In my oldest daughter’s first year of life, I took her on 17 plane rides. I wanted my family outside of Alberta to spend as much time with our new baby as possible. We went to Ontario twice and to BC six times. At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal, but reflecting back on that first year it occurs to me that it was A LOT of flying! And it gave me the perfect opportunity to hone the process.
Whether you’re facing a quick 45 minute flight or eight (or more) hours, here are my top six tips for flying with your littles.
1. Source what you can at your destination
Most airlines will offer you two pieces of checked infant equipment included in your airfare. This can be a stroller, a car seat, or a pack and play crib. You can also choose to gate check a small stroller if it’s your preference to have it while in the airport. Car seats can be brought on and installed on the plane. Learn more about flying with your carseat here.
If you’re traveling with infants and toddlers, expect to check at least one bag. Unless you’re planning to buy everything at your destination, stuff like baby monitors, diapers and wipes, toys and books can take up a lot of space. Which is why it can be super helpful to have some of the bigger items already at your destination.
For our regular stops at my family’s home, we made arrangements for them to have a couple pack and play cribs, feeding chairs, and a folding umbrella stroller stashed in the basement in between visits. Some very generous neighbours donated some baby toys and books to my family’s baby supply pile.
If you’ll be staying at a hotel, check what baby gear they can provide. Or check to see if the city you’re traveling to has a baby gear rental store (similar to One Tiny Suitcase which offers car seat, stroller, crib, high chair rentals and more in Calgary and Edmonton).
2. Skip the carry-on luggage
Your hands will be full enough. Pack the essentials in your diaper bag and skip lugging around anything else. My diaper bag essentials list:
Extra diapers and wipes
A couple of doggy bags for throwing out smelly diapers
A change of clothes for you, your baby, and any older children
A wet bag for soiled clothing
Snacks, snacks, snacks
One or two receiving blankets
Water bottles that don’t have a straw (Due to the change in air pressure, water bottles with built-in straws erupt when you open them once you’re in the air)
3. Be strategic about clothing
I am very intentional with what we all wear to the airport. I opt for slip-on shoes for quick on and off through security, I wear jeans or pants with back pockets so I can easily access my phone, cash/debit card, and photo identification, and my wallet in our diaper bag (I pack my purse into our checked luggage).
I’ve been spilled on, vomited on, and had food spilled on me. A change of clothes for all of us in the diaper bag has been very helpful, with a wet bag to store dirty clothes in after.
We all dress in layers. I skip the onesies and opt instead for t-shirts that can easily be changed in the event of messes. If your little one is currently potty learning, this is definitely time to fall-back on a pull-up. Comfortable pants for the kids and hoodies for everyone. The plane can be drafty and it can be nice for the kids to have a hood for naps.
4. Wear the babies
Babywearing is the key to my success. If you do nothing else but this, your life will be easier. Airports are a busy and fun place to be in. Alleviate bolting and/or overstimulation by wearing your babies and toddlers. Also, containment can not be overrated.
For infants, I prefer front wearing for air travelling days. I like a carrier that can provide an easy up and down, and that I can quickly lift baby out of. When you go through security, you’ll be asked to remove the baby from the carrier. My favourite is a mei tai style carrier for this purpose.
For toddler wearing, I prefer back-wearing. For this option, a carrier like a Toddler Tula or another toddler sized soft structured buckle carrier is really handy.
5. Keep it chill
I aim for relaxation and calm while on the plane. When my babies were newborns, I would reserve nursing for take-off and landing. This took advantage of the sudden increase in white noise to help lull them to sleep and the frequent swallowing helped their little ears with the change in air pressure.
If your baby is on your lap, you will be encouraged to hold your baby in the ‘burping position’ (upright with your hand on their back) to secure them during take-off and landing. I chose a feeding position that was a bit more upright and secure. It worked well for us.
I find receiving blankets so helpful on flights. Need to lie baby down before you board your flight? Receiving blanket. Need to catch a spill? Receiving blanket. Need to block some visual stimulus so baby can fall asleep? Receiving blanket. Need to have just one more cozy layer? Receiving blanket. You get the idea.
6. Don’t overdo the onboard entertainment
For older children this is the time to have all the good snacks, the fun cartoons downloaded to the tablet, and quiet, tidy, tinker games to discover in their seats. We really liked this fun pipe cleaner activity (pictured below). Having a couple fun things to keep their hands busy can be a great distraction but I say don’t overdo it in this department - being on a plane is stimulation enough.
The longest flight we took was eight hours with an additional connecting one hour flight. It was a red eye home from Maui connecting through Vancouver. I learned that flying red eye with a 19-month old was not pleasant for anyone. Not only were none of us adequately slept, I was also nearly seven months pregnant and all my toddler wanted was to nurse the entire flight over the Pacific Ocean. The only redeeming thing I can say about that experience was that we were coming home from a beautiful place so I carried the memory of the sea breeze on my face and the sand in my toes until we landed. That’s the part that makes traveling with little ones worthwhile.
Christine is a DONA International Certified Birth Doula who brings a sense of joy, excitement, and wonder to her work. She loves to support her clients as they journey towards their own best birth and shares their pride in their accomplishments. Offering deeply intuitive care, she is able to encourage them as they uncover their own inner hopes and desires for their birth, while supporting them with the tools to achieve them.