Tips and Tricks for Flying with an Older Baby

My family and I just got back from a two-week holiday in Costa Rica, where my 10-month-old daughter got to spend some quality time with her grandparents in their Guanacaste home.  I was apprehensive but hopeful regarding the entire 'flying with baby' scenario, but due to being extremely prepared and well-researched, it all went smoothly.

Here I share my top tricks and tricks for flying with an older infant.  I hope it helps!!

1. Ensure you have a bottle for take-off and landing

After reading nightmare stories online from several mothers about screaming babies who cried from the moment the plane left the ground, I was nervous about taking Avy Bear up on a plane. Prior to becoming a mother myself, I was always one of those people that shuddered when I saw a family holding a baby walk up the aircraft aisle. Of course, I would never comment or criticize: I just never liked being trapped near a wailing baby, helpless to do anything to calm it. (I am a little control freakish, yes, but I'd never grab someone else's child or be snotty enough to lean over and give my two-cents' worth on how to keep that baby quiet...)

After a nice bottle at take-off, Avy drifts into sleep, along with her Daddy.

I DID read that many babies are great travelers; you just have to get over the pressure change in the cabin that notoriously hurts little eardrums.  Advice from several sites recommended feeding your baby upon take-off, and again as you felt the aircraft begin to descend for landing.  I am going to repeat that advice, because it was EXCELLENT.  Feed that baby, and help his or her poor little ears adjust slowly and comfortably.

Avy was hungry before take-off, and was starting to get squirmy. We occupied her as best we could, giving her little sips but keeping the bulk of the bottle in reserve.  As the plane began to pick up speed down the runway, we allowed Avy to finally eat her fill, and she drank all the way up until the plane was stabilized.  She didn't cry once.

As soon as my own ears began to notice the pressure change upon arrival to our destination, we began feeding Avy her next bottle. This time we portioned it and let her drink slowly, so that her ears would adjust as we slowly dropped in altitude.  She didn't even notice the pressure change, and played happily the whole way.  It took us two flights to arrive in Costa Rica, and two more to get home, and during those four flights, Avy only cried once (and that was because we forced her to nap when she was tired, and she cried for about one minute).  Thank you, other mothers, for the advice on timed feeding!

2. Bring LOTS of snacks and treats

Since timing your liquid meals is super important to the overall auditory health and comfort of your baby, it might be necessary to prolong the gap between bottles longer than normal on a three to four hour flight.  This is where the beauty of snacking comes in.

Avy enjoying her flight.  She got to eat like a kid at a sleepover, and she loved it.

It is also very hard to feed an older baby a true-blue solid meal if he or she has graduated to finger foods. Unless the food is specifically labeled as baby food and is still sealed, security most likely won't let you take it through. That means your hard work dicing and mashing a plethora of healthy and easy-to-eat foods for your baby could end up in the garbage. We brought a few pouches of Heinz pureed baby food for our daughter, but even so, opening them up, pouring them into a bowl, mixing with rice cereal, and feeding her with a spoon just seemed like way too much when packed like sardines in a three-person row on the airplane.

What we did was pack several bags full of different snacks: strawberry puffs, Cheerios, yogurt treats and vegetable puffs.  Not the healthiest way to feed a child for a day, but it IS only for part of a day, and it keeps everyone sane. Avy would play and flirt with other passengers, but when she started to get antsy - and that happened a lot - we'd pull out a little handful of snacks and she would settle back down.  Overall, she didn't eat very much, but the variety and the timing helped to keep her happy and occupied.

3. Don't pack too many toys

I totally over-packed on the toys. Many websites recommended bringing some favorite toys along with two or three new toys that baby had never seen before.  I think this is too much.  A) She only played with about two of her old toys that I brought, and only for about 5 minutes at the most with each, and B) she could have cared less about the two new toys I packed for her.  I tried to avoid toys with noises and lights, since I didn't want to disturb the other passengers, and they didn't seem to pack the punch I was hoping for.

Landing in beautiful Costa Rica.  Avy made flying with a baby easy!

But it didn't matter - Avy was more interested in looking at and chatting with the other passengers and the stewardess, playing with the papers in the seat in front of her, eating her snacks, and sleeping. This is not to say all babies are the same... except I sat beside two other babies during our four flights, and those two babies also neglected to play with any toys.  So save a little room on your carry-on and just tuck in a couple of favorite toys.  I'd put snacks in the saved space instead!

4. Do pack some antibacterial wipes

I'm not a germaphobe by any means.  I believe in building immunity through natural play with the world. But that's not to say I liked the idea of Avy shoving the man-handled safety card into her mouth and ingesting germs from all far-reaches of the Earth. So I did pack both wipes and Lysol wipes. I didn't scrub the plane down upon entry, but when Avy was looking hungrily at the back of the seat in front of her and all its hard-plastic chewy goodness, I did give it a cleaning before she inevitably licked and gummed it. I know from experience you can't stop her from shoving things in her mouth, so I was prepared for a little housekeeping on the plane. Just don't be that annoying person that disinfects EVERYTHING and EVERYONE - if you are holding your baby and keeping her occupied, she's not going to lick the entire plane and contract the plague.

5. If there's an empty seat, see if you can snag it

On the way down to Houston, we had a less than full airplane.  That meant we had an empty seat between us, and Avy had it all to herself.  What a blessing that was! She got to stand, bounce, crawl, and get all her wigglies out.  Usually planes are packed to the nines, so I realize this is a rare occasion.  But if you do happen to see an empty seat, sweet talk your stewardess to see if there's any way you can be placed in that row.

Hello Houston!  We made it through Avy's first flight with literally no problems!

6. Keep your wipes, bum cream, and diapers close at hand

On our way down to Costa Rica, I had a perfectly packed carry-on bag just for Avy. It contained ten to fifteen impeccably packed diapers all in a row, wipes, cream, bottles, snacks, toys, a blanket, a change of clothes, a spit-up towel and more.  It was perfect.  And then we got onto the plane and it was too large to go under the seat, so we had to put it in the overhead compartment, and basically we never saw it again until landing.  I lie: we pulled it out twice.  Once we needed it for a diaper change, and the second time we grabbed her snacks and a bottle for landing.  It was a total pain, since we had a stranger sitting on the aisle seat, and she liked to sleep through her flights.  We felt so disruptive and rude, although the lady was great and completely understanding.

My impeccably packed carry-on... it just didn't fit under the seat.

I learned my lesson and on the way home, I packed Avy's diapers, cream, wipes, bottles, snacks, and a couple of toys in my oversized purse carry-on, and slipped it under the seat in front of me.  So much easier!  Everything was on-hand, accessible, and we didn't have to disturb anyone. If you think you'll need it during your flight, keep it in a bag that can be stored under the seat. Anything else, including random emergency supplies (like an extra change of clothes for blow-outs) can go up top, since you might not need to use them.

Those are my top tips. Avy was a great traveler, which makes me hopeful that we can have many more family vacations like this one without too much stress. It was surprisingly easy to fly with a baby, and the only bump we ever had was when my travel-sized shampoo exploded in my carry-on (luckily it was in a plastic bag).

Our first family vacation was a success!  

Do you have any other 'flying with baby' tips?  Please share them in the comments below!

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