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Baby's First Flight: Traveling with an Infant on a Plane

Baby girl
    Here are some tips for flying with an infant (an infant under a year old) from a parent who goes everywhere with her little one. Her ideas on traveling with infants are just what you need, particularly her fabulous idea for how to turn an airsickness bag into a hand puppet!
    At the airport
   

If you are flying with an infant solo, you may be able to get an Escort Pass for your spouse or other helper to help you take things to the gate, but he or she will not be allowed to board the plane to help. Airlines rules regarding traveling with infants vary, and post 9/11 there are many carriers that no longer allow this. Call ahead to find out if your airline will issue an Escort Pass or has staff to help you if you need it. Sometimes, other sympathetic passengers and flight attendants will help out, but don’t count on it. Instead, do a trial run at home before flying with a baby to make sure you can manage everything by yourself, if worse comes to worse.

      Getting through security when you're flying with a baby
      It seems as though every airport is different when it comes to how parents traveling with infants are checked through security. We've experienced everything from fairly intrusive pat-down searches to just walking on through without even so much as a glance beneath our stroller. Usually, it is somewhere in the middle. To be safe, plan to be at the airport early and be prepared for delays getting through security. If your baby is in a sling or backpack-type carrier, you may have to remove him or her and hold the child out in front of you as you walk through. The stroller will usually have to be emptied and screened manually by a checker. Some airports do not require parents flying with a baby to remove the child from a Baby Bjorn, but you will have to send a car seat carrier and folding stroller through the X-ray machine. Right after 9/11, one mom on the news reported having to chug breast milk out of her baby's bottle to prove that it was, in fact, breast milk and not something else. Thankfully, they seem to have abandoned this practice.
     

Tips for flying with an infant: It is a good idea to pack things in see-through plastic bags, so that security personnel don't have to rummage through everything and contaminate pacifiers, nipples, and teethers when searching your bag.

     

There are new regulations about carry-on items on the plane. Check here to find out about specific carry-on items for U.S. airlines, and click here for info about traveling with infants through Heathrow airport, a big hub for Europe.

      Boarding the plane when flying with an infant
   

When you get to the gate, you can gate-check your stroller by getting a tag for it and leaving it at the end of the jet-way, just before you board the plane. You pick it up when you get off the plane at the same spot. Be sure to collapse or fold it when you leave it – if it is not folded, it might be damaged by airport luggage handlers who will use "any means necessary" to get it to fold up. The airlines will not pay for a broken stroller, since it is considered a "fragile item" according to their rules, so you check it at your own risk when flying.

      Many U.S. carriers no longer allow families traveling with infants to board early as their policy. Typically first class and frequent flyers board first, families traveling with infants or small children and people needing extra time second, then general boarding by row number. However, boarding order is variable, and it's often up to the people at the gate. When you reach the gate, try asking at the desk if you can board first with your baby - it's certainly worth a shot, and sometimes they'll say yes.
      Tips for flying with an infant: If you or your spouse is an elite-status pass holder on any air carrier, the entire family can board with the frequent flyer group and use the early boarding to set up camp. If at all possible, you should purchase a seat for your child – it is safer and more comfortable for both of you, particularly on long trips. Many airlines offer tickets at 50% off the normal airfare to travelers flying with an infant or children under two years old.
      Traveling with infants in the air
      One of the main sources of discomfort for infants traveling on airplanes is the change in cabin pressure when taking off and landing. This causes pressure in the ears, and can be quite painful for the infant, particularly if the baby has a stuffy nose. When flying with a baby, prepare for this by planning to nurse or give a bottle or pacifier to the child during takeoff and landing to help alleviate the pressure.
     

Younger babies (under 6 months) tend to sleep while flying. With a baby, the engine noise can provide a lulling noise. If your baby is awake and fussy, use a Baby Bjorn or other baby sling to walk up and down the aisle to give the baby a change of scenery. Bring along an age-appropriate new rattle, book, toy, or stuffed animal to keep the baby amused. Don't forget cool teething rings for babies needing something to chew.

     

Tips for flying with an infant: Airsickness bags can make an on-the-spot hand puppet – just draw a face on the bottom of the bag and amuse your child with endless games of "Peek-a-Boo".

      When it's time to eat, it is fairly easy to nurse while flying. With an infant, you might consider bringing along a small pillow for extra support, since the ones provided by the airline are fairly small and slippery. A Boppy pillow is probably too big – a few rolled up airplane blankets or baby blankets from home will do and use an extra blanket for privacy. When you’re traveling with an infant on a plane, book a window seat if would like maximum privacy. If you are using bottles, it is easiest to use the pre-measured, individual servings of formula. If using powdered formula, measure it out beforehand in individual baggies or in a container with compartments made just for this purpose. Bring along a small, soft-sided cooler for anything that is frozen or must be kept cool.
      Flying with a baby while nursing isn’t difficult. You can thaw out frozen breast milk in hot water using an airsickness bag. Ask the flight attendant to pour some hot water into the bag (make sure they are plastic lined and won't leak). Put the frozen milk in, slosh it around, and wait for it to thaw or warm up.
      Tips for flying with an infant: If you don’t like the idea of using airsickness bags, get a collapsible bowl at a pet store and use this as your bottle warmer, along with hot water from the flight attendant.
      Many airplanes have fold-down changing tables in the restrooms, but not all do. Ask the flight attendant which ones have the changing tables before you hike all the way to the back only to find that the changing table is in the front of the plane. Be sure to bring along enough plastic bags to dispose of the diaper. If the infant is small enough, you may be able to change him or her in the seat, but as a courtesy to those around you, take the dirty diapers to the restroom for changing.
      The main thing to remember about flying with an infant is to relax – it will likely go much better than you are anticipating! For us, the times that strangers and flight crews were kind and helpful far outnumbered the occasional rude stare. When we were flying with a baby, it was amazing how often business people and random strangers got misty-eyed looking at him and telling us about their own kids or grandkids. For many parents, this is the best time for traveling—with infants. Enjoy it!
      © Glennia Campbell
Editor's note: Be sure to check the TSA website to find out the latest rules for carry-ons.
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Traveling with infants, when you pile up all the stuff to take, it can feel like Mt. Everest. Save yourself the hassle of lugging everything with you – diapers, wipes, disposable utensils, travel bath sets and more, can be delivered to your destination:

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This guide is chock full of useful tips for traveling with babies, what gear to bring (including a carry-on travel kit of 3 oz bottles), childproofing your accommodations, managing baggage on trains, and more. (Guidebook)

 

     
Travel with Babies and Young Children
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An essential guide to planning a trip abroad, especially adventurous destinations – what to bring, traveling by plane, car, or train, how to handle challenges (bites, dehydration, cuts), plus lots of first-hand travel stories. Best of all, detailed information about diapers, bathrooms, food, cultural tips and etiquette for Africa, North and South Asia, the South Pacific, Caribbean, Middle East, Central and South America and Western Europe. (Guidebook)

 

 
Travels with Babies and Young Children
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