Few things scare new parents like the thought of flying for the first time with a baby or toddler.
There is the prospect of getting through the airport and onto the plane with ALL THAT STUFF you can’t leave home without.
And then there is the fear of being THOSE parents, the ones with the baby who won’t stop crying, who can feel all the angry glares as you do all you can to figure out what’s wrong and calm your child down.
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Take heart, most babies sleep for at least part of any longer plane ride.
And if things don’t go smoothly on your first flight with your child (or the next one), bare in mind that the plane ride is just another journey and it will eventually come to an end.
To speed you on your way, here are some tips to help you prepare for and head out on that first flight with a baby or toddler.
Yes, You Can Handle Your First Flight With Baby: Our 5 Tips
Think about how long you will be en route, figuring in travel time to and from their airports, flight times, connections and layovers, and then factor in another six hours in case you hit delays.
This is your guide for determining how much diaper-changing stuff, formula or breast milk and snacks you’ll need (check the latest TSA rules for quantity limits and protocol).
Bring pacifiers and a blanket for napping, even if you don’t think the flight syncs with naptime. And bring a carrier so that if your child falls asleep in your lap (which my child loved to do just as we were about to land) you can still have your hands free.
If the baby is old enough to sit up and play, plan on toys and videos to occupy him or her for 10-to-20-minute increments.
If you run out of toys you can always rummage through your pockets for things like keys and pocket flashlights.
Take your stroller to the gate
Most airlines are fine with you checking a stroller at the gate. This is helpful because it carries the child when you need to get down a long terminal quickly.
If your child wants to toddle around, the stroller can transport your carry-ons.
Just bare in mind that strollers have wheels, axels and handles that can get dinged and bent in the luggage compartment. I always liked to travel with a light inexpensive stroller I wasn’t attached to and could easily replace if it was damaged or lost.
Prepare for take-off and landing
Babies and toddlers seem most likely to cry during take-off and landing (especially landing).
Pressure in their ears is a factor, along with the need to be cooped up more than they prefer for 20 or 30 minutes. Sucking on a pacifier, bottle, sippy cup or breast can help.
Once my daughter was 18 months or so I’d bring a small lollypop for landing. I thought it might help to keep her ears clear but mostly it served as a good distraction for the 20 minutes where she had to sit still.
Lap or seat? It depends…
In most cases, you do not have to book a seat for a child under 2YO. This helps you to save money on the flight, but it does mean that you need to keep a squirmy infant or toddler on your lap.
This can fine for a short flight, especially if you have a second adult to take turns with.
But think carefully about what you are taking on for flights across a whole continent or ocean or a flight as a solo parent.
If you have an overnight flight and really need your baby to sleep, it might be worth buying an extra ticket and bringing the car seat on board.
Many parents also buy the extra seat and bring car seat because they believe it’s safer.
Before you schlep a heavy seat, though, check that it’s certified for airplane use and fits the plane you’ll be flying.
Ask for help
It always helps to be friendly and polite to everyone you meet when you travel because, you never know. But when you travel with a baby it can really pay off.
Don’t be afraid to ask the flight attendants for things you need, like warm water for mixing formula, or even to hold the baby so you can use the rest room, get something out of your bag or put on your carrier.
They can also help to fold or unfold your stroller or get your bags stowed. Most have seen enough parents on their flights (and might be parents themselves) that they understand what you need and why you need it.
Chances are your first flight as a mom or dad will go better than you expect it to.
If you hit a few bumps, remember that anyone who has been in your shoes is sympathetic. Anyone who is glaring probably has no idea what you’re dealing with. Ignore them.
Jus do your best and think about how it will make a good story later. And trust it will be easier next time. And even easier the time after that.