10 Tips for Less-Stress Airplane Travel with Baby

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Sarah Fischer
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Several years ago, on Crew’s first international flight when he was 8 months old I was seated between two large men, one of them with a horrible cough. As the plane got ready to takeoff Crew was hungry, overtired and cranky and he wanted to make sure everyone on the plane knew it. He was exclusively breastfed and I didn’t have any baby snacks with me. I have never sweat so profusely as I did trying to quiet him by nursing him in some sort of decency without encroaching on the space of those two big men while one of them coughed on his head. The whole thing was horrible and I’ll never forget it. It’s a shame I didn’t know then what I do now, so, after lots of experience and many survived flights I give you our top 10 tips for traveling with a baby:

1. Ask the airline if there are any spare seats before you board.

If there are they may give one to you, if not, it didn’t hurt to ask! Our most recent experience with Virgin Australia was amazing because we asked. For long international fights ask the airline if they have an infant bassinet. We have only used one once and the whole experience was a fiasco, so we can't vouch for it (read-why would they turn the aircrafts lights on and serve a meal at 2:30am?), but we’d be willing to give it a go again.

2. Ask if you can keep your stroller until you get to the gate to board the aircraft.

In the US it is generally standard to gate-check it, but we’ve learned in many other countries that they have us check it with our luggage, which can be really inconvenient when you already have your arms full and now have a squirmy baby to carry as well, and now have no stroller to hang any bags on or stow things beneath. However, if you ask, they might let you keep it until you get to the gate. Once again, asking and being told no never hurt anyone.

3. Learn to Live with Less.

It’s insane how much stuff you can pack for a baby. The longer we travel though the more we realize how few things we really need for our baby. Many places have cribs or pack-n-plays available for their guests, so we never pack one, and if they don’t they’ll often go out of their way to find one for you. But, we’ve been known to sleep our baby in the shower a time or two when we didn’t have one. Check out our list for what we pack for our baby here.

4. Breathe and Relax.

Traveling with a baby can be super stressful, but stress is often created by the way we think about things. One thing that tends to stress us out about traveling with our baby is our worry about bothering other passengers on the flight. Here’s the thing we’ve learned though — there are more good, kind, forgiving people in the world than there are grumpy people (and we all take our turns being that grumpy person in one way or another), so breathe, relax, and know that you’re doing your best to keep your baby happy and trust in those good people to be kind and understanding if baby’s not. And if you get less than kind comments, stares or scowls from those grumpy souls don’t sweat it for a second — Just let it roll right off your shoulders like water on a penguin’s back. (Easier said than done, we know).

5. Feed the baby.

This is a no-brainer: A hungry baby is not a happy baby. So feed the baby! Consider nursing or bottle-feeding your baby during take-off and landing to help alleviate the pressure change on her little eardrums. If your baby is old enough to eat some finger food make sure to pack snacks that will keep him engaged trying to pick them up for a good chunk of time.

Past time = Closer to landing! Hallelujah.

6. Let baby take the lead with sleep.

If your baby is little (5 months or younger) there’s a good chance he or she will sleep without much trouble on the airplane simply because he doesn’t have the capacity to resist sleep for too long, so just be calm, soothing and patient. Try to stay consistent with the sleep routines you would normally follow as much as possible and let the loud rumble of the aircraft lull your baby to sleep. Get up and walk the aisles if you need to, and if the fastened seatbelt sign is on and your baby is upset, remember #4; Breathe and Relax. It will end. Even 12-hour flights come to an end and all babies crash eventually. As I like to say, perspective is power, so when you feel like you’re losing your sanity, hold on to your perspective. If your baby is older and is a champion at resisting sleep (like ours) let her stay busy. Usually, a busy baby is a happy baby (at least until she suddenly remembers she is veeeery overtired ). Let her play with the tray table and the armrest and the seat reclining button and your phone and whatever the heck she can reach and wants to that is not disrupting anyone else. Use distraction to your advantage — if she really wants to play with that tray table but it has to be stowed distract her with Patty Cake or This Little Piggy or Peek a Boo.

7. Relinquish control a bit.

If your baby likes to be snuggled close and rocked to sleep, by all means, do that. But, if that just makes her more upset then try laying her on an empty seat and pretending to ignore her to let her drift off (or roll around and gab) in her own way and time. If there are no empty seats by you walk the aisle and scope out the plane. I once asked the flight attendants if I could use the back row that was reserved for them to try to get our baby to sleep. They agreed, and while it didn’t work that time, it was worth a shot. So if all else fails and you’re at your limit…

8. Pass the baby.

Hopefully you’re not traveling alone and there’s someone you can pass the baby to and have them give it a go… but if there’s not, go back to #4. Breathe and relax. Put some headphones on with an audiobook and pace the aisles some more. Or stand at the back of the plane and bounce baby. Or turn on a movie and rock and bounce baby in your arms.

9. Don’t forget the diapers, wipes, and a spare change of clothes.

On one of our very first flights as a full-time traveling family I forgot to pack a change of clothes for Marley. Of course she had a blow-out before the plane even got in the air. That meant I got to hold a wet, poopy baby the rest of the flight. Don’t make my same mistake. ALWAYS pack a change of clothes, in addition to diapers and wipes.

10. Buy it when you land.

While you definitely need diapers with you on the airplane, you definitely don’t need one of your suitcases to be full of them. Less luggage = less to lug around the airport = less stress! If your travels are more than just a few days just plan to grab a pack at the store when you land. Consider carefully what you REALLY need and what you can live without. We realized in Hawaii as our baby began eating more and more solids and stopped taking an evening nap that dinner would go a lot smoother if we had some sort of seat for her to sit in. We went to a local thrift store and picked up a bumbo with a tray. (We also bought an Ergo Baby carrier for hiking there as well). We almost left it in Hawaii because we had no clue whether the airline for our next flight would let us take it onboard with us, (I even called beforehand to ask and they were doubtful) but they did! And every single airline since has as well, so, don’t be afraid to ask if you can take something you really think you need, or consider purchasing one second-hand when you get to your destination. You can often re-sell those types of things back to kid-2-kid type store when you leave, or sell it on Facebook Marketplace, or donate it to someone who will use it.

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