I was recently on a long flight, late at night. The infant in arms 2 rows ahead of me, cried for the whole first hour straight. I seriously debated whether or not to go up and offer to help, but ultimately decided it would just make that poor mom who was already trying her best, just feel bad. Gratefully, the baby finally got so tired she fell asleep. Anyone who has ever had to fly with an infant can empathize with the fear of the baby crying on the flight.
Here are a few tips to help make airline travel with an infant, a little easier.
- Check a car seat. Car seats don’t count as luggage and are free to check. Now technically, having an infant in a child restraint system that is government and FAA approved for use on an airplane is safest. However, practically speaking it can be a nightmare. I made the mistake of once thinking I would strap my baby into the car seat on the plane. It was an awful mess trying to carry my infant down the narrow aisles to my row in one arm and the car seat in the other. The airplane seat belts didn’t hold the seat secure enough and I ended up having to take my baby out to console him anyway. My advice, skip the hassle, and learn from my mistake. (FYI, you can purchase car seat luggage bags with wheels on the bottom at most baby stores or online).
- Gate check your stroller. It’s hard to carry a baby and all the needed gear through the airport. Use your familiar stroller and just gate check it right before boarding the plane. It will free up your hands to get boarding passes. It also holds your baby in case you need to make a quick run to the restroom (just use the larger handicap stall and park the baby in the stall with you).
- Let a sleeping baby sleep. If your baby happens to be asleep during any portion of the travel/flying experience (even during take-off and landing), let her sleep. Don’t worry about maintaining a set schedule or routine. Travel throws all of that off anyhow. Enjoy the peace.
- Have your baby actively swallowing during take-off and landing (unless he/she is asleep). This will help with the pressure in the ear adjustment. If your ears don’t “pop” as the plane changes elevation, it can be very painful, leading to a screaming child. Prevent it as much as possible. If you are breastfeeding and your infant simply won’t take a bottle, bring a cover-up/blanket. I recognize that breastfeeding is natural and should be accepted, but also recognize that some people and cultures don’t see it that way. It’s not worth being the next airline YouTube drama/scene.
- Pack a bag of tricks. Pack a few of your infant’s favorite toys (e.g., favorite stuffed lamb and blanket). Also, pack new toys that your baby hasn’t ever seen. The novelty factor can settle an upset child. If your child is old enough for finger foods, now is the time for lots of little treats (raisins, cereals, marshmellows, yogurt melts, etc.). Despite the AAP recommendation to not allow infants under the age of 2 to have media, I think flying is a great time for an exception. If your infant will watch a screen, flying is a great time to load up the iPad with games, apps, movies, etc. to keep your little one happy and distracted.
- When traveling with children, anticipate problems as much as possible. You may want a small sample size of Tylenol or Motrin (for kids older than 6 months). I’ve used these meds more than once when my kiddos have had ear pain or other complaints. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is a bit tricky. Technically, it is not approved for use in infants and certainly not for its sedative side effects (although that is why parents use it). If your infant is younger than 6 months, don’t even bother. If your child is older than 6 months, you may want to discuss the risk/benefit profile with your doctor before deciding whether to use it off label.
- Dress your infant in comfortable clothes (and pack a spare outfit in case of the dreaded crap-out). This isn’t the time for constrictive jeans, fashionable headbands, and itchy dresses. Think sleeping comfort.
- Keep clean. When you travel on an airplane, your infant will inevitably get exposed to illnesses and is more likely to get sick. Use lots of hand sanitizer. Don’t pass your baby around and keep your baby covered as much as possible.
- Know the ID rules. On domestic flights, kids don’t require an ID. International flights require a passport for kids. If you have an infant under a certain age (anywhere from 7 days to 2 months, depending on the individual airline), you will need a doctor’s note.
Good luck. May you have a safe and uneventful airline travel with your infant.