I never traveled much with my four older children, but my growing career as a blogger and freelancer has recently required that I tote my newest baby all across the country – starting when he was just 4 months old. As they grow, the challenges that come with taking a flight grow as well. Here are a few things I picked up in my journeys, and what you can do to survive the mayhem.
Do the Lap Thing
Lap children (free passengers under the age of two years) are allowed one per paying adult on almost all domestic flights, and there will often be a low 10% charge for international flights to let you baby sit with you in your seat. While many of my friends pay the full ticket price to have their infant sit next to them in an approved car seat, I find that my kid wants nothing more than to sit on my lap, anyway. Save yourself the cash and cuddle your baby en route; you’ll pay far less, and they will likely enjoy the experience more.
Know Your Airlines
All airlines are not created equal. While some hardly glance at a lap child, others will ask for a birth certificate proving the infant’s age. Many don’t charge for checking an infant car seat and allow an umbrella stroller as a free carry-on item. Less generous airlines will tack on $25 for each additional piece of gear you bring with you, regardless of whether you stow it above or below the cabin. In addition, some airlines will try their best to place you in rows with an additional emergency air mask, while other airlines don’t even bother to ask. Once you find a company that cares, stick with them. They are worth the possibly extra $20-40 for each leg of your flight for you to be respected as a customer AND a parent.
I can’t stress this tip enough, and it’s not just because you will save big cash for every baby item you don’t have to check in or carry on. It’s hard to lug your one personal item and one carry-on plus baby. If the tot is still tiny, I recommend a comfy infant carrier. Not only will it free your hands from having to push a stroller, you can more easily negotiate crowded concourses and skip the hassle of waiting in line for a slow-moving elevator when trying to catch your connecting flight. Baby also loves being close during the hubbub of the airport; he or she might even sleep! (There are awesome carriers for older tykes, as well. Look for reviews online to see what works!)
Check Your Car Seat Facts
I know many traveling families who skip cabs and shuttles in lieu of public transportation when visiting a new city. Not only can you save money, but it eliminates the question of “will I need a car seat?” If a bus or tram isn’t available where you will be heading, make advanced reservations for your shuttle ride with a company that offers both rear-facing and forward-facing infant seats. (Note: The condition of these seats may be shady, at best. Be prepared to have your kid sit in dirty, old, or poorly-fitting car seats if you choose to go this route.) Otherwise, you can still bring your own car seat from home and check it free with some excellent and family-friendly airlines.
Shop at Your Destination
Most all downtown areas and hotel hot spots have a Walgreens, CVS, or other pharmacy nearby (and most have several.) Use this fact to your advantage and scout out a few stores within walking distance of where you’ll be staying. This allows you to pack only 1-2 days worth of diapers, formula, wipes, and snacks – saving on checked bags fees and heavy lifting – and lets you buy the rest when you get there. If you’re super-savvy, keep a few coupons for your favorite brand of diaper in your wallet. Even with the markup that some downtown locations add to these products, it’s far cheaper than checking an extra bag.
Travel time is usually just a portion of your trip, yet it can feel like an eternity if you are ill prepared. Expect to do nothing but keep your baby happy and quiet during your flight, and ask questions if you are unsure of how any airline or company will handle your needs. For the most part, both the staff and other flyers are friendly and helpful to those who might need a carry-on taken down from the baggage compartment or who have a fussy infant to tend to.
Take a deep breath – they are only this small once!