Part 1: What to Know About Booking a Flight and Packing for Travel
Welcome to the holiday season! Did you know that traveling by plane with a baby can be easier than you might think? As a mom who has personally traveled with a baby; I want to share some tried and true tips that can help make your travels a little smoother.
Having a positive and stress free travel experience with your baby starts with how you prepare for your trip. These four tips will help you to prepare before the day of your flight.
Tip #1: Did you know that even if you are flying with a lap child that you must declare your baby as a passenger to the airline before your flight?
Most (if not all) airlines allow children under the age of two to fly free if they sit on the lap of a parent and do not require their own seat.* However, you might not know that you still need to inform the airline prior to your flight that your baby will be accompanying you. Some travel booking sites (such as Orbitz) have a place on the reservation booking to include your lap child’s info but it is still a good idea to call your airline separately after making your reservation to make sure that they have the information. I have personally found that the information does not always get through to the airline the way that it should. While it is probably unlikely that they would completely deny your infant to travel with you, the last thing that you need on the day of your flight is to deal with unnecessary stress, frustration, and so called “red tape.”
Most airlines also require you to show a copy of a birth certificate or a passport proving the infant’s date of birth at check in to show that he or she is in fact under the age of two. This may sound silly if you have a baby who clearly looks like an infant but most airlines have a policy that requires them to ask for the birth certificate anyway (sort of like needing to show your license to buy a drink even if you are clearly over twenty-one). Without proof of age the airline could force you to buy a seat for your infant at check-in or deny you passage. When we travel, I personally carry a couple of copies of my child’s birth certificate just to be safe. I like having one in the diaper bag and one in another bag or suitcase just to be safe in case one gets misplaced and we need a backup for the trip home.
*Note: I know that this is a hot button issue because some experts say that the only safe place for baby on a plane is in his/her car seat in his/her own seat. That said though, legally, flying with an infant on your lap is allowed and due to the expensive nature of flying today, I am assuming for the purposes of this blog post that most parents will choose not to buy their infant his/her own seat. Please save judgement and be kind.
Tip #2: Did you know that there is a “best” place to sit on an airplane with a baby?
Some airlines allow you to choose your seat when you book your flight while others (such as Southwest) have passengers board the plane based on when you check in and allow you to choose any open seat at that time. Either way… it’s helpful to know that there is a “best place” to sit on the plane.
I vividly remember my dad complaining, when my sister and I were little, that the airline sat us in the back of the plane because he was traveling with children. The theory was that having children in the back of the plane would be less disruptive to other passengers in case of bad behavior or crying. This sounded logical to me too until I talked to a friend who traveled often with her infant. She advised me to choose a seat in the middle of the plane (not the exit row as that is not allowed with a baby) but either on the wings or behind the wings. Why? Because there is less turbulence there and the noise of the plane’s engine/wings acts like a giant white noise machine. If you are lucky this might help your little one fall asleep during the flight!
It’s also important to know that, on most planes, the rows on the right side of the plane have an extra oxygen mask that drops down in the event of an emergency. Some airlines require you to sit on the right for safety, if you have a lap child, while others will just require your consent to seat you on the left where technically speaking there would not be enough masks. To avoid a safety issue in the event of an emergency or potentially being asked to change your seat, just choose a seat on the right hand side to begin with.
Update (11/13/17) : I flew with my son last week and the plane happened to have three seats on each side of the aircraft. The above advice applies to planes configured in a two seat/three seat arrangement. I asked the flight attendant which side had an extra oxygen mask for a lap child and she told me that planes with three seats on each side have four masks on EACH side of the aircraft so both sides are safe! I just wanted to share this update since this is good info to know!
Tip #3: Did you know that your breast pump does not count towards your carry-on baggage allowance? Know the rules ahead of time.
This is true for most (if not all) airlines. I recommend checking your airline’s policy prior to traveling but in most cases your breast pump is considered a “medical device” and therefore does not count towards your carry-on luggage allowance. I also recommend printing out the policy on this from your airline’s website so that in the event that security or the gate agent gives you a hard time; you can show proof of the airline’s policy. For example, click here to view Southwest’s policy.
I also recommend traveling with a printed copy of the TSA’s guidelines on traveling with breast milk. When I travel I keep both policies folded in the font pocket of my pump bag in case I need them. Here’s a link to the TSA’s guidelines: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children (Click on the breast milk link)
I can also tell you from experience that if you plan to travel with breast milk and ice packs – ice packs must be completely frozen (not slushy) and the same rule pertains to frozen breast milk to get past security without a fight. The 3 oz maximum liquid rule does not apply but they WILL check your milk and possibly swab it. Plan to need a few extra minutes to get through security.
Tip #4: Did you know that it’s a good idea to have an extra change of clothes for baby and extra wipes in your diaper bag while traveling?
Some diaper bag necessities for flying may sound obvious: plenty of diapers, extra pacifiers, a book or toy to keep baby busy, a blanket, snacks/water or milk, etc. Don’t forget to pack an extra set of clothes and to make sure that you have at least one diaper more than you think you might need. There’s little worse than having a blowout mid-flight and not having enough wipes to clean up the mess. Now imagine not having a change of clothes for your little one and discovering that the blow out leaked… It’s better to be safe than sorry! Pack plenty of wipes and a change of clothes for baby just in case.
At the end of the day, even in the best planned circumstances, something will probably go wrong. Just try to stay calm and do the best you can with the cards you are dealt. Baby will take his/her cues from you so if you are calm baby will likely be too. Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy your trip.
Photo Credits: Portraits by Karen McCall