STREAMLINING AIR TRAVEL WITH A BABY

Eating a nasturtium at the farmer’s market in Kaua’i. 

Aloha from Hawaii! To my blog readers who live on these beautiful islands, please know that I am insanely jealous of you.

We have just taken our ninth flight with Oliver, and I think we’ve finally gotten the hang of how to manage the baby and all of his requisite gear. On our Christmas vacation, I felt like we had a ridiculous amount of stuff (okay, we did), and it was all very poorly packed. On a subsequent trip to Toronto, we did much better, but there was still a lot of baggage for me to handle when I had to return to Vancouver on my own, without J.

When travelling with an infant, most airlines will allow, free of charge, one checked bag per fare-paying passenger and two pieces of baby gear for the lap-held infant. Some airlines allow an additional checked bag for the infant when flying internationally, but if not, it generally costs only $20 to check an extra bag. Passengers are also entitled to one piece of carry-on luggage plus one “personal item” (purse, laptop bag, briefcase, etc.) each.

With that, here is how we packed for a two-week trip:

Checked baggage
1. Large suitcase — all of my belongings, J’s toiletries, extra space for bringing stuff (e.g. macadamia nuts :)) back home.
2. Duffel bag — Oliver’s portable crib & bedding, play blanket, cloth diapers/liners/wipes/bags/detergent (yes, we travelled with cloth again!), clothing, toiletries, baby monitor, white noise machine.
3. Stroller bag — stroller, portable high chair, bib, placemat.

Gate check
1. Infant car seat — we prefer to gate check the seat because it maximizes the odds that it actually makes it on to the flight and safely to our destination. We pack ours into this handy reusable travel bag to keep it clean and reduce the waste associated with plastic airline bags. If you pay for an infant/child airfare it is best to bring the seat onboard the aircraft. Not only does that give your baby a comfortable and familiar seat, it is actually the safest way for him or her to fly.

Carry-on
1. Diaper bag — diapers, wipes, wet bags, change pad (we always bring some disposable ones in addition to the reusable one, for use in gross washrooms), hand sanitizer, two changes of clothes, flannel cloths (for burps, nose wipes, etc.), two lightweight blankets.
2. Backpack (35 litre) — laptop/iPad, books, headphones, baby toys, Ergo carrier, sweaters.
3. Purse
4. Small suitcase — J’s belongings, minus his toiletries.

Note: Some people prefer to gate check the stroller so they can use it to transport baby and carry-on luggage through the airport, but we find that it’s less hassle to get rid of it before passing through security, and to just use the Ergo carrier to carry Oliver. Also, beware that many airlines have a size/weight limit on gate-checked items, and will only take umbrella style strollers at the gate.

After checking the big bags and the stroller, we were left with the baby, four bags and a car seat to carry through the airport. This was not nearly as bad as it sounds, though I personally voted for paying the $20 to check J’s carry-on suitcase (he declined). I carried Oliver in the Ergo and carried my purse over one shoulder and the (empty) car seat in my hand. J pulled his suitcase and carried the diaper bag on a shoulder and the backpack on his back. All in all, it was quite efficient and manageable, and will probably become our default set-up.

Have you done any air travel with a baby? What tips do you have for packing and managing all of the baby’s belongings?

14 responses to “STREAMLINING AIR TRAVEL WITH A BABY

    • Sounds like you guys use roughly the same packing strategy.

      Interesting note about the “family line” at security. We have found the same thing — although it is family-friendly (i.e. we don’t feel pressured or rushed), it often appears to be much slower than the regular line. I think we’re actually efficient enough to go through the regular line… or at least we’re no less efficient than the bumbling infrequent travellers who bring water bottles in their carry-ons and have to be told to remove their laptops from their bags. 🙂

      I definitely have to say that flights have become more challenging with an active and mobile baby. The first few flights we took, Oliver slept for more than half of the trip, and spent the remainder of the time either breastfeeding or playing contentedly with his toys. On this trip, and the one to Toronto a couple of months ago, he was restless and fussy for hours on end. It was extremely difficult to get him to sleep in unfamiliar and uncomfortable surroundings, and he didn’t stop moving the entire time he was awake. I also dropped the ball and forgot to pack his doggy and bunny (sleep toys) in the carry-on this time. Bad Mommy!

      This particular trip was somewhat more manageable, though, since I was not on my own, and as much as Oliver cried (for probably two hours of the flight), at least he wasn’t screeching and screaming like he was on the last flight. Yes, I was “that person…”

      • I have yet to attempt solo travel with Bergen…I’m impressed! I’ll be packing lots of finger foods and snacks to keep him entertained…trips to the bathroom are also fun (with mom, and then dad) where he can check himself out in the mirror, and see what the flight attendants are up to!

        I’d love to hear more about Kaua’i with Oliver! We are headed there in November.

        • Kaua’i is amazing! Send me an email in a couple of weeks and I will give you a rundown of the activities we did and places we found that were baby-friendly. There are a lot of “adventure” activities here (snorkelling, helicopter rides, zip lining, etc.), which of course aren’t feasible to do with a little one in tow, but we are still finding plenty to keep ourselves amused.

  1. Hi Carli,

    For our round-the-world with our then 4-months daughter, here’s what we used:
    – The inflatable gocrib which folds back to a small backpack and can be used outside as well, just a fantastic product!: http://paleoresources.com/paleo-primal-resource/gocrib-portable-baby-travel-crib-play-yard
    – The babybjorn bouncer, for use at restaurants, waiting in airports, etc: http://www.babybjorn.com.au/products/bouncers/
    – Our Ergo carrier to do everything: http://store.ergobaby.com/
    – A HUGE rolling suitcase for packing everything that I can handle just by myself. This is the one we have, huge and splitting in 2 to get checked: http://www.ebags.com/product/dakine/split-roller-lg/207217?productid=10132901
    – Large carry-on backpacks for both of us for our stuff: many good there
    – Good cargo shorts/pants for both me and my wife: all baby stuff got in easily, and changing trips in the airplane were really easy with nothing to handle 😉 We’re fan of: http://www.molecule-clothing.com/index.php

    We didn’t even bring our stroller, we did all with the Ergo. That was at 4 months, but if we had to do it now again, we would probably do the same thing: our daughter loves the carrier, we are able to carry her with no pb all day long of necessary. And I am usually holding the bouncer by hand, so she would be in it whenever we pause.

    Not bringing a stroller at all for such a trip makes you much more agile!

    – Julien

    • The DaKine roller bag looks awesome! I like that it can split into two pieces to meet the weight limits for check-in, but can be otherwise handled by one person.

      We have left the stroller behind a couple of times, but for longer trips like this one, especially where we want to be out and about exploring all day, it provides a familiar place for Oliver to nap (he won’t sleep in the Ergo, but is accustomed to having naps in the stroller) and a place for us to stow our gear. That said, if we were doing a trip with multiple destinations, like your round-the-world trip, we would probably have to forego the stroller, as it would be too bulky.

  2. Thank you for this post! We haven’t traveled by air with our daughter yet but we do have a trip planned for June. I’m not much of a traveler to begin with, so I’ve been apprehensive. I’m sure your tips will be very helpful!

    • Ooh, where are you going? 🙂

      The big change we made for this trip was bringing a backpack as our second carry-on. I don’t know why we didn’t think of that before! We used to carry the diaper bag (stuffed to the gills), a laptop bag (also stuffed full), my purse, plus the portable crib, which was *way* too many things slung over our shoulders and falling all over the place.

      The other change we made on our previous trip was using a large, soft-sided duffel for Oliver’s stuff. This way we were able to squish all of his belongings into it, including the portable crib and the big stack of cloth diapers. Not having to carry the portable crib as carry-on made life a lot easier in the airport… it was a real pain when we went to Antigua and had to lug it through our airport transfers.

      I will also add that the portable high chair, which has been an awesome piece of gear back home, has been completely useless here. Everywhere we’ve eaten so far has had lightweight pedestal patio tables, which are not safe to use with clip-on chairs. And the dining table in our condo is most unfortunately situated on white carpeting, so we’ve had to eat our meals (with Oliver) on the patio instead (more patio furniture). I think in future we would use the “My Little Seat” for travel, which is much smaller and lighter anyway.

  3. My tips, for what they’re worth:

    1. Security screening – don’t worry about your baby food being ‘too liquidy’ to be allowed…if it’s mushy, it’s generally fine – just say it’s baby food and they’ll let you through. (Breast milk or liquid formula is supposedly okay, too, but I wouldn’t risk it. Just bring the powder, and add warm water after you make it through security.) I would keep all mushy food in small containers, just in case. For example, apple sauce was no problemo for us. I bought a handy dandy little cooler that fit in my carry-on bag. Super handy dandy.
    2. Don’t bother participating in the pre-boarding, (unless you’re traveling alone with the baby, in which case the benefits probably outweigh the costs)…but to my husband and I, it just results in more total time on that god forsaken trap, I mean, plane.
    3. As soon as the plane is boarded – start looking for the empty seats, and sweet-talking those who are sitting next to it. They are your new best friend… bribe them, flirt with them, you can’t sink low enough, really…in order to get a trade so that you can get that extra seat. You’re welcome. (Most flight attendants will already be on top of this, doing their own form of sweet-talking / negotiating because, really, this is a win-win for the entire plane.)
    4. If you need to warm up milk or formula, stewards are happy to do that for you
    5. In fact, flight attendants are happy to do absolutely anything for you, in order to ensure a quiet flight 
    6. If you’re breastfeeding, it is the awesomest way to calm your baby during take off and landing. It is also a good idea to do it so that the little guy/girl’s ears can equalize – all of that sucking and swallowing totally helps. Bottles work for this, too!

    • We’ve had really good luck with seats by reserving a window and an aisle seat for me and J — either at the time of booking, or when we check in online 24 hours in advance — thus leaving the middle seat between us vacant. In most cases, unless the flight is full, the airline will not fill the middle seat beside a lap-held infant. If someone does end up in that seat and the flight is not full, they are usually more than happy to relocate. And if the flight turns out to be full, the person in the middle is always pleased to be given an “upgrade” to the window seat so that J and I can sit beside each other.

      We also unfortunately discovered (at least with WestJet) that you cannot bring the baby car seat on the plane when you haven’t paid a fare for the baby, even if there is an extra seat available. They said something about liability insurance, Transport Canada and bla bla bla, but I have a hard time believing that any of that is true, since the baby would be infinitely safer buckled into an approved seat than held in a lap, regardless of whether or not a fare was paid. Anyway, we were told the same thing by three different people, so it appears to be company policy.

      Thanks for the tips!

      • Ohhh. Didn’t know that bit about online booking beside lap-held infants…that makes sense. Although, not one iota of help for the 15hr flight to Sydney that was 100% booked 😦
        Also, i’m not too sure about the car seat being THAT much safer….I guess with crazy turbulence, maybe…but beyond that…there’s no such thing as a fender bender in the air…car seat won’t help much

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