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Hi, Team! This is a special occasion for me today. I’m welcoming back a close friend, published author, English teacher, and candidate for Virginia Senate – He’s my brother-in-law (@ronnierossva)! He and his wife recently took a trip across country with their newborn (my godson). And as they prepared for flying with baby, they couldn’t find the singular “how-to” resource. So they created their own! Here it is! 😉
Ronnie Ross is a new father who, along with his wife and son, lives in the Piedmont area of Virginia. A teacher and school administrator, he spends his days helping young folks read, write, and think “better.” Recently, inspired by the birth of his son, he announced his candidacy for the Virginia Senate.
After much careful consideration, my wife and I did something incredibly stupid
We booked a cross-country flight with an infant. Four months out, it seemed like a good idea. My wife’s cousin was getting married in Seattle, I had never been there, and we hadn’t seen her family in a bit. There was every reason to jump on a six-hour plane ride and jet across the country.
Well, there was every reason but one, actually …
There was that baby we would be traveling with
In preparation for the flight, we scoured the internet ostensibly looking for tips on how to travel with a seven-month-old. I think what we were really looking for, though, was confirmation that everything would be okay, that we would survive the trip.
I can now confirm that we made it there and back (I mean, I am writing this, after all), and that the experience really wasn’t all that traumatizing. I also thought that it might be useful for my wife and me to write down some takeaways from our trip in order to help future couples scouring the internet to find assurance.
So, without further ado, here are our 8 tips for flying with baby across the country
1- Most People Are Good
Look, I can’t stand Luke Bryan, but, when it comes to travel, there’s no doubt that he hits the nail on the head with his ode to human goodness. From the ticket counter to TSA agents to fellow travelers to our row-mates, people were incredibly kind and understanding.
It is important to understand this because it frames your whole trip. If you go into the flight full of fear and trepidation, then it can very well manifest itself. However, the fact is that people get it, especially when it comes to the professionals like flight attendants. You’re not the first person to fly across the country with a baby. They’ve seen this, they know how to handle it, and they know that you’re doing your best. People are good.
That being said, you can still be courteous
Apologize if your kid is being difficult. Talk to your row-mate in advance. Just because people are good doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be too.
2- Know What You Can Check for Free
We had no idea that you can check a car seat and a stroller for free. Well, let me assure you, you can! Take advantage of this.
One time we made the mistake of renting a car seat at our destination, and it was the sketchiest car seat I’ve ever seen. Take your own and check it through. You should check the car seat at the ticket counter and then at the gate check the stroller. Make sure to go up to the gate counter and get a tag for it; don’t wait until the last minute because that is one way to irritate people.
3- Understand the Security Check
First off–and this goes without saying because it’s true whether you have a baby or not–have TSA-Pre. In fact, get Global Entry while you’re at it. The fee is small compared to the benefits you get over the 5 years it’s good for. But, it’s even more important with a baby because your hands will be full and you want to minimize the things you have to take on and off your body.
Whatever the case, just know that you have to send the stroller through the X-Ray machine and you’ll have to carry your baby through. Discuss beforehand who is carrying the baby, so that it’s not a last minute decision. Also, be aware that your infant gets a ticket. For this reason, I prefer paper tickets, because they’re easier for me to keep track of.
4- Gate-Check Your Bags
I understand why some people don’t like it, but I am a big fan of gate-checking in general. For me, part of the boarding anxiety is getting overhead space for my bag, even though I rarely ever use my bag on the flight.
With a baby, your hands will be so full, with the kid, with the diaper bag, with his toys, etc. So, minimize what you have to carry by just gate-checking your bag and your partner’s bag. Again, get the gate-check tags early so you’re not holding up the line.
5- Board Last
This accomplishes several goals. First, it maximizes the time that your little one can crawl around in the lobby. Let them burn off that energy and get it out of their system. Second, it minimizes the amount of time that you’re sitting on the plane. This is especially important if your plane ends up having to sit on the runway.
It’s also important because the kid has to stay on your lap until the captain takes the seatbelt sign off. So, when you hear the gate attendant announce that people with children can board, resist. Board last, not first.
6- Know When to Nurse (or Bottle-Feed)
One of the best things about nursing or bottle-feeding your child on a plane is that they can’t cry if they’re eating (or, at least, ours hasn’t figured out how to yet). The added benefit, though, is that it helps their ears equalize the pressure; it’s like chewing gum. Some feeding during take-off can save a lot of crying later as they feel pressure on their ears.
What this means, though, is that you need to make sure your kid is hungry when you board the plane. So, even if they’re whiny at the gate because they’re hungry, hold off on feeding them; it’ll be worth it.
A word here about breastfeeding
I realize not everyone is like my wife and me: we’re big proponents about just taking the boob out and nursing. Anything we can do to normalize breastfeeding in public, we are going to do. However, I get that not everyone is like this. Do what feels right for you.
7- Be Creative with Toys
When it comes to babies, anything can be a toy; take advantage of this. Yes, definitely buy some new toys for the flight. You’ll be amazed at what the Dollar Store or Five Below has for super cheap. The novelty of a new toy does wonders for distraction.
However, don’t limit yourself. Many kids love the cards in the seat backs: let them wave it, chew on it, whatever (obviously, we’re not germaphobes). Beyond that, though, get creative with things around the house.
The best toy we brought on the plane was masking tape. We stuck it to the seat backs and trays and let our little one pull it off. He freaking loved it.
A word here about snacking
When it comes to giving your kid some snacks on the plane, think of it as a kind of toy; you’re snacking to waste time. So, bring some things that are tried and true, some things you know your kid loves. Also, though, bring some new things that it might interest them to try (For real, though, be smart about this. Do NOT bring common allergens, like peanuts. Instead, build on what they’ve had. Does your kid like banana-flavored puffs? Bring some banana.).
Lastly, turn the eating into a game. For instance, make your kid have to work to get the puffs. Really, what you’re trying to do here is kill two birds with one stone: keep your child full and occupied.
8- Use Your Space Well
Things are cramped on a plane and infants naturally want to wander. So, get creative.
We had aisle seats, so this allowed me to stand in front of the seat with one foot in the aisle and let our little one play around in my seat. He climbed, crawled, and flopped around, all to his amusement. We also took him back to where the flight attendants hang out and let him crawl around on the floor (did I mention we’ve given up on germs?).
This was a great way for him to get some energy out. Just be careful because turbulence is a real thing and can send the little guy sprawling. Lastly, we changed him more than we would at home just because getting up to use the bathroom gave us something to do.
Well, those are our eight things for flying across the country with an infant. If you have other ideas–especially if you have other toys that worked really well–leave us a note in the comments! Disagree with any of these? Say that too. Each child, each family is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. The more ideas, the better!
Thanks for reading!