When my daughter was three months old, I flew to Chicago to visit my family. Before our trip, it’s fair to say I was terrified. I tried to do as much research as I could online, but every blog I read told me the same thing: “You’ll be fine.” That wasn’t the kind of information I was looking for.
Before I do something for the first time, especially if it’s a potential high-stress situation, I like to know as much information as possible. The hows, whens, wheres, and whys. Hearing “just do whatever you do and you’ll be ok” makes me all that more stressed, like everyone’s trying to keep a secret that I’ll only understand once I go through it. I like to understand and know the secrets beforehand.
So, to help you out, here are the secrets I learned about domestic air travel with a 3-month old.
First I must say that I definitely did not figure all of this out on my own. One of my good friends has three children and has flown with them what seems like hundreds of times. I asked her for the details and her help is what made my trip that much more relaxed.
Ticketing: I bought one ticket and registered my daughter as a lap-child. This way she flew for free.
Seat Choice: Aisle, back of the plane to be close to the bathroom and galley, just in case.
All of the items listed below are things I actually have and used – none of these are sponsored items.
Gear to make your trip easier:
- Baby Carrier (I use the Ergo360)
- Infant Car Seat (I use Graco Fast Action Fold Click Connect system)
- Car Seat Base (for use to/from airport and at your destination)
- Car Seat Bag (if you’re checking a carseat). This bag fits my infant carrier plus the base for the car.
- TEST TO SEE IF IT FITS BEFORE YOU ASSUME. I don’t want you showing up at the airport thinking your base will fit in the bag with your car seat only to have a random base that you have to pay to check.
- Inexpensive Stroller (This saves your good stroller from potential rough handling)
- Gate Check Bag for the stroller (This saves your inexpensive stroller from losing pieces)
Helpful gear to have at your destination (if possible)
- Place for baby to sleep:
- Safe place for baby to sit:
- Play Mat
- Baby Safe Detergent
- White Noise Machine (or use an app on your phone)
- First carry-on:
- Baby Monitor & Camera
- Breast Pump (if you need it)
- Second carry-on:
- Copy of baby’s birth certificate
- Breastmilk in insulated bag
- Nursing Cover
- Extra outfit for baby
- Extra shirt for me
- 6 Diapers, 10+ flannel wipes
- 3 Ziploc bags – gallon size
- Favorite Toy (at the time was this one)
- Empty Water Bottle
Packed in Suitcase:
- Enough outfits for baby for at least half the duration of the trip. Onesies, pants, socks, long-sleeved t-shirts or sweaters. A set or two of booties, one or two hats. Since I have only visited family thus far, I can do laundry there which saves on packing space.
- Appropriate clothes/shoes for you.
What you do NOT need if traveling domestically:
Letter from spouse or partner indicating they’re aware you’re traveling alone with your child. This is only necessary if you’re traveling alone internationally.
Here’s How It Goes Down:
At The House:
- Pack your two carry-ons. Put the stroller bag inside your carry-on. You can put it in the stroller once you get to the airport.
- Pack your suitcase. Put the car seat bag INSIDE your suitcase.
- Put the carrier and stroller in the car.
At the Airport:
Try to have someone drive you – it is much easier to schlep all of your things from curbside instead of attempting to walk through the parking lot. In fact, if you drive yourself, it would probably be worth your sanity to park at a facility that has a shuttle from your car to the gate.
Try to be dropped off as close to your ticketing desk as possible.
When you arrive and get out of the car:
- Put on the carrier.
- Put your baby in the carrier.
- Open the stroller.
- Remove the car seat and base from the car.
- Put the car seat base in the bottom of the stroller, along with the stroller bag.
- Put the car seat on the stroller.
- Use the stroller to hold your carry-on bags.
- Grab the suitcase you’re checking.
- You should have the following things when you walk inside:
- Baby in the carrier strapped to you.
- Stroller with carseat, car seat base, and stroller gate check bag.
- Suitcase with carseat bag inside.
Inside the airport:
- Stop off at a bench.
- Open your suitcase and pull out the car seat bag.
- Put the car seat base in the bag first, then the car seat. Zip up the bag.
- Zip up your suitcase.
- Keep your carry-ons on the stroller.
- Walk to the ticketing desk. If possible, get an agent or nice stranger to help you bring your things over to the desk.
At the ticketing desk:
- At the self-check-in machine or with the attendant, there is an option for over-sized items. This includes car seats. There shouldn’t be a charge for this, but check before you go. Airlines may differ.
- Once you’ve dumped the car seat bag and your luggage, you’ve got a much lighter load. Congrats!
- Offer the birth certificate copy as ID for your child, along with their ticket. The two people I showed it to told me I didn’t need it, but I’m glad I had it anyway.
- If you have any liquids (breastmilk, medicine), declare them to the agent as you’re in line. The two agents I told didn’t care, and they didn’t take anything out of my bags to check after it went through the X-ray.
- You should be able to walk through a simple metal detector, and they may do a swab for explosives on your hands.
At the gate:
- Time to ask a stranger or gate attendant for help: As you’re standing in line to board, open the stroller bag and put the stroller inside. You (or a handsome stranger, true story) will carry this down the jetway and leave it with the attendant at the bottom.
- They no longer allow families to board first, which gave me anxiety. The silver lining is you’re not stuck on the plane for an extended period of time while everyone else boards. It ended up working out perfectly that I boarded almost last so I could basically sit down and take off.
On the plane:
- I chose the very last aisle seat so I had quick access to the bathrooms or galley if I needed to walk her around. This gave me ample room for breastfeeding and playing with her without bothering my seatmate.
- But, my friend likes the window seat so she can have extra room to breastfeed, so to each their own. Book whatever makes you most comfortable.
- Remove baby from the carrier and breastfeed/give a bottle as you’re taking off. This will help their ears pop and save them from in-air pain and save you and everyone else from listening to crying.
- I’m not a stickler for schedules when we’re traveling, so I let her sleep as long as she wants.
- When she’s awake, I let her sit on my lap, play with her toy/my hands/arms/whatever.
- There’s a large fold-down changing table above the toilet in the lavatory. My daughter bawled every time I put her down on this, but she needed a change so I tried to go as fast as possible. You may want to bring a swaddle or something to put down under your baby since it’s, you know, a changing table in a plane.
- Remove baby from carrier and breastfeed/give a bottle as you’re landing.
- My first trip I didn’t do this because she was sleeping, and she ended up screaming halfway through landing and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Arrival at your destination:
- Get your items at baggage claim.
- Reverse the process of getting your gear together.
- Smile and be happy – you’re now a pro!
Bonus: People Can Be Awesome:
It surprised me how fellow passengers were willing to help me. Even a smile made all the difference, like “Yes, you’re the girl getting on my flight with the baby but I’m ok with that.”
I walked into the airport feeling like “I got this, I don’t need anyone’s help,” but I was so stressed out that I cried in the bathroom after I checked in at the ticketing counter.
In the security line, there was a business traveler behind me and I was concerned he was going to get frustrated with me even though I’m pretty quick. He surprised me by saying, “If you need help with anything, please let me know.”
At the gate, I was trying to put the stroller into the bag by myself and two strangers offered their help before I could even get the bag fully open. On the way back I asked someone to help me with it, and he and I ended up talking about his travels with his children, and then he offered to take the stroller down the jetway for me.
If you’re open to help, people will help you!