New parents have a lot of things to worry about, but airplane travel with a baby (or multiple children) shouldn't be one of them! I spent a lot of time stressing before I flew with my baby on his first flight—he's now been on more flights in his first year than I took my entire childhood. With a little prep work, you can make flying less stressful and can spend more time enjoying your destination. Here are eight tips to keep in mind when flying with a baby.
Make a list, and don't over pack. There's a lot of new things you're getting used to as a new parent (or again if you're a second-timer), so take the pressure off having to remember everything and compile a list. It’s helpful to create a list broken down by each bag (e.g., things that need to be taken out of bags for TSA, things to have handy in your carryon, medically necessary items). Think about the basic requirements a baby needs on the plane and cut out everything else. It’s so easy to over pack, but once you have a list, you can also check for items to trim down your luggage. Also, look for items that you can either borrow or rent at your destination. If there are necessities, purchase in small quantities so you're not overwhelmed when you're at the airport juggling bags, boarding documents, and a baby.
Know TSA and airline policies on everything about traveling with babies before your trip and plan to arrive EARLY. TSA lines in the summer can be long (they recommend two hours before your flight for standard passengers), and so are the ticket lines at the airline counter, so plan ahead and give yourself extra time. The TSA usually has a line just for strollers and everything you are traveling with will have to go through the belt screening device. Milk and/or formula (medically necessary so not part of the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule) will be tested separately by TSA, and once it goes on the belt, the TSA will handle all of your items until they are done with their screening.
Airline policies vary on infants, but Southwest allows one lap child per person under the age of two to fly for free domestically. Early check-in and printing boarding passes at home are NOT an option for your first-time flying baby; babies have to be "age verified" by an agent at the ticket counter, so don’t forget to bring your child's birth certificate or passport.
Family boarding is a great perk, especially if you have to install a car seat for a ticketed baby passenger, but not every airline offers it. If you're not flying Southwest Airlines, make sure to ask what the procedures are ahead of time. Southwest offers one of the most generous family boarding procedures in the business, allowing an adult traveling with children six and under family boarding privileges, which means they get on the plane after the A group finishes boarding.
Know the breastfeeding and/or formula regulations.
Your pump, bags of breastmilk, and formula are considered medically necessary items that both the airlines and the TSA see every day, so they’re nothing to stress about. I recommend only packing what you will need, since milk, formula, and pumping supplies can get heavy to travel with. I also suggest bringing a manual pump or a battery pack for pumping if you can as outlets are not available on a plane. Though Southwest welcomes mothers to breastfeed on board and in flight, you may want to check the airport for a breastfeeding/pumping room. Many have a special area set up for traveling moms with access to a quiet place with a chair, table, and outlet. This information is usually listed on the airport's website, too.
If your baby is on formula, pack extra formula in pre-measured zip-top bags so you can easily pour it into a bottle. Though they do sell pre-packaged versions like this, I found out the hard way that they are difficult to tear one-handed without spilling the formula all over yourself and your baby. Bring the stroller and wear your baby.
Strollers are great for carrying the car seat and toting your carryons. Best of all, Southwest allows you to gate check it and it does not count towards your two free checked bags! You must check the stroller at the gate, so wear your baby if at all possible so you have your hands free (I use a ring-sling carrier, but there are lots of other options). If you're a lone traveler with a baby, you're going to have to ask someone for help getting to your seat. Between getting your bags into the overhead compartment, protecting your baby’s head from bumps, putting a diaper bag under the seat in front of you, and possibly installing a car seat, it is impossible to do on your own so don’t shy away from asking for help.
Temperatures on planes can vary–it’s best to make sure you and your baby wear layers. If your baby spills something or makes a mess during the flight, just peel off a layer to clean up instead of sitting in the mess until you get an opportunity to change.
Bring extra Zip-top bags.
Baby blow-out at 35,000 feet? No problem, Zip-top bags to the rescue! I like to create a mini “diaper pack,” a one-gallon zip-top with a diaper, some wipes, a one-time use packet of diaper rash ointment, a spare plain white onesie, and a washcloth or small towel. This makes it super easy to grab and get to the lavatory when I need to change the little one. When a baby needs changing, make sure to ask the Flight Attendants which bathroom has a changing station (Southwest's are usually in the front lavatory only) and use their help getting into the bathroom with the changing station. The zip-top bag is also a great place to put any messes and keep your carry-on tidy.
Know when to feed or not to feed at takeoff.
Like most baby advice, there are conflicting articles available online whether your baby should suck on something at takeoff and landing to help them pop their ears. I prefer to err on the side of caution and I always try to feed my baby or give him a pacifier on takeoff and landing. But, on the other hand, if I suspect my baby has an ear infection, he's staying home.
Don’t fear the meltdown and bring your best positive attitude.
Parents spend their time worrying that their baby will have a meltdown on the plane and annoy other passengers. Some even bring gifts with notes for their co-travelers to pre-apologize for their baby's possible disturbance. I find these gift-packs pretty unnecessary if you keep in mind there's really only one meltdown you need to worry about if your baby has one at all. My pro tip is avoid having a meltdown if your kid has one. Do your best to console your baby, but realize that sometimes babies cry and there's nothing that will make it better for the time being. If you bring a positive attitude with you on the plane, are nice to your fellow passengers, and do your best to help your baby through a crying spell, you're doing all that you can and most people will appreciate that.
Whether you're a first-time mom flying with one baby or you're flying with multiple children, Southwest Airlines makes family travel a breeze. Aside from the perks of flying on an airline with legendary customer service, a stroller + two bags fly free, generous family boarding policy, and free TV on your WiFi devices, fellow Southwest Passengers tend to have positive attitudes and are all around friendly, making flying with your baby a whole lot easier.