The thought of flying with an infant for the first time brings fear to most new parents and even some experienced ones. Most of us instantly focus on the flying portion of the trip but at times forget that there will be hours spent at the airport before we even board the flight. And that’s assuming your flight is on time, which seems to happen less and less these days.
Getting through the airport has its share of challenges. From long line ups, delayed flights, jet lag, customs and now you throw a baby in the mix… Can it get any easier?
This means that not only will you need to bring extra luggage, food, toys, clothes… but you will also will need to carry your baby with you through each of these stages at the airport.
Believe me, I know that it can be stressful. I’ve been there more than a few times.
However, although traveling with an infant is not a walk in the park, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare either.
We’ve done our share of travelling and picked up some great tricks along the way that we’d love to share with you.
Arrive at The Airport Early (But Not Too Early)
We both agree that the check-in process at the airports is nothing to look forward to. It all begins with arriving at the check-in counter and being welcomed with a lineup that moves very slowly. Some airports offer automated check-in machines, however, if you’re checking in some of your baby accessories such as stroller, car set or a pack n play, you will likely need to go see an agent at the counter.
If you’re lucky, your airline will offer a special lineup for families, but that doesn’t happen often. Plan for a longer than usual check in process since there will be some additional steps to go through when travelling with a baby.
After checking in your luggage, you will be given tags for your stroller. Most airlines do allow for your stroller to be checked int at the gate but you will need to have the tags attached to it.
Once you get through the check-in, you will then have to maneuver baby, carry-ons and stroller through security. Get ready for more line ups. Everything takes a little longer and is much more complicated with a baby so plan well ahead for your arrival time and give yourself some buffer in case of unexpected detours and delays.
I like to book flights that take off just before the time my son takes his usual naps. This almost guarantees that he will sleep well on the flight and we can use that time to relax.
Here is the kicker; if you arrive too early before the flight departure you will likely have to deal with multiple feeds, diaper changes and extra fussiness on top of all the other things you need to deal with at the airport.
My suggestions for timing your arrival at the airport with a baby are:
- 2 to 2.5 hours before a domestic flight
- 3 to 3.5 hours before an international flight
- Check your flight status before leaving for the airport
- Check the traffic to the airport to estimate the arrival time
- Go straight to the check-in counter and ask if they have an express line for families/babies
Wear Your Baby
Considering the amount of luggage and carry on items that you’ll need to pack for a flight with your baby, your hands are certainly going to be busy. For instance, if you choose to use your stroller through the airport, you’re left with only one hand to carry all your other bags.
A simple solution is to wear your baby through the airport. It will free both your hands to carry the other luggage that you may have. Plus, if you invest in a buckle-less carrier, you can usually pass through security without having to remove your baby.
Also, consider investing in a backpack diaper bag that can double up as your carry on. This way, you can wear your baby on the front and your backpack on your back. It will be easier and less stressful for you.
You can also bring your baby carrier in addition to your stroller. If baby gets fussy in the stroller, move him to the baby carrier and continue as you would have otherwise.
Baby carriers can save you at the airport so don’t leave it at home or with your checked luggage!
Gate Check Your Baby Gear
Most airlines allow you to gate check heavy baby gear such as car seats and strollers. You’ll only need to request the attendants at the airline’s check-in counter for gate check tags. Next, attach one tag to each of the baby items and drop them at the bottom of the jetway or at the boarding gate.
Note that if your stroller is a two-piece stroller you will need two tags, one for each piece.
When you arrive at your destination, you’ll be happy to find your baby gear waiting for you right as you exit the airplane.
However, you must check with the airline’s attendants before booking your flight to confirm their gate check regulations. They may have restrictions for how many items you can check and what size is allowed. You can almost always be sure that small or foldable strollers will be allowed at the gate.
Keep Handbags and Carry ons To a Minimum
When traveling with a baby, you’ll often find yourself over packing. But, to avoid the stress of having to carry a zillion things through the airport, it is best to bring only the essential items.
If you plan to bring a stroller, remember that your hands will be busy pushing the stroller and you may not have a way to pull a wheeled carry on along. A backpack is always a great idea because it can be carrier without needing your hands.
If your stroller has under storage, you might want to plan to use it for any additional items such as a diaper bag. But remember that after you check the stroller at the gate, you will need to carry your baby and whatever additional items you have with you.
Always pack a few changes of clothes for you and your baby in your carry on. Also ensure you pack in a few snacks, toys, and enough diapers.
Check For Airport Rules For Breast Milk/Formula And Food
It is highly recommended that you check beforehand the airport’s rules for baby milk or formula. This information can always be found in the airport’s website.
Although baby milk, formula, and food are often allowed in most airlines, there is sometimes a limit on the amount you can carry. Other times they will mention that parents are allowed a “reasonable amount” of baby food, formula or breast milk.
Additionally, all the food should be stored in its original packaging or transparent zip-lock bags.
Verify That Your Airline Allows for Stroller Check-In at The Gate
Even though most people assume that you can just check in your stroller at the gate, the reality is that many airlines and airport do not allow for it OR have specific rules about what’s allowed and what’s not.
Imagine how you would feel if you arrived at the check-in counter and found out that your stroller can’t go in with you and must be checked… gahh!
Make sure to inquire about the airline’s regulations before even booking your flight.
Use the Stroller Storage Areas To Keep Hands Free
Traveling with your little bundle of joy means that you’ll have to carry a lot more items than what you were used to before. If not packed thoughtfully, you may end up looking like you have packed a month’s supply for a two-day trip.
If you find yourself having a hard time trimming down your carry-on baggage, remember that you can usually shove a lot of stuff under your stroller. It will make navigating through the airport a lot easier.
Avoid Boarding the Plane Too Early
Some airlines allow parents with infants or young children to board in the plane on priority, Usually right after their “premium” members. This can come in very handy especially when you are already exhausted from all the waiting and queues.
However, boarding first may not be the best idea especially if you are going on a long flight and your baby is not yet asleep. This is because it may take passengers 30 to 60 minutes to board the plane.
If you’re the first one in, you will need to remain seated and wait for everyone else to come in and find their seats. Most babies hate small spaces and not moving so you will need to find creative ways to keep him entertained.
The thought of traveling with a baby by itself is overwhelming. But the truth is that if you are anxious and unsettled, your baby is likely to get fussy and upset too.
Even if you are traveling alone, compose yourself, do what you have to do and do not mind the judgy stares you’ll get from other people. Babies will always act like babies and there’s nothing much you can do about it.
The best way to succeed in anything is to plan. And, since you are reading this article it is a good sign that you are already planning ahead of your upcoming trip.
I hope these tips helped you prepare for you next stint at the airport with your baby.
Paul is a passionate dad who founded Upside Dad to share his parenting journey with other new parents. He graduated from Concordia University and worked as a test engineer for over a decade. Paul loves dad jokes and craft beer.
Learn more about Paul and Upside Dad here.