Posted by: birdsandsquirrels | June 11, 2010

traveling on a plane with a 5 month old

The trip went far better than I expected, but I also made sure to be super prepared. I had help traveling one way, but then flew back alone with the baby. Here are some of my tips:

1. Buy your baby a seat on the plane.

I bought a seat for Birdie for several reasons. I wanted her to be safe in the event of turbulence or a rough landing. I wanted her to have a familiar, comfortable place to fall asleep. I also wanted to not have to hold her for 14 straight hours since I was traveling back by myself. If you can at all afford it, I recommend purchasing a seat for your baby so you can use their car seat. I know it is a chunk of money, but it was very worth it. While researching ahead of time, I came across the story of United Airlines Flight 232 that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa in 1989. 111 of 285 passengers died. According to Wikipedia:

Jan Brown Lohr – United 232’s Senior Flight Attendant. She was forced by regulation to ask parents with “lap babies” (children without seats) aboard flight 232 to place their children on the cabin floor during the flight’s final moments before impact. One of four children died from smoke inhalation. The deceased child’s mother came to her at the crash site and stated “You told me to put my baby on the floor and now he’s gone.” Since then, Lohr has tirelessly lobbied in Washington D.C. to promote the safety of children on all civilian aircraft and airlines, asking that federal regulations require all children to have a seatbelt on every flight.

I know that airplane crashes are so very rare, but the idea of having to put my baby on the floor in the event of a crash landing is just sickening. Also, we had some strong turbulence on several of the flights. I don’t think I would have had trouble hanging onto Birdie, but the idea of her becoming a projectile is also sickening. You just never know.

I was so worried about the car seat thing. Would it fit? Would the person in front of us be pissed that they couldn’t recline their seat? Would she stay in it? It ended up being fine. I installed it rear facing for all flights. It helped to recline the seat a bit, then buckle it in, push hard to secure it, then put the seat back up. That made it very secure. The first lady who sat in front of us tried to recline her seat a few times and it only would go back a few inches, but she never turned around or said anything. I figured that I could always turn it front facing after takeoff and then reinstall it rear facing for landing (safer).

Birdie's car seat buckled into the plane seat

Having the car seat was great. All 4 of our flights were completely full so we would have been unable to use the car seat if we had not purchased the seat. In years past when airlines ran more empty flights, it was probably a good gamble to not buy a seat and just hope there would be an empty one near you, but you really can’t do that these days. She slept in her car seat for 2 hours on the long 3.5 hour flight home, when I was by myself. That right there was worth a lot of money!

2. Bring enough diaper supplies! I brought 18 diapers.  I used 8. Am I glad that I brought 18? Yes. You NEVER know what kinds of poo mishaps you might have. I had read that altitude for some reason makes babies poo. Sure enough, Birdie (who is now a once a day gal) pooed on EVERY flight. You might go through 3 diapers at one change, if they aren’t done pooping yet. You will want to change them before getting on each plane so that they are the freshest possible. You may miss your connection or hit bad weather and get delayed or stuck overnight. Airports are no place to have to buy diapers. In Minneapolis, out of curiosity, I checked out the diapers they had to sell. Two size 3 diapers and a few wipes were $5. Size 3’s wouldn’t even stay on Birdie at this point.

I also brought plenty of wipes, and I bought disposable changing pads at Babies R Us. Those came in really handy. I recommend the Especially for Baby brand since they seem to be the largest at 13″ x 18″.

Speaking of diaper changes, be prepared to change baby anywhere. When you board the plane, ask the flight attendant which of the lavatories have changing tables, since not all of them do. Both of the planes we took on the way out did NOT have changing tables in any of the lavatories! Seriously?! I asked a flight attendent, “well, where do YOU suggest I change my baby’s poopy diaper?” Her bitchy answer was  “In your lap, or in the open floor space by the boarding door.” Wow, Delta, how cheap are you such that you can’t afford a freaking fold down board in your lavatories? We ended up changing Birdie on my aunt’s lap. Disgusting and unsanitary. On my long flight back, our plane did have them, and I was thankful.

3. Bring changes of clothes for baby AND you.

I brought 3 spare changes of clothes for her. We used 2 of them. One some poo leaked on. One had some pee leakage. Baby clothes are small enough. I would bring 4 next time. I brought one complete change of clothes for me, the smallest packing, thinnest clothes I had. I did not end up using them, but I had it in case of major spit up or poo emergencies.

4. Equipment.

I ended up buying the Maclaren Easy Traveller stroller base. It is awesome. It was definitely worth the money. I bought it at for $80 with free 2 day shipping. It folds up very easily and much smaller than a snap n go or travel system stroller. It is lightweight, has a HUGE storage basket, and is easy to push one handed. Our Chicco keyfit 30 infant seat is not listed as compatible, but it works just fine as long as you use the safety strap. It was also great to have during the rest of the trip. I know we won’t be able to use it forever, but for now, it is quite useful. I was able to put my quite large backpack in the storage basket and just carry the diaper bag on my shoulder.

Carry ons. I used a backpack for random stuff and brought her diaper bag. If you are traveling alone, make sure you can handle the baby, the car seat, and whatever you are carrying by yourself. Once you check your stroller at the gate, you have to get all your stuff down those narrow aisles. My backpack was pretty heavy. The diaper bag was our regular skip hop diaper bag. I also brought an empty tote bag to throw in random crap, like the bottle of water I bought and my fleece.

I did not bring a sling or baby bjorn. I would have if Birdie would tolerate either of them. I’m so bummed that she doesn’t like being worn.

In the diaper bag, I had only the stuff I thought I would need on that flight. I had two changes of clothes for her, 4 diapers, wipes, diaper cream, plastic bags, some formula (just in case), a receiving blanket, pacifiers, a few teething toys including her favorite Sophie the giraffe, a few small toys on links, 2 bibs (she’s drooling like crazy), a burp cloth, my nursing cover (Bebe Au Lait) and extra nursing pads. In the backpack, I had my change of clothes, my deflated travel My Brest Friend nursing pillow (also worth every penny!), extra diapers, extra formula, extra changes of clothes for her, granola bars for me, a magazine for me (which I did not read), my purse (a very small one), extra burp cloths, medicine for her and me.

5. Nursing – went far better than I expected. Up until then, I had never nursed in public. In the doctor’s office yes, in the car once, but never IN FRONT OF SO MANY PEOPLE! I nursed her on the plane after boarding and getting settled. I put her in her car seat for take off and then tried to nurse her during the beginning of descent (about 30 min before landing). She did not seem to have any problem with her ears, though I did make sure she was sucking on her pacifier for both take off and landing. I nursed her in a busy gate in Minneapolis to calm her down.

One great resource in the Minneapolis airport is their nursing mother’s room. It is like this secret hidden thing that you have to ask about. From what I can tell, there is only one room, and it is located in the C terminal. You have to go up to the traveler’s help desk and ask them for access. They walk you up to the locked room and let you in. It is tiny (probably 5′ x 12′) but has a comfy recliner, a table with a soft lamp, and a fan. It is nice and quiet and was such a great private place to nurse her during our long 3 and 4 hour layovers. It would be nice if they had more than one room like that, and if they advertised it more and made it easier to access.

6. Formula – I brought plenty of premixed ready to use formula. I ended up using one 2 oz bottle on the second flight when Birdie was crying hysterically because of the loud pilot announcements. I brought way more than I needed, but I’m glad I had it in case we got delayed or if my supply dropped even more. I decided to bring ready to use because I figured if I needed to use it, I was already desperate, and didn’t want to have to fuss with mixing powder and stuff. Because we had “unopenable” liquids, we were subjected to ridiculous extra screening at our small airport on the way out. The TSA lady was clearly pleased to get to swab every damn square inch of everything in our bags. It must have been the highlight of her day. They patted me down, and they patted the baby down. Seriously. I know they are doing their job and I understand the need for security, but really, it was ridiculous. They detained us for 30 minutes. She suggested that we let her open the formula, and I was like um, no, then it will go bad within an hour and we have a 16 hour travel day in front of us. That is not an option. It would have been better if we brought powdered formula, but again, I reasoned that it was better to have a planned wait than to have to fumble around with mixing a bottle with a screaming baby.

On the way home, security at SFO didn’t give a rat’s ass about our formula. No extra screening whatsoever. Small airports suck.

7. Bring stuff to amuse baby. I brought as many new to her, quiet, small toys as I could. Her favorite thing was an empty wrapper that held an oatmeal breakfast cookie. I’m glad I brought stuff though and could pull out something new every few hours.

I brought plenty of pacifiers and kept them organized in ziploc bags – one for clean and one for dirty. You don’t want your baby using a pacifier that has landed on the floor of a nasty plane. We also had a pacifier clip, and that was very helpful.

I used my Bebe Au Lait nursing cover to cover up her car seat and block the light while she was resting and napping. I did not realize that the pattern of the fabric was sort of mesmerizing in the way that light came through it. It was a good unintentional baby amusement.

My teething bling necklace has been a big hit with Birdie. She touches the string and the pendant while nursing instead of flailing around and scratching me. It was very worth the $16 I paid for it.

8. Be fully prepared for tired, overstimulated baby. Birdie did wonderfully, but it was still challenging. She was so tired, so overstimulated from all the excitement and people to flirt with. She was also completely terrified at the loud announcements. I did not anticipate that, but yeah, when you think about it, it seems like every ten seconds in the airport they are making some security announcement, and on the plane, sometimes the pilot and flight attendant announcements are RIDICULOUSLY loud. I started trying to cover her ears whenever they would say anything, and I would try to smile and tell her “It’s okay, it’s just the safety lady telling us how to be safe!” and keep her from totally freaking out. There was a period of about 15 minutes on the long flight out where she was almost asleep nursing and a loud announcement came on and startled her. She cried louder than I’ve heard in months and was inconsolable. Hell, nursing wouldn’t even calm her down. My aunt walked the aisles with her for a couple minutes. We ended up giving her some formula and she fell asleep, but we were on edge waiting for more loud announcements. That was the worst part of the trip.

For the next trip, I plan to buy a pair of baby ear muffs. These say they are good for babies over 6 months.

Well, that is all I can think of for now. I hope this information helps someone! I certainly worried for weeks about all of these details. Traveling was definitely stressful, but the ten days that we got to spend with family was worth it. She got to meet tons of family and friends and we had a great time. I’m sure we will go visit again in a few months, and hopefully things will be easier now that I know what to expect.



  1. Glad to hear that you all made it so well. For such a long day, that really sounds great.

    Glad to read your tips too. I don’t plan on flying anytime soon, but just in case I do, I’m glad to hear what worked for you.

    You have got to check out pacifier wipes made by The First Years. We keep them in our diaper bag and they are a life saver. I’ve seen parents just lick off a dirty pacifier themselves before giving it to their babies and that looks pretty gross and not very much more sanitary so they are a must have for me.

    This sort of thing seems in line with the “start with avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes” line the ped gave me. She said cereal just doesn’t have the same nutrients/calorie punch.
    Glad the trip went well, and that you’ve put all the details down for posterity and to help all the other future travelers!
    Licking a pacifier is bad – now they say it leads to tooth decay in kids by colonizing their clean mouths with our dirty cavity-causing bacteria.

  3. I am soooo glad you are back Bird! We aren’t going anywhere either. Our longest trip is an hour plus to Grandpa’s. You are BRAVE.

  4. LOVE IT…and thanks for all the product reviews too…you’ve found the coolest stuff. I especially want some of that teething jewlery!

  5. […] stressed out about the unknown and new experiences. For example, I stressed out for WEEKS about Birdie’s first plane trip. On one hand, the stressing usually results in me being really really prepared, but it also it […]

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