Flying Solo With a Baby
Y’all, I was SO excited to be flying home for my sister’s college graduation this past summer. I wasn’t going to miss watching her walk across that stage for anything. And since my cutie-patootie ten-month-old baby girl was still nursing, she wasn’t going to miss it for anything either!
The one lemon was that hubby couldn’t get off work and come with us too. So, this first-year mama was going to make this flight with baby solo.
Ok. Still excited! But, slightly nervous.
I’m no stranger to flying. I’ve flown a lot of places in my day and have taken a lot of international flights, so I tried to remind myself in the weeks leading up to our grand adventure that I could do this. WE could do this.
Off to Pinterest I went, seeking a little how-to-fly-with-a-baby advice. No luck. All of the advice was for parents with newborns or toddlers. My little crawler was smack in between.
So, I took the advice I could. Consulted a few other parents who’d flown with babies before. Considered what I already knew about flying. And off we went.
The flight there could not have been any more perfect. During the flight home, we hid out in the bathroom for a good five minutes while baby cried and mama fought back tears of her own. All that said, with two flights in the books, I racked up a list of tips that might come in handy for other mamas who will be flying solo with a mobile baby.
Lindsay’s Tips for Flying with a Crawling Baby
Buying Your Tickets:
Get a window seat. If you’re going to try to get your baby to sleep on the plane, this is the best seat because you can cocoon your baby between you and the window, using your body as a shield to block the distractions from people walking down the aisle. You can also control whether the window shade is up or down, which is very important if you want your baby to sleep.
Consider a bulkhead or exit-row seat. I enjoyed sitting in a seat without a row in front of me because I didn’t have to worry about someone reclining their seat into my space, my baby hitting/kicking the back of their seat, or dealing with limited leg room. Of course, the downside to this is you can’t keep your bag at your feet. So, you just want to be sure to grab the essentials out of your diaper bag before putting it into the overhead compartment. But we’ll get to that later.
Buy the pre-check. If you have the option to purchase pre-check, DO IT! You don’t have to take off your shoes or take liquids/electronics out of your carry-on. When you’re flying by yourself, it is a HUGE stress reliever to have fewer things to do while going through security.
Taking the bare minimum is imperative when traveling alone, so check as much as possible. In your one carry-on (yes, get down to one carry-on, even if that means you have to get a new bag) pack the following:
- Nursing cover
- 2 changes of clothes for baby
- 1 change of clothes for you
- Dry, non-sticky snacks (i.e. cheerios, puffs, melts)
- Water bottle (Keep in mind that your cabin will be pressurized. This means if you’re using a water bottle with a straw, you will have a higher risk of leaks or water will spew everywhere when you try to unclamp the straw/bite valve. [Guess how I discovered this!] If you’re flying first class, you’ll be given little water bottles at your seat that you can use if your baby can drink out of a lidless cup. If you’re not in first class, your only other option will be to purchase a water bottle. So, bring a leak-proof sippy cup or water bottle for your baby and fill it partially before you get on the plane.)
- Liquids in your ziplock baggie. (TSA requires your liquids follow the 3-1-1 rule.) The only two liquids I packed were hand sanitizer and infant Tylenol.
- Diapers and wipes
- 2 plastic bags (for wet clothes–you don’t need a bag for your diapers since there are trash cans everywhere)
- Changing pad
- 3 small toys – I packed one Indestructible book, one dolly, and one teething toy
- Burp cloth (I love the Aden + Anais ones because they can double as bibs!)
- Receiving blanket (The Aden + Anais blankets pack up super small and they’re not very heavy.)
- Phone and charger
- iPad and charger (I loaded a season of Dinosaur Train onto it before the trip. Super helpful when baby woke up mid-flight on our way home!)
- Hand/face wipes
At the Airport:
Use a combo of babywearing and stroller. I also wore my baby (in her Baby Bjorn) through security and when getting on/off the plane. The rest of the time, I used the stroller. If you are traveling alone, this combo is essential to sanity and saving your back/arms. For example, you can’t go to the bathroom very easily while wearing an 18+ lb baby, so it’s nice to have the baby contained in the stroller. On the other hand, folding a stroller when you gate-check it is much easier if you are wearing the baby and have both hands free.
Plan ahead for nursing. If you are still nursing by the time your baby is crawling, then y’all are probably on a pretty predictable nursing schedule. You might have to vary it up a little bit depending on your flight schedule and how long it takes you to get through security. But definitely try to stick as close to your schedule as possible. And if possible, wear something that is easy to nurse in. I wore a button-down denim chambray shirt so that it would be easy for nursing and yet still keep me warm in the chilly airplane.
Larger airports may have special nursing/pumping cubes that you can take advantage of. Check your terminal’s directory or check the airport’s website ahead of time to find the location. If they don’t have one, of course you can nurse in the bathroom.
However, I found it was easiest to find a gate with fewer people and camp out there for our nursing session. Some mamas don’t mind nursing in public, but your baby might be easily distracted, and we really want to help our babies get a full tummy. So, finding that quiet(er) nook is really worth the extra walking you might have to do to find it. Keep in mind that there are cameras EVERYWHERE in the airport. Be sure to look UP before letting your little one latch on just to make sure you’re not sitting directly underneath a camera like we naively did!
Let your baby move around as much as possible. Camp out in your little nook or by a window. Use your stroller and carry-on bag to barricade your baby so she can crawl around. This will help your baby’s tummy and get some energy out. Just be sure to wipe those little hands off with a wipe afterward.
Snack and drink a lot. Both of you.
Talk to the people at the gate. Go to the gate agents immediately to put on the tags required for checking your stroller. Ask them if there are any window seats available in an empty row that you can be moved to.
Prepare for diaper changes. Go to the bathroom and change your baby’s diaper ten minutes before the boarding process begins.
On the Plane:
There are two schools of thought as to when to get onto the plane–either try to board early OR very last. I opted for early for the SOLE reason that I wanted to make sure my carry-on went into an overhead compartment directly above me. If we suffered a blowout or some other sort of bodily function fiasco, I wanted that bag as close to me as it could possibly be and not twelve rows back because that’s the only spot that had room for it since I got on the plane last.
If you’re sitting in a seat without a row in front of you, then you won’t be allowed to keep your carry-on bag at your feet. The bag, along with your baby carrier, is going to go into the overhead compartment. (You will check your stroller at the gate.) Before my carry-on went into the overhead compartment, I grabbed the following and stuffed it into my seat or into the little pocket hanging on the wall in front of us:
- Burp cloth
- Receiving blanket
- Water bottle/sippy cup
- Bag of snacks
Ask for and accept help. Once you’ve stashed your essentials, let someone else put your carry-on into the overhead compartment. If you haven’t accepted a lot of help up to this point, now is the time to start doing so AND asking for it. Nicely. Don’t be needy, but you want your flight attendants and people sitting around you to realize that you are flying solo. This will be helpful if you find yourself needing an extra set of hands or a pillow or paper towels at some point.
Distract your baby. Try to keep your baby distracted as much as possible while everyone boards the plane. Play. Read. Bounce. Wave to all of the passengers passing by. But most importantly, stay calm.
Realize the flight won’t last forever. You may plan for every possibility, but something won’t go perfectly right. So, just accept it. This isn’t going to be the perfect flight, but it will end. You will land on solid ground eventually. This flight is not forever. None of the people around you will remember you next week. So, don’t worry about them! Focus on your baby. Your baby knows when you are stressed, when you’re happy, and when you’re at peace. The calmer you are, the better shot you’ll have at baby being calm too.
Have a plan for takeoff. Some mamas like to nurse their babies during takeoff because it helps relieve pressure in the ears. I opted not to do this. On the flight out, my baby cried for about a minute, and then she was asleep. Those engines are GREAT white noise! And she slept until about three minutes before we landed. DREAM flight!
Hide out in the bathroom if necessary. The flight home was the one where we ended up hiding out in the bathroom for five minutes. Since I had mentally prepared myself that it wasn’t going to be a perfect flight, like the one we’d had before, I am sure I was better prepared to stay focused on calming my baby instead of totally losing it right along with her. Those bathrooms make a great catch-your-breath spot. So go in there if you need to, even if it’s just to pretend to change your baby’s diaper.
Let other passengers entertain your baby. If your baby doesn’t sleep the whole flight, then use those distractions you brought. Since moving around is a little tricky, especially if they’re a crawler, keeping their attention with your distractions is your primary goal. If you have passengers near you who are taking an interest and making faces at your baby, let them. It will give you a few moments to breathe, and it just might make their day to know they helped you in some small way.
Enjoy the trip. All in all, you and your baby are about to take an incredible adventure together. And you are an AMAZING mama. Be as prepared as you can be. Accept help. But most of all, focus on your baby’s needs.
Did I miss any GREAT tips for flying solo with a crawling baby? Please post them below! I’d love to hear them!