There are a ton of baby books out there to teach new parents how to raise a kid. But those resources are seriously lacking in the travel department.
Flying with a baby sounds like a great idea, on paper. Until he or she turns two years old, they can fly for free as a lap child. This is the opportunity to travel without having to purchase a third seat.
My wife and I have now flown 6 or 7 times with our baby, and we learned a bunch of things that we WISH we had known when we booked that first flight.
Here are our top six tips for new parents looking to fly with a baby
- Pack light and consolidate
Having a baby gives you a lot of wiggle room in airlines baggage count restrictions. For example, if your wife uses a breast pump, she can carry that onto the plane as a “medical device” in addition to her carry on and personal item. The same goes for “baby bags.” If you’re traveling with a baby, you can bring one extra personal item-sized bag to hold baby food, diapers, and the like.
This is especially true if you end up springing for an additional seat for your newborn. You’ll find that you can all of a sudden bring three carryons, three personal items, a medical device, AND a baby bag… all onto the plane with you.
Don’t. Just don’t.
Chances are your wife will be on baby duty and you’ll be the one responsible for handling the bags in the airport. It is not physically possible to handle this many bags.
Consolidate whenever you can. No, you don’t need to bring a bottle warmer on a vacation, running a bottle under the tap will suffice. No, you don’t need to pack a case of baby food for a weekend trip. Pack whatever you need for the flight and just buy the food when you get there.
If you asked me to pack my son clothes for a weekend trip, I’d be able to fit all of his onesies in my pockets. But when my wife gets to packing, we all of a sudden need to pack five outfits for every day of our trip…
The same goes for baby toys. Pack one or two toys for the plane, and maybe one or two small toys in a checked bag. He or she doesn’t need a whole bag just for baby toys.
Your wife’s urge is going to be to pack as much as she can. And she’s going to tell you that she needs half of it with her on the plane. Chances are, she doesn’t
2. Check as many bags as you can.
Even if it is more expensive to check a bag than to carry it on, I highly recommend you check whatever bags you can. Instead of bringing three carry ons, consolidate into two checked bags and leave them at the counter when you check in. The last thing you want to do is wind through the TSA queue dragging all of those bags behind you.
We often fly Frontier Airlines (aka a bus with wings). If you buy your bags when you first purchase your ticket, checked bags are actually $5 cheaper than the carry-on option.
Remember: airlines will allow you to gate check a stroller and car-seat at no additional cost.
3. Bring a stroller
A stroller is a definite MUST for traveling with a baby. Not only does it make it easier to move your baby around, but an empty stroller is absolutely essential for moving through the airport with a carseat or other non-rollable bags.
Even if you don’t think you’ll need a stroller at your destination, it will come in handy traveling through the airports. Once I’ve plopped all of our smaller bags onto the stroller, I’m left with just pushing the stroller and pulling a roller carry on bag. The only advice I have is to make sure you pick a stroller that can fold up and fit inside of the TSA’s x-ray machine. I’ve seen what happens to people when their stroller doesn’t fit. They get the manual inspection. While that might not seem like a deal breaker, it can be devastating if you’re running late for a flight.
Some manufacturers will also offer travel protection if you use their stroller travel bags. Check out my article on the UPPAbaby TravelSafe bag and how it saved me $200 when the airline cracked my Vista stroller during the gate check.
4. Bring hand sanitizer
There is no shortage of germs in airports. And if your baby is mobile, it’s going to be really hard to stop him or her from touching things (and then putting their fingers in their mouth).
Bring hand sanitizer. Not just any hand sanitizer. Spend a couple bucks more and buy baby-safe hand sanitizer.
We traveled with our son once and we let him crawl around a bit. We were always quick to sanitize his hands. When we arrived at my parent’s house, my son accidentally scratched my mom’s face.
As we were heading to the airport at the end of our trip, my mom said she wasn’t feeling well. It turns out that the scratch had gotten infected and the hospital diagnosed it as MRSA. Yea, scary shit.
Our baby crawled on an airport floor for maybe a minute, and despite a thorough hand cleaning, he still found a way to get MRSA under his finger nails. That was a huge eye opener. Obviously, we don’t let him crawl around anymore at airports, but we can only imagine what would have happened if we hadn’t sanitized his hands and that bacteria had gotten into his mouth…
Don’t skimp on the hand sanitizer when you are traveling and don’t let your baby touch dirty things.
5. Fly Southwest Airlines
So, not only does Southwest allow you to check TWO free bags per ticketed passenger, but they also allow families traveling with young children to book early.
Southwest doesn’t have assigned seats. It is first come, first served, based on status and the order that you checked in. Boarding groups are divided into A, B, and C. But family boarding comes before B, regardless of what group was assigned on your ticket.
This is a life saver. You will get to board before 2/3 of the other passengers, guaranteeing that you will be able to find an empty row. If it’s you and your wife, have your wife sit in the window seat and you in the aisle. You can even plop the baby down in the middle seat. Now, obviously, if you haven’t paid for a ticket for your baby, you’ll have to hold him or her if the plane is full. But if the plane isn’t full, you can use your baby to discourage other people from sitting in your row.
Think about it: what person, in their right mind, would want to sit in a middle seat where mom and dad are passing the baby back and forth on either side?
As long as the flight is not full, we NEVER have to share a row with someone. When the flight is full, my wife moves into the middle seat and the stranger takes the window.
Yes, Southwest ticket prices tend to be a bit higher. But when you factor in the free checked baggage and the high likelihood of getting a full row with only two purchased tickets, the price is worth it.
6. Don’t let the stress get to you.
Traveling with a baby is stressful. We all know how much it sucks sitting next to a baby. We know that we’re ruining people’s travel by bringing our baby along. But that’s no reason to stress.
One thing we like to do is bring a bag of small candy with us. We hand the candy out to our neighbors and apologize in advance if our baby acts up on the flight. It sounds cheesy, but it tends to go a long way.
Get to the airport extra early. Get all of your boarding passes sent to your devices so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of paper boarding passes while you’re going through the airport. Check all of the bags you can so you don’t have to lug them through the airport yourself and if you can afford it, arrange for car service. Consider getting TSA PreCheck if you don’t want to have to juggle taking off your shoes with all of your other responsibilities at security. If your airport has Clear, you can skip the line and go right to the conveyor belt without even needing to pull out your ID.
And if you can afford getting a credit card that grants you access to airline lounges — such as the American Express Platinum Card — do it. I can’t tell you how great it is to get through the stress of security and into a clean lounge like the AMEX Centurion Lounge where you can relax before your flight and enjoy a free meal and cocktail.
Air travel with a baby is stressful enough. Every chance you have to reduce that stress, take it.
Flying with a baby is definitely doable. But it can become a nightmare pretty quickly if you try to travel the way you did before you had a baby.
I learned these tips the hard way and I would never dream of traveling with a baby any other way.