Monday, July 11, 2011

Air travel with baby

We did it! We flew across the country with almost-four-month-old Quinn to visit my family in Michigan. I will tell you all about the trip in my next post, but first, several people have asked me what it was like flying with the baby.

We really lucked out that Quinn was an angel on all the flights. The travel went WAY more smoothly than we could have imagined. While Quinn was an ideal baby on the plane, we did learn a few things.

First, many moms advised me to nurse him during take-off and landing to help equalize the pressure in his ears, which I did, and it totally worked. However, all my rules for nursing went out the window while on the plane. Before this, I swore I would never nurse my baby just to soothe him, that my nips were only for feeding and he would not use me as a pacifier.

Um, yeah, right.

In the early weeks of breast feeding, when I was in agony every time the baby ate, it was easy to make this vow. But four months later, we were 35,000 feet in the air and crammed in with 230 strangers, and I did whatever I had to do to keep the baby happy and quiet.

So I let him nurse for comfort whenever he wanted. Being on a plane with all the people and noise can be over-stimulating for babies, so I think putting him close to me, in the dark under my hooter hider, helped keep him calm and organized when it all became too much. And when you’re getting off the plane and people around you are saying, “oh, he was so good!” and “there was a baby on the plane?” it’s the best feeling of relief.

Second, I’m so glad I brought the boppy pillow on the plane. I almost didn’t carry it on. It’s huge and cumbersome, and it’s just one more thing to have to lug around. But I brought it anyway, and it was so worth lugging around. Quinn often fell asleep while nursing, so instead of holding him up on my shoulder until my arms fell off, I could keep him on the pillow while he slept. He loved it. So we put down the armrest between the Hubs and me, and I encroached right into his space with boppy and baby. Better his space than our neighbor’s in the window seat.

Third, I packed a smaller bag inside the diaper bag that contained just the diapering essentials: wipes, two diapers, diaper cream, a changing pad and small blanket. That way when I had to change the baby, I didn’t have to lug the gigantic diaper bag into the teeny bathroom. Trying to accomplish a diaper change in an airplane bathroom is no easy task, and the idea of my child touching anything in there – especially since his hands are always in his mouth – totally grossed me out. I managed to get the changing table pulled down, unfold the blanket and put changing pad on top of it, one-handed. Then I had to keep Quinn’s hands off the walls and everything else while I changed him. I needed about three more arms, and we both needed a good hand washing when it was over.

The close quarters on the plane were the only real problem we encountered. We didn’t splurge and buy the third seat in the row, so on three of the four flights, we had a neighbor in the window seat. This made nursing a bit more complicated, since Quinn’s arms and legs are constantly flailing about while he eats, making it difficult to hold the hooter hider down and stay covered. Again, I needed three more arms. Or a much larger hooter hider. I held Quinn’s legs with one arm so he wouldn’t kick the nice person next to us and tried to hold the hooter hider down with the other. Hubs was a huge help in holding on to the corners and blocking the view from anyone across the aisle in case Quinn managed to pull it aside, which he did on a couple occasions. But when Quinn nursed on the other side, he was free to kick Daddy in the kidneys all he wanted.

Final tip: make friends with the gate agent before boarding. If the flight’s not full, see if she/he can move to you a row with an empty seat. It made a world of difference on that first leg of our trip.

Have you flown with a little one? What tips and tricks do you have for keeping baby happy and mommy and daddy sane during the flight? Feel free to share your tips and ask questions below.


  1. This is so timely! We are taking Sofia on her first plane trip when she is four months. I'm dreading the 17+ hour trip to Spain but have heard now is the time to go...while she's "easier". What you described sounds a little like our experiences taking her to see baseball games--cramped spaces, griminess, etc. However, games are, not so much :)

  2. Good luck on the flight, Carmen! I also hear it's easier before they are mobile. Good idea to take a red-eye, too. Someone advised me to schedule flights around the child's usual nap/sleep time. Since I can't even schedule a lunch date around Quinn's nap, not sure how one would do that. But it sounds like a good idea. :) Can't wait to hear about your trip!

  3. I nursed JDaniel and then he fell asleep for most of the flight. I wish I had brought my boppy pillow!

  4. First, I have to say how much I love your son's name. That's DEFINITELY a name I would choose for a future son. :)

    Second, I love your idea about carrying on a boppy pillow AND having a smaller bag inside your diaper bag for essentials. Both are great ideas!

    When our first son was two months old, we flew from California to Israel with him; and I can identify with you when you said how big a relief it was to get off the plane and have people compliment you on your baby's behavior. Isn't that the best feeling? :)

  5. I took my first solo flight with my son when he was just shy of five months old! I agree the baggies with diapers and wipes were a lifesaver; although I was stuck at the airport for over 12 hours, so I needed more than 2! We've flown many times after that, but when I flew overseas alone with a 12 month old, I considered myself a pro!

  6. JD4M: Isn't it great when they sleep? I didn't care if my arms fell off as long as he slept!

    Davene Grace: YOU have a great name! :) CA to Israel? Impressive!

    Barbara: Flying solo with a baby takes some guts! I think I could do it alone now, but only if I absolutely had to and only for a short flight. Props to you!