We love to travel and now we have a new addition, Mini-Boss (MB). Having a kid doesn't have to be the end of traveling the world, right? It's just a little more challenging, sometimes flat out exhausting. But what else would we do with all these miles?
The following are tips from booking your award tickets to managing stink-eye. The two most important things are planning and timing. So, no more running to the airport last minute and running to the gate praying (while hyperventilating) they haven't closed the doors yet! After taking MB on our first transcontinental trip to California and first international flight to Europe, here are my tips to help keep you sane when you are ready for your first. MB was 5 and 7 months old on these trips.
1. Book Round Trip Miles Award Itineraries
This was a rude awakening for us. We were used to mixing and matching one ways from different airlines and city combinations to put together a trip using miles. Domestic USA flights are free for a lap baby until the age of 2. International flights generally charge 10% of the cash or miles ticket price on international flights for a lap baby.
Doesn't sound terrible, right? Not so fast. We booked a one way business class award flight on AA to Croatia for 57.5k miles one way. Fantastic so far. When I called to add the lap child, I found out the cash cost of the ticket was $6k so the lap child fee was $600. Ouch. Meanwhile, a round trip ticket was $3k and the fee would be $300 in that case. By the time I add on a one way return flight (which wasn't available at the time) it could be another $600. I canceled the ticket with 24 hours for free. That 10% fee in this case could be $1200 for two one-way flights vs $300 for a round trip flight.
One-way award tickets may cost you 4x more than round-trip tickets.
Award flights may not seem like a bargain anymore. Goodbye flexibility – welcome to the reality of flying with babies! (Hmm when will he start earning his own credit card bonuses?). If you are instead booking cash flights, this pricing difference will be painfully obvious when you search flights.
2. Choosing Your Flight Time – Book the Red Eye
Flights to Europe from the east coast are usually in the late afternoon/evening and I would strongly suggest to book these. By the time you serve your little one an early dinner at home and maybe give a quick bath, it will time to get to the airport and set the stage for both of you to (hopefully) get some sleep. I'm used to taking a cat nap whenever possible but our routine has been for dinner then bath then bed. Keeping your usual routine should help everyone get a little bit sleep. This worked well on our flight to Europe…mostly.
3. Register Your Lap Baby and Request a Bassinet
Once you have your flight booked, call ahead and let them know you are traveling with a lap child. Beware: some airlines may charge a fee for the lap baby so definitely check with the airline first. Many low cost airlines in Europe charge for each and every little thing and the charges add up quickly (seat selection, baggage fees, etc). Easyjet charges £20 for a lap child. Ryanair has an infant fee of €25 / £25 plus €15 / £15 for infant/child equipment like car seats etc. After a canceled flight by Easyjet left us stranded in Poland, I'd be reluctant to fly with low cost airline like Easyjet again, especially with a baby!
Request a Bassinet
If you think your baby can benefit from sleeping in the bassinet – request that too! Some airlines charge and first come first serve so ask to avoid surprises. LOT Airline didn't charge a fee. On our transcontinental flight to California we didn’t ask for a bassinet but our coach seats didn't have a place for one. On our baby's first international trip to Europe, we booked business class award tickets and requested the bassinet.
Our 7 month old is almost too big for a bassinet but we requested it anyway. We used it for 4 hours… yep MB doesn’t really want to stay suspended on the wall in the pretty shallow bassinet where he can't move much. He can also easily climb out so he has to be monitored 100% of the time. The boy eventually took over my lie flat seat and he had an awesome sleep there. Unfortunately only he got excellent sleep. I ended up lying on my side until I couldn’t feel my arm. It's hard to sleep when I know I might need to catch him the moment he starts moving/sitting/standing/climbing. When we weren't using the bassinet for sleeping, it was useful for storage.
4. Print Your Boarding Passes and Email Confirms!
You have your flight booked and you confirmed your little one is registered too. They said so on the phone that it's done right? Maybe not. Have the print out of the email/boarding pass with your baby's name on it! Security will not allow you through if your baby doesn't have a boarding pass. This happened to me – they printed the boarding passes for me and surprise surprise baby's name was missing despite being confirmed by phone and email. Once I whipped out the printed confirmation showing the confirmed lap child, the gate agent fixed it – potential disaster averted!
5. Packing Tips Part 1: What do I do with the stroller and baby seat?
Traveling with a baby means strollers, car seats, and more fun baby paraphernalia. It takes some getting used to… and I prefer to pack light.
Attempt #1 (FAIL): On our first trip with the baby we used the Gate Check Pro XL stroller bag. We stuffed the car seat on top of the stroller. Mistake. The handle ripped the first time I tried to pick it up the massive bag although I did probably stuff too much in there. It's no different than your typical thin nylon laundry bag.
Checking the stroller and car seat did make it easier to move around the airport avoiding slow elevators. It is helpful to bring a baby carrier. We like our Ergobaby 360 and a lot of people seem to like the Boba wrap.
Attempt #2 (SUCCESS): For the first international trip, we bought the Zozho stroller bag which is much sturdier and better quality, and it actually survived the trip. It only fits the stroller OR the car seat, not both. The plan: gate check the stroller and car seat which is free at many airlines. What happened: the flight was full they asked us to check the car seat with the luggage (for free). The car seat went in a plastic bag separately and was checked during check-in. It survived just fine. I was nervous the full size stroller might get dinged up but the bag kept it safe (maybe the baggage handlers didn't play ‘toss the bag' that day).
The stroller stayed with us since which meant we didn't have to carry baby the entire time and we had a scheduled 2.5 hours layover which turned into a 7 layover after we missed our connecting flight. I was happy I kept the stroller with me this time. The diaper bag was attached to the stroller and that made it all easier. Also MB has double in weight since our first trip, sooo. The stroller was a lifesaver. Our flight was delayed one hour and luckily the kid slept in it before the flight and overall enjoyed people watching from his seat.
Security check hassle
The only downside of having a stroller is the security check. We had to fold it entirely which is hard to do with one hand holding a baby and the TSA employees are not super helpful. Be sure your SO helps you manage this before going through security. The same scenario in Europe where we connected but somehow they let us just stroll via the security without that folding hassle stateside.
We declared our stroller right before the gate and I prayed for it not to be lost or heavily scratched. I also unpacked every small item I had left in the stroller compartment (blanket, extra paci) and detached the holding bar (ours is easy to attach and it was sticking out – looking like a potential damage was unavoidable).
6. Packing Tips Part 2: The rest
First, check out my post on smart packing tips which is with adult travel in mind. Now, with the baby:
- Checked bag: I put majority of my and the baby clothes and any items I needed in the bag to check in.
- Diaper bag (my carry): My diaper bag was my carry on as I didn't want to worry about another bag in addition to the other stuff. The essentials were packed and clearly marked in my diaper bag (Yep a dose of OCD here, you should see what's labeled with a label maker at home). I knew I won’t have time to read or work so I didn’t pack my notebook, books or anything that I usually have on me while flying solo. I had our documents, wallet, good pair of noise cancelling headphones (you know… for those movies I won't be watching, but just in case I get a bit of something other than Dora the explorer).
- BRING DIAPERS. Obviously. But bring enough for 2-3x the flight time. Only you know how often the kid needs to get changed. Do you want to be that mom begging for ANY diapers during the flight? We missed our connecting flight which added another 6 hours at the airport. Diapers might not be easy to buy so be ready!
- Baby food & sippy cup: I brought a sippy cup since you can freely bring water and baby food through security without tossing any of it. Don't forget: a few baby food pouches, pacifier wipes (that we used to clean the seats in case baby explorer wants to touch/lick anything…everything), a few plastic bags for waste, burping clothes for any spills, butt paste and butt wipes, and 3 extra outfits (pajamas since this was a red eye). All separated in zip locks clearly marked, hydrating cream for the dry baby cheeks, 3 pacis (too many? How many does your baby throw on the ground?), and a changing pad to place on top of the dirty changing station. I needed to bring a bib – one to eat and one for saliva. We don't go far without our frida booger sucker and travel size little remedies saline spray in case we need to pull out some boogers. Last, but not least, a few toys that hopefully could entertain this rascal for some time since the international flight isn’t exciting already.
7. Plan to leave for the airport even earlier!
I cannot stress this enough – come early! We are used to trying to arrive 2 hours before international flights. We never miss flights but who are we kidding… too often we are running to the gate which always happens to be the very farthest gate possible. There is always something causing a delay (oh the precheck symbol is not on your boarding pass great, so lets get on the long security line!)
For an international flight plan on arriving at least 3.5 hours before departure. I know it's super early but you can do it calmly, find something disgusting to eat, and relax. On a recent trip our bag was stopped due to an ice pack (needed for breast milk) and some other unknown reasons. That caused maybe a 45 minute delay. We came early enough to deal with this delay and we were not traveling with the baby. Unfortunately for the mother behind us, her bag was stopped too and she started crying because she might miss her flight. The husband went to the gate with the kid while she was in line panicking and begging the agent to speed it up. Come early… you've got a kid now.
8. Get Global Entry or at least TSA precheck for everyone.
It doesn't work all the time but TSA precheck might get you through security faster. We got Global Entry for our baby right after he got his passport at the age of ~2 months old. Why wait?
9. Lounges and Food
Expect no or bad food and you won't be disappointed. Except for the American Express lounge, not many lounges have anything good even some first class lounges. On our way to Europe, the SAS lounge had limited food choices for adults but it had a baby high chair which made the entire feeding situation easier. We packed a few baby food pouches which worked out well (we left the glass jars at home). We also like the pouches from Sprouts , Peter Rabbit, and Ellas.
10. Boarding: Board LAST with the baby
Phew, all that even before boarding the flight. Who thinks it's not worth traveling as much bc of this hassle raise your hand? Phhht. We’re not stopping anytime soon – where to next? The kid needs to get used to traveling asap.
Let your traveling partner board first while you hang back with the baby at the gate. During this time, a makeshift home will be prepped for the next few hours. Your SO's to do list a) put the bags away 2) pull out personal items like toys, lovey, burping cloth, paci, reading materials, computer etc (as if you'll have time for the fun stuff) 3) wipe down the seating area since baby may touch and try to eat everything. The plane is always cleaned thoroughly after every flight right? You and baby won’t get cabin fever inside while waiting for everyone to board and you won’t get upset while everyone is soooo slow either.
Now you're free to stroll around the gate, feed baby, etc all in the comfort of the gate seating area.
11. Take off and landing – nursing or bottle feeding helps!
Feeding your baby (nursing or bottle) during take helps his little ears equalize. Same goes for when descending towards the end of the flight. Sometimes it’s just comfort nursing but whatever works. Everyone will be happier.
Massive broken diaper…
But… That worked out well for us, except we made one mistake: We did not change him right after he was done eating before he fell asleep. And he slept longer than usual – 4 hours in the bassinet then 3 more hours on my lay-flat seat while I just sat at the end of it. I didn’t have a heart to wake him up and change even in between changing the sleeping arrangement. He was quite out of it and the thought of bringing him to the bathroom and starting the whole process was so unappealing at that time that I let him sleep. That bit me in the butt after 6am came and his diaper was over soaked and literally broke in the front. I have never seen something like that – it was, well, gross and scary.
These aren’t typical pampers, so they get full fairly quick and aren’t meant for an all nighter. Normally, we change him often but he’s usually not sleeping for such long stretched uninterrupted. This was a first! I just felt bad waking him up from his deep slumber and didn’t realize the diaper was filling up so much. If only there was a way to change a diaper mid-sleep. Anyhow, after that diaper accident I changed him everywhere now even while sitting and on my lap. Lesson learned.
12. Entertainment during the flight – bring some distractions
Maybe we didn't need to bring toys… our kid really enjoyed the inflight entertainment: the tray table and reading lamp. When we ate, he ate too, though that can be hard to juggle. Be sure to bring a good supply of wipes, towels, some fabric, extra sleeve… anything that can absorb liquid. Luckily, he got tired right after and zonked out.
We were lucky enough to find business class award tickets with more room our boy to move around. Sure he’d love to crawl but no way on that gross floor. He hung out on the chair with me. We tried watching some TV but he wasn’t interested for more than a few minutes. He did enjoy interacting with the flight attendant and of course the backup plan is to whip out the iPhone. Any distraction was a good distraction at that point.
13. Managing Stink-eye
Tell me you don't do it. At the end of the flight we got thanks from other passengers who clearly were expecting some huge meltdowns the minute they saw the baby nearby. The crew complimented our son as well for his good (aka quiet) act. We hope that continues. While I understand that you can’t always stop your kid from crying, but it’s parent’s responsibility to try. And keep trying. Then try more until it works. If you've prepared, just use the things you packed to keep your kid occupied and more things to sooth when they are upset or not feeling well.
We definitely felt the stink-eye from fellow business class passengers. I don’t blame them, I do it too because I’ve been on too many flights near screaming babies or children kicking the seat from behind. I learned my lesson and now don't travel without my noise canceling headphones. Even those screams are no match for my Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones. You can get something similar from Upside for free just by booking travel. I’m looking forward to the possibility of SNOO robotic bassinets being provided at hotels and maybe airlines one day!
How did your first travels go? Did I miss anything?