I have taken my daughter on two plane flights, one short (when she was 3 months) and one long (when she was 7 months) and before I did, I tried to read every single article or blog I could find on the subject to be prepared. Surprisingly enough, I didn't find anything that I actually needed to know, so here is my own personal attempt to help all of you plane riding mommies or daddies plan accordingly!
Our first plane trip was from San Francisco to Los Angeles, just under an hour. Our second plane trip was from San Francisco to Indianapolis, just over four hours.
My main concerns were:
1. Her ears feeling the pressure changes
2. Transporting her through security, and to and from the gates.
3. How to have a car seat and car seat base ready at our destination.
5. Do I take the stroller??
6. Diaper Changes, Sleeping, Feeding, Pumping, Playing -- basically everything else
I will address each concern below in the same order, so that if you only want to know the answer to one topic, you can scroll to that topic and not waste your precious mommy research time on reading this entire blog. I get it.
The ear pressure problem was probably one of my biggest concerns and ended up not being much of anything. On our first plane ride, I was obsessive about her either breast feeding, bottle feeding, or sucking on a pacifier while we took off and landed. Whenever I felt my own ears close up, I would make sure she was sucking on something. But then, on our second plane flight, she fell asleep during take off and I wasn't about to wake her up just to put a pacifier in her mouth and she was fine. Then, I just got too busy to think about her sucking on something during the landing and she was fine again. Basically, I think they are constantly using there mouths and swallowing and chewing on toys that they are taking care of releasing the pressure themselves, but there is no harm in making sure you have that pacifier or bottle or boob handy to calm your nerves.
2. Transporting babies through the airport
Okay, I did this differently on my two flights. For the first flight we used the carrier and checked the car seat before security. The second flight we carried her in the car seat through the airport and checked it at the gate. Long story short, I recommend using the baby carrier through the airport. But, here are both scenarios; carrier first.
After checking our car seat and base (more in #3 below), we put her in our Baby Bjorn carrier, $53, and headed towards security. (By the way, the Baby Born has been the easiest carrier to use, hands down, and I bought six different models.) She was almost 3 months old and still facing inward. She had also just napped in the car ride to the airport, so she wasn't fussy yet. I liked to leave one of the neck supports open so that she could lean back and look around. I would still support her head with one of my hands.
When you get to security, you will have to take your baby out of the baby carrier because the carrier has to go through the detector conveyor belt. You will hold your baby as you go through the metal detector. Then, promptly put them back in the carrier and continue to your gate.
Side note: Breast milk or Formula Bottle: The TSA will stop you and have you take out your breast milk or formula bottle (if it's already in liquid form) and test it. They will do this in two ways. 1) Open the bottle and put the milk/formula on a test strip or 2) Put the unopened bottle into a special machine that tests it from the outside. You can tell them which way you prefer it to be tested. Sometimes they will ask and sometimes they won't.
She stayed in the carrier until we got on the plane. Then she stayed in my arms, mostly underneath my breastfeeding cover the entire flight. She was still fairly tiny at 3 months and enjoyed suckling for comfort and feeding.
When we arrived at our destination, we put her back in the baby carrier and then picked up our checked car seat and base at the luggage carousel.
On our second flight, I decided to try and keep the car seat with us, because our flight was leaving in the middle of the night and I thought she would want to sleep in her car seat instead of being awake in her baby carrier, but it was much more of a hassle than not and she was awake anyways. Lugging the car seat through the airport and going through security with it and then trying to check it last minute at the gate was cumbersome, but still doable. If you do decide to do it this way, you might as well bring your stroller too and check both the stroller and the car seat at the gate together so you aren't carrying the car seat through the long air port walk ways.
3. Traveling with the car seat and car seat base
You do need a car seat and base at your destination if you are going to ride with your baby in a car, so you can either, check the car seat and base attached to each other, before security at the check in counter, or wait and check it at the gate before you board the plane. Either way, it is free to check the car seat.
We used this special car seat check bag, $10, that we bought off of Amazon. The airline appreciated it and it keeps your car seat clean and easily recognizable when picking it up from the carousel.
I recommend checking the car seat at the check in counter so that you aren't lugging too much through security.
Yes, we all know airports and airplanes are pretty gross so we've got to do our best. It's important to me to find simple ways not to spread poop to my neighbor and vice versa, so here are some of the items I bought that helped.
A. The Monkey Mat, $20. I bought this mat to use in the airport if we had time for her to sit and play with some of her toys. I didn't want to just lay her down on the airport floor somewhere. The mat is super compact and has carabiners that keeps toys attached to make sure they don't leave the mat area.
B. Individually wrapped Pacifier wet naps, $10. You can use these on pacifiers, toys, etc.
C. Cloth High Chair. This is called My Little Seat, $25, and I bought it through Amazon. This was probably the best, most useful, purchase I made, not just for traveling in the airport, but for the entire rest of the trip and all traveling thus far. I cannot tell you how many times people stop me to ask me where I got this. No matter where we were, we had a high chair!
D. If I had time, I would also wash my babies hands when I washed my hands in the bathroom sinks.
E. Disposable changing pads. My Dad bought me like a thousand of these and they have come in handy in all locations. If they get poop on them, no big deal, just throw them away! You don't have to travel with poop stained diaper changing pads! Note: definitely keep these in the car too.
F. Hand Sanitizer for yourself. Since you will probably be the person touching your baby the most, keep your hands clean as often as you can! My hand sanitizer lives off of the diaper bag handle for easy access.
5. Do you take the stroller??
I still don't really know the answer to this question, but I'd say, Yes. But also, it depends on the type of trip you are taking.
Our first trip was only a day and a half long and I knew we would be mostly in our families home and not going anywhere, so not taking the stroller worked out well.
Our second trip, we were gone for a week and we were going to be out of the house most of the time. One of the family members I was visiting had a stroller we could use, but it didn't adapt with our car seat, so we had to take her out of the car seat and put her into this other stroller. My daughter likes to sleep in her car seat and not sitting up in an open stroller, so it would have been nice to have our own stroller that worked with our car seat, but we still managed well.
My husband is still happy we didn't bring our stroller. We have the Bob and it isn't small. We both LOVE the Bob, but if money allows, I would recommend buying a travel stroller that adapts to most car seats, like the Baby Trend Snap n Go, $60, and folds down nicely. Then, it would be up to you to check both the car seat and the stroller either at the check in counter or the gate.
6. Everything else
I was still pumping/breastfeeding through both of these trips. I didn't make much milk, so she was on formula too. The first trip, I pumped in the car on the way to the airport with my car plug adapter and had a small cooler with me with an ice pack for the breast milk. I kept all the breast milk in the bottle and kept adding to it, to eliminate too many breast milk storage containers. The flight was so short, that I didn't pump again until we landed and got to our families home.
Our second flight was a little over four hours long and luckily, I was weaning. Again, I pumped in the car on the way to the airport, but then I didn't pump again until I was in the car at our destination. That was the longest time period for me between pumps. If I was still breastfeeding, I would have breastfed on the plane to eliminate the long time gap, but my daughter was over the breastfeeding at that time.
On our flight back, I pumped in the airport. I was really nervous to do this. I don't like to expose myself in public. We were sitting at our gate with lots of people around and the middle consoles had plugs, so I put on my breast feeding cover and discretely hooked myself up and started pumping. To my knowledge, no one noticed. The airport was so loud, you couldn't even hear the pump working. The whole pumping in public experience worked out better than I had thought.
I pretty much change diapers wherever I can and the disposable pads I mentioned above are a lifesaver.
If you didn't know, the airplane bathrooms have changing tables over the toilet. (I had no idea. Before I was a mom, I never noticed those things).
But, when my daughter had a dirty diaper, my husband got out of his seat to go change her in the airplane bathroom. He was stopped by the flight attendant and told that the seat belt light was still on and we couldn't have the baby out of the seat. But she had a dirty diaper!?!?! It didn't matter. My husband lightening speed changed her on his seat before he sat back down. I still don't know how he changed and cleaned her that fast.
I use something called a Dock-A-Tot at home and while traveling. This portable bed has been a god-send for co-sleeping, crib training, traveling, and staying in hotels, etc. I didn't actually try taking it with me on the plane until my final leg of my most recent flight. I decided to try this because the flight occurred during her night time sleep and I wanted to make it as close to normal for her as possible. This, was by far, the best idea I had. I did have to fight my husband on this one, because we had to use one of our carry-on's for just the Dock-A-Tot and he thought it was going to get in the way, but now he sees the light. :)
I really thought my daughter would need a trunk full of toys to play with on the plane, but really, she only needed a few things. And we got creative, well she did. She was fascinated with the airline plastic cups and proceeded to play with those throughout the entire flight. She also had fun with the individual pretzel bags. She wasn't strong enough to open them, so it made a fun sound and fun feel.
I did end up bringing a few new small toys that she had never seen and kept them in the diaper bag for emergencies. Who knows if she really needed them, but she liked them, just as well.
If you haven't noticed, I'm a little type A. I like to be as prepared as possible for as much as possible. I am less anxious that way and more enjoyable to be around says my husband. He likes to wing it and figure it out later, which is a tactic that might work for you too, but that is not who I am. So, in being myself, I hope I can help you prepare as much or as little as you would like.
I'd say the only things I over packed for the flight were clothes and toys, but you never know if that day is going to be a 4 blow out day or not, so I'd probably do everything I did, exactly the way I did it again.