrote my hiking kid carrier post, that I wanted to do the same with our baby’s first flight. Adventurous? Yep… Enjoyable? NO!
Gotta start by saying, yes, you’re about to read the true account of our first time flying with a baby. Each of these things happened to us… even that crazy final landing! But little Jack got through it just fine, thanks to good preparation (a first for me!) and packing the right things for baby’s first flight.
Okay, backing up… I obviously had a ton of questions about flying with an infant (on lap) for the first time. Like, how old does a baby have to be to fly? (Duh… zero years old.) What’s the best car seat for airplane travel? (Hint… almost all car seats are FAA approved.) Can I bring my own baby food on plane rides? (Yep.) Exactly what does a baby need to fly??? (Surprisingly, not much!)
Steev, the ever-dutiful father, gathered all the tips for flying with a baby, called the airline, and made a detailed packing list. But even after mad prep, our first air travel with baby was a complete disaster the ultimate comedy of errors! I mean, not so funny at the time… but looking back, it’s amusing that so many flight fails happened on the same trip.
Don’t wanna read the deets about our baby’s first plane ride? (I get it… you’ve only got so much time.) Click the links below to go straight to the gear we recommend for flying with baby, or use the table of contents to jump to your preferred tips:
Chicco Liteway Plus stroller // Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat // Infantino newborn carrier // Aden muslin blanket // Medela breastmilk bottles // Skip Hop bottle bag // Little Learners grab book // Booginhead pacifier straps // Plum baby food pouches // Stepping Stones lovey // Infantino ring toy // Baby Einstein multi-sensory octopus toy // Baby Banana teether // Wet Ones antibacterial wipes
Our Baby’s First Flight (a Total Travel Fail!)
Things started just fine our first time taking a baby on a plane, so I got overconfident fast. Until the airline gods snapped my ass back to reality and put me in my place… fast.
I was super proud of myself that we’d already planned for our first minor delay – security. We had to go through extra screening because of the bottled breastmilk in my carry-on, plus some puree pouches (baby Jack was several months old when he took his first flight, and we’d just begun experimenting with sweet potatoes). That was okay, though, because we’d incorporated extra time in our schedule specifically to get through security.
During boarding, we got to go first! I had delusions of grandeur having the entire plane to myself for a few minutes. So far, so good… we had this travel-with-baby thing in the bag.
BUT… I pulled out a bottle for Jack and my heart sank. I realized that, although I’d packed plenty of milk in my carry-on, I’d packed all the nipples in our checked bag!!!
Luckily, my boobs are attached to my body, so I was able to compensate for that. But I can’t imagine what I would’ve done in that moment if Jack had been formula fed… besides freak the F out. And maybe ask the flight attendant for a straw?
The silver lining here was that we ended up in a 3-seat row to ourselves! So Jack got his own, and we didn’t have to hold him the whole time when he finally fell asleep. Score!
We landed and had an hour to get to our connection. Perfect timing. (Steev and I didn’t need to stop for food, because I’d packed plenty of snacks.) We even scored a few extra minutes because the connection was delayed by 15. And then 30…
And then an hour. And then 2 hours. AND THEN 4 HOURS.
But, part of our flight prep had been internal preparation. We obviously hoped for the best, but we’d mentally prepared for the worst. So, we took a deep, cleansing breath (seriously, we did) and found a Starbucks. Coffees and apples for mom and dad, a boob and a spoonful of sweet potato puree for Jack, and we were good to go while we checked for alternate connections.
Luckily, since we were at a major hub, we found one! Same airline, leaving an hour earlier than our now-4-hours-delayed flight. They had seats and said we could get on, but also reminded us that our checked luggage would be arriving on the delayed flight. “That’s cool,” we said, “just bring it to us later!”
Nope. Despite the delay, they said it was our choice if we wanted to change flights, which didn’t warrant them delivering our bags when they finally arrived. We’d have had to return to the airport to get them, which would’ve been pointless. Back to square one.
We finally got on our delayed plane at 10pm, and Jack was in good spirits as we settled in. Though he didn’t have his own seat this time, after nursing for a few minutes during the ascent, he slept through this flight, too (double score!).
But he was jarred awake during the. most. violent landing I’ve ever experienced. We slammed onto the runway so hard that overhead bins popped open, passengers screamed, and things flew out of people’s hands (not Jack, though – Steev had a good grip on him!)… it was unsettling, to say the least.
After calming Jack back down (and, more importantly, mama!), we were happy to finally be there. It was well after 11, and we had an hour drive ahead of us, but we were there. We met our ride at baggage claim, and waited.
An agent came over the intercom and said the baggage handlers were having a hard time getting the cargo door opened, but it wouldn’t be much longer.
An hour later – yes, an hour later – another announcement. The crew was unable to open the door. The force of the landing and hard braking had caused the cargo net that keeps the luggage in place to snap under the weight of all the bags.
All the luggage on our completely full Boeing 737 flight had been thrown forward, slammed up against the cargo door, and jammed it shut.
The plan was for the baggage crew to go through a hatch in the floor of the passenger seating area down into the cargo hold. Then, move each bag until they could clear the cargo door of luggage and finally open it. (I learned something new that night – cargo doors open inward and slide! Makes sense, I guess…).
They ended the announcement by telling us that they didn’t have a timeline for when that would be completed. For. The. Love. By now, we had a haggard mom and dad, a starting-to-get-fussy infant, and a time of 1:30 am.
We made a beeline to the baggage claim office. Somehow, I still managed to stay calm. I was antsy and irritated AF, yet outwardly calm. (Y’all, that mental preparation… it actually worked!)
That said, it was time to go. We got a loaner car seat from the baggage office, and they promised to deliver our luggage when it was finally retrieved. So, we headed towards the exit… and then heard yet another announcement that they’d gotten the door open.
It was 2 am and we had a decision to make. Wait another half hour-ish to collect our luggage, or leave and have it delivered sometime within the next 24 hours. We (reluctantly) decided it was best to wait, and then I heard the most glorious sound I could’ve ever hoped to hear in that moment… that grating, pulsing, shiver-inducing buzz that signals the conveyor belt is starting up!
We grabbed our suitcase and our wing-checked stroller and car seat, threw them in the car, sped home, and crashed. Finally, it was over!
Until we unfolded our stroller the next morning to find that it had broken during the landing…
Baby’s First Flight: Gear & Tips for Flying With a Baby
We came out of our terrible first flight experience with tons of tips for traveling with a baby – whether it’s smooth sailing flying or a total disaster – and gear recommendations that made it easier. Much of what we learned wasn’t covered by any of the tips we’d read about before the trip, so hopefully I can fill those gaps for you! Here’s what to take and decisions to make:
In the Airport: Push Baby or Wear Baby?
Stroller Pros and Cons
Using a stroller (especially a travel system with click-in car seat) is great if you don’t want baby all up on you for your entire trip. Travel system strollers typically offer pretty good storage and hanging space for diaper bags, backpacks, and other small carry-on bags so you don’t have to play the part of pack-mule. You also don’t need to worry about getting a car seat at your destination.
Having our stroller came in particularly handy when our connection was delayed for several hours. Instead of having to wear baby the whole time or make use of the airport floor (yuck) when we were touched out, we were able to plop Jack in the stroller, hand him a toy, and let him entertain himself.
Of course, bringing a stroller or travel system also means you have more stuff to put through security and take from gate to gate. You’ll also check strollers and car seats (if you have a lap child) at the gate during boarding, so that means slight disembarking delays while you wait for wing-checked items to be delivered back.
If you choose to do the stroller thing, I’d recommend getting the lightest, most compact travel system you can find – preferably with a stroller that folds up umbrella-style. I think that’s the best stroller for airplane travel. Umbrella strollers aren’t just great for flights, but car travel, too, because they take up far less space than their counterparts.
On our fateful flight, we used our Chicco Liteway Plus Keyfit 30 travel system. Ease-of-travel was primary reason we chose this travel system, which we bought long before Jack was even born. Unlike most travel system strollers that are huge (even when folded), the Liteway Plus is as small as they come while still being able to accommodate the Keyfit 30 click-in car seat, and folds up like an umbrella stroller.
It didn’t disappoint! We think this Chicco travel system has the best travel stroller for flying, and can’t recommend it enough. It is so easy to maneuver, it’s light to carry, and it takes a beating like a champ (obviously, except when thousands of pounds of luggage gets slammed against it! But I don’t see how any stroller could’ve survived that landing…).
The airline promptly replaced the stroller after our unfortunate first trip with baby, and since then it’s gotten bumped and smashed and manhandled on the regular. It’s gotten us through dozens more flights since, both domestic and international, and held up great.
Wanna see more options? My friend Melissa put together this comparison guide on her top 7 picks for lightweight travel strollers.
Baby-Wearing Pros and Cons
There’s obviously much less gear to lug through the airport when you baby-wear, since stroller and car seat can be dropped off at check-in. And unlike strollers, baby-wearing leaves both hands free… rolling carry-on bags are way easier to pull when you’re not having to maneuver a stroller with your other hand (one-handed stroller-pushing sucks).
Of course, baby-wearing means your kid is all up on you the entire time. This makes going to the bathroom during a layover a bit tricky. Going to the bathroom in-flight is even trickier.
On a different (disaster-free!) flight where it was just me, I baby-wore Jack instead of using the stroller. At the airport bathroom I just left him strapped on, and hiked him up my chest a little more. It was awkward, but doable, for both sitting and hovering (is that TMI??).
In-flight, there were several flight attendants with baby fever, so I was able to hand him off when I needed to hit the head solo. Had there not been anyone I felt comfortable with, leaving him strapped on would’ve made for a hell of a tight squeeze… but I think it still would’ve been done.
All in all, it was pretty liberating not having to deal with the stroller and car seat. I was able to suppress my germ-obsession long enough to put Jack on the airport floor to play during a layover (on top of a blanket, of course), and not hyperventilate.
Like our stroller travel system, I’d recommend a minimalist-style carrier specifically for ease-of-travel. I’m not into a bunch of straps and buckles that take forever to adjust, or having a kid carrier so large and rigid that it’s basically another carry-on when not in-use. That said, wraps didn’t work for me either… all those layers of fabric wrapping around and around me got hot and uncomfortable real quick!
I finally found a middle ground in my Infantino newborn carrier. Pop it over the head, snap two buckles, and tighten with one tug. Easy-peasy, compared to the eight others I tried and returned (yes, eight… the baby store staff hated me). It’s all fabric, so when it came off, I could scrunch it into a tiny ball and stuff it into the diaper bag. #winning
On the Plane: Lap Baby or Seat Baby?
Flying With Baby on Lap, Pros and Cons
When deciding how to fly with a baby, there are two options: having him ride as a lap child, or getting him his own seat. If you choose to fly with baby on your lap, you save mad cash! That’s basically the best perk. The major con is that you get no break. Your baby is all over you the entire time.
Jack was a lap baby on his first flight, because we couldn’t pass up the savings. We wing-checked his stroller and car seat, and Steev and I just switched off holding him. When it was my turn, though, I couldn’t help but hold him hella tight for fear of unexpected turbulence.
My trusty Infantino carrier was in the diaper bag, so I broke it out and it made all the difference. I could relax more – and even sleep! Hands-free is where it’s at.
Flying With Baby in Seat, Pros and Cons
The most important pro is that it’s much safer for baby to have his own seat, and be strapped into his car seat. On a different flight that we took for military travel, this was actually a requirement. Our Chicco Keyfit 30 car seat was FAA-approved, and we were all able to snooze much more comfortably.
You also get a break when baby has his own airplane seat! Not having to hold him the entire time in-flight is wayyyyy more comfy for mom (and/or dad).
That said, purchasing another seat is pricey. It’s tough to justify hundreds, sometimes thousands, of extra dollars if it isn’t necessary. And it adds insult to injury when you spend all that money only to have baby fuss and cry until he ends up on your lap anyway… UGH.
(Want the most comprehensive info you could ever find on flying with a car seat? Read my friend Melissa’s guide here.)
Where to Sit: Window or Aisle?
Window Seat Pros and Cons
I am, and will forever be, a window seat fan – I love being able to prop up against the fuselage. I think its extra helpful to have something to lean on when flying with a lap child… I mean, how do you really get comfy in an aisle seat or *gasp* the dreaded middle seat with a kid in your arms?
That said, I’ll admit that it does suck when you need to get up. Maneuvering into the aisle from the window seat with a baby in your arms is awkward to say the least. And getting up happens much more often than it does when you’re traveling without kids.
Aisle Seat Pros and Cons
Aisle seats bring the obvious bonus of easy access. No asking people to move and awkwardly maneuvering in and out of the row while holding your squirming mini-human.
They’re soooooo much easier for getting up to walk a fussy baby (‘cause they always know when you’re not standing, amirite?), or going to the flight attendant station (where the sympathetic crew will literally give you anything you ask for), or hitting the lav (after partaking in all the goodies you got from said crew).
That said, there’s no way to get comfy – except for a stiff seat-back that sits straight up, even when it’s in “recline” mode. Honestly, could that ever be comfortable?
I mean, true, nothing about sitting in an airline seat is even remotely comfy… but at least with a window seat, there’s wall to lean on. Since that typically allows me to sleep, to me a window seat is worth every other sacrifice (in case it isn’t obvious, sleeping on planes is kinda my thing).
Overpack Baby Essentials (Underpack Everything Else!)
In your carry-on, overpack the things your baby literally needs to survive. So, basically milk (or formula) and food. We packed all our stockpiled breastmilk into our milk bottle cooler in several 5-ounce breastmilk bottles.
During Jack’s first flight experience, even if I hadn’t nursed him at all, he’d have had enough milk to last our entire travel time (provided I hadn’t packed the nipples in our checked bag! *face in palm*).
We also packed several of our baby food puree pouches. We had just started journeying into solid foods, so the sweet potato pouches served the dual purpose of keeping him intrigued and topping him off after nursing sessions… and he could take a couple pulls straight from the spout, so no spoon to have to worry about cleaning or keeping up with.
Other things to overpack: diapers, wipes, and changes of clothes (if your babe is a fan of diaper explosions).
Anything else is, in my opinion, overkill. I’m not a fan of lugging extra weight, so opted not to carry a ton of toys or entertainment items. We carried-on one book, two of his favorite (small) toys to provide comfort if he got anxious-fussy, and one new toy to keep his attention if he got bored-fussy.
Make Airplane Baby Stuff Easily Accessible
I know, I know. It really seems self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to lose track of a pacifier at the exact moment of meltdown.
On that note, one of our favorite baby items (not just for travel, but through the entire infant stage) was our pacifier strap. It was the epitome of easy access. Loop the strap through the paci, attach it to baby’s shirt, and call it a day. No more digging through the diaper bag in a frenzy, and the added bonus of not having to obsessively wash/sanitize constantly dropped pacifiers (what, is that just me??).
Put milk and food in the top of your carry-on. It’s very likely it will need additional screening, especially if it’s over the 3.4 ounce limit. So, make it easy to pull out of your bag and pop back in – as much for you as for your friendly TSA agent. Our milk bottle cooler has a strap that made it easy to clip on the outside of our carry-on, so we were able to access the milk without opening our bags.
Honestly, as long as you don’t overpack non-essentials, everything you need will be pretty easily accessible. See how it’s all coming together??
Prepare for Additional Security Screening
This goes along with my have-easy-access-to-your-carryon-milk tip, since it’ll probably take longer to screen. But even if you don’t have a bunch of extra liquids to screen separately, security will take a little longer. It’s not a big deal, it’s just something to plan on and incorporate extra time for.
If you opt to take your stroller (and/or car seat) with you to the boarding gate, you’ll be required to remove baby from the stroller and fold it up so it can go through the conveyer belt to be x-rayed. Same goes for a car seat. You’ll then carry babe through the metal detectors.
If your stroller or car seat are too big for the x-ray machine, they’ll be taken to the hand-screening area to be wiped down and tested by an agent.
For us, these extra steps never presented too much hassle, only added a few minutes to the average baby-free security screening. If you plan for an extra 15 minutes max, you should be good to go!
Board That Plane Early!
On our first flight with Jack, we were given priority boarding, and all I could think was, “Why the hell didn’t I have kids sooner??” I probably said that a dozen times to Steev as I looked around at an empty plane for several minutes before the boarding chaos ensued.
Early boarding is a perk I’d never considered in my pre-baby flying days, but it was glorious. Everyone flying with kids should take advantage of it for as long as humanly possible.
Unfortunately, early boarding for families is a crapshoot. As I recently found out, some airlines don’t do this anymore (I’m looking at you, American… with a super annoyed eye-roll!). Why not is beyond me…
No passenger wants to already be seated, only to have my baby-toting ass make them stand while I take FOR-EH-VER trying to get my carry-on into an overhead bin while simultaneously holding said baby and then squeezing into my coveted window seat while maneuvering a diaper bag under the seat while still holding the baby.
Whew! Just thinking about it is anxiety-inducing! But I digress…
Both Delta and Southwest do offer early boarding, and I’ve had pleasant experiences with both carriers. As for others, best to check with your airline to see if they sympathize enough with haggard parents to still have a family-early-boarding policy. Even if they don’t, though, ask the agent at the gate counter. In my experience they’ll (usually, but not always) let you sneak in.
How to Avoid/Soothe Hurting Ears
There’s nothing sadder, or more stressful, to hear than a wailing baby who can’t pop his pressurized ears. Luckily, it can (usually) be avoided with some good sucking action. Boob, bottle, pacifier, juicebox, snack, chocolate… nothing’s taboo in this situation. Use whatever works!
On Jack’s inaugural flights, I made sure to nurse him during ascents and descents to keep him swallowing during the more extreme pressure changes. If he was full or asleep, I popped the paci in his mouth to prompt sucking so his ears had a better chance of staying clear. He never signaled discomfort on those first flights, or any since.
As he got older, nursed less, and got accustomed to solid foods, I let him suck from those trusty baby food puree pouches or eat chewy foods (like Craisins) to keep his jaw moving.
Bring a New (Preferably Multi-Sensory) Toy
We’d heard from others that a new toy was the key to keeping baby occupied in flight, so we made sure to follow suit. We also packed two (small) toys Jack had used since birth, his animal lovey and linking toy rings, so he had something familiar to soothe him. Those worked for a while before he started to get antsy.
So, out came our brand-spankin’-new multi-sensory octopus toy. It had bright colors, it had stripes, it had polka dots, it had stuffing that crinkled when you squeezed… and most importantly, it had a mirror. That thing kept him busy for what seemed like hours.
In baby years, that’s probably more like 30 minutes, but you get what I’m saying here… it worked! Definitely, definitely bring a new toy with all the bells and whistles (but, ya know, not ACTUAL bells and whistles… that would be uncool).
Looking for travel toys for older babes? Check out my friend Kay’s list of travel toys for toddlers here.
How to Change Baby’s Diaper on a Plane
The obvious answer is… avoid changing baby on the plane! Do a final diaper change in the terminal just before boarding, so you can use the terminal bathroom’s baby-changing station and hopefully not have to put yourself through hell change baby on the plane.
“Hopefully” is the operative word here, ‘cause babies tend not to do what you want them to do. Our solution? Change Jack in our seat.
Hear me out! I know it sounds icky to do this to your fellow passengers, but a little creativity goes a long way. Since I had the window seat and Steev had the middle seat, Steev turned towards us and held up Jack’s muslin blanket to block the view of our neighbors. I stood up, turned around, placed Jack in my seat, and did a lightning-fast Houdini change.
FYI, those airplane puke bags make great dirty diaper holders!
It was awkward and tight, but we made quick work of it and no one was any the wiser! Of course, we opted to do that because he was only wet. Thankfully, we haven’t had the misfortune of attempting a mid-flight poop change in the airplane lav. As such, I have absolutely zero tips, tricks, or hacks for getting that done. I shudder just thinking about it…
Mentally Prepare (for the Worst!)
Probably obvious, but it’s worth saying since so few people seem to do it! It’s like the old adage: Under promise and over deliver, and your clients will be pleasantly surprised! But opposite: Over promise yourself that it’ll be the worst travel experience of your life, and if the experience under delivers, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Okay, that analogy doesn’t make as much sense on paper as it did in my head… but just mentally prepare, okay?? If the worst does happen, you won’t freak out if you’re ready for it. We got in the right frame of mind way in advance of our first flight with Jack by assuming everything would go wrong, and were able to calmly roll with the punches when it did.
We weren’t the only young family on the plane, and witnessed the unfortunate meltdown of one mama who didn’t have her zen on. Her husband and two toddlers bore the brunt of it, and I felt terrible for everyone. I’ve never wanted to hand out hugs so badly in my life!
Problems You Could Encounter (and How to Deal!)
Not Being Seated with Your Child
Believe it or not, you may not get a seat assignment with your baby. This obviously won’t happen if you have a lap child, but it could if he has his own seat. It happened to me on a later flight with Jack when he had his own seat. It was rectified in my case, but I’ve heard horror stories where it wasn’t an easy fix.
To avoid being assigned a seat apart from your child, check in online as early as possible and select seats yourself. If that doesn’t work or isn’t an option, call the airline ahead of time or ask for help at check-in or at the gate.
If you have an actual baby or small toddler, airline staff will usually accommodate you without issue. If not, you’ll need to resort to asking your fellow passengers to switch. It’s a reality and it sucks, but it’s also a rare occurrence.
Delayed Flights with Baby
I’ll go ahead and mention that mental preparation again. Stay calm in the event of a delay, find an out-of-the-way place to rest and let baby roll around, and wait it out. This is also where the overpacking of milk and baby food comes in handy.
If the flight is delayed beyond belief or *yikes* canceled, again don’t freak out! I swear that will make things worse for both you and baby. Stay calm and get in line to speak to a customer service agent, or go online or call the airline to find an alternate flight.
Pro tip: go online or call the airline if you encounter long customer service lines at the terminal or gate. You can usually get help quicker.
I’ve called the airline before while waiting at the back of a customer service line, and been re-booked before the line ever moved! Those poor travelers in front of me – they never knew I took their seats…
I feel bad… but do I feel that bad? Nah.
Lost or Delayed Baby Luggage
I know, this didn’t happen to us per se. But it’s an easier heading to write than “when the plane lands so hard that the net in the cargo hold snaps under the weight of all the luggage being pushed against it, and the bags slam into the access door, jamming it shut so the crew can’t open it for hours.”
So, yes, our luggage was delayed by a couple hours. And we made the decision to wait for it. But if we’d decided to leave the airport and have it delivered later, we’d have been okay. Jack had enough milk and food to last several more feedings, and enough diapers and wipes for days. Not to mention toys to keep him occupied for a while between sleeping. Overpack the essentials, y’all!
But what to do if checked baby gear is longer delayed, or even lost? Moms and dads, take note (cause I recently discovered that some folks don’t know this)…
The airlines keep several spare car seats at the baggage counter in case yours is delayed or lost in-transit.
You can get a loaner car seat from the airline, so you can get your babe outta the airport and to your destination. They’ll work with you to pick it up once yours arrives or once you get a replacement.
Unfortunately, things like strollers and pack ‘n plays aren’t essential to safely drive your baby to your destination. So, it’s less likely airlines will have loaners of those. Either make do while you’re waiting for your luggage to be delivered, or purchase new ones and ask for reimbursement.
All airlines have policies to reimburse incidental expenses incurred while bags are delayed.
Take that last statement with a grain of salt. As with any airline policy, there will always be restrictions regarding what is considered “reasonable expense” reimbursement claims, especially if your bags will eventually be delivered.
If it were me, I’d notify an agent to get a file reference number, then for sure purchase personal care items and present receipts for reimbursement. With larger, more expensive items, I’d probably still make purchases, but I’d be more nervous about the claim process for big-ticket items. That said, baby gear reimbursements are things I don’t think airlines are inclined to push back on too much (in my experience).
Obviously, with lost luggage, reimbursement claims should be pretty straightforward. *Should be*
Broken Baby Gear
Airlines are good about replacing damaged gear, too, and I can personally vouch for Delta. They were our carrier on that fateful first trip, and it just took a phone call and subsequent email to get a $140 check for the replacement stroller we had to buy.
I couldn’t say it was a quick evolution – you know how long being on hold can take when it comes to an airline’s call center! – but once the agent finally answered, it was quick and painless.
Since we didn’t discover our stroller damage until the next day, I couldn’t notify an agent at the airport to start the process. But I got that on the call, with additional instructions to send an email with pictures of the damage, and a link to where I’d be purchasing the replacement online that showed what the cost would be (including shipping). I sent the email, received confirmation of their intent to reimburse, and two weeks later the check arrived!
You Freak the F Out
I mean, the easiest answer is don’t do it. So many people were hella irritated by the time our luggage finally arrived at baggage claim after so much waiting. I get it, but they were taking it out on agents who literally couldn’t do one single thing to make the process go faster. It made everyone in the terminal legit miserable.
I am NOT joking when I say to mentally prepare. Even though we were hours late getting to our destination and our luggage was unavailable for even more hours, we took it in stride — I even chuckled a little ‘cause, at that point, I was in “You can’t make this shit up!” mode.
Deep breaths helped a lot. Making beelines to get to the front of customer service lines, even if we weren’t sure we needed them yet, helped even more. Don’t let your frustration delay your decision-making.
Baby Travel Gear: Airplane Essentials
What to Pack in Your Diaper Bag
Okay, here’s a recap of the gear I mentioned above, plus some other baby flight essentials we carried on the plane. Besides the obvious gear (milk/formula/food, diapers, wipes, pacifier, change of clothes), these were the other items in my diaper bag that made our disastrous flight less disastrous:
Infantino newborn carrier – yes, it balls up small enough to fit into a diaper bag! I wanted a minimalist carrier specifically for ease-of-travel, and this fit the bill. And it was awesome when we needed hands-free time on the flight.
Skip Hop bottle cooler – to carry and keep cool all those milk bottles I forgot to bring nipples for (eyeroll). They key here is the strap with buckle – it snapped right onto the handles of the diaper bag, making the milk super easy to access when additional screening was required.
Booginhead pacifier strap and paci – technically not in my diaper bag, because it was attached to Jack at one end and his pacifier at the other… but I did have a replacement paci in my bag!
Baby Banana teether – Jack was an early teether, and a drooling mess from 2 months to a year-and-a-half. This teething toy – this specific one above all others we tried – was our salvation. Bonus was that it had handles, so our paci strap could easily accommodate it!
Little Learners grab book – these are starter books (literally, for 0+ months) with 4 thick cardboard pages. And the “grab hole” is legit genius! Specifically because (you know where I’m going with this, right??) it could be attached to Jack with the paci strap. Instead of having to retrieve it off a dirty floor when he dropped it, the book just dangled! (That paci strap… never thought I could get more excited about a piece of baby gear!)
Stepping Stones lovey and Infantino toy rings – Jack’s familiar toys to keep him comforted. Jack often napped with his lovey and it barely took up any space, so that was a no-brainer. The rings were just one of the toys he seemed to have a preference for. And they were small, too.
Baby Einstein multi-sensory octopus toy – Jack’s never-before-seen toy to keep him occupied. Multi-sensory was the way to go. All the colors and textures – and that mirror, especially – were so stimulating that he played forever.
Aden muslin blanket – for putting on the floor so he could roll around, for keeping him covered on a chilly plane, and to hide behind during those in-seat diaper changes.
Wet Ones antibacterial wipes – do you know what the proverbial “they” say about germs on planes?? It’s enough to make you throw up in your mouth a little. Being able to pull out a wipe and do a once-over on the seat and armrests eased my germophobia a lot. So, yes, I’m listing it… And yes, I’m linking to it… So you can buy them in bulk, like I do… (If you’re anything like me, they’ll save your sanity!)
What Large Baby Travel Items to Take
I know I’ve already gushed about my Chicco stroller numerous times, so I’ll make this the last (but hey, it’s a large travel item, so totally goes here). Eeeeeeekkkk! I LOVE it. Consider it, or something like it. If you’re into minimalist baby gear, it’s a great travel system for you. If you’re so minimalist that you don’t have the need for a travel system… teach me, sensei.
What I haven’t gushed about yet is our Baby Trend Pack ‘n Play. It had less bells and whistles than the Graco Pack ‘n Play we used at home, so it was great for travel. It’s perhaps not an essential travel item for everyone, but we took it on Jack’s first flight. (Note that strollers and car seats are free to check, but pack ‘n plays are not – unless you carry them thru the terminal and check them wingside.)
We’d initially preferred borrowing a pack ‘n play (or any kind of baby sleeper) from someone at our destination (we were visiting family), but nobody had one. We thought about renting one at our destination, but it was more expensive than buying a new one. We thought about buying the cheapest one we could find and having it sent to our destination, but that seemed too wasteful. We thought about doing without it, but didn’t want to.
So, after all that wasted brainstorming, we just took ours and checked it with our other large bag. It wasn’t fun hauling extra gear, but it was short-lived since we were able to offload it at check-in.
Prefer to pack lighter and rent baby gear at your destination? There are companies that do that! You’ll pay a penny, but if it’s worth it you, BabyQuip has over 100 locations in the US. Or, see TravelMamas’ comprehensive guide to baby rental companies worldwide.
Did I Miss Anything??
Joking! I’ve never written such a long post. Anyway, there you have it! I truly hope this covers every question anyone could ever have about surviving baby’s first flight. If I’ve missed anything, please let me know in the comments. I’ll add it… seriously!
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What a crazy experience! I feel that anything that can go wrong does with babies. And I would so pack the nipples to the bottles in my carry on too. Lol. But so thorough and fun. I have been a nanny for years and know the struggles of baby travel. Great post.
#thestruggleisreal! It WAS kinda nuts, but funny to look back on now…
This is so perfect for me to read right now! I am pregnant with my first right now, and already thinking ahead about how to travel with the little one once he/she arrives! This is super helpful, thank you! I’m pinning this to refer back to for sure! 🙂
Congrats, Louise, and glad you found this helpful! Yep, I can’t recommend it enough for being able to keep an outdoor lifestyle going.
Wow! What a tough plane flight! Thank goodness you were prepared! Thanks for sharing your tips!
What a series of unfortunate events, although I must admit it does make for a brilliant story! I can’t believe the stroller was broken! The final kick in the teeth.
This post is amazing! We plan on traveling quite a bit with our soon to arrive baby since we live in the US and my family lives in Paris and it’s so great to have this complete guide to flying with an infant. Sounds like your first flight was quite traumatizing but more because of the flight than the baby!!
Yay, congrats on the pending arrival! Glad you found this helpful, and with so many overseas flights in your future, you just reminded me of something to add… fly at night – at least, once your kid starts sleeping thru the night. Once ours did, we found flying red-eyes was so easy since we weren’t having to feed/entertain him for hours… good luck!
Jill at Reading the Book Travel
Oh travelling with babies is a joy! I don’t have my own, but I have a (very) vivid memory of a flight with my infant nephew who had THE most epic diaper malfunction halfway through. I think that’s why I don’t have my own kids… Seriously though, some great advice here which I’m sure will be reassuring to rookie travel parents!
Yikes! The mere thought of an in-flight blowout gives me shivers… and could very well be enough to make me swear off more kids! 😀
Oh, the octopus toy sounds so cute! I have to get that for my niece when traveling.
Yes! That, or any of the line of sensory toys, seem to work so well at keeping them occupied…
This is such a comprehensive guide! I have some family members that are planning on taking their young kids to Asia next year, and I don’t think they have flown far with them yet. This will be so helpful.
Yay! Thanks for passing the post along to them!
Thank you for sharing. I will use your tips this coming up trip with my 4 kids. especially traveling w my 9months old.
Awesome, glad you found it helpful! Enjoy your trip!