So you're packed and ready, armed with a thousand emergency diapers and ready to hit the skies. Now what?
My first piece of advice: leave plenty of time. Your hands will be very full, you'll have more crap strapped to you than you could ever imagine and your baby will choose the time you manage to wrangle all of your suitcases through the front doors of the airport to have a blow out.
That has happened to me. Twice.
And speaking of all of those suitcases - for the love of all things, check a bag. Even if you only fly occasionally, you should sign up with your airline's frequent flier program. Many times you can earn a free checked bag or a discounted checked bag which will be so incredibly worth it.
As a heads up: I have never once been able to check in online or via the kiosk at the airport when flying with the baby. I have been told many, many times by sassy check in desk employees that the lap child should not affect my ability to check in without assistance but have proven them wrong every single time. This may be something special to (lucky) me but you may want to consider that you'll be hitting the kiosk and then waiting for an employee to check you in, so leave ample time for this process.
Ok, let's tackle this travel day, step by step.
As soon as I get out of the car, I strap the baby into the Bjorn.
If he's asleep, I face him in, but now that he's a bit older I face him out. All of the people watching keeps him entertained while I handle the bags etc.
If I have my car seat and stroller, I only pack one suitcase (that I check). If you have more than one checked bag, you can hook the suitcase handle over the stroller handle and roll the entire hot mess caravan to the check in area. I typically push the stroller with my right hand and drag my suitcase with my left. I'll pause to let ya'll get a great visual of all that.
Keeping in mind that I've never been able to check in via kiosk with the baby, I make sure to check in through the Preferred Lane (a frequent flyer bonus) or at a kiosk that has a human being manning the computer behind it. If you've left enough time there should be very few travelers in line and an employee should be able to help you immediately. I even ask for help lifting my bags onto the scales because the baby strapped to my chest makes lifting awkward. I won't lie, the minute those bags are checked, life gets a billion times easier.
Before I leave the check in desk I make sure that the lap child boarding pass was printed and attached to my boarding passes by flight.
Now we've got to get our minds right to get through security.
This is where wearing the baby is crucial.
Based on the number of carry on bags I have and my shoe/outerwear choices, I know that I need two bins. I drop my backpack onto the belt first and then toss my diaper bag into a bin. Next, my shoes, vest, sunglasses and loose ID and boarding passes go into the second bin.
And now for the fun part:
My infant car seat will only fit through the xray machine if I push back the sun shade, push back the handle and then turn the car seat upside down. It took me a few tries to figure that out but once I did, things go easier. Next I break down my stroller base as far as it will go and jam it onto the belt.
Once all of my crap is pushed into the X Ray, I make a move for the metal detector.
You can wear your infant through security - you will not go through the body scanner, you'll go through the old school metal detector and then will need to step aside so that your hands can be wiped down with a piece of paper that will detect if you've spent any time building bombs in the recent past.
As a heads up: the paper can of course trigger a false positive for explosives or questionable residue and if that happens, you'll be asked to take the baby out of the carrier, send the carrier through the X Ray and walk through the metal detector holding the baby.
If you formula feed, the powder will not cause any problems through security.
If you have pumped milk, each container of breast milk may be opened and tested to ensure that it isn't an explosive. Any liquid formula (even sealed) will be subject to the same procedure. I know many moms who have had different experiences with pumped milk and liquid formula, varying from airport to airport, but the bottom line is that you are allowed to carry more than 3oz of breast milk or liquid formula, but you most likely will be asked to prove that it isn't a danger to other travelers.
At the end of security, I first put my shoes and outerwear back on, the strap on my backpack and cross body and then tackle unfolding my stroller base and attaching my infant car seat.
The first stop after secutiry is a non-negotiable:
a water fountain.
Fill two of your bottles and your Mixie.
If you need to feed in the very near future, fill 3 bottles and the Mixie.
The goal is to use one bottle for an in flight feed while having a second bottle for take off and landing to prevent ear pressure. The Mixie is for that moment when the baby has burned through both bottles and you're desperate. I've had to pull the Mixie out a few times when G was extra fussy. Keep in mind that you'll have two other bottles with pre-measured formula in your back pack and if for some reason you need those on your first flight, you can (nicely) ask the flight attendant for water.
Once your bottles are mixed, take a minute to take a deep breath, get yourself put back together and grab a Starbucks. If you're rocking the stroller, toss the diaper bag and back pack into the seat and give your back a break. I always keep G in his Bjorn because he doesn't do well with the transitions back and forth. If your babe is more chill than mine, then drop him in the car seat and head to your gate.
Ok let's talk boarding the plane.
All of your gate checked items will need a tag of some sort. For US Air, they are yellow. Make sure that all of the pieces of your gear get a tag -the stroller base, infant seat etc.
I actually choose to board the plane as early as possible because I like to break down all of my gear without an audience (keep in mind that I'm flying with an infant, not a toddler. I know toddler moms are going nuts reading this right now because they wait until the very end to board!). For me, the worst part of the entire day is breaking down my car seat and stroller on the gangway. My stroller base is a B and is never easy to man handle. Add all of my carry ons and the baby and I know I look like the traveling circus from mama hell.
Once your ditch your gear, make sure to stop and say hello to the flight attendants. Let the baby smile at them or show them your sleeping babe's face. Flight attendants can be your life raft on a flight - be nice to them.
Before I head to my seat, I confirm with the flight attendant that my seat is equipped with an extra oxygen mask for a lap child. On small planes, only one side of the plane is equipped with double masks and you may be forced to ask people to switch seats with you. It's awkward, so I prefer to get on the plane early and check my seat assignment with the flight attendant before the entire plane is full. On larger/newer jets, all of the rows are equipped with double masks so it's not a concern.
I toss my back pack into the overhead, pull a bottle out of my diaper bag and drop it into my seat and then bend down and jam my diaper bag under the seat in front of me. I typically sit in the window because I feel like it gives me a space to let the baby flail around without being in the aisle or bothering the person next to us.
If the baby is sleepy or fussy, I pop a bottle into his mouth right away and rock him, hoping he'll fall asleep without an ordeal. If he's super awake and happy, I sit him up on my lap and face him out toward the aisle so he can watch everyone board.
G ususally gets fussy or antsy about the time we start with the safety annoucements so I make sure he's facing me in the Bjorn and give him a bottle. The timing helps prevent his ears from hurting and hopefully has him full and asleep by the time we're at our cruising altitude.
Once we're in the air, I hope for a nap but play it based on his moods. Long gone are the days of reading a magazine on a flight. I never know what will happen but I try to be prepared for everything. I once spent two solid hours standing in the aisle, rocking him back and forth to keep him asleep.
Once you hear that glorious announcement that you are beginning your decent, make sure that you have a bottle at the ready to prevent ear pain - even if the babe is asleep. The pressure can wake them up from a hard sleep and you'll want to be ready with a bottle or paci.
Once the plane lands just wait.
Wait until almost everyone else is off the plane before you bother trying to get all of your stuff together. The reason for the hold is two fold: 1. your car seat and stroller will take a bit of time to be retrieved from under the plane and 2. it will take longer than you think to get all of your stuff back together and situated. If the baby is awake, he'll be entertained by the other passengers going by and you'll avoid standing on the freezing ramp for 15 minutes while they find your stroller base.
If you are lucky enough to be on a direct flight, then the most stressful part (the fear of terrorizing a plane full of strangers) is over!
If you have a layover and another flight, then no worries, let's tackle how to handle that!
Grab your gear and head straight for a bathroom.
Change the baby and, if you have a lay over longer than an hour, plop the babe into your stroller if you have it.
Once we've freshened up, I head directly our next terminal.
If I'm hungry and have time I'll grab something to eat and toss it into my diaper bag.
Once we get to our next gate, I find a reasonably empty space nearby and spread a blanket out on the ground. I lay the baby on the floor, pull out some toys and sit down on the floor with him. I know this will gross some of you out (we are sitting on a blanket so it's not that bad) but honestly, this is a mandatory event in our travel day. He needs time to play and stretch his legs. It makes him feel better, he burns some energy and we both get a bit of a break from being strapped together. At this point, my back needs a break too. I'll sit next to him and talk to him, eat or read him a book.
As we get closer to our next flight, I may change him again if I think he needs it and then I'll rotate the bottles that we used on our first flight to the back pack and dig out the last two pre-mixed bottles. I fill those bad boys up with water from a water fountain and stash them in my diaper bag for the next flight.
He goes back into the Bjorn and we do it all over again!
Every single time our last flight lands, I let out a deep sigh and say in G's ear, "we did it!"
we wait a bit, grab our gear and make a break for the baggage claim...
and then I drink wine.
Lots and lots of wine.
See, ya'll can do this!
Check back tomorrow for my tips and tricks on surviving the travel day!
Other Posts in the Flying With an Infant Series: