First Time Flying with Baby - Advice Needed
May 2, 2012 11:39 PM   Subscribe

First time air travel with an 11 month old. Need all the advice I can get from experienced parents!

The wife and I will be traveling from Sarasota [SRQ] to New York [JFK] and will be doing so with our (as of June) 11 month old. I've flown plenty of times but never with a baby and starting to stress out.

We have two seats and the kiddo will be on our lap for the trip. We also are bringing a small folding stroller and rather cumbersome car seat. Any advice on the situation would be most helpful as I am clueless to travel with the new addition to the family.
posted by AdamOddo to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
No amount of toys will keep a toddler's attention for the length of a flight. No amount of snacks will distract him or her. Ask for a lap belt for the baby, if the flight attendant doesn't think of supplying one. Make sure you know how to attach it, but try to avoid making your kid feel claustrophobic. Take the lap belt off and re-attach it at the last moment if necessary. Your baby will fly better if s/he is well rested, and will probably calm down more quickly if you can surround him or her with comforting and familiar cuddly things. If baths calm your baby down, put him or her in a bath when you reach your destination.

Don't get too stressed. Sometimes you will have a great flight - your baby will smile at everyone and try to talk with them, and they will love your baby and say what a good parent you are. Sometimes your baby will be overtired or feel sick and will cry incessantly, and everyone will think that s/he's a brat and you're raising a little monster. Ignore their opinions; they're strangers you won't need to face again. I hope you do have a great flight, but no matter how bad it is it will be over soon. Relax and the time will pass faster. Bon voyage!
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:35 AM on May 3, 2012

1. Check the car seat, hold baby on lap.
2. Bring your own food/snacks including formula/water for baby.
3. Bring a small bag of baby toy-things the baby knows and likes. Whether or not to bring a new one? Depends on the baby.
4. Accept that it might get a little tough - that is, the baby might scream its head off (both of ours did at various times) and some jerk will tell you what to do. Here you have to rely on your partner, together you generate as much good feeling as you can, give baby what it needs, block out jerk.
5. Walk baby up and down aisle, enjoy the looks you get from people who like babies.
6. Take a break, then switch.
7. If you get a jerk steward/ess, shun them - you don't need the aggro, you're going to do all the airplane stuff anyway.

We've done this a lot and the most important thing is that you hang out with each other and baby. Be cool, relax, nothing will (likely) happen that hasn't already happened at home. Which includes sidecar poops and maybe some barfing. Baby might also do these things.

Lastly, what helped me often if things got hairy was to look at the clock, it's a three hour flight? Break it up into sections, work with your partner, it's all well in hand.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:39 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe you know this already, but small children's ears are much more sensitive to pressure changes than adults'. Your child may quite possibly experience ear pain during takeoff and landing. Because babies can't yawn or pop their ears on cue, the thing that will help most is sucking on something (bottle, some kind of hard sweet that he/she can't choke on, etc.). Note that the suction is key - just eating or drinking won't help. It's best to get the kiddo to start sucking on something before takeoff and before the steep final descent at landing, to prevent/minimize his or her discomfort.
posted by unsub at 12:43 AM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I just went through this with a 6 month old on a 5 hour flight. We got lucky, what we did was phone ahead and ask very politely that if it wasn't a full flight, was it possible to get a spare seat to sit the baby on? They said they'd try their best. In preparation, we bought a cushion. They did indeed have spare seat, so we popped him in between my husband and I on the cushion, swaddled, fed and pacified and he slept the entire way. That seat was a lifesaver. I also agree with everyone else on the air pressure ear thing and the lap restraint.
posted by Jubey at 1:46 AM on May 3, 2012

Nursing during takeoff and landing is one good way to have baby suck on something. It will help with baby's ears and may be a way to get baby to nap on the flight.

Most airlines will let you check a stroller at the gate, so you don't need to limit yourself to a small folding stroller.
posted by Area Man at 1:57 AM on May 3, 2012

I flew from MIA to Lima with an 11 month old a few years ago. I bought an extra seat and put her in her carseat. I am so, so glad we did that! I would have been miserable holding her for that long and she liked having her own seat. We used Earplanes with great success and used the GoGoBabyz carseat > stroller adaptor which was awesome.

If you can afford it, buy an extra seat. The three of you will be more comfortable. Plus, baby will be safer strapped down, turbulence can catch you unaware.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 2:44 AM on May 3, 2012

- Check the car seat but keep the stroller, you can check it at the gate and it can be helpful to maneuver through the airport. Both will be "free" luggage.
- Seconding, the baby will do best if you can get the little one to suck during take off and landing. A bottle, certain sippy cups, or the breast work well. Do not start too early, you can wait forever to take off (esp. JFK). Wait til they say "flight attendants prepare" or "we are next in line for take off".
- Bring your own favorite foods, cereals, fruits, etc. And keep the baby on your home schedule during the flight: eat, nap, do diaper changes when you normally do. (When you have a toddler or older then just keep them entertained - who cares about nap or watching hours of TV, etc) - do not try to change the baby's "time (zone)" until after the flight.
- Bring 3 sets of extra clothes in your carry on for the baby and one extra set for the primary holding adult. There are a lot of drinks and weird obstacles in an airplane. (And it can be cold on a plane so dress baby with that in mind)
- There are all kinds of fun airplane games - a roll of masking tape is endlessly fun, read the safety manual (perfect for baby - big, colorful, and waterproof), just think of it as an inside day of play - what do you normally do: playing peek-a-boo, count toes, read, sing, etc

- Two things that make a big difference
1. Your attitude will make a big difference - what a fun game! we can do this! Baby will pick up on this.
2. Most people make an impression of you and the baby in the first 5 minutes - which makes the difference between "what a terrible baby" and "oh, you're just having a moment." So dress comfortably but nicely and have the baby dress cutely, all smile a lot and try to have a good time.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 2:51 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

And baby is heavier in flight, so careful when you lift (also the ceiling is lower) or if you let the little one down to walk or crawl on the floor.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 2:52 AM on May 3, 2012

an ipad, or similar. These things are priceless diversions.
posted by mattoxic at 4:04 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can afford it, try to buy a seat for the baby so that they can sit in their car seat (helps if the baby likes the car seat, of course!) If there is turbulence you'll be a lot more comfortable. We were on a flight with my 3-month-old and there was turbulence and we were genuinely worried we were going to lose our grip on him and that he would be injured. To be fair, he is a particularly squirmy baby.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:41 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh and in terms of general tips: it will end. If any kind of crying and fussing bothers the people around you, they should have been more prepared. Babies are people too and they're allowed to fly on planes. Repeat that to yourself over and over if you start to stress out about baby noises.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:43 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nursing during takeoff and landing is a golden rule. This fixes their ears and they'll be full of food and less likely to fuss about the weird noises on the plane. With luck they'll sleep a lot.
posted by dabitch at 4:46 AM on May 3, 2012

As a person who is a frequent flyer, but not a parent, I'll give it to you from my perspective.

Babies are people too. They have to fly, just like me, to see Grandma, or whatever it is you all are doing.

I second, third and fourth buying the baby a seat and bringing the car seat on the plane with you. It's just safer, especially in turbulance. Also, your baby is used to being in the car seat and it's comfy for him or her.

There is also Dramamine Jr. If your little one is prone to motion sickness, this will help a lot, the side effects are drowsiness. There's nothing wrong with that! Oh No! Did I just recommend dosing the baby?

When your baby gets fussy, or outright howls, most of the folks in the plane ARE parents, and we all know that it's just something kids do. Don't give it a thought, babies cry, jerks play their iPods too loud, and if that kid sitting behind me kicks my seat one more time....flying sucks, for everyone.

If you can schedule your flight around a regular nap time, that will help with getting your little one to settle down and snooze.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:22 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

We just got back from a trip across the country with our 21-month-old. It was rough, but made better by a couple of things:

1) I put a couple of kids games on the iPad. She really likes Monkey Lunchbox and an app with animal pictures and sounds. She was occupied by the iPad for about 10 minutes at a time. We also tried to get her to watch a movie, but the headphones were too much of a distraction.
2) I bought about $15 worth of toys from the dollar store and wrapped up each one in a bag. If I was doing it again, I would have gone full-out and wrapped them in wrapping paper. Opening the little presents was a big hit. The bandaids and toy dinosaurs occupied her the longest time.
3) She had milk on takeoff and landing. On the last flight we gave her a lollipop during the descent which was a huge mess but also occupied her through baggage claim.

Good luck on your flight! Our flight was tough but not nearly as bad as I had anticipated.
posted by JuliaKM at 6:33 AM on May 3, 2012

Keep the car seat and gate check it if you have to. But, sensible flight attendants often know the score and, if it looks like there is room they will let you bring on the seat and put the kid in it. We always (always always always!) try to get the very back row of the plane because it's noisier, it's usually emptier, you are near the bathroom, and you don't feel like people are drilling holes in the back of your head with their eyes. I don't think people generally ARE doing that, but when you are at the back of the plane you KNOW they aren't.

The best advice, already stated, is do your best to relax. Your baby is 11 months old and will probably be upset for part of the flight. Flying kind of sucks and the only way an 11 month old has to deal with discomfort is to cry. But you'll certainly have allies, on any plane. There are so many parents in the world and every one of them, every one, knows what you are feeling and going through.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:45 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, what I mean about the gate check thing is: you've got two seats for three people. The attendants will often give you that third seat if there is one, and having the carseat handy will help you immensely should that come to pass. This is also party of trying to sit in the back.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:47 AM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lots of great advice above.

I like to bring a snack that's not too filling and takes a long time to eat. A baby can be entertained for a half hour by doling out rice krispies one by one.

As added insurance against blowouts, I use a cloth diaper cover over a disposable diaper.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 7:28 AM on May 3, 2012

One tip on car seats: make sure they're FAA approved or have some kind of FAA marking on them.

I used to bring the car seat on flights all the time (I've flown with my son overseas since he was a newborn...8 transatlantic crossings so far).

Recently some airlines (cough cough *UAL*) get really pissy about parents bringing these clumsy things on board and trying to get them strapped in and out. Also, some of the larger seats can't fit in the space between the seatback and the tray table in cattle class, or it's REALLY tight. On these airlines, FAs have been using the "Sorry, it's not FAA approved, get it out of here and check it" tactic to eliminate the hassle for them.

Double diapering is a good idea too. FAs get REALLY mad when you try to change a kid in your seat or (big taboo here) on the tray table. Hustle the kid to the bathroom and just rip off the dirty one, wipe and restore the outer one.

Can't recommend enough the advice about an extra change (or 3) of clothes, bring one for yourself as well. Babies find the highest and farthest point in the sky to hurl all over themselves...and you.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:44 AM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Again, lots of great stuff above. Definitely gate check the stroller. When you gate check a stroller, that means they will have it for you on the jetway at the other end. Fabulous.

One thing that worked for me was using my carrier. If you are already using a carrier (Ergo, what have you), it can be extra great for getting on and off the plane without feeling stressed. I'm not sure I would try it for an infant's first time in the carrier, though.

Some flight attendants will allow you to leave baby in the carrier during the flight, and some won't (particularly takeoff/landing). It depends on how mobile your 11 month old is, but more time in the carrier was better for us.

Ask when you get on the plane if there is a changing table on board. If there isn't, no big deal, but it's nice to know which bathroom to head towards. If there isn't, one of you sits on the toilet (lid down) with baby on your lap while the other does the changing. Bring a changing pad (and those extra clothes people are going on about! I also packed twice as many diapers as I possibly thought I might need).

Bring a couple of new toys that will have extra appeal.
posted by freezer cake at 2:01 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

One thing that hasn't been mentioned - if you take made-up bottles or premixed formula you will have to taste it at security to prove it's formula and not an explosive. So if you have the premixed formula in cartons take at least one extra.
posted by goo at 3:27 PM on May 3, 2012

One thing that hasn't been mentioned - if you take made-up bottles or premixed formula you will have to taste it at security to prove it's formula and not an explosive. So if you have the premixed formula in cartons take at least one extra.

This is not true. The TSA guidelines specify that you will not be required to taste breastmilk, formula, or juice. Some airports will require "inspection" of such things, which may include putting the (closed) bottles through a test (they place the bottle in an enclosure and I believe there's some sort of light refraction going on). Some airports won't require you to do anything more than alert them that you're flying with it. If you are asked to taste breastmilk, formula, or juice, ask to speak to a supervisor. Print out the TSA guidelines and have them with you to back you up.

And because of that, my biggest tip is to give yourself a lot of extra time going through security since you don't know what that'll be like with a baby at your particular airport. Yes, it sucks to have to be at the airport any longer than necessary, but delays are always going to last longer with a baby!
posted by devinemissk at 5:42 PM on May 3, 2012

There are no guarantees with the TSA. Sometimes they'll do nothing. Sometimes they'll dick around with fake testing strips and contaminate your nicely sterilised bottles. They may also give you unsolicited advice about feeding babies, or laugh at your terrified kids. There is really nothing that makes me angrier when traveling, but I try not to disturb my children further by displaying my impotent rage at the humiliations we experience when visiting the USA.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:15 PM on May 3, 2012

This is not true. The TSA guidelines specify...

Ha, ok. My experience with flying with a baby is restricted to super long haul international, not out of the US, and at every security checkpoint I was required to taste the milk. I'm glad that's not the case everywhere, because formula is gross.
posted by goo at 6:18 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

And my experience with flying with a baby is it is a dream compared to what you're lead to expect, even with having to taste the formula. Reserve a bassinette, if your child still fits one, that way you can both eat at the same time. You will be in the bulkhead, but hey, more legroom, and at least you can put your tray-table down and eat in peace. My baby slept for almost the entire time (25 hours was the longest) as the plane is a big white noise tube. Feed at take-off and landing, to avoid painful ears, and every plane I've been on (many) has had a drop-down change table over every toilet, so changing isn't an issue (do NOT, EVER, change your baby in your seat. That's disgusting).

I understand from the responses to this question that this is a short flight - what are you mainly worried about? If it is a three-hour flight, you will be up and down before you and your baby have even noticed. Feed the baby at take off and landing, bring sandwiches for yourself so you don't need to use the drop-down table, and you'll be golden.
posted by goo at 7:25 PM on May 3, 2012

My baby used a pacifier, and I found that having half a dozen entirely different kinds helped her. Whenever she'd get bored, I'd pop one out and pop another one in, and she'd have this period of getting acquainted with the new size/shape/flavor, and would be distracted and happy. This was also good for ear pressure, although nursing was a lot better.

I never brought a stroller, ever. Found them too cumbersome and a hassle all around. I used a Baby Bjorn for long distances, and let her walk when she could, to get her wiggles out. I always brought her car seat on the plane, to prevent it being damaged and so that she could be strapped in if there was room for me to use an extra seat. Almost every airline was happy to give me an extra seat if it was available.

Have a fun time, and a good trip.
posted by Capri at 11:40 AM on May 4, 2012

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