The first time I flew alone with Little One, he was four months old. We were flying from Tel Aviv to New York, and I felt somewhere between apprehensive and indignant. Facebook groups were replete with stories about the horrors of flying with a baby. Parent friends said that I was brave.
I wasn’t so sure. After all, I literally had one responsibility for this transatlantic flight: take care of Little One. I wouldn’t be able to catch up on all of the latest chick flicks. Or get much uncomfortable sleep in. But, the truth is, whenever I have an assignment with clear deliverables, I shine. I knew that I could do this.
Since that first flight, I’ve taken over 15 flights with Little One — some alone and most with my husband, Ben. We’ve taken 11-hour flights, 2-hour flights, and 11-hour flights with a two-hour stopover. Like most people, Little One doesn’t love flights. And because he’s a toddler, he expresses that sentiment in tears.
But flying is necessary to traveling, and if traveling is one of your reasons for being — or just a reality of your life — it’s time to face your fear of traveling. Here are my tried-and-true tips for flying with a baby:
1. Come early and caffeinated
When you’re the parent of a Little One, you must allot yourself an extra hour — at the very least — whenever you need to be somewhere on time. When flying, so many things will come up that you weren’t expecting — two more blowouts and a random feeding, in addition to unexpected airport hassles. Give yourself lots of extra time to avoid unnecessary stress.
2. Book a bassinet seat
The one and only time I flew business class was when my grandfather, Papa Sy, hooked me up thanks to his friend who worked in the travel biz. I was 13, and I pretty much wasted the experience, sleeping most of the way instead of indulging in business class delights.
The second time I flew like a C-list star was when I was 29, with a baby in tow. Booking a bassinet means that you’ll experience “first class for parents.” Your seat will be in the front of the coach section, and you’ll have a ridiculous amount of extra leg room. Perfect for feet stretching, toddler toddling, and stuff storing. Even though your Little One may not spend more than 30 minutes in the bassinet, book the bassinet seat. For $70 or less (depending on the airline), you’ll have so much extra space, you won’t know what to do with it.
3. Stop caring about your fellow passengers
This one isn’t easy, but it really is vital. So, maybe this tip will help. Recognize this: everyone on the plane has been a baby at one point. Many have even had babies. They know that babies cry. You can’t reason with babies. You can do your best to calm your baby, but even your best doesn’t work sometimes. So, don’t worry that your baby’s cries might be annoying the other passengers. They were once babies, and probably caused a ruckus at some point, too. And, if that doesn’t help, keep in mind that you probably won’t ever see them again.
4. Take a carrier
One of Little One’s greatest accoutrements has been the Ergo Baby carrier. Little One literally lived in the carrier from months two to six, and then napped in it daily until he was a year old. In airports and in airplanes, it has also proven invaluable. We often use his stroller to wheel all of our stuff, while he cuddles up in the carrier on one of us. On the airplane, the carrier provides Little One with a safe and comfy spot to rest, while we walk up and down the narrow aisles, rocking him to sleep. Once he falls asleep in the carrier, we have a chance to get some shut-eye, too.
5. Practice caution when accepting compliments
When a fellow passenger tells me that Little One is cute, I don’t go all gaga. Instead, I quietly respond, “Thank you” and then avoid future eye contact. I’m not trying be rude. I’m just practicing self-preservation. Yes, Little One is cute. But, kind lady, will you think he’s cute when he’s crying his head off in a few hours? Or when I’m stepping over you for the fifth time to change his diaper? Other passengers’ high expectations can stress a parent out. So, I do my best to avoid them all together.
6. Pack tons of snacks and drinks
On a typical day, Ben and I try to offer Little One food from each of the food groups. But on a plane, we stick to what we know he loves and what won’t go bad. For us, that includes bananas, avocados, challah rolls, grapes, and biscuits. We offer Little One food when the plane takes off and lands (swallowing lessens ear pressure), and when he’s cranky, tired, bored, and, of course, hungry. Basically, we offer him food nonstop. Airplane food is limited and not at all baby friendly. So, if there’s a food that your Little One loves, bring it with you.
7. Bring airplane-friendly toys
At four months, all Little One needed were my breasts and the carrier, but a few short months later, toys became necessities, too. He especially loves the colorful and magnetic Tegu Blocks, which are difficult to lose and easy to find. I also recommend bringing plastic books that include music and lots of activities, like the V-Tech Rhymes Book.
8. Don’t fly the most popular airline
When people heard that I was flying Ukrainian Airlines with Little One (and sans husband), they raised their eyebrows. But, hear me out. First, do you know what I paid for a one-way flight from Tel Aviv to New York? $350. Yep, that’s right. And the plane was far from sold out. The more empty spots on the plane, the better the flight will be for you and your Little One. There will be more room for your Little One to crawl, cruise, or toddle around; less crowded aisles to maneuver while lulling your baby to sleep; and fewer people to disturb.
9. Choose a flight with a stopover
If you’re between a direct 12-hour flight, or a two-legged flight with a stopover, choose the latter. A, it will probably be a lot of cheaper. B. a stopover will provide you with a much needed pause — giving you a chance to freshen up, breathe, and move around. You’ll be able to change your baby’s diaper on a changing table that isn’t doll-house sized. Your Little One can toddle around on the airport floor. And you can restock on snacks. Plus, if your first flight was less than successful, your stopover gives you a chance for a “take two.”
10. Make friends with the flight attendants
Flight attendants are there to improve your experience on the plane. And they’ll do that, as long as you’re super nice and thankful. If you find that you need to rock your baby in the flight attendants’ area at the back of the plane, be sure to be gracious. Chat, compliment, smile. Then, you’ll be more likely to get free reign of the plane, as well as extra pillows and sporadic check-ins.
11. Don’t be afraid to explore the plane
When the foot space in front of us no longer satisfies Little One’s needs, Ben whisks him away. He walks up and down the aisles with him. He rocks Little One in the flight attendants’ alcove. He finds a few empty seats and sets up shop. Whether you’re on a plane for a few hours or a dozen, you’ve literally got nowhere else to go. So, get to know the playing field well. Your and your baby’s well-being depend on it.
12. Accept assistance
On a 12-hour solo flight with Little One, I was getting agitated, and so was he. They say that breastmilk is magical, but apparently, even it has its limits. The kind woman next to me hardly spoke a word of English, but she understood my needs. She smiled at Little One to make him laugh and held him when I needed to retrieve diapers from my bag. Most of all, she provided both of us with kindness that was critical in our tired states. If people offer to help — whether that means folding up your stroller, placing your bags in the overhead compartment, or just cooing at your Little One to distract him from his cries — take it. Ben even once asked a fellow passenger to bring him his iPad after he and Little One were settled in an empty row. Whatever works.
13. Enjoy the perks
People understand that traveling with a baby is more challenging than traveling without a baby. And that’s why airlines often do what they can to make the journey easier. With Little One in tow, you may be able to cut security lines and board the plane first. You can purchase a bassinet seat for a token amount. If you choose to hold your baby on your lap during the flight, then your Little One can fly for free until he’s two. There are so few things in life that are free — and travel usually isn’t one of them. So, what are you waiting for? Get going!
Planning a trip with your Little One? Check out my essential packing list.