When we lived in France, we flew across the pond six times with baby/toddler FirstBorn, so we struggled, learned, then watched other families struggle. One Christmas we sat near an exhausted mother and father who suffered miserably for seven hours trying to contain, entertain, and restrain their feisty 1-year-old daughter. As we touched down, she was throwing up and sobbing. And the kid was even worse off.
You don’t want to be that family.
Of course, as much as you prepare, there’s always the unexpected flight delay (2009, 2010, 2011) or wet soggy airplane floor (2009) or fellow passenger bleeding out of his eyeballs (2010). Or worse.
Still, flying really can be a pleasant, amusing, photo-capturing, memory-making experience for you and your child, as long as you’re not overwhelmed by logistical details. All you really need to do is obsessively organize, simplify, and streamline like a maniac before you can kick back and enjoy the ride. And here is my comprehensive checklist on how to accomplish that.
What To Do Weeks, Days & Hours Before Travel
Adapted from Bruce Feiler’s Secrets of Happy Families, this is my most simple but thorough Family Vacation Checklist. Start here.
- Bring ONE carry-on bag. ONE.
- Pack ALL liquids under 3.4oz in ONE quart-size plastic zip-lock bag and place it at the top of your diaper bag/carry-on for easy access at airport security. Examples of liquids you may need en-route are: baby food jars, sippy cup, IBUprofin, hand-sanitizer, diaper rash cream, teething gel, vitamin D drops.
- Limit how many baby food jars you bring. Airport security is likely to open all of them, rendering them sour within a few hours.
- Pack a few bottles containing pre-measured formula powder. You can get warm water in the airport or on the plane for mixing when baby is ready to feed.
- Bring snacks that will be eaten slowly and last a while. Lollipops, cheerios, and raisins work well. For you, bring (or buy before boarding) snacks whose odors won’t offend fellow passengers.
- Do not strive to be eco-friendly on this flight. Choose disposable bibs, spoons, diapers, wipes, and anything else you can think of to throw away. Lugging around dirty junk is not fun.
- Speaking of disposable diapers, be conservative and pack one diaper for every two hours of point-to-point travel.
- Buy new toys and books for the flight, and delight your child with her surprises one at a time at stressful points in the journey. If your child is happy staring into space or playing with a straw, don’t wave a toy in her face because you’re bored. Leave well enough alone.
- Limit the number of toys and books you bring. Keep it simple. Your baby may be sufficiently entertained with sugar packets, ice cubes, straws, and the airplane fan/light above the seat. A box of Band-aids is an excellent “toy,” because it’s time-consuming, disposable, cheap, and easy to pack. Note: your child may end up exiting the plane Band-aided from head to toe, but it will be worth it.
- Locate your baby’s lovey and pack it before leaving if you can. We almost missed a train to Paris due to a frantic search for Lamb-o, which we eventually found tangled up and camouflaged in some white sheets. Panicking about a lost lovey is not the way you want to start your trip.
- Pack a full extra outfit for your child. Need I explain?
- Pack antibacterial wipes for wiping down every square inch of the airplane area your baby will be sucking on.
- Bring a simple first-aid kit: thermometer & nasal aspirator. Remember that any liquids (medications, creams) must be packed in the quart-sized zip-lock bag placed at the top of your diaper bag/carry-on for easy access at airport security.
- Bring a few extra plastic bags. You never know.
- If you’re traveling internationally, pack a thin receiving blanket and a handful of clothespins. They can be used to create a soothing, private canopy over the bulkhead bassinet that your baby will be peacefully sleeping in from takeoff to touchdown. (Right?)
- Remember your documentation! Driver’s license, credit card, health/travel insurance card, and passports/birth certificate if you’re leaving the country. Children under 18 do not need identificationwhen flying domestically.
- Don’t forget your cell. Or some cash.
Here’s my one-page packing checklist with succinct tips. Feel free to print and use.
- My favorite mode of baby airport transportation is a stroller, which will double as a highchair and can easily be checked at the gate. Pack the Baby Bjorn/Ergo/Sling in your checked suitcase, because chances are you won’t need it in the airport (you have the stroller) or on the plane (flight attendants can hold/watch your baby if you have to use the bathroom).
- If you’ve bought a ticket for your 0-2-year-old child and are planning on placing him in his car seat on the plane, make sure the car seat has a visible FAA-approved sticker. If it’s been worn off, bring your owner’s manual, which will also state and serve as the approval. Flight attendants will not let you bring the car seat aboard otherwise. Read more about bringing car seats onto planes here.
- When you check your bags and again when you arrive at the gate, ask for bulkhead seating, which is the first row of seats on the plane. You’ll have more legroom and you’ll be closer to the bathroom and the flight attendants. Also ask the airport staff if they can block out one or two seats around you if the plane is not full.
- Consider feeding baby lukewarm chamomile tea at the airport (without honey!) for its calming effects. We’ve never tried Benadryl, but I’ve heard it can be unpredictable (read: your child could turn into a psychotic hyper monster), so be careful.
- Buy several water bottles after going through security and before you get on the plane. Sitting on the tarmac for hours unexpectedly can quickly become a bad situation if you’re thirsty.
- Pay close attention to your boarding ticket/ID/luggage ticket while moving through the airport. I like to keep these three items in my back pocket until I’m on the plane; then I transfer them to my wallet.
Traveling Attire Tips
- Airports and airplanes are cold. Dress baby in no-fuss layers with easy access to the diaper area.
- Nursing mothers: simplify. Leave the nursing cover-up at home, and wear a button-down long-sleeve shirt over a tank-top. When you nurse, unbutton the first few buttons of the long-sleeve shirt and pull up the tank-top up so that it rests at heart-level. This way the long-sleeve shirt will cover your belly and the tank-top will cover your chest.
- Socks. Wear them. Your feet will be freezing otherwise. Plus, skittering around barefoot at security is gross.
Anything I forgot? Feel free to share your most useful tips on flying with a baby.
Good luck, and bon voyage!