Posted in On the Move
When even seasoned travelers get flummoxed at the thought of TSA, delayed flights and sitting on tarmacs, how do you do it with a baby? My son was born in Ft Lauderdale and our family moved to Wichita, KS a couple of weeks later for my husband's 2 year fellowship and my son and I fly back and forth from Wichita to Charleston, SC for my work. To date we've been on 18 flights together. Here is the advice I can share about traveling with an infant or toddler:
Flying solo with baby? Call your airline and request a buddy pass on both ends of your flight which will allow a companion to accompany you through security and to the gate for departure and from the gate to baggage claim upon arrival.
Give yourself ample time to get through long lines and arrive at your gate in time to visit the family bathroom for a final diaper change before take off, get various sundry items and prep for boarding.
Don't wait until you're at the counter to tag your bags; do it before you get there - you'll have your hands full. Wear clothing with pockets where you can safely stow your ID and boarding pass for quick and easy access.
Pare down your diaper bag contents so that it fits under the seat and is accessible. I insert a zippered pouch with the things I know I'll need handy (toys, snacks, Chapstick for me, etc.) that I can slip in the pocket of the seat back in front of me. This seatback organizer is on my Christmas wish list; the hunt continues for one that also has a slot for the iPad or tablet.
If you are traveling with a laptop, invest in a TSA approved bag that you simply have to open and lay flat through the scanner instead of removing the device.
Taking a long a car seat may be your best option, but price out renting one with your rental car or see about borrowing one at your location destination. You can gate-check your car seat and/or stroller frame at the end of the gangway. With an infant, I highly recommend "snap-n-go." For older kids, you can invest in a "roll 'n go" that turns the car seat into a stroller</a> or a strap that clips the car seat to your rolling luggage.
Baby-wearers like the Bjorn or Ergo are worth their weight in gold for babies! My son loves staring out into the sea of people and I'm pretty sure he thinks "the ride" through the airport was designed just for him.
TSA Agents are by and large very eager to help and most airports have a family-friendly lane that will allow you some more time without feeling rushed.
Keep in mind that your stroller, car seat and any bags you have must be placed on the conveyor and run through the scanner. Keep baby seated in his or her seat while you unload your items into bins and take off your shoes. Last step will be to get baby out of carrier, seat or stroller and place that on the conveyor as well. You will carry your baby in your arms through the scanner. If you are not comfortable going through the scanner, you may request a pat-down scan instead.
Liquids - a baby has to eat and the TSA knows this! If you have breast milk or formula, just make sure you present it at the checkpoint the same way you would other liquids - though the bottle does not need to be in a ziplock bag. If your bottle has 3 ounces or more, it will be tested by an agent before being given back to you.
For juice, water and milk, buy that in the terminal on the other side of TSA. In the past 4 airports I've traveled through, I could not find whole milk. Mom Tip: go to Starbucks; they'll even pour it directly into your bottle or cup. Before you board the plane - get extra juice, water and/or milk in case of unforeseen delays.
Boarding the Plane
Many airlines provide priority-boarding for those that need a little more time to board the plane. Be sure to approach the desk at the gate to gate-check your stroller and car seat and ask what their policy is.
At the end of the gangway, put down your bags to the side and out of the way, then collapse your stroller. If baby is in car seat, wait until the last possible minute to remove her and remember - a baby-wearer/carrier comes in very handy here.
Use the overhead bin for your laptop, coat and anything not needed during the flight. Place diaper bag under the seat and put any "must-have" items in the seat back in front of you. I like to sit in the window seat because it makes it easier to breast feed discreetly and let baby sleep.
Some Tricks I've Discovered
Fly in the morning on the weekends. My early Saturday and Sunday morning flights are rarely full and you won't have to deal with the delays that come up throughout the day. This is especially true in the summer when there are plenty of afternoon storms.
Time your flight so that nap time is just after take off if possible. When the jet engines fire up - you've got the best sound machine imaginable.
Feed baby during initial ascent to help with popping ears due to air pressure changes.
When breastfeeding, I used the tray in front of me and a blanket or "hooter hider" to create a "tent" like area. It served to give me some privacy, but also shielded baby from the lights, sounds and overly-stimulating activities going on around us.
There are several accessories out there that make traveling easier. There is a baby "hammock" that attaches to the tray table and a tablet case that will hang on the back of the seat in front of you to make viewing easier. Invest in these if you travel often enough.
Load up your phone and tablet with baby apps.
Bring a change of clothes for you and baby just in case.
The diaper change: there is a fold down table behind the toilet in the lavatory that is easy to miss. Pack a thin changing pad or blanket in a separate diaper changing "pouch" so you don't have to take your entire bag with you.
Practice every game you know that takes place on your lap; you'll need them! Bring books and toys and anything that you know intrigues your child for any meaningful duration of time; rotate.
Sani-wipes and Purell are your friend. I wipe down our entire area when we first board, because inevitably and in spite of my "cat-like" reflexes, my son is going to end up with the tray latch or seat belt buckle in his mouth.
We recently had several delays and spent about 11 hours stuck in the Atlanta airport. Hartfield-Jackson is the nation's busiest, so there is a lot going on; so much that I could not get my son to nap no matter what corner I tucked into. Instead, I put him in his stroller and walked him back and forth from A to E gates for 2 hours alongside "The Plane Train" with the help of moving sidewalks. Hey - whatever works!
For in depth information about traveling with baby, visit Shelly Rivoli's Travel with Baby Site that is packed with helpful information.
Happy traveling and be sure to log in to post your travel-with-baby tip in the comments section below.
Jennifer Buddin is the busy woman founder and president at Every Busy Woman. She is a proud mother and wife and loves spending time outdoors walking, swimming, and playing. Jennifer is a speaker, active volunteer, business consultant, and a comedy improviser performing at Theatre 99 in Charleston, SC as a company member and founding member of the groups Mary Kay has a Posse and Hot Pants!.