Wednesday, September 3

Flying With A One-Year Old: What You Ought to Know

Beautiful Boston
We look happier and less tired than we probably were in reality
At one year, our daughter Tenley had already flown 10 separate times with multiple stopovers in between every flight.
At two weeks old, we flew to New Hampshire and then back to Utah two weeks later. 
At four months, we flew to Florida and then returned to Utah two weeks later. 
At six months, Tenley and I flew alone to Florida again and back to Utah about a week later.
At one year old, we flew again to New Hampshire and then to Utah two weeks later.
At 14 months, Tenley and I flew alone to New Hampshire and then back to Utah after 9 days.

[Now] At two, Tenley and her (then) seven-month old brother, Declan, flew to New Hampshire and back to Salt Lake again in September. Declan also flew at three months from California to Utah. We will be flying to Florida again in February. (Plus, if we move out of state in the next month or two, which is possible, we might be flying to an unknown location even sooner!) 

I don't know if that seems like a lot to you or not, but for me I feel that I'm pretty much an expert at flying with babies and toddlers at this point. I'm not going to lie, it is still somewhat stressful even if your baby is an angel every time. It's just a squishy, cramped, uncomfortable situation and stressful if you are concerned for the comfort of others.

First, I'd like to note that flying with a young baby (particularly one who is still nursing--and I'd imagine bottle is much the same) is much easier than with a wiggly toddler. If you need a vacation, try to plan one when your baby is still little. When they start becoming independent, the trips get a little more strenuous. So how did we manage all of those very long flights? Here are some tidbits of advice from my personal experience:

First and foremost, avoid flying alone. On the second flight to and from Florida, it was just Tenley and me and that was a bit harder than when I had Dalin around to provide support. It's always nice to have someone to hand the baby off to, especially because six to seven total hours on a plane (like those first ten flights were) is not fun, regardless of your circumstances. It is also much easier to change a diaper while in your seats when you have someone familiar to help you hold flailing legs and hand you wipes.

Update: In September, I also flew alone, this time with BOTH kids. A two-year old and a seven-month old. FOR SIX HOURS. It was crazy with a stroller, car seat, two kids, and carry-on bag to keep track of, and I was definitely stressed, but apart from a mini meltdown when we first boarded the plane (basically an employee was helping me load the car seat on the plane for me and Tenley thought he was going to take her rather than the car seat which freaked her out), it ended up being not bad. I had to entertain the two almost the entire time (until they finally fell asleep), and chasing Tenley around during the layover (while managing Declan, the carseat, stroller, and bag) was anxiety-inducing, but the children did surprisingly well. My body ached a bit after from holding a sleeping baby in an uncomfortable seat, but we survived and you will too! (And I had help on the flight home from my husband so that made things seem better). 

If you aren't in "A" boarding, use family boarding. We always fly Southwest, so that's what I know best, but I believe many airlines have family boarding. With Southwest, we usually get "A" when we check-in 24 hours before, but when we don't, family boarding right before "B" boarding is the absolute best!  It allows us to find seats fairly close to the front (which is what we personally prefer) for all of us together. We usually end up by the wing (for the extra stability) and leaving the aisle seat open when I fly alone, we know that the person who sits by us is choosing their fate. They see that we have a baby and obviously people who are easily annoyed by babies choose not to sit by us. Usually it's an older lady (often a grandmother) or sometimes an older man (a dad or grandfather) or even a young man (teenager or college-age) who takes the seat by us so I guess that pretty much sums up the kind of people who are not bothered by children. In our experience anyway. I always assume that other mothers are busy with children of their own and younger women are perhaps intimidated (or annoyed) by crazy, crying children.

Try to sit by the window if you're breastfeeding, or by the aisle if you have a fussy one. Assuming you're flying Southwest or an airline where you can choose your seat, it's best to pick one that will give you the most comfort and freedom. If your baby is sensitive, colicky, or just cries often, it might be best to sit by the aisle so you can easily get up to change him or her, or when the seatbelt signs are off, walk the aisle for a little bit. For us, it works better to sit by the window and Dalin sits in the middle. During the first six flights we took, I was able to breastfeed Tenley as we took off and landed (and several times in between). On our last flight with Tenley when I was pregnant and no longer breastfeeding, the window seat was still more convenient for distracting Tenley and being able to set her on the floor and trap her in (otherwise she definitely would have tried to escape down the aisle). I loveeeed the convenience of breastfeeding. I brought my nursing cover the first two trips, but by our second flight home, I had perfected the art of being discreet without one, plus Dalin was there to cover me if necessary. Which reminds me, 

Dress comfortably and conveniently. You probably already dress comfortably but especially if you are breastfeeding, wear your best nursing top or a shirt that you can easily pull up or down. If you wear a tank top underneath and a loose shirt on top, you'll be able to keep your belly covered when you pull the tank down and your top up. If your top is loose enough, you can even use that to cover the baby as she nurses. Also, it's not a bad idea to bring an extra top in your purse or carry on. Babies spit up, throw up, and have blow outs unexpectedly. I've never gotten more than a little wet, but I have heard some pretty awful stories about unprepared moms. Babies also are great at knocking over drinks, so...

Ideally, try to order a drink that is light colored or clear and ask for a lid! Dalin always gets water or apple juice and I pretty much always get Sprite. We have only had one close call with Tenley hitting a drink and we didn't care so much about our clothes as we did our laptops/electronics being in danger (it's a tight space so everything is vulnerable). Now that we know we can, we always ask for our drinks with a lid. The flight attendants totally understand. It was a flight attendant who first suggested we get lids if we wanted them. You can also ask for extra drinks when you have children. One flight when I was alone with Tenley and pregnant with Declan, I was so exhausted from carrying too much too long that I was feeling sick and hot by the time I boarded the plane. A flight attendant caught my eye as I sweatily made my way down the aisle and I asked her if I might be able to get water a little early. She could tell I was having a hard time and was an absolute angel. She got me water, and a little bag of ice for my neck (I was hot and sweaty from carrying too much), and she even brought some snacks to me and fanned me for a bit, all before taking off. I was a little embarrassed by all the attention I was receiving (I wasn't going in to labor or anything) but I was incredibly grateful that she took care of me when I was alone and in need of help.

If your flight is not full, ask if you can bring your car seat on. We have been able to do this multiple times. The first time was when a flight attendant offered, and we jumped at the opportunity. After that, I started calling Southwest the day before our trip and asked if it looked like that might be a possibility. The first time I called, the lady told me that there were ten seats available on the first flight (so it would most likely be okay she said) and the second flight had thirty and she said I should be fine. Another time I called, the person told me there were plenty of seats on both flights and it shouldn't be a problem to take a car seat. It was awesome to be able to set Tenley in the car seat for a while and once she fell asleep it was even better not having to hold her for several hours (your arms will get tired). Definitely check with your airline beforehand if you can (it will relieve some stress just knowing in advance) or if you can afford it, just buy a seat for your baby's car seat (he or she is really better off in their car seat than on your lap anyway). I like to save the money and you'll have to start paying for their own seat at two years old anyway, so enjoy the savings while you can! 

Plan your flight for the most convenient time of day. This is not always possible if, like us you're aiming for the cheapest option, but it certainly can help. Everyone always says to fly during nap times or bed time. I think that's pretty good advice, though planes, like cars, tend to make your child get drowsy so I wouldn't worry about it too much. Flying early morning or late at night might be wise though if your child sleeps during those times. My children have fallen asleep on every flight we've been on, so that's something to consider.

Be prepared with snacks, distractions, and comfort items. The first two times we flew, Tenley was too little for solids, but thankfully breastfeeding was a lifesaver for me. The next two times, I brought baby food pouches, some baby snacks, and a few bottles of almond milk (for when she was one). Important Note: you will have to get liquids checked when you go through security but that extra two to ten minutes (depending) is worth it to have a full sippy for your baby. If your child is older, I would just save yourself the time and purchase milk or juice when you get through security.

I also brought several random small quiet toys for distractions. Most of them were new things that she had not seen before in hopes that it would keep her attention a bit longer than her old toys, such as Dollar Store items and toddler toys from the McDonald's Happy Meals, which we collected in the weeks before (a suggestion I got from Pinterest). She also liked the gooey window stickers (though I felt like I had to sanitize the window and tray, as well as the sticky things several times because she inevitably would put one in her mouth--or at least lick it.

That reminds me, I also bring sanitizing hand gel and wipes to de-germ the place a little--especially in the winter--because babies get sick easily and toddlers will lick and touch everything. As far as comfort goes, when I was nursing, I brought my nursing pillow (SO handy when your baby wants to nurse like the whole flight and you don't want to hold him anymore or your arms will fall off). I also brought a small squishy pillow which I'm always grateful to have for wherever I'm uncomfortable. I usually use it for my head or my hip because the armrests and lap belts are not always very comfortable.

One other comfort item that I brought when Tenley was little was a rollout pad that we used for changing her on. Confession: it was actually a flat dog bed that we found at TJ Maxx for $5 but it had a cute print and I knew the moment I saw it that it would be perfect for when we needed to change her on the ground somewhere (and it was...we used it many times at the theme parks when we were in Florida). It was also perfect for the plane. We would lay the pad across our laps and change her as fast as possible. We didn't bring it this last time but mostly because Tenley doesn't really have blowouts anymore and also because we're both basically pros at changing diapers quickly and in weird places. If Tenley or Declan took a pacifier, that would definitely be on this list too!

Update: Now that Tenley is a bit older, crayons with a notepad to scribble on, and the iPad or Kindle with a children's show downloaded beforehand is a lifesaver. Still, snacks are by and large the best thing for us to bring on a flight. I just stuff the kids full of healthy (and a few not-so-healthy;) snacks and they stay pretty happy. 

Try to relax. It can be hard not to stress about bothering those around you when your baby is the loudest one in ten rows either direction, but most people understand. Most people have had kids or have been around them enough to know you can't control what they do. Also, if you are stressed, remember that the flight will be over before you know it, and by the next day, any people who might possibly have been annoyed will have forgotten you existed. Plus I've found that most people cannot hear your child as much as you think they can. I've had people say after a flight, "Wow, she didn't make a peep!" (inside I'm like "!!!?!") but apparently the white noise of the plane, plus with headphones and laptops everywhere, the sounds of your child are pretty much drowned out. So don't worry! And if someone says something rude to you, just brush it off or move if you need to. In the words of Gordon B. Hinckley: "Happy is the man who can brush off the offending remarks of another and go on his way." I try to keep this in mind, especially in these types of situations. If you are really having a hard time and you are by yourself, know you can always...

Ask for help. People are usually a lot nicer than you think. Every person we've ever sat next to has always been very nice and even complimentary of Tenley's behavior (even if in my mind it could have used improvement). If you need just a moment, you can even ask the flight attendant. I've had one or two offer to hold Tenley if I ever got tired (you can tell they are just itching to be asked) and once I sat next to someone who held her just while I was looking for something in my bag. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Last time I flew, it was just Tenley and I and we happened to sit by a lady who was a Home Ec. teacher. She let me know if I needed anything, she could help hold or distract her for me. Turns out that offer came in handy when my pregnant body couldn't wait to pee any longer during the flight. Just remember that most people around you understand what you're going through and if they can tell you're making an effort to keep your kids happy and quiet, they will totally sympathize with you. I talked to about a dozen people on the plane and in various lines about traveling with a baby--all conversations which were initiated by them. Just try to remember that it will all be over in a few hours.

Update: The last time I flew alone with Tenley and Declan, I didn't hesitate to ask for help holding them. It's a plane. Where are they gonna go? I had someone carry my car seat on the plane and buckle it in for me, and as soon as a kind lady sat by me and offered help, I handed Declan right off to her (it's so different parenting the second time around) so I could get Tenley buckled and situated. On a different flight, I pushed the flight attendant button and had the attendant hold Declan while I took Tenley to use the potty. People are so willing to help. I've never had anyone be anything but nice to me.

Well, I'm sure there are plenty of other tips out there, but from my experiences, these are the main points you should consider when making long flights with a child. Before I end this post, here's a little advice about getting through security easily. 

Getting through security:
I'm sure it depends on the airport, but Salt Lake City and Manchester are both great for getting people through the security line quickly (Orlando is another story). In most places you can keep your shoes on and your bags closed now, so basically you just need to step through the metal detector and you're set. It's a little more complicated if you have a baby with you, but not much if you are prepared. Avoid wearing metal of any kind. I never wear jewelry on a flight. That will immediately save you the hassle of having to be checked for those things.

If you are wearing your baby in a carrier (I always put her in my hip sling so I can be hands free) know that they guards will check your hands for gun powder/residue, but it is usually a very fast process (just a quick hand swab is all they need). If you want to skip that part, you can just carry your child through.

If you are breastfeeding (or formula feeding too, I believe) you can bring water for that purpose but they will test it. They tested Tenley's three bottles of almond milk which took longer than normal because they were between shifts. As long as you tell them your liquids are for the baby (or you if you're nursing) there shouldn't be any issue.

Also, know where your questionable items are located or put them all together. I'm talking about liquids, but also electronics or anything that would set off the scanner. If you just have one bag for them to search through, things should go a lot smoother. If you decide to bring your car seats and stroller to the gate, they will also hand-search those. In my experience, this has not been a long process.

As for how Tenley has handled the a baby, she nursed and slept most of the way (so I didn't worry about her ears during takeoff or landing), and as a toddler, we offered her milk to sip or snacks to chew to prevent her ears from hurting her. So far, we have never had a problem with that.

At one, she was very wiggly for the flight to NH, but we offered her several snacks and distractions (also, you can get an extra snack and drink for your child if you want to--the flight attendants usually ask) and eventually got her to sleep. Our flight home was a breeze for her (less so for me, being pregnant and very uncomfortable in the dumb seatbelt and starving because our stop was like five hours into flying) because she fell asleep quickly and we let her sleep for about three hours.

On the trip by ourselves last year, I planned well in advance and even though it was somewhat stressful (because I was 26 weeks pregnant and had to manage her and our carry-on bags and her car seat by myself), it went much better than I had expected and I sat next to three wonderfully helpful strangers during three of the four flights (one of the flights I got lucky and we had a whole row to ourselves!)

As far as stops go, they can be a pain because it draws the travel time out, but I always appreciate the chance to use a real bathroom and get some food. Plus, your little one will likely get tired of sitting still (somewhat) for so long in one place and relish having a few moments of freedom. I actually like stops (when we aren't stuck on the same plane) for those reasons.

Declan, in his three flights so far, has been as easy as Tenley. He either nurses or sleeps most of the time. I have yet to have a truly bad experience flying with the two kids. 

So that's what I have for now.

Do you have any additional advice for flying with an infant or toddler? 
Is there anything you would add or change to my flying tips? 
Do you have any stories to share about experiences with babies (whether other people's or your own) while flying? I'd love to hear them! (Even the horror stories;-)

Wishing you all safe & happy travels!

P.S. Pardon the recent changes to the comments section! I still have access to all previously made comments. Thanks for your questions! 
Updated: 11/11/15


  1. This was much needed for our upcoming vacation! Thanks!

    1. I'm so glad! I hope it went well for you! After next week I may be able to post on what it's like to fly with two under two--yikes!

  2. if both of the parents are flying with the kids, let one get on the plane on family boarding and the other have the toddler/young baby run around until the final call for boarding. Having your child having grown bored even before take off is not the best start :)

  3. How did you get to fly with a two week old at what time of year did you fly ? Was it hard to get passport for your little one ? Was there a huge hassle ? Or how did you convince your pediatrrition give you the green light on flying ? Sorry for so many questions I'm planning to fly to Ireland in December from salt lake so I'm being iffy if I should fly with her or not even risk it.

    1. Hi Charlotte! It was August when she flew at two weeks and it was the easiest time probably because I nursed her and she slept almost the whole time. In the U.S. babies need to be 14 days or have doctor approval (you can get a note). My doctor wrote me a note just in case they gave me any trouble even though she was 14 days exactly. I actually have not had to get a passport because we've only traveled within the U.S., but I have heard it's a bit annoying. You and your spouse and your child must be present. If you are the sole parent, you have to provide proof that it's just you. I've heard you should call ahead to make sure they are accepting passport applications at the post office or wherever you go that day. You need to provide both your baby and your citizenship so you may need to hurry to the Department of Health building after your baby's birth to get a birth certificate. You and your spouse/child's other guardian if any, need a photo ID. Passports also have specific photo size requirements, so look those up and you can get those done at Costco and other public photo places (just make sure they know the passport requirements). I hear it can take six weeks to get a passport so you'll want to apply for yourself far in advance and find out if you can start the process for the baby prior to birth. Ireland sounds amazing! That is the number one place I'd like to go...hopefully in the next couple years. Good luck! Do a lot of research on passports right away so you're prepared in time!
      Also, I think it sounds fun, but if you don't have your passports ready by the time you fly it may be stressful so I would consider that, or get started immediately!

  4. Hi was flying with your little one at two weeks a handful ? Such as passport and getting the green light from your baby's doctor and what time of year did you go ? I'm planning on going to Ireland but I'm being iffy if I should take my little one because she will be two weeks as well but it'll be in winter and how did you do it ? With being so time restricted of giving birth ?


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