6 Things I Learned Flying Across the Country with a Baby

Last summer, my husband and I flew from BHM (Birmingham, AL) to SAC (Sacramento, CA) for a 10-day trip to JH Ranch with our 9-month-old son. There are no direct flights to Sacramento, so that meant a total of four flights to get there and back. I learned a few things along the way and wanted to share, in hopes that this can help some of you who are planning a flight with your baby. 

Strategize Your Seat

We flew Southwest Airlines, where you choose your seat as you are boarding the plane. Each flight, my husband and I darted for an empty row, where he took the window seat, and I sat in the aisle seat with baby in my lap. We knew NO ONE would want to crawl across a mother and baby and sit in the middle seat if they could help it, and we were right.

In each of our four flights, flight attendants made announcements about the flight being full, urging passengers to choose the first available seat. And in each of our flights, the middle seat of our row was one of the only empty seats left after take-off, leaving plenty of room for us to spread out and play!

Baby Items Fly Free

Although it is recommended for children to fly in their car seats (and Southwest offers reduced fares for these seats), children under the age of 2 are allowed to fly in your lap. Since our son gets pretty cranky in his car seat and I knew I’d be nursing for a big portion of the flight, we opted to let him travel in our laps.

BUT we still needed our car seat for travel once we arrived in Sacramento. We did not want to gate check our car seat (I’d heard horror stories about damaged or lost car seats from gate checks, and who wants to carry a car seat around the airport if you can’t use it on the flight?), so we opted to check our car seat. And much to our delight, car seats and strollers fly for free!

If you are planning to check your child’s car seat, I recommend using your original box and packaging to keep it safe. Since we didn’t have our original box and packaging, we opted for Plan B — buying a gigantic roll of bubble wrap, packing it in the biggest box we could find, and using a big Sharpie to write CAR SEAT FRAGILE all over the box. And it worked!

Your Child Will Need a Birth Certificate

Even though our son was flying in our lap, he still had to have a boarding verification document. In order to get said document, we had to prove that he was under the age of two. Hence, the need for a birth certificate. It was easy and painless; just make sure you bring a copy in your purse or carry-on.

Bring Extra Clothes, Diapers and Wipes

My 9 month old was on an antibiotic for an ear infection when we flew, and unfortunately for us, that meant LOTS of blow outs! My family made so much fun of me when I packed five extra outfits in his diaper bag. By the time we reached our final destination, he was wearing his last onesie, and I gloated via text to all the haters. Over-prepared mom, for the win. 

Having double the number of diapers, wipes, and outfits you think you will need is always a good idea (if you have room). You can’t buy diapers and wipes on the plane, so you might as well be prepared for anything!

Ask about Diaper Changing Stations on Board

When we boarded our first flight, we strategically sat near the back of the plane, close to the restroom. And much to our surprise, the plane restroom had a diaper changer! On our next flight, we took the same approach but learned the hard way that not all plane restrooms have diaper changers, so we spent most of that flight trucking it up the aisle to the restroom in the front of the plane (which had the diaper changer).

Since I had a baby with an upset tummy, I knew we would be making multiple trips to the restroom mid-flight. I brought a travel diaper changing pad and travel Lysol wipes, so I could quickly wipe down the area where I’d be changing him and get everything set up. Then I would stick my head out of the bathroom and signal for my husband to bring our son to me so I could change his diaper. As soon as the new diaper was on, my husband got the signal again so I could wash my hands and clean up in the bathroom without worrying about my son licking the toilet or something else totally gross.

Thankfully, I had my husband with me for this cross-country venture. But I’m sure it’s totally doable if you are traveling by yourself. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Take-Off and Landing are Not so Scary

I was super nervous about take-off and landing. I have memories of my parents trying to calm me down on an airplane as I was screaming and upset because my ears were hurting. I did not want that to happen to my baby!

My son doesn’t take a pacifier, so we planned to nurse during take-off and landing to keep him calm and distracted and to prevent his ears from popping. It worked like a charm! He was completely unphased.

Pro Tip: If you are planning to nurse on the plane, wear a nursing tank under your shirt. I was able to comfortably nurse on the plane without having to expose my belly to those in the aisles around me, which was nice.

There was a lot of celebrating when we finally arrived with our luggage, our car seat, our baby, and our sanity. It was a fun adventure that I’d definitely do all over again! 

Do you have any tips for flying with a baby? Share in the comments below!

 

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