You’ve booked a flight with your baby and now you’re starting to worry. What do I need to bring? How will I keep baby from crying? After eight international flights and more than a dozen domestic flights with an under-2, I’ve got some ideas for you!
Just the Essentials, Ma’am
Your everyday baby “essentials” are different from mine, but let me help you think through what you’ll need on the airplane. This will probably all fit in a single daypack-sized backpack if you pack carefully, though you will want a larger backpack if you’re traveling internationally or with a very young baby.
- A very lightweight change of clothes, including bra and panties. These clothes will save you if your giggling toddler pours orange juice down your front, and they’ll make great pajamas too.
- A sweater or windbreaker because planes are always cold.
- Any medicines you take (bring everything you need for the whole trip so they won’t be lost with your luggage).
- Glasses if you wear them.
- Toiletries and feminine products if it’s possible you’ll need them. Hotel toiletries are often wonderful so don’t bother with shampoo, conditioner and lotion unless you must.
- A little first aid kit in a zip-lock bag with a few headache tablets, allergy relievers, adhesive bandages, antacids, or any other over-the-counter medications you might need.
- Something to read while the baby sleeps.
- Headphones and a portable music device.
- A pen and paper.
- Plane tickets and a printout of your itinerary, your baby’s birth certificate, and your wallet. If you’re traveling without the baby’s other parent, get a notarized letter from them authorizing you to travel with the baby. This is required for international travel, and it’s helpful for domestic travel.
- Your cell phone and charger. Write down the most critical phone numbers and put them in your wallet in case your battery goes dead or you lose your phone. For international travel, bring your car charger – that will work anywhere in the world if you can get access to a car.
- A change of clothes (two or three if under nine months old).
- One new toy and one favorite small toy per hour of the flight (not more than six for a domestic flight or eight for international). If the child is old enough to enjoy unwrapping presents, wrap the new toys for extra fun! If you are traveling alone, the child’s other parent could send along a few small wrapped toys as an “I remember you” surprise.
- Crayola Color Wonder coloring supplies or crayons and a coloring book if the child is old enough.
- Baby food and/or favorite snacks, crushproof if possible. Bring twice as many as you think you’ll need, and separate into several bags in case one gets spilled. Remember that fresh fruit and vegetables can’t be brought into other countries, so you will either have to eat it all or throw it away when you arrive.
- Twice as many diapers and wipes as you think you’ll need for the entire time you’ll be without your luggage. If you’re nursing a very young infant, bring TRIPLE what you think you’ll need – nothing spells disaster like waiting on the tarmac for six hours before you even take off and you run out of diapers!
- A pacifier if your baby will use one, or a few lollipops for older toddlers.
- You might want to bring some pain reliever that’s appropriate for your child and some allergy or congestion medicine. Ask your pediatrician for advice.
Anything else that you choose to bring is probably a luxury and just something that you will have to carry. Of course, you know your baby best, and that lovey or stuffie may be required for your sanity.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
Your baby or toddler is very in tune with your facial expressions, so if you’re happy and interested in what’s going on around you, or even if you look relaxed and smiling, your baby will likely follow your lead. If you’re angry, scared, rushed, or confused, plan on a meltdown or two from your little traveler, who is counting on you to make things go well in this strange environment. Plan ahead and carry as little as possible, all the while making sure you do have enough of the essentials. Allow yourself plenty of time, and if everything goes wrong, fake a smile until you feel better.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from either an airport/airline staffer or another passenger, especially if they have older children with them or smile warmly at you. Pre-board if the airline allows it.
If you’ve carried all of your things down the jet way yourself, as soon as you board the plane, ask the flight attendant to grab your carry-on for you. If they offer and you think baby will go for it, hand him over for a minute while you put the car seat in.
Once on the plane, don’t panic. If you’ve brought a car seat, install it safely (see our car seat article), stow your carry-on bag under the seat in front of your baby, and then give the baby a huge smile and talk about the adventure you’re going on. Babies are most likely to be fussy during ascent and descent, but must be in a seatbelt or an FAA-approved child safety restraint. A pacifier or lollipop will help keep their ears clear through the air pressure changes.
Bring out snacks and toys at intervals when the baby is restless, and nurse the baby on demand, without worrying what other passengers think. (Very few people care what you do with a baby as long as the baby is quiet). Now is a great time to use your sling or wrap for more nursing privacy or to walk around the plane for a change of scenery. Remember, though, that babies are safest in their car seats with the straps fastened during the flight – turbulence can happen without warning and it is actually the leading cause of airplane-passenger injuries and deaths.
Don’t be shy about asking for help, and if your baby becomes upset, calmly tend to them – use a pacifier, nurse, use a toy, but choose one method and stick to it. Smile to help your baby regain her composure, and apologize quietly to those around you. Other parents or grandparents will inevitably offer to help and will share their travel stories with you. Make some new friends and have a great flight!
Julia Ziobro is a freelance technical writer based in Bellevue, WA, and a mom who loves to travel.