Monday, September 20, 2010

14 Tips for How to Fly International with Baby

Repeat after me...flying with a baby is not easy... flying with a baby is not easy... flying with a baby is not easy.

See!  The rest was all downhill from there.

Sometimes I think it would be great if I could hear what my son has to say about flying 4,000 miles to go see Granma and Gramps and then flying 4,000 miles to go back home to Egypt.  And not once but twice in one year!

Okay, maybe not.

But alas I can only share with you from MY perspective!

My son is now almost 10 months old and, yes, we have been to the States twice in his short life.  Once when he was 4 months old and once when he was 9 months old.  Each time we stayed about a month, so this means that we returned when he was almost 5 months old the first time and then almost 10 months old the second.

Maybe that will help you keep in mind exactly where I am coming from...

You want to know what I think about taking international flights with my son?  Well all I can say is what worked for us...every baby is different and one baby on a certain day will be different than the same baby on another day.

Doing the research.  I went crazy the first time we went to the States trying to find good information out there on the internet about tips for flying international with a baby.  And it seemed to me that there wasn't a lot of information out there, and that what was out there wasn't very helpful.  Plus it seemed to be duplicated, as in cut and pasted into several websites.  Yeah, not helpful at all.  I looked up "how to survive jet lag with baby" and "best travel toys for baby," along with many other topics.  One site I can definitely recommend with lots of great information is Delicious Baby.  (Don't be fooled by the name that makes it sound like they're serving up baby for dinner.)  I tried to be pretty creative with my information pool, checking out the big sites like What to Expect and Baby Center and then reading up on people's blogs for their personal experiences.

Not trying to rush it.  When they tell you, give yourself plenty of time...give yourself plenty of time.  Especially if you're traveling with baby alone.  My husband was with us one way each time we traveled.  It was great to have the extra hands when he was there and I just tried to make do when he wasn't.  But I did NOT try to do too much in too little time.  Well, maybe just once.  We were running a little late the first time coming back from the States and although we still had enough time to get to the gate, it was very stressful to be so rushed.  I have heard a lot of horror stories about missing a flight or just barely making one because you miscalculated the time it would take you to check-in, get through security (which I'll warn you takes twice as long with baby), and get to your gate.  And that's just on the American side!  You'll still have to go through passport control too once you get to the international terminal.  No one needs that extra stress before you even get on the plane!

Getting a bassinet.  When our son was under 6 months and under the required weight and length requirements, I found that this was the best way to go.  There is no need to get a seat for a baby when he or she is that little, because you have to hold them when you're taking off and landing anyways and they're more likely to sleep more when they're younger (especially during those overnight flights).  Don't make the same mistake we did by waiting to request a bassinet the day before we left.  You'll have to check again at the airport the day before you fly with your airline (do this in person, not over the phone) to make sure they have put you in that seat.  But there is no guarantee that you're the only people requesting a bassinet on that flight (and it's possible that there may not be enough to go around).  We flew one long flight without a bassinet because they didn't have enough and we weren't first in line to get one.

Buying baby a seat.  Once our baby was over the required weight and length requirements for a bassinet, the whole playing field changed.  Although we did not decide to take our car seat with us (you really have to think through the logistics of getting that around the airport terminal) but rather just laid our son out to sleep in the extra seat between us, I can't say how thankful we were that we paid that extra money for it later.  I know, it's WAY expensive to pay that much for a seat...but trust me you will thank yourself later for it.  Besides I found that my 9 (and almost 10) month old was quite content to sit in his seat *buckled* in with the seatbelt playing like he was in a stroller or something.  I am hoping to buy a CARE harness which allows you to kind of mimic the way your child is buckled into a car seat with its unique harness straps that attach directly to the airplane seat (I know my son will soon outgrow the laying down in the seat way of sleeping on a plane).

Buying a bottle of water and a sandwich in the airport.  I know it's expensive.  I know it seems like a waste of money.  But I found that I was less stressed about the idea of getting something to drink and something to eat (for me) on the plane once I knew I had these tucked away in my bag.  Plus you can just get the flight attendant to refill your bottle when you need it.

Apologizing often, thanking profusely.  I really did try to apologize as much as I could.  And I said thank you over and over whenever someone helped me.  I think the people around us were being disturbed by my baby even more than I realized it.  You kind of get in your own world when it's just you and your baby, so the rest of the world (yes, even the nice old man sitting next to you) may not exist to you.  But they are not oblivious to the squeaking of that toy or the pull-pull-pull on the back of the seat in front of you, the numerous times you wake them up to go change baby, and the elaborate measures you have to take to get baby to eat or sleep.  So whether it's that perky flight attendant or the tired passenger beside you, I would say err on the overkill of saying I'm sorry or thank you TOO much (rather than not enough).

Taking a stroller.  I admit it, we tried and failed to use a baby carrier one way rather than taking a stroller.  Maybe if you were used to using a baby carrier instead of a stroller, then perhaps you could go with the baby carrier.  When I came back to Egypt the first time by myself from the States, I had a diaper bag on the stroller and a backpack on my back and we did GREAT!  The only downside was that I had to hand it over at the gate so I was left to haul baby, backpack, and diaper bag for the 5+ minutes it took for me to get down the aisle to my seat.  Not too bad, though, I think.

Opting for the longer layover.   I think that this would really depend on where exactly you're going.  We had to fly from the States to Europe and then on to Egypt, so for us making that long layover in Europe longer (as in, we took the later flight rather than the earlier one) made all the difference.  In case you didn't know, those airport hotels often have rooms for day use at a slightly discounted rate.  So if you have a longer layover, I would definitely try that.  Trust me you will thank yourself later for being able put your baby down for a long nap in a crib and taking a much needed shower and nap yourself after staying awake on that long overnight flight.

Being selfish when scheduling flights.  By selfish, I mean, selfish for me myself (not including baby).  Let me tell you why.  If you're anything like me, I have trouble sleeping on a plane anyways so there was no way I was ever going to sleep on a flight by myself with my baby.  So I just assumed that I wouldn't be able to sleep on the plane and planned accordingly.  All that stuff out there about planning your route according to baby's needs, well they must be talking about domestic flights (in the States) because there's not much of a choice when it comes to international flights.

Thinking about when to change baby's diaper.  Case in point...if baby has wet diaper but not poopy, then wait that extra 45 minutes to change it just before you board the plane.  Change the diaper in time before the plane lands to allow for that extra time needed to get through passport control (there is no guarantee that you'll find a restroom w/a changing table before then).  Watch for those drink carts because once they're down the aisle you might be stuck in your seat (or in the bathroom) for a while.  I often used changing my son as an activity as well because the change of scenery sometimes did the trick when my son started to get a little fussy.

Not pre-boarding every time.  Nobody requires you to get on that plane early.  I did this both ways.  One time my son had just gotten up from a nap so I waited as long as I could before getting on the plane.  The only downside to this was that there was no space in the bin directly above our seats for the carry-ons.  I did consider sending my husband on ahead to board the plane to solve this problem but we ended up both going early anyways.

Not waiting in line.  I must admit that I was shy to step up to the front of the line the first time we went to board the plane with our baby.  So I stood for 20 minutes in line with our son in my arms until I could hardly lift my arms up anymore.  Never again.  Let me give you my advice.  Cut, push, shove, etc...all with a sweet apologetic smile on your face, but the airline guy at the front of the line may not see you so don't wait for him to motion you forward.  It doesn't hurt to ask.  They know you need more time and more help - so don't try to be a hero.  The passenger in the seat beside you will thank you for it later.

Getting the gate check ticket for the stroller immediately.  We were usually way early at our gate (as in before it opened or even before a person was there), but I almost always jumped up the moment I saw someone come to the counter so that they could give me a gate check ticket for the stroller.  I cannot stress how important this is.  If I had waited, I would have been in line with the people flying standby or who hadn't gotten their boarding passes yet...or worse I would have been holding up the entire line of people trying to get on the plane by waiting until boarding time.  Trust me on this, don't wait.

Staying as positive as possible.  Whatever happened I tried to smile through it all.  I was tired, grumpy, sick of having to take care of my son when I needed to take care of myself...this is normal, natural, and just like anyone else who has braved taking their child on an airplane.  But nothing will make your experience with traveling with baby worse than if you get upset or stressed or overreact.  Don't take things personal and just give yourself a chance to breathe.  If you're traveling with another person, let them take your baby for a while to give you a break.  If you're traveling alone, maybe ask a flight attendant if they can hold your baby for a few minutes while you take a breather (or that sweet old lady who keeps smiling at your baby).

Would I do it again?  Definitely.  Always.  No regrets whatsoever.


  1. Thanks for this I will be flying soon to the States from Mauritania. These tips are great.

  2. Well I hope you have a safe trip with your little one. It is an exciting & challenging thing to travel with a baby so just keep your outlook positive and you'll do just fine! =)

  3. Lol at the apologizing profusely..... This is what I usually do the minute I get to my seat, apologizing in advance to everyone on the 2 rows ahead of me AND behind me!

  4. I can't thank you enough for writing this. My husband and I are moving with our 15 month old to Cairo next month. Like you I searched and searched online just to find generic cut and paste "tips" that all seemed great for a 2 hour flight. Not what I needed at all!

    Thank you!

  5. So thrilled to find this website! We will be moving to Egypt within the next few months with 5 year old, 1 year old and expecting another. I've been so nervous about everything and reading your blog has been very helpful!!


Related Posts with Thumbnails