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The Truth About Air Traveling with an Infant

12/5/2019
Air travels can be stressful. Now, add a 3-month old infant into the mix. One of our staff members and her husband recently traveled internationally twice with their infant. She shares a truthful report on what worked for them and what they learned during their trips. 
 
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By nature, air travel requires some packing and logistics, flying with an infant takes some extensive organization skills. When booking our flights for Paris, I don’t think we realized the amount of organization and logistics that goes into traveling with a 3-month old infant. We surely overpacked in certain areas and overlooked things in others. As if it wasn’t stressful enough, we decided to do it all over again and traveled to Aruba during the busiest week of the year for air travel in the United States: Thanksgiving week. While we’re no experts, we’d like to share what worked for us and what we learned, oftentimes by fire, during our trips as first-time parents. 

Booking Your Flight Tickets

While you don’t have to pay for a seat if your child is under two years old, she or he won’t be flying for free either. Instead, the airline will charge you a small fee to cover taxes and a small percentage of a full ticket (up to 10%). Doing so will allow you to travel with your infant on your lap. 

While booking our tickets, we called the airline to confirm that the plane had bassinets. We found out that while the flight attendants were indeed able to install cots, we needed to select bulkhead seats during our booking process. This is where it got a little tricky. Nowadays, bulkhead seats always come at an additional cost as they are located at the front of the plane and offer more legroom, therefore considered premium economy seats. Since it was our first time flying with our baby, furthermore flying cross-Atlantic, we decided to pay the extra $400 for two bulkhead seats. We did not regret it. We were able to place him safely in the cot and he slept throughout the entire flight. Ironically, he had never slept better before, or since. When we had him in our arms, we were able to use the bassinet to store his toys, bottles, and blankets.  

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On our recent trip to Aruba, we decided not to go for the bassinet option since the flight is much shorter. Instead, we booked flights that we hoped would not be full by avoiding Thanksgiving’s prime travel days. Luck was on our side and, when checking in online, we were able to select a window and an aisle seat, leaving the middle seat open. Thankfully, no one sat in between us, and we had the seat for ourselves. 


Baby Gears 

The three key baby items you want to take with you are a car seat, a collapsible stroller and a baby carrier or sling. 
  • Stroller

We were able to buy the same brand lightweight stroller as our car seat which allowed us to easily connect the car seat to the stroller. The stroller also came with a bag and was small enough to use as one of our carry-ons on the plane. 

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  • Car Seat

We choose to check our car seat and pack it in a protective cover. On a side note, most airlines will check your car seat and stroller for free if you need it. Another note, if your suitcases are on the heavier side, pack some bulky items into your car seat bag. We choose to have our shoes and beach towels in there to avoid paying for the extra weight of our suitcase. 
 
A lot of families who manage to grab the extra middle seat like to keep the car seat so their baby can seat comfortably on the plane. Unfortunately, until very recently, our baby hated his car seat, so we decided to lay him down on the middle seat over his plush blanket and hold him safely. We did not take our car seat’s base with us and used the belt installation method when using taxis or car rental while abroad. Check your user manual for installation instructions and practice before you leave on your trip – I became our family’s car seat expert! If you plan to use the car often during your trip, we suggest taking your base as strapping the car seat over and over again may get cumbersome.  

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  • Baby Carrier

The baby carrier was extremely convenient when roaming around the airport and passing through the security gates. We also used it extensively while site seeing in Paris and using public transit. 


Carry-on Packing List 

From our learning experience, the very first, most important tip we can share with you is to never, ever forget extra outfits. We experienced our biggest blow out diaper incident to date 35,000 ft in the air and realized we had forgotten extra clothes. On our return flight, we had learned our lesson and packed 5 different outfits. A good middle ground option is to pack two changes of clothes and an extra onesie. 

If you are formula-feeding, another tip is to keep your formula box with you. You never know whether your suitcases will make it to your destination, and you don’t want to be stuck without formula when you get to an unfamiliar place.
 
Other items to pack with you for the flight include: 
  • Bottles for usual feedings and extra ones for landings and takeoffs
  • Three or four toys
  • A plush blanket to keep baby warm and comfy
  • Sanitizing wipes to wipe down your seats and table trays
  • Fully packed diaper bag with one diaper per hour of travel
  • A changing table cover
  • A white noise machine 
  • A couple of pacifiers
  • Plastic bags for dirty clothes and diapers

Security Gates

When we were packing, we organized all our carry-on bags around changing, feeding or entertaining baby without accounting for the security checks at the airport. Turns out, all our neatly organized carry-ons were torn apart by security staff who double-checked all our liquid items from bottles to diaper rash cream. Instead, be prepared for these checks by combining all liquid items in one clear zip-lock bag. If time allows, you can always reorganize your bags once you get to your gate. 


On the Plane 

The most critical moments during your flight will be takeoff and landing. Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, try to hold off on feeding your baby until a couple of minutes before takeoff. For landing, wait until the pilot announces the plane’s descent. Pacifiers are controversial but can be helpful in this instance. Our baby was fast asleep during takeoff. To ensure his ears were not going to hurt him, we stuck a pacifier in his mouth and tickled his feet, so he would start sucking on it. 

Traveling as a family is a wonderful and rewarding experience which you will not regret. Take time before your vacation to create a packing list and prepare your bags a few days before departure. Make sure you leave plenty of time to drive to the airport, park the car, drop off your bags and go through security. Don’t be afraid to make the airport staff aware of your young infant. Most of the time, they will let you skip the line. If they don’t, push back and explain you need to change or feed the baby imminently. That may change your mind. Finally, listen to your baby’s cues and parent instincts. You are the best person to know what your children need and how to make it as comfortable as possible for them.

We wish you a safe journey, as stress-free as it can be with an infant!