Achievement Unlocked: Airplane travel alone with a baby
Miah is just about 13 months now and we recently came back from our very first traveling adventure requiring transportation by plane.
A dear friend of mine flew us out to visit her in Seattle and I was obviously thrilled. Not only to hug her neck after all these years and finally meet her amazing daughter, but also because I’ve never been to Washington — as much as I’ve always wanted to see it. However I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t a little bit terrified.
You all know our Miah but if you don’t I will tell you she is a wonderfully curious, preciously precocious force of nature who never, ever stops moving. I wasn’t sure what a four-hour plane ride was going to be like but I prepared for the worst. That’s only partially true — I prepared for the worst but hoped for the best by asking lots and lots and lots of people what to possibly expect and posted on my social platforms reaching out for suggestions for what things I may have needed to make the trip as incident-free as possible. I received some great advice — some of which I remarkably didn’t even have to use.
And you know what? We found the best rhythm we could and it actually went supremely more smooth than I originally pictured. So as a novice at this, I thought it would be fun to post a list of what worked for us from a perspective of a not-so-well-traveled momma while also giving you a few extra Easter eggs about preparing for stuff once you’ve landed as far as sight-seeing or visiting local attractions. I learned that there were many things I DIDN’T EVEN THINK ABOUT!
Be picky about the airline and the airport
If there is one thing I don’t enjoy more than Dallas traffic it’s DFW airport. Navigating that madhouse with a child sounded daunting as hell! I was very lucky that my friend let me choose where I was flying out of and Dallas Love Field happens to be a smaller airport. Also it’s super friendly and usually pretty low/no fuss (knocks wood).
Also my friend usually flies Alaska Airlines which, as she mentioned to me prior, was a really baby-friendly airline. This was so true for us, especially on the flight home. Tracey, one of the flight attendants, was helpful, attentive, and saw when I was a little stressed with things like trying to change the baby (more about that later) in less-than-ideal circumstances. She eased my worries and always checked on me.
So the takeaway is when at all possible, look for the best fit for you when it comes to your flight because temporary convenience seems less so if you’ve sacrificed actual comfort. For example, the plane we were on sat two to a row which means it was just us instead of having a third seat next to us.
Consider a seat over lap
Depending on your kiddo, this is such an easier flight option. You are allowed to keep your child on your lap if they are two years old or under. With Miah being 13 months, I opted for a seat. I figure she’d enjoy the independence of that more than sitting on my lap the whole time and BOY am I glad we got her that seat.
She got to look out the window and said, "Mountains” over and over when I pointed them out to her. She got to see the magic of being in the sky. But yes, she also stood up a lot during the seatbelt sign being off and I spent a deluge of time guarding her with my arm. Still a much better option than a constant wiggle worm on my lap. Plus, when she did want to be on my lap or ready to sleep, we had room to spread out.
Choose flights that work with nap/fussy times
If you have a spirited child, it can be hard to really predict everything like when her nap will be from day to day. With Miah, the only fairly certain time is 10 a.m. for her first, if not only, nap. I picked our departure time from Dallas around 8 a.m. so I knew that at least around half way to Seattle she was going to nap, which she did. Time change didn’t matter.
As for the flight back, I definitely didn’t want to not rush the morning. I felt that would have been stressful on her and me. Instead picking a later afternoon flight meant more time with my friend and Miah had a little time to burn off energy at the airport once we got there. This also meant that we were able to squeeze in a little bit of sight-seeing such as the Jimi Hendrix Memorial — something I didn’t even know I would get to do and I will never forget. This all made for a more relaxed energy our flight.
Ok this is obvious but I really felt like I did pack light. But I added an extra carry-on that turned out to really not be needed. In fact, because the plane was full, they asked for volunteers to check bags. I looked through mine and saw that I didn’t need most of what was in there or the items could have been packed in my checked suitcase.
You are going to feel like packing your whole life with your baby but remember that adding more work to yourself with a child just adds more stress to the trip. And by the way, if you have a little one under two years old, you are also going to need to deal with a carseat and stroller. Luckily those can be checked for free. Here’s how I rolled.
Don’t get hung up on clothes
Miah had her own person bag (filled with some towels, a receiving blanket, an outfit, toys and snacks) and I had my diaper bag with the other crucial stuff. Although I think I packed a little bit more than I should have (not just the carry-on but a few too many extra outfits in my suitcase) I think I may have not packed enough toys. Everyone suggested that I go on the plane with a toy she hadn’t seen before, bring a tablet, and don’t forget her favorite snacks. Being that the iPad mini I set up for her was new to HER, I killed two birds with one stone but I don’t think I packed enough entertainment for the actual visit. Even though I had the essentials, I thought of at least five other things that were small enough to not make a huge difference to my suitcase had I packed less outfits for us both — that’s what washing machines are for!
Take unmixed formula or milk
If you aren’t breastfeeding make sure you take some form of milk that can be mixed later. You can always get a bottle of water after clearing security. That said, you can also have an already mixed bottle ready. You’ll need to declare at checkpoint that you have formula (I did this with milk also) and they will inspect it to make sure it’s safe to take on board. However it is safer to just go ahead and pack a non-liquid form.
Popping baby’s ears
One thing I was told over and over by sage travelers is that Miah will need to drink or suck something to get her ears to pop. Babies aren’t yet capable of knowing how to do that without the assistance. An old school friend of mine works for an airline and told me it’s actually the swallowing that helps at take-off so I made sure Miah had a full bottle each time. Although she was a tad fussy, I just kept encouraging her to drink and she was fine. Most-likely it was the actual take off that made her a little uneasy. By the time she was on the plane ride home, she was a pro.
People are mostly nice
Whether it was this sweet lady who was charmed by Miah and interacted with her most of the flight, the gentleman who smiled endearingly at us when Miah flashed her crooked squishy-nosed grin/giggle at him while he tried to read a book, or the guy who gave me an empty cup to dump out old milk when I asked for one, everybody on my flight was helpful or kind.
You see the horror stories of impatient people on flights with crying/fussy/vocal/etc. babies but there really are some understanding folks out there too. And nope, I didn’t bring snacks for everyone. That’s completely at your own discretion but ain’t nobody got time for that! I realized quickly more likely than not they are parents themselves or have traveled enough to get over fussy babies on planes.
Also? DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP AND ACCEPT WHEN IT’S OFFERED. Sure you have to be cautious and go with your gut, too. But usually someone actually wants to help because they’ve been there. Folks told me that ahead of time but I fortunately experienced it in real time. Bless the store clerk at Love Field who said she always likes to help mommas out. She let me pick a drink for myself and a banana for Miah when I was checking out.
Diaper changes will be hard
Yea, a small changing table in a tiny airplane bathroom with my backside and diaper bag also needing to fit was NOT HAPPENING. Plus Miah was very miffed when we tried and she pretty much screamed bloody murder. This was the worst part of our flight. I opted for changing her in her seat next to me. This is another good reason to get a seat if you can. Just make sure you have those little baggies with you for the trash and put something down on the seat to protect your baby and the surface.
Consider baby wearing
Ok, ok. I admit to chickening out on the baby wearing for this trip. Miah is so active and a stroller means less back pain. That said, if you wear your baby well, do it. The Marvel exhibit at the Museum of Pop Culture didn’t allow strollers. Neither does the Space Needle. In both instances, I admit, I should have done my homework but hey, I was flying by the seat of my pants!
And I tell you it may have been cold outside, but it was super hot to me inside with my layers and running after Miah who repeatedly wanted to do her own thing. This reminds me again about the helpful people thing I mentioned prior. A maintenance worker named Misty offered to hold Miah as we navigated our way to the lower level of the Space Needle. She saw I was getting a little worn out and frustrated because Miah couldn’t make up her mind about being held, being led to walk or walking completely independently. It took a load off and I got the breather I needed. Forgive the absolutely horrible photo but…reasons!
If you Uber or Lyft, visit places that have coat check available
My friend had some things to get done and I didn’t want to bug her with driving us around — plus I wanted to see if we could do this alone! By the way, there is nothing like that slow realization while riding merrily along in your Uber that you now have a carseat to contend with once you reach your destination. Just like at the airport, I knew I could hook the carseat handle onto one of the handles of my stroller but that wasn't ideal.
I suggest that if you can, use one of those strollers that allows the carseat to lock into it. Problem somewhat solved. However if you have a little mover and squirmer like Miah, you know as well as I do that won’t work long. Luckily places that don’t allow things like strollers are usually places that have a coat check. Talk about relief! Well, for a moment anyway because…now you are carrying your baby!
Do what makes baby happy
We have been trying to transition Miah to using cups more often than bottles. But I tell you traveling isn’t the time to keep enforcing something like that. If it soothes her, it will soothe you. This is about survival. Some convictions may have to slide for a few days for the sake of sanity for all.
Forgive yourself if you can’t do it all
I’m a photographer who didn’t take her camera to anything. I didn’t want to struggle/keep up with it while keeping up with Miah. Not this time. So I opted for my cell phone as we all often do. But this meant bad lighting in some instances, blurry photos because I was trying to chase Miah AND get Miah in the pic or because someone else took the pic, and missed moments. I have forgiven myself, moved on and have the crappy photos to show for it!
Remember, the experience is the most important thing. I marked off a few bucket list items with my one and only miracle baby girl. There’s really something quite charming about that.