The first time I flew alone with Baby Flyer I was nervous. It was a whole new ball game, and having just started flying as a family, I honestly wasn’t sure how it would go. I had plenty of unaswered questions- how would boarding work? Putting my things up? And last but definitely not least- how does one use the airplane restroom when flying alone with a 5 month old?!?
The task seemed overwhelming. It was her third trip, the second time flying from coast to coast. It feels like a long day of flying without a baby, so I imagined it would feel even longer with a baby in tow.
I got slightly misty as I said goodbye to CT and boarded the plane, but I reminded myself that I could do this. I had the same tools as I have on the ground to sooth, comfort, and entertain her. This continues to be my mantra before every flight. Luckily, CT had managed to accompany us to the gate for our first flight alone, so I had help through the airport.
We’ve since flown numerous times just the two of us and we’ve been just fine. It can be a decent amount of work, but I may even venture to say it’s been enjoyable. The key I’ve found is to stay relaxed and be organized.
First Things First: Boarding and getting settled in.
A few first tips- I like to change her diaper prior to boarding where I have more space. I either stop by an airport lounge, if there’s one we have access to, or look for a family bathroom in the terminal. It’s nice to start the flight with a clean diaper since you never know if it will be a bumpy take off, and how long you’ll have to stay in your seat.
I always wear Baby Flyer when boarding, and I keep her in the Ergo 360 while I get organized at my seat. I start by wiping my seat, seat belt buckle, and tray with a Dr. Brown’s Pacifier and Bottle wipe then I take out whatever I think I will need for the beginning part of the flight. This typically includes: Aden and Anais swaddle blanket (multipurpose- blanket, nursing cover, and prop for my arm if she falls asleep), headphones if my seat has a personal television, gum, a baby toy, a book or magazine, my cell phone (I use it to check the time) and her American Airlines ‘Junior Aviator Logbook.’
Once we are settled, Baby Flyer typically wants to watch boarding. She loves attention and people. She stares as people walk by, just waiting for someone to notice her. This is one thing that hasn’t changed from her early flights. She’s always been fascinated by being on a plane. When boarding is almost over, I take Baby Flyer out of the Ergo and put it in the overhead bin.
We’ll do a separate diaper bag post, but I always bring two bags. My regular diaper bag with all the necessities, and an additional small bag with the swaddle blanket and her toys. I find keeping her toys separate makes my diaper bag stay more organized.
Onwards and Upwards: Ready for Takeoff.
My goal is to feed Baby Flyer during take off and landing to help keep her calm and adjust the pressure in her ears. Sometimes she will be fussy, hungry, or tired and I’ll have to feed her prior to take off, but I try to hold her off for as long as possible. I get organized when we push back, so I’m set once the plane starts to roll down the runway.
I nurse her as much as she wants throughout the flight. Very rarely will she nurse for the whole take off or landing, sometimes she will want her pacifier instead and other times she won’t want anything. The first few times this happened, I worried about her ears. I thought since she wasn’t sucking on anything she was going to get fussy, but I have since learned she will suck when she needs to, and so I stay attentive and trust her natural instinct.
Up in the Air: Passing the Time In Flight
Baby Flyer only slept for the majority of the flight on her first few trips. That’s the beauty of flying with very young babies. At 6-7 months, she typically dozes off and on throughout the flight, so I like to be prepared with a toy or two for when she wakes up. When she does fall asleep on me I make sure my swaddle blanket is nearby to prop up my arm, and try to have something accessible that I can read or do with one hand.
Sometimes her toy is of no interest and she prefers the plastic beverage cup, the emergency landing pamphlet, the seatbelt buckle, I could go on. If I’m feeling like I’ve run out of options and the fasten seat belt light is off, I let her sit in my seat and play, and I squat in front of her. This will usually keep her entertained for a while. Creativity and patience is key.
If you’re in first class, eating during the meal service while holding a baby is tricky, but possible. Usually I’ll ask to time my meal service for when Baby Flyer is sleeping, and I’ll eat what I can with one hand. It’s hit or miss if it’s my dominant hand that’s free.
When it’s time to change her diaper mid-flight, I take only what’s necessary with me. Airplane bathrooms tend to be small. I take our changing pad that came with our Skip Hop diaper bag, and a changing pad liner, wipes, and a clean diaper. As an FYI, at least one bathroom on each plane has a changing table, that typically folds down from the wall. After I change her diaper, I’ll go to the bathroom myself while holding her (yes, this is how one does this when flying alone.) It’s a bit awkward and rushed but is certainly doable, especially if you really need to go. If you really luck out, I’ve had a flight attendant on occasion be smitten enough with Baby Flyer to offer to hold her while I eat or use the restroom, but they can be busy and you can’t count on this.
On Approach: Happy Landings
I try to nurse her again for landing, and have a pacifier ready in case she’s not in the mood. When I first started flying, I wore a nursing wrap scarf for privacy, but now that Baby Flyer is older, she spends half of the time playing with any nursing cover, and pushing it away, so I’ve stopped trying to use one. Instead I wear clothes that I’m able to comfortably and discretely nurse her in. Typically it’s a long sleeve shirt or a t-shirt with a tank top underneath. So when I’m nursing her I can pull my shirt up and tank top down. Sitting by the window I feel like I have more privacy, but being on the aisle makes getting up and down easier. There’s benefits with each. If you’re in first class, the window seats are easier to get up and down from without disturbing the person next to you, since there is more space between rows.
I will admit that after a predawn wake up, followed by a solo cross country flight, I looked and felt a bit tired, but that’s about par for the course with any flight like this, baby or no baby.
As we recently shared with a friend who was about to embark on her first flight with her new baby, my main takeaways are to arrive at the airport early so you’re not rushed, change their diaper before boarding, go one step at a time, and relax. You’ve got this, and in any case it’s just a couple hours.
~CR & Baby Flyer