How to Fly Solo with a Baby

As I sit in my rocking chair snuggling my little guy to sleep, I am creating a mental checklist for our upcoming trip to San Diego! We moved from San Diego to Rhode Island a few months ago, but I have been fortunate enough to keep my job as a pediatric nurse in San Diego. It’s a job that I am passionate about with co-workers who I adore! So I’m hanging on to it for dear life with the thought that there is a good chance we will end up back in San Diego in the near future
But, to make that happen, I need to fly back and forth from Rhode Island to San Diego every other month. When I first made these plans, as a naive soon-to-be-mama, I figured I would just leave the Baby Bear at home with Papa Bear. I even had a plan in place for who would watch him during the day. When it came time for my first trip, and Baby Bear was only 6 months old, there was NO CHANCE I could leave him!!! First, the logistics of leaving a primarily breast fed baby for close to a week was challenging. And then there was the emotional side….I’ve barely been away from this child for more than a few hours, let alone days at a time!!!

So, we moved on to Plan B – just bring him with me.

With great anxiety, and a lot of moral support from Papa Bear, I traveled cross county, alone, with a 6-month old, who conveniently had his first fever and two teeth erupt within 24 hours of our scheduled flight.

But, the good news is, I survived! In fact, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. And here I am now preparing for our second trip. Here are some tips and tricks that I learned from our last trip that I will be using again for this one.

Pack the Essentials

Before Baby Bear came along, I was a super light packer.  I even packed my wedding dress in a carry on bag!  With all of the stuff that we had, I felt like a little bit of traveling circus.  But it was actually pretty easy to move about the airport. I found it essential to have my Baby Jogger City Select stroller with me to travel through the airport. Although it is a little bigger than an umbrella stroller, for example, it doubled as a cart to put our carry on bags in and a sleeping space if the little one wanted to nap.

(Ha! Who am I kidding?! It was wayyyy too exciting to sleep with all of the new sights and sounds!).

 

Luggage, carry-on, traveling along with a baby

Carry-on Bag

We just use a regular backpack as our diaper bag, so adding a few things for the flight was a breeze. For the flight, I toss in some extra clothes….definitely layers because Baby Bear is a furnace! We start with a basic t-shirt onesie and can add layers along the way.

Something new for this flight is that Baby Bear is eating much more solid food than he was before. I usually try to make my own baby food, but for the convenience of travel, I will just throw in a couple pouches in different flavors that I know he likes. I also picked up this genius idea to use a small tackle box with lots of different snacks so the little one can have some choice.

Baby Carrier

One of my favorite baby accessories is my Tula carrier. I have the Play fabric pattern which isn’t available anymore, but I absolutely adore the style of Tula. I’m a big fan of baby wearing, and Tula makes it incredibly comfortable. Although the plan was to keep Baby Bear in the car seat / stroller while we were in the airport, it was super nice to be able to wear him as I walked down the jet bridge and to be hands free once we were on the plane. Its also great to be able to pull the “hood” up so that he isn’t quite so distracted by everything.

Gate Check Items

Papa Bear and I decided to splurge on a good travel bag for our stroller and car seat. They are both primary pieces of equipment for Baby Bear, so we would like to keep them protected and in good condition. We got the Baby Jogger brand bag for the stroller and it was AMAZING! It has plenty of space for the stroller and clearly marked pockets for the wheels that you have to take off. Some of the reviews say that the bag is too big to carry with you through the airport and gate check, but I folded the bag in half and used the shoulder strap to keep it together nice and tightly. I unzipped the front portion of the under basket, and the bag fit nicely in the very bottom.

The bag that we used for the car seat is designed to fit with several different brands, and either an infant seat or a larger convertible seat. So hopefully it is one that we can grow with. The beauty of this bag is that it has shoulder straps like a backpack so I was able to wear the carseat on my back as I walked down the jet bridge to gate check it. For travel around the airport, I just rolled up the bag and secured it with a velcro strap.

Allow for Extra Time

Before kids, I was the type of person who would show up at the airport an hour before a flight. I generally had TSA pre-check, would only carry on bags, and could navigate an airport fairly easily. Traveling with Baby Bear changed all of that!

Things just take a little longer.

Give yourself at least two hours at the airport. Most likely you will have a bag to check. Even if you don’t, you have to wait in the full service line to provide a copy of baby’s birth certificate if he or she is flying as a lap-child. Make sure you add in time for a snack / nursing session, a bathroom break, a diaper change, and time for the little one to stretch his or her legs once you get through security.

Security

Getting through security can take a little while also. Before I got in line, I put Baby Bear into the Tula carrier. All of the bags and the car seat need to go on the belt scanner but the stroller will get pushed through by one of the TSA agents. Remember, if you are carrying breast milk or other liquids for baby, they CAN go through security, they just need to be inspected. I had a cooler bag of frozen breast milk. Even though it was frozen, I took the bag out of the back pack to show the agents. Again, things took a little longer than my normal breeze through, but I didn’t have any problems at all.

On the other side of security, I took a minute to get myself organized. I took Baby Bear out of the carrier and put him in the stroller so he had a little bit more room to move around. I also made sure all of my bags were tucked in, and I headed off towards our gate.

At the Gate

Once I got to the gate, I made sure to check in with the gate agent and get our gate check tags. These need to go on the bag for the stroller and the car seat. If you have a lay over, you are given the option to check them to your lay over destination or to your final destination. Since I wanted the stroller and car seat for Baby Bear to hang out in between flights (especially in the case of delays!) I decided to check them to my lay over and pick them up between flights. When I got my gate check tags, I also ask the flight attendant how full the flight was. If you are on a carrier that does not assign seats, its nice to know how many empty seats to expect (if any) so that you can spread out a little, especially if your child is flying as a lap child!

Around the Terminal

Now is the time to take a minute, get yourself something to eat, use the restroom, nurse your little one. Families with children are usually able to board towards the beginning of the boarding process, and it takes a little bit of time to get the stroller and car seat packed up, so take advantage of the time now! I usually start packing things up about 15 minutes before the scheduled boarding time.

Boarding

The most challenging part was getting from the gate onto the plane. I parked myself as close to the entrance to the jet bridge as possible, and for all of my flights, the airline staff were incredibly accommodating. I took the car seat off the stroller, but kept Baby Bear in it. He was happy to hang out and look around. Then, I took the stroller apart and put it in the bag. Then, I took Baby Bear out of the carseat and plopped him down on the floor. Again, 2 months ago, he was happy to hang out and look around. Now, he’s a little bit more mobile, so this might be a new experience! I put the carseat in its bag with the back pack straps.

Just before boarding, I put on my Tula Carrier and strapped in Baby Bear. Although I was offered help on almost all of my flights, I was able to carry everything by myself. I held the stroller bag with one hand, our back pack/diaper bag with the other, Baby Bear on my front, and the carseat on my back. I wouldn’t want to walk all over the airport like that, but for a short distance, it was fine. As Papa Bear likes to say, having the “right tools for the job” makes anything possible!

We dropped the car seat and stroller bag at the end of the jet way and the rest was a breeze!

On The Plane

I chose to sit towards the back of the plane, but not the very last row (it doesn’t recline!). I’ve tried window seats and I’ve tried aisle seats. They both have their pros and cons. The window offers some great distraction for Baby Bear during boarding. And a little more privacy for nursing. But the aisle seat was great if we needed to get up and move around.  Baby Bear usually gets the most antsy during boarding, so I just tried to stand and rock with him while the rest of the plane  boarded. 

If there are several empty seats on the flight, spread out! Usually people don’t want to sit next to a baby anyway, but just in case, give yourself, and your little one, as much time as possible with some wiggle room.

Take Off

I did my best to nurse Baby Bear as we were taking off to help equalize the pressure in his ears. Sometimes it worked, other times he was too distracted by whatever else was going on! For this flight coming up, I have my box of snacks to help with some distraction. I also tried to book flight times that will work well with naps. Usually my little one is much happier in the morning than the afternoon, so our flight leaves early in the morning.

I am generally not one to encourage screen time, but long distance flying with a little one seems like a reason to break the rules!  I usually try to have a few videos or games that I can pull out for Baby Bear as a last resort for distraction.  I have’t signed up for this yet, but a trial of Amazon FreeTime might be worth a try if you have a flight coming up?

Back on the Ground

Once the flight lands, its the same thing in reverse order! Baby Bear went back into the Tula carrier. I picked up the stroller and car seat bags at the end of the jet way. Carried them up to the gate. Put everything together. And off we went!

It sounds intimidating. Believe me. I was TERR-I-FIED to travel alone with all of that STUFF. But it really wasn’t bad. And you feel kind of empowered after getting through it. There really are a lot of good people in the world who offer to help when they see a single mama with a baby.

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