10 Great Tips for Flying With Babies (From a Mom Who Learned the Hard Way)

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10 Sanity Saving Tips for Moms When Flying With a BabyWe recently flew with our baby from Nashville to Chicago. We didn't think much of it. It was a short flight, and little Maggs had flown with us several times before. NBD, right?

I had her diaper bag carefully stocked. Bottles, diapers, wipes, snacks, toys, a change of clothes ... I had thought of it all. Or at least I thought I had thought of it all.

Then, as the flight attendant announced that we had been cleared for take-off and we started to taxi down the runway, I reached into my daughter's bag to grab a bottle. One of the first tips we had been given about traveling with a baby was to have a bottle ready during ascent and descent to alleviate air pressure in the ears. This time, however, I had forgotten one little detail. The nipple for the bottle.

Holy shit. 

I looked at my husband and said, "Oh my God. I forgot to pack the nipples."

Looking down at our happily cooing baby on his lap, he replied, "She's fine. Don't worry about it." I just looked at him, a knot developing in my stomach. He looked at the sheer panic in my eyes and said again, "She's fine. It's a short flight. Relax."

Cut to about three minutes later, when the baby started to cry. Then, as the pressure in her ears increased, she cried harder. We began frantically trying to find some way to get formula into her. She wasn't yet drinking from a cup, so she brushed off our attempts to let her drink out of the open mouth of the bottle and just screamed louder.

We became more desperate. We asked every passerby and every person on the plane with a child if they happened to have a nipple. None did. The flight attendants told us they do not carry bottles or sippy cups on the plane (I think they should, don't you?). 

As the screaming escalated, Mark started trying to MacGyver a nipple out of a pacifier we had in the bag. A helpful woman across the aisle offered him her pocketknife (yes, you heard me), to no avail. We couldn't get anything to work. 

After about 30 minutes of exhausting every possible option, we gave up. Hungry and frustrated, Maggie continued to scream and cry. She worked herself up until she was beyond consoling, but never wore herself out. I just held her and continued to try fruitlessly to comfort her. Mark simply looked down at the floor, veins popping in his neck. We couldn't, wouldn't, look at anyone.

(PS. We weren't alone in our row. Some poor chap was crammed between me and the screaming baby and the window.)

It.Was.Awful. I have never felt like such a bad mother. We had become those people, with a vengeance.

When the plane landed, the captain came on the intercom and announced, "It's finally over, people. We're here." And everyone on the plane burst into applause. Everyone except me, my husband, and the man next to me. And of course poor Maggie, who was still screaming.

A parent's nightmare. And a lesson I'll never forget.

So, over the holidays when we embarked on a several-leg cross-country journey with Maggie, I was prepared. Over-prepared, probably, but it paid off. Our flights were incident- and trauma-free. Not that we have it all figured out, but here are some tips and suggestions for traveling with a baby, based on our trial-and-error experiences over the past year.

1. Strategic seating. If you're flying Southwest, where there is open seating, and you haven't purchased a seat for your under-2-year-old, and there are two of you, one of you take the aisle and the other take the window, leaving the middle seat open. Unless the flight is totally full, no one is going to want that middle seat between two parents and a baby.

And if you're flying on an airline with reserved seating and there are two of you, choose seats across the aisle from one another and take turns holding the baby. This will give each of you some peace and quiet on the flight, and will mix things up for the baby.

2. Take a well-stocked diaper bag, including diapers, wipes, bottles (with nipples), snacks, a sippy cup, a book or two, and some quiet toys. If the child is old enough, a couple of Baby Einstein videos downloaded onto an iPad are great attention-holders for pretty good chunks of time. This being said, be careful not to over-pack the bag, as it will become heavy on those walks (or runs) through the airport.

3. Try to travel during regular nap times or bedtime; or, if this is not possible, try keep the child awake until after take-off. A sleeping baby is a happy baby (with happy parents and neighbors).

4. If you don't want to travel with a stroller (and we typically don't ... it's too cumbersome), take a baby Bjorn or similar wearable carrier. This leaves your hands free for carrying bags and helps you get to and from the gate with relative ease. Do not try to carry the baby through the airport on your hip or in your arms. Trust me.

5. Try to pack as many supplies as possible in the luggage you plan to check (rather than carrying on). And only pack enough bottles and diapers to last a day or two. Buy the rest when you get to your destination.

6. Have all of your liquids -- formula, baby drinks, etc. -- out of the diaper bag when going through security, and tell the TSA agent on duty exactly what you are carrying. This will help speed the process.

7. Sit close to other parents with small children if possible. They will likely be sympathetic souls; plus, if one of the babies cries, no one will really know from which aisle it is coming. Safety in numbers.

8. Relax. Try not to stress out about your baby crying. If you've done all that you can do and your baby still cries, accept that there's nothing you can do about it and stressing out will not help matters. In fact, the baby will likely pick up on your rising anxiety and the situation will escalate. If you stay calm, your baby will be more likely to remain calm.

9. Ignore dirty looks. Until I had kids, I used to be one of those people who would sigh and cringe inwardly when I saw an adult with a baby boarding the plane. And I have been known to turn around and give a pointed look to the parent of a screamer. No more. I now know that babies cry and that there is likely nothing the parents can do about it. And that they are more upset than anyone about their child being in distress. Now when I see a parent -- on a plane or anywhere -- with a screaming child, I give them a sympathetic smile. 

10. Bribery. Travel with little gift bags containing things like earplugs and candy and gum to pass around to those in your immediate vicinity. Or, if all else fails, offer to buy drinks for everyone around you. (We've actually done this.) Whether or not they take you up on the offer, it will send the message that you are sorry for any negative impact your child may have on the enjoyment of their trip. 

Oh, and don't forget the nipple. (Did I say that already?)


Images via Vox Efx/Flickr; Mark Montgomery

being a mom


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jalaz77 jalaz77

Nice advice. We just refuse to fly with young kids. Not worth it. Plus we don't have to travel its more of a want to travel. If we had family out of town we had to visit often it would be different.

katyq katyq

Wow sounds like you had one awful experience. I wouldn't worry about future flights however as babies really do alot better in general than they are given credit for. I have flown with my 2 1/2 year old son dozens of times all over the  U.S. and the world and never had a single issue. I'd make sure to get a seat near a bathroom to make diaper changing easier but thats about it. The most difficult time for me would have been between 12-15 months as he wanted to walk/run all the time since it was a new skill and he was too young to 'listen to mommy" but plenty of distraction worked like a charm.

nonmember avatar kp

You missed the most important tip of all- buy your child their own seat and use their carseat! It's the safest way for child and carseat to travel. After one disasterous flight with my daughter as a lap child, we always bought her her own seat. It's more expense but isn't keeping your child safe (and keeping your own sanity!) worth it? And most older under-twos know that being in a carseat means they have to stay seated and tend to behave better. Plus they're more likely to sleep and you get to keep your hands/lap free.

ashjo85 ashjo85

I vehemently dsagree with the naptime/bedtime thing. We thought we were being SOOOO smart, flying with our 2 year old on a red eye, thinking she'd just curl up and sleep. Nope. She got cranky, she wasn't in her own bed, her routine was blown to hell, she got about two hours of sleep the whole time, and was dead on her feet the next day. I highly recommend going first thing in the morning, when baby is fresh from sleep, and happy.

nonmember avatar DawnGusty

Bribery worked for us! I made little notes with a super-cute Reagan picture saying , "Hi. I'm Reagan. I am flying to see my grandparents. There's no other way for me to get there and they can't wait to see me. If I do cry, enjoy these treats and please forgive me." I put that note in a Baggie with Hershey kisses and a pack of gum. When we handed them out, everyone was so touched, they were our instant allies. Flash forward to squirrelly toddler days - bought 10 silly dollar store toys and wrapped each one. Getting a present to open every 20 minutes got us through. :)

nonmember avatar katelyn

Why would you recommend a bjorn? That carrier is awful and is a crotch dangler.

kdsue kdsue

I agree with buying a seat for the baby and bringing a car seat.  When my oldest was about 18 months we went to her godfather's wedding 1/2 way across the country.  The flight included 2 layovers and we had to cart the giant car seat across a couple airports, but strapped to a carryon it didn't cause too much of a hassle.  I really think having that familiar seat makes a huge difference in behavior.  The extra cost is more than worth it.

Oh, and instead of a stroller, we had her lean on her belly on our rollerbag carry-on and just hang onto the handle and we basically dragged her through the airport.  We got some odd looks, but didn't have to worry about her keeping up or trying to carry her around.  She saw it as a fun adventure since we don't usually drag her around on luggage. :)  She did let go and slide off once or twice, but just kind of giggled about it and climbed back on.  She still finds it funny when we tell her about it.

Becky262 Becky262

Definitely buy your baby a seat. Even if they end up in your lap, the extra room is great. I also use a Go Go Babyz to turn their carseats (and them) into rolling luggage. I've traveled solo with our two-under-two from DC and Japan to Oregon. Flights just suck sometimes no matter how well prepared you are :)

sasha... sashamom27159

When i took my dd by myself to California when she was 18 months old she started scream crying right before we were about to board.We were in the front of the line so we could board  early and my dd just starts freaking out i could not figure it out and when i took her pants off to change her diaper she just stopped she was just to hot lol but now i was the last person on the plane and i was in the last row every one was starring i was mortified but at least she did good in the 6 hour plane ride.I did forget her bottle one day at Disneyland they sell extras there but my dd would not take it so i ended up giving her formula on a spoon   

MamaQ... MamaQuint

I definitely agree with everyone about buying your child their own seat and bringing their car seat. It's an added expense, but the payoff is well worth it. Your kid knows that they're going for a ride when they're in their car seat and their used to sitting buckled in for a length of time. Trying to hold a squirmy baby for a few hours without making everyone else around you hate you is nerve racking. 

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