International travel with baby

It’s hard to believe that Ayo has been on 16 flights in the last six months. I’d say that flying with him is definitely getting easier as we learn how to streamline the way we do air travel, how to read our child and how to cope with meltdowns and unexpected delays. On our very first flight, it would have helped me to know what I know now. Back in July, I googled and oogled until I got 404 Not Found errors in the hopes to find some way to seamlessly teleport Ayo to Europe. I didn’t ever find the tips I was looking for,  so I compiled a list of a few tips that have been helpful to us, leaving out the painful detail on those only pertaining to our usual routes (US->Europe) and airlines (United, Lufthansa, Easyjet). In one sense, we’ve only been on three international trips to very developed countries with our child at ages 3-9ish months, so we still have much to learn. I’ll have more age appropriate tips as Ayo gets older or has siblings. In the meantime, maybe these tips can help those traveling with baby for the first time. For the rest of you, what else would you add to this list? Leave some comment love below!

Booking and routes

  • Book your airfare (as far in advance as possible) online, but you must follow up with a call to request the bassinet.
  • Get to the airport early to allow for all the extra time you need with a child. It’s incredible how much longer it takes with baby. Also good to be there early to verbally confirm your bassinet.
  • If given the option, don’t pay for speedy boarding. You board priority with small children on almost all airlines.
  • Try to book the most direct route as possible to your destination. It’s worth the added cost, because the layovers are killer with children.
  • On US inbound flights, the most ideal is to clear customs at your home city, because it takes a heck of a long time to clear customs, recheck into security and walk (or run) to your gate. If you do have to clear customs in Washington DC, San Fran, LAX or another large port of entry and are short on time, have your spouse wait for your gate-checked stroller/seat and proceed on your own with baby to the immigration line. Otherwise, we promise, you’ll be the last in that line. On Europe bound flights, it isn’t as much of a hassle.

Seating

  • If you are traveling with a lap child and you are confident your flight isn’t full, book a window and an aisle seat. You almost always end up with a free middle seat for the child and or his/her carseat because those are the least desirable. If the middle seat ends up being booked, most passengers will gladly either move back to an empty seat, or swap with your spouse. At the check-in desk, you can find out if that seat is still free. If so, bring your carseat on so you have somewhere for baby to sit, sleep, play!
  • If you have a small infant, request a bassinet row, which is usually, but not always, a bulkhead row. Not all airlines have a bassinet, but some have floor bassinets if the bulkhead row is booked up. At a very minimum ask for the bulkhead so your child can wiggle around on the ground.

Baby gear

  • We have found that our safest bet if we have lots of baby gear is to gate check stroller and carseat, because they won’t limit the gear as much. Gate-check just means that you lug your carseat and stroller through security and leave it just before you board the aircraft, and airline officials load it onto the plane.
  • Gate check your stroller or carseat to ensure gentle handling and that it won’t get lost upon arrival. BUT check one or both of these items if you know you won’t need it in the airport or the carseat in the airplane. That will save you lugging it through security, which is a little annoying.
  • If you have a stroller or carseat bag to be gate-checked, the bright gate-check tag goes on the bag, not the stroller/carseat. Surprising how many check-in officials don’t know this.
  • Try not to travel with a B.O.B. You will regret it in Europe, I promise. Travel only with a stroller you can reasonably lift up a flight of stairs.
  • Travel as light and free as possible. Check as much as you can, because you already have so much in your hands. One easy trick if you are checking your carseat bag, is to stuff it with miscellaneous items like a coat, or..ski boots.. 🙂

Security

  • Security, in our experience, is pretty understanding about baby liquids. Don’t worry about bringing them onboard. Just let TSA know when you are about to go through the xray at security that you are traveling with food, milk or baby meds.
  • If you are wanting to gate-check your stroller or carseat, put the carseat and stroller through the X-ray first so you have somewhere to put baby while you assemble the rest of your belongings.
  • They will require you to break it down and put it through the machines. Be prepared for this.
  • If you are carrying your baby in a carrier in the US, you usually won’t have to take baby out but TSA requires the adult carrying the infant to receive a hand swab. In European airports we are familiar with, you can usually just go through without removing baby.
  • In Europe, shoes usually stay on through security, unless you are wearing boots. If you can avoid it, don’t wear boots!
  • If you are transferring in Frankfurt, you can avoid the normal security line as a family. Ask for the family and disabled security line and let them hold your baby..they love it!

Feeding baby

  • Nurse or bottle-feed baby upon take off and landing to help sensitive, little ears. Depending on how long your baby nurses for, you might feel inclined to start too early. It has taken me 14 flights to realize this. It takes a long time to taxi, so feed them on runway / take off if possible.
  • Lufthansa usually provides more creature comforts than American airlines. You can ask for baby food (organic of course) and they might even come by with a stuffed animal (“jetfriend”) for your sweet little one. The crew will give you a red infant belt to loop onto your own and will set up a suspended (but hard) bassinet when you are in the air.
  • If baby is on a schedule at home, it’s okay to make allowances for travel. It is courteous on other passengers to nurse or bottle-feed a fussy baby.
  • Travel with enough babyfood and diapers to plan for unexpected delays.
  • Wear easy nursing clothes. My fav combo: nursing tank, loose shirt and cardigan for nosey eyes.
  • Bring an extra tee-shirt in case you get spit up on.
  • Food pouches are practical to feed your child (if they will take them, ehem Ayo!?) and to dispose of them, otherwise bring food that travels well: pots, bananas, avocados.
  • Keep baby (and yourself!) hydrated.

Hygiene

  • Wipe down seat arm rests (gross!) with antibacterial wipes.
  • Bring wipes for wandering baby hands in the changing room.

Flight entertainment

  • Lay down a blanket for cleanliness and warmth and use toys sparingly if you are on a nine hour flight: hand them out one at a time! 🙂
  • Crinkly airline pretzel bags, plastic cups or wrappers make for great toys at 6-9 months.
  • When in doubt, go to the WC and let your child stare at themselves in the mirror or out the port hole at the back of the plane.

Baby sleep

  • US->Europe flights are almost all nighttime flights, and have the benefit that lights are eventually dimmed. This is fantastic for baby. Europe->US are harder on everyone, but if your baby naps on those, try to enjoy your short, free time.
  • Most airlines require babies in bassinets to lay facing looking towards the aisle, so if your baby is easily distracted, bring a light, muslin-type cloth and some pins to attach over the awning/shade.
  • Try to sleep when baby does. Baby jetlag is hard enough on the parents with a night of rest.
  • Repeating baby’s normal naptime or nighttime routine seems to be really helpful given the unfamiliar environment, whether that be brushing teeth, reading books or using the sleepsack. Hmm..side-lying or giving baby a bath are probably not the best in this context. 😉

Changing baby

  • All airplanes have changing tables, but not every bathroom has a changing table. Look for the pictogram on the door.
  • Dress baby in long jammies (even in the summer). You’d be surprised 1. how cold it gets on the plane, 2. how many people are inclined to touch your baby and 3. how dirty even the cleanest of airports and planes are.
  • Always bring a spare set or two of clothing for baby.
  • Disposable dipes are a little easier than cloth in airports. Oh yeah, these are considered bio-hazards in America and must be disposed of in the WCs only.
  • We almost never get diaper rash other than when we travel. Not sure why this is, but good to travel with diaper cream. Better yet, with little samples of diaper cream.

Coping with meltdowns

  • You hear your baby louder than anyone else. Really, try not to stress about meltdowns. The less stressed you are, the less stressed baby will be.
  • If baby fusses longer than a reasonable length of time though, retreat in the WC or to the back of the plane out of courtesy for your fellow passengers.
  • Baby carriers are great if you need to walk baby up and down the aisles.

Coping with jetlag

  • Upon arrival, expose baby to as much sunlight as possible during the day when you arrive at your destination.
  • With babies on a daytime sleep-feed-wake / nighttime sleep-feed-sleep routine, proceed through their routine as normal during the first flight, then try to switch the routine (adjusting to the new timezone) upon arrival or for the transfer.
  • Try to let baby sleep only their normal length of time during the day so they can sleep at night. It’s killer to wake a sleeping baby, but we do it for the sake of our nighttime sleep. Take them out to get some fresh air, it does wonders!
  • Nap when your baby is sleeping during the day because you will need as much sanity as possible at night.
  • Expect wakeful periods during several nights following your arrival and try to let baby play instead of trying to force them to sleep. They will eventually adjust to the new timezone, but it may take time (some say one day per time zone). For our 8 hour time change, we usually see significant progress after four nights. Hang in there until then and try to enjoy the ride and the fact that you are sharing the world with your child!

One thought on “International travel with baby

  1. Very thorough job, Sarah.

    I had some questions though. Like, er, can I give my baby sleeping pills?
    When my baby is fussy, can I hand him to each passenger right down the aisle from front to back? Is loud music good for the baby? Will a taste of my beer seem to add a calming effect to my baby? Can I find another baby and let them play together and return to my seat if I want peace? If my baby spits up all over the airline blanket, is it better to tell the flight attendant or to roll it up and hide it? What if you forget diapers? Can you just wrap my baby with toilet paper? My baby is so much fun that I don’t seem to even need to watch him.

    Darlene

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