Activity #70: Fly solo (or how to fly alone with a baby)

by Heather Flett on December 18, 2012

in Month 6,Travel

We originally ran this guest post SEVEN YEARS AGO thus the babies in this story are now in 2nd grade.
alice, international baby of mystery

Even if this isn’t an activity you’ll do today, you might find yourself on an airplane sometime this year. Before turning one year old, Holden had flown cross-country at 3 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and 7.5 months. Each time, Alec and I worked as a team to cover the travel-parenting duties, so I didn’t get to fly solo until my second son was born.

The hero of this story, therefore, is my friend Beth, who flew to Chicago from Sydney, Australia alone with her 6-month old, Alice. She is the master. She shared some of her best tips with us:

  • How to plan ahead
  • When to consider drugging your baby
  • What to do with your free hands

Make 2 lists. Start a week in advance so you can jot down those brilliant things you remember at random times. One list is “For the plane” and the other list is “At destination”. I still have my list (for future reference) .

For the plane/airport, this is what I needed:
stroller, diapers (3 times as many as you think you need – they don’t sell them in airports), wipes (travel pack or 2), disposable changing pads (Target sells ‘em – very handy for the “ewwwww factor of changing baby in a public restroom), few favorite toys & books (does mean that you have to be vigilant about not dropping/losing them), changes of clothes (I took 2 for baby, 1 clean shirt for myself), favorite blanket, a burp cloth, baby Benadryl*, and pacifier (even though baby didn’t regularly use one, we had one on hand!).

If baby was older I would consider a portable DVD player for Baby Einstein videos.

* Note about Benadryl: I talked to the doctor about the appropriate Benadryl dosage in advance. This was really useful when baby was CLEARLY tired but couldn’t quite fall asleep because I was holding her instead of being in her crib. We held off using it as long as possible. Be sure that you test the Benadryl at bedtime before the trip. In 10% of babies they don’t fall asleep – they get really hyper! You don’t want to find this out on the plane that your baby has had a bad reaction and is shrieking from being over-tired and strung out. If you give it to baby at home and they go to sleep, then you should be fine on the plane. If you give it to them and they’re up for the next 6 hours, you probably don’t want to use it in flight.

Keep hands free. I packed everything in a large backpack (instead of a shoulder diaper bag) which was great for keeping my hands free to push stroller, find id and tickets, etc. I also had my purse-items in the backpack. So it was me, baby, backpack to take aboard, rather than multiple bags.

Most domestic US airlines no longer let you pre-board with children so get ready to board with the masses. Southwest stills let you pre-board.

For baby’s comfort: Remember to breastfeed or give them a bottle/pacifier during take off and landing to help with pressure in the ears. For take off I would suggest waiting until you are actually zooming down the runway to start since there can be long waits in taxiing before take off (and I heard about a woman who gave baby a bottle and baby had finished it long before take-off). For landing I found that it is really the last part that needs the sucking – 10,000 feet or the “final descent”.

Dress the babe in layers. Think through in advance what baby is going to wear on the plane – planes are often very warm or very cold. We did layers – onesie with outfit over it. When it was time to sleep it was easy to take off the clothes and switch into PJs, or pull on a blanket-sleeper-bag.

Pack one trashy magazine. Overall I would say that flying back from Sydney to Chicago with baby by myself was exhausting. I didn’t need ANY reading material- maybe one trashy magazine – because even when baby is asleep you feel the need to be awake guarding against any possible problem.

Consider a 2nd seat. To ease the burden slightly on the return trip we bought a 2nd seat for me (in Coach) for the LA – Chicago leg. We didn’t travel with a car seat, so it wasn’t for her to sit in. This was just for me to have space to spread out since I was alone – space to put diaper bag / toys on the seat, room to breastfeed without knocking into the person next to me. It was a lifesaver when we spent 2 hours on the plane, sitting on the runaway before leaving LA. Babies are very wiggly – I don’t know how long you could hold one by yourself in one of those 14 inch wide seats. (It was hard to explain to the airline what we wanted – basically had to buy a 2nd seat as if I was an obese person. But it was the only thing that kept me sane!)

Sing, sing a song. Lastly, I know that singing always calms her, so I sang about 47 rounds of Old Macdonald softly in her ear and had about 294 Bears in the Bed fall out. But it kept her entertained and quiet when we were sitting on the plane doing nothing. She did fuss for a few minutes before putting herself to sleep, but she always does that so I just had to be strong and endure (and endure what I felt was the pressure of 50 eyeballs watching me).

At destination: Then my second list was what I needed when I arrived at the new location. For me that was: crib & sheet, car seat, breast pump, milk storage bags, bottle, baby monitor, highchair. Through some scrounging I was able to borrow almost everything, and we now know that in the US in some cities you can actually rent baby gear.

More tips on how to travel light when you’re a rookie mom…

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RookieMoms co-founder & mom to 3 boys in Berkeley, CA. Bossy big sister and project manager turned blogger helping moms enjoy their first years of motherhood. Find me on my other site on 510families.com or hiding in my minivan eating dark chocolate.

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