I’ll admit it. There are moments in my life when I’ve been pretty proud of myself. College graduation. A tennis championship. Making a soufflé that looked like the photo in the cookbook. But one of my proudest moments was last week when I flew cross-country alone with a four-month-old baby on my lap.
Minutes after booking the round-trip flight from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles my anxiety began to mount — reaching a fever pitch as I said goodbye to my husband at Dulles, crying baby in tow. I bounced him nervously on my hip as tears welled up in my own eyes. I suddenly really really did not want to get on this flight. I said aloud “I don’t think I can do this.”
Long story short: I did it.
The baby slept nearly the whole flight to Los Angeles and did not sleep one minute on the way back to D.C., so I feel somewhat qualified to relay what I learned from flying alone with a baby. Here is what worked for me:
Call the airlines. Alert them you are traveling with a “lap infant,” because the baby requires his own ticket and fees. Call again in the days leading up to the flight to see if they can place you next to an empty seat. If they can, your baby can sit in his or her carseat during the flight. We’ve done this on an international flight and is was lovely to be hands-free. Additionally, most trans-Atlantic flights offer a bassinet for babies weighing up to 25 pounds. Unfortunately, both of my recent flights were full.
Book an aisle seat. Since the flight was full, I booked an aisle seat near the back so I could get up with the baby as much as possible and hang out in the rear flight attendant area. The plane’s engine is loudest back there, giving the baby the ultimate “white noise machine” experience. Pro tip: Always book a seat on the right side of the plane when traveling with an infant since there is an extra oxygen mask on that side of the plane.
Check the carseat and stroller at the ticket counter. Although strolling a baby through an airport is easier than carrying him, I didn’t want to collapse and reassemble the stroller at the gate while holding a baby who cannot sit up on his own. It was much easier to check the stroller and carseat at the ticket counter while I had an extra set of hands. I wore him in our baby carrier instead. Pro tip: Checking a stroller and carseat is free on all airlines. If you have a stroller travel bag, you can fill that thing as full as you’d like with items that did not fit in your suitcase!
Feed the baby at take-off and landing. If you can bottle or breastfeed the baby at these times it helps alleviate the air pressure in their small ears.
Flying alone with a baby also required strategic dressing. Here’s what I wore:
A swaddle cloth as a scarf. Aden + Anais’ Silky Soft Swaddle cloths come in such fun prints that they easily pass as scarves. When I needed to clean-up some spit or burp him, the burp cloth was already around my neck. No scrambling around in a bag for a cloth.
A jacket with many pockets. Tickets and passports in one pocket. Hand sanitizer and this toy in another. Emergency pacifier and money in yet another. J. Crew’s classic field jacket would fit the bill, but I wore this lightweight jacket. Pockets, pockets, pockets.
Slip-on shoes. Going through airport security while holding a young baby requires some Cirque de Soleil-level acrobatics. Make it as easy as possible by wearing slip-on shoes.
Here’s what the baby wore:
Kimono-style pajamas. I always put him in pajamas since planes are extra air-conditioned. This kimono style makes for easy diaper changes in those airplane bathrooms. Pro tip: Add a bandana bib that can be removed at the end of the flight to reveal clean pajamas.
Don’t forget!: Sunscreen (for you and the baby) because the sun’s rays are much stronger on a flight, a diaper for every hour of travel and an extra t-shirt for yourself should the baby ruin the one you are wearing.
It should be noted that I do not come up with all of these ideas on my own; I rely on the community of other parent travel writers who share their advice. What are your tips? I’m all ears. Here are some more ideas:
Why you and your husband should sit apart when flying with the kids
A whole book about how to fly with a baby
I’m eyeing these slip-on mules for winter flights