How To Board A Plane (with a baby)

How to board a plane with a baby… it’s not as easy as you’d think!

After taking dozens and dozens of flights with my son, now 26 months, I learned one thing about airplane travel and it’s this: be prepared.  You have a small space and a wiggly child – preparation is critical.  You don’t want to bring too much, but you definitely don’t want to get caught without these essential plane-boarding tips.

5 Plane Boarding Essentials

In my book Go Baby Go, we talk about preparation and budgeting for travel. In chapter two, you’ll find information on how to pack for your trip to nearly any conceivable destination.

And now, you’ve arrived at the airport.

S#!t just got real.

Imagine…you’re through security now and it’s time to board the plane. What do you need? And why? There are a few absolutely critical bits of information I wish I’d have known before my child’s first several months of flying.

  1.  Always board LAST with a baby.

It’s going to take an act of willpower to keep yourself in place when they’re calling families with children under two, but trust me on this. Your child will get restless the moment you get on the plane. It’s nature. The best thing you can do is to keep him or her tiring out and super-stimulated until you board. What’s more, this allows you to (potentially) take advantage of any of the plane’s empty seats, thereby getting a row to yourself, a bulkhead seat, or even an emergency exit row seat.

  1. Go for the upgrade.

Before long flights, I religiously arrive two to three hours before my flight so that I can make friends with my flight attendants and take advantage of upgrades where possible. I almost never pay for these upgrades. Either I take advantage of empty seats (hopefully in business class), or I use points to upgrade. On certain airlines such as United, vacant Business Class seats are a relatively inexpensive leisure I pay about $90 for. I find it to always be worth it because more leg room means more room for your baby to play and less chance of bumping the passenger next to you. What’s more, the passengers in Business Class are usually parents traveling for work and missing their own children. They’ve been in meetings or training all day or they were up late preparing presentations. They generally love a few hours to chat with you about their families and play with your little one.

  1. Bassinet or Bulkhead Seats

Since my son was 8 weeks old, I never used the bassinet seat flying. I put him to sleep on the breast and he slept there for during most of my short, domestic flights. For long flights, he may sleep a couple hours and then wake up with tons of wiggly, giggly energy.

What I’m saying is this: planes only have a couple bassinet seats, if any at all. If you don’t get it, you will survive! I’ve found that with my child sleeping on my shoulder or in my lap “Indian Style” (how politically incorrect am I for using that term? You get what I’m saying though, right?), I can score a roomy seat in Business Class, sip coffee (or wine!), page through a magazine while taking notes on my phone, and even eat a meal. My natural state, and my son’s, is to be in each other’s arms.  The goal of plane travel with babies is to sleep LONGER.  If he’s in my arms he’ll sleep more soundly and for longer stretches of time than if I had him in a bassinet seat.  The choice is really simple.

On the other hand, if you’re traveling with a child who will stay asleep outside of your arms (lucky you!!) and you want two hands free, many airlines have bassinet seats. If you can get one, wonderful, but you cannot assume.

Hopefully I’ve shown you some great ideas on how to make it a great flight minus that coveted bassinet seat. I should mention, bassinet seats are not good for babies who are wiggly, over 6 to 8 months of age, and who weigh over 22 pounds, but it’s something you may want to consider with infants. (Especially for long flights late at night with a child who will be sleeping for hours.)

If you aren’t going for the bassinet but want to minimize the amount of time your child kicks the person in front of you, go for the bulkhead seats, or the seats at the front of the plane. A bonus is that usually you have enough room at the front to stand and rock your baby without standing in an aisle.

Has your plane run out of bassinets but you’re traveling with a newborn? You can create a basinet style bed for your little one by tying two corners of a blanket to the seat in front of you while tying the other end to your seat. Voila—a baby bed that’s pretty much in your lap!

The downside to bulkhead seats? I’ve found the tray table on airplanes to be enormously entertaining for my little one. You don’t want to allow him or her to slam the tray up and down for hours, because yeah, it’ll cause some problems with your fellow passengers, but around the time my son was 10 months old or so, he found the tray table on the plane to be endlessly amusing. He’d sit on my lap or in the seat next to me and pull it up and down for up to 30 minutes, several times over a period of a few months.

The morale of this story: don’t worry if you don’t get the bulkhead or bassinet seats. You’re a creative parent who will find ways to manage any seat in the plane!

  1. Engage mommas, papas, aunties, and grandparents ASAP.

As you’re boarding the plane, now is the time to smile at everybody and make friends ASAP. As the rest of the passengers’ board, I like to make a little show of playing with my son right near the hallway to the plane. They see a happy, contented, smiling baby and I am able to tug a little at the heartstrings of my fellow passengers and flight attendants. There’s nothing like using a little honey when necessary!

Later on in your flight, you may have people walk past your seat and say, “Well there’s that smiling baby! Now there’s the little flirt! Hey, there’s the baby who waved me on board!” Engaging your fellow passengers breaks the barrier of communication and now everybody will feel comfortable approaching you or talking to you. It’s almost magical and it’s one way I get Free Babysitting Anywhere, which I’ve been teasing you about and you’ll learn more in depth in the fourth chapter. In short, engaging your fellow passengers can reward you with hours of free entertainment for your little one in the future. I’ve been on flights with businessmen who asked to hold my son because they missed their own children and ended up playing with him for three solid hours. Three SOLID hours. It would have cost me $60 to get a babysitter in Aspen to play with my son for that length of time!

On the other hand, there are times you do NOT want to engage your row. If you have a colicky baby yet must travel, be extra considerate and purchase earplugs for your row. They may laugh when you hand them out at the beginning of the flight, but after awhile they’ll be extremely pleased you’ve considered them.

And above all, remember that there really are misopedists out there. These people simply hate children. They snarl and make snide remarks. They don’t like your child and you’re guilty by association. They don’t find children endearing or cute or the representation of all that is good and hopeful in this world. They kinda suck and you’re best to just ignore them. Plus, their negative energy might make your child cranky!

  1. Learn what to check-in versus what to carry to the gate.

Many moms and dads prefer to check their car seat, car seat base, stroller, etc. I am the opposite. Because my son’s father chose the Lamborghini of heavy, bulky, complicated strollers and car seats, I was scared to check any of it. As it turns out, many of my friends have had baby items trashed when it’s checked. Worse yet, is when you learn that the airline lost your car seat and stroller all together! Being without those things is tough, really tough!

I prefer to take everything I can with me to the gate. The attendants who grab your stroller merely carry it a hundred yards away, stow it in the plane’s undercarriage, and then bring it directly to you at the gate upon landing. There is far less chance you’ll have a damaged stroller or car seat… and it’s nearly impossible to lose because it’s not going very far. The added bonus is keeping your stroller in order to schlep things around in at the airport. You’ll love having a coffee cup holder during layovers, trust me on that one!

For more invaluable travel tips with a baby on a plane, check out my book Go Baby Go or download your FREE guide to plane travel with a baby at the link on my homepage here.

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