Leaving on a Jet Plane...with a 13 month old!

I don't know if I'm more crazy than I think sometimes, but the temptation was too great to pass up this chance.  My husband is a PhD student and had a paper accepted to a conference in California - a week-long conference!  At first I was so excited to finally go to California, or at least go in a not-growing-in-my-mommy's-tummy capacity.  Then reality started in with logistics for a 13-month old on a cross-country plane trip for a week. 

I read a lot of blogs and they all pretty much said exactly what my parents have always said "you can do anything you were going to do without a kid, with a kid, except it takes a little more planning".  So with that in mind, I spent the next few weeks preparing.  I took note of what things we used daily that I liked to have and those that I didn't think I could get by without.  There are a lot of elements to the trip and I'll probably have to do more than one blog post to discuss them all.  I'll focus on the plane trip for this post.

Top 15 Tips for a plane trip with a lap infant:

15. Wherever you are going, chances are, there are babies there too.  I almost brought her to Turkey when she was 5 months old.  Thinking about logistics was kind of nerve-racking until I realized this.  We ended up not going and only my husband went (for another paper he got published), but looking back, it would have actually been easier then at 5 months than it was at 13 months, but it really wasn't that hard this time either.  I'm pretty sure everyone has seen a baby in person and has had to hear them cry from time to time. Also, if you forget to bring extra diapers, food, or even a crib - chances are, you will be able to buy or rent wherever you are headed. Though I would advise against renting diapers and food, probably not the best idea.

14.  Clean your house before you leave.  Sounds strange, but when you get home you won't have to do anything but clean up yourselves and do the laundry.  Getting back into the swing of things is tough after a long trip with an infant, so one less thing for you to worry about is always a bonus.

13. When it comes to choosing your flight, I don't think it matters between a layover or direct flight, at least for our family.  We had a layover on the way there and a direct flight on the way back.  Our flight leaving was early and, with the time change, we didn't get in until dinner time.  This kind of helped because after such a big day, I gave her a bath and put her to bed and we could start new the next morning instead of trying to cram an adventure in.  On the way back we left in the afternoon which allowed us to sleep in and we got back to our airport around 9pm with an hour drive home.  This worked out because there was no traffic on the way home and Little One fell asleep and was easily transitioned into her crib when we got home.  Trying to plan flights around nap times isn't always feasible.  Unless your kid is a super schedule orientated baby, it probably won't matter as long as you tucker them out before the flight.

 12.  I got this tip from another blog, I can't remember which one.  Make sure your lap child is registered with the airline.  Aria got her own ticket for the flight that said "lap infant".  Our airports didn't require her to have her own ID to go through security, but depending on your destination or airport, they might, so be sure to check with them.  Depending on where your seat is, some rows will not allow lap infants (like exit rows) and depending on how many lap infants you have, may require you to split up your seating due to available oxygen masks per row.

11.  Get over a fear of germs.  Since I stay at home, Aria doesn't get the typical dose of random germs from a daycare.  I was slightly worried about her getting some kind of crazy sickness while we were traveling but I had to get over it.  I did bring both Clorox wipes for the plane and antibacterial wipes for her hands, but I never actually used them on the planes.  And an added bonus: none of us got sick the whole time (and three days later are still not sick!).  I did, however, wash her puppy when we got to the hotel (ours had free washer and dryer services, be sure to check into that when booking).  She had drug him all over the terminals and dropped him a good number of times on the plane.  After a day of traveling, he was slightly moist and had some pink stuff on him.  I think it was some pouch food, but who knows.  I did wipe her hands down before we got on the plane, after crawling all over the airport.  She loves to feed herself Cheerios, and sometimes shares with Mommy and Daddy - I definitely don't want her eating everyone's foot germs too.

10.  A camera.  You have to capture the good, bad, and sleepy times on the airplane and at the airport terminal.

9. A charged iPod or other music device for yourself.  Once they go to sleep, it is loud on the airplane and if you want some rest, something to keep you occupied that doesn't involve using your hands (since you'll be holding a sleeping tot) is awesome.

8. A plan for a diaper change.  We luckily didn't have to change her on the actual airplane.  About 15-20 minutes before first boarding, one of us took her to the bathroom at the terminal to change her.  Our airplanes had changing areas in the lavatories, but not all planes do.  We had a lot of turbulence on our flights as well, which made them keep the seat belt sign on for most of the flight.  Changing a wiggly babies diaper on a changing table in an airplane bathroom during turbulence was not on my list of things to do.  Luckily we didn't have to check it off.

7. A plan for your luggage.  I was an awesome packer and packed the three of us into two carry-on rolling bags, a diaper bag* for her and a backpack for our change of clothes, my iPod, purse things, etc.  We were in one of the last boarding groups so we got to check our bags for free at the gate (different than gate check) -  they were sent to our final destination - on our flights going to and coming from.  This saved us 50$ each way!  If you can pack it into carry-on bags, don't pay to check it.  Wait and see if they can at the gate.  I also got this really nifty bag from Amazon that protected her carseat and base.  It isn't for checking, just gate checking where you pick it up at each stop.  It kept her carseat free from germs and rain, plus it was inexpensive.
*Her diaper bag was just a plain duffle bag, kind of like this one, but just grey and black,  that we packed all the stuff below into.  A regular diaper bag has too much padding and was too small for all the stuff we needed to put into it.  And since it was a diaper bag which only had her items in it, it was a "free" bag and didn't count as our two allowed carry-on bags.
All of our baggage for a week and a few days.  Luckily she is still small enough to fit into her infant seat.  Another good tip - run around the terminals with them so they are more inclined to sleep during the flight.

6. A change of clothes - for all travellers.  We are also lucky that we didn't have to use our backup clothes, but I had them in our easy access carry-on bag in case.  Since it was her first flight, I didn't know if she would get sick (I do on planes) or if she would spill all her food on us or if she would have an inoportune diaper blow-out.  Being prepared for most situations can put you at ease.  Also, dress casually to begin with.  Don't wear a new pair of shoes that aren't broken in.  Don't wear a ton of jewelry that Little One will want to yank on, unless it is intended for that.  I also didn't wear makeup so I didn't have to worry about it getting messed up all day.  I put her in dark colored pants in case she had a blow-out, so I wouldn't have to worry about staining.  Her top was just a play shirt that I didn't mind if it got stained, but colorful so I could find her if she happened to get loose in a terminal I would be able to spot her (she was in a baby carrier at the airports but planning for the worst made me calm down). Side note: this has been an awesome carrier for only 16$.

5. A favorite stuffed animal or toy.  Having a familiar doll (or puppy in Aria's case) to hug can put them at ease.  It probably seems crazy to her that there were so many people just sitting in this loud thing.  She also had some of her favorite books and some small toys that we wouldn't be too sad if they ended up missing.  I did bring some new toys that she hadn't seen before but she didn't want to play with them as much as the toys she already knew she liked.  That is not how she normally is, but like I said, it was a strange adventure and she probably just wanted to be comforted.  And when those don't work, letting her take everything out of the seatback pocket and tearing up the Skymall works too.  Be sure to thank your flight attendants!  Your seating area will most likely look like a tornado hit when you leave.

Aria hugging her Ladybug Girl book and Puppy.  (Sorry it is blurry)

4.  An arsenal of lullabies.  No one can hear you with the cabin air going, so singing them to sleep works awesomely.  She was so tired but isn't used to sleeping on us, in fact, she has never really fallen asleep on us.  This was the part I was most worried about.  But I just held her and sang and she hugged her puppy and eventually fell asleep.

On our way to Cali.

On the flight back home.  (Yes we both wore the same outfits.)

3.  Have a snack container with dry snack food.  We used Cheerios, which were probably too small for the opening and got all over the place.  But she had fun doing it, which kept her quiet, which is what any parent really wants on a plane.

Snack cup of Cheerios.

2. Have an abundance of pouch baby food.  She self-weened at almost 10 months, so I couldn't rely on nursing her to relieve any pressure.  I took 15 pouches on the flights to and from California.  She normally just gets these when we are out and about and can eat about 2 each time (in addition to other food), but I knew that with cabin pressure from take off and with boredom, she would want to eat more.  These pouch things were awesome.  Also, you are allowed to take them through security.  You just have to take them out and they will have to do the swab test on them.  So thankful I didn't have to try to scrounge something up at the airport for her to eat.  Just be sure to have them in a bag so it is easier to put into those grey bins.  I just had hers in a grocery bag in the diaper bag.  I also got some shelf stable organic milk for her to have on the airplane.

About 10 minutes before we boarded on the first flight.  I think she was unsure of what was going on.  She had like 3 hours of sleep the night before and it was about 7am.  She normally wakes up in the late afternoon.

I love my pouch food...and my parents.

1.  A relaxed attitude.  Your little one picks up cues off of you even when you don't realize it.  If you are antsy and worried about every little detail being perfect, they will get antsy and whiny too.  On the other hand, sometimes the best behaved baby can have a bad day and cry the most blood-curdling cry for 5 hours straight and stop the minute you get off the plane.  Things happen.  You can't make every passenger on the plane happy, especially the one smooshed up against you in your row.  Although I think some people weren't happy there were kids (there were actually a ton of kids on all three of our flights), they got over it.  No one gave us angry glares when she cried or when she wouldn't stop kicking the chair in front of us.  It is just for one plane ride and then you won't ever see them again.  Say sorry to the person in front of you and thank them for being understanding.  Just try to mentally prepare yourself for the possibilities and go with the flow.  Clothes can be washed, babies will eventually get too tired to cry anymore and fall asleep (even if it is when you get to your hotel), and it is an adventure and memories that you are giving to your child (and yourself). 
"Where in the world are we, Mom?"
In my next post I will talk about what gear to bring, what to leave at home and what I wish I had brought.


  1. This should come in handy one day! We have briefly considered taking Gwendolyn to Montreal next year for a Statistics conference...we'll see.

    1. It really worked out well. We went the weekend before the conference and hung out as a family - we even saw Liz and Joel. Aria and I spent the whole week together exploring Palo Alto so it was worth it. If you have the opportunity, I would say go. :)