So lets start with before we even get on the plane or enter the airport terminal.
Unless you really won't need much at your destination you will probably need a diaper bag and a carry-on for yourself. I prefer a backpack for my personal carry-on because it doesn't need a free hand. You can also do a small trolley.
In your personal carry-on you can put things like an extra set of clothes for baby, and other items that you hopefully won't need. This is going to go in the overhead compartment so it won't be easy to get at it. Especially if baby is sleeping- so don't put in a book or something else you want to look at, unless you have a partner with who can access it for you.
In your diaper bag you want everything that you could possibly use for you and baby during the flight. Lots of snacks (if baby is on solids), milk powder for at least 2-3 bottles (if baby takes bottles), a few small toys (keyword: small), a book or magazine for you, snack for you, water,etc. The normal things you would take on an outing with baby. While it is important to have extra milk and extra snacks you definitely don't want to over pack. The fuller your diaper bag is the harder it is to get at the things you need. This is especially true if you are going on a short flight (2 1/2 hours or less). My diaper bag has a little changing pad included- if yours doesn't you might want to take one or if you don't have a portable changing mat, there are disposable ones which don't take up much space.
A word on snacks:
I like to do things which ideally don't crumble all over, and which can be portioned out well. For us that is food like fruit twists (fruit haha), cheerios, teeny sandwiches (already cut into quarters), dried fruit, etc. You know what foods your baby likes best and that is what you should go with. This is not the time to rigidly stick to any sort of nutritional guidelines.
What should baby wear?
The plane will be cold so make sure baby has socks or tights on. I normally have Teddy in a sweatsuit or PJs because our flights are so long and that is more conducive to trying to get him to sleep- when he was younger I always brought a sleep-sack as well. For a shorter flight and now that he is older I just stick to comfortable layered pieces. On our last flight he wore a long sleeve onesie, tights (soft cotton ones), fleece pants, a long sleeve shirt, fleece vest, and fleece hoodie. In the airport I took the hoodie and vest off, on the plane he wore everything and was at a comfortable temperature.
Unless baby is just a wee little thing and you solely use a baby carrier. I strongly suggest bringing a stroller with to the airport. There are a few reasons for this.
1) There are times where baby needs to be not moving around or better said not running away from you at top speed. These are the times you strap baby in.
2) If you have any layovers the chances are good that a lot of walking will be involved and that you will need to be going at a quick pace.
3) If you arrive at the airport early and baby gets tired before the flight you can also do a short nap in the stroller.
4)Oftentimes people with strollers receive special treatment. I have skipped over at least a 100 people in a customs line due to my stroller (and Teddy being in the stroller). The security line is sometimes much shorter for people with a stroller. Airport and airline workers tend to have more sympathy for you and often offer to help in some way.
5) Storage! Depending on your stroller you can fit your carry-on in the bottom. Or at the very least hang your diaper bag from the handles. This can make a big difference in your overall airport experience!!
Plus it can also be used as a toy for baby. Depending on the age of course but currently Teddy loves pushing that thing around.
The most important thing is check it at the gate!! And make sure you request at the gate to have the stroller given back to you where you disembark instead of at the baggage area. Sometimes if it is a short connection that won't be possible but 99% of the time it is.
Also you should never have to pay to check a stroller or a car-seat.
Speaking of car-seats... we don't use them. On the plane. Honestly sitting in the seats is uncomfortable enough I can't imagine forcing Teddy to spend a whole flight not only stuck on an airplane but also constrained by his car-seat.Plus this sounds a bit morbid but I think if something happens on a plane the chances are pretty high that we will all die car-seat or not, so I choose not.So I don't have any advice on that but I do know there are car-seats which are made specifically to follow airplane guidelines.
This part is easy especially if you are not alone with baby. The only important things I can think of are that babies almost always need a separate paper ticket and if you don't have one you'll have to buy a new one. This has happened to us before (the ticket was taken on the first flight and when we went to do our return flight they said that even though everything was in the computer without an actual return paper ticket for our son he wouldn't be able to fly.)Since we are almost always flying internationally Theodor has a passport which proves age and who he is. I am guessing that you should bring a copy of a birth certificate if you are flying somewhere where a passport isn't necessary but I would check the airlines website to be sure.
Actually isn't that bad. If you have followed my advice and have a stroller with you ideally don't have to do anything besides push the stroller a few inches forward every few minutes until you get to the conveyor belts. Sometimes you will even be allowed to go to a special lane for families and people with strollers.
Once you get to the actual security area block out everyone around you and just focus on taking off your shoes, unpacking the stroller- keep baby in until last possible minute!, and don't feel rushed. Security probably won't help you but they really don't care if it takes you a few minutes. If anything just let the person behind you jump ahead.
You will have to fold your stroller and put it through the security belt but you will be able to carry baby through the scanner with you. If you have baby in a carrier they normally will make you take the baby out, but not always.
If you have a bottle already full with milk they will normally test it separately but don't worry it is allowed. As is any baby food and whatever else you have brought for baby. I normally just ask for warm water in the plane to mix the formula there but I have brought a full bottle with before with no problems.
This is the place to let your child go crazy. Let them run, scream (within reason), jump up and down, walk all around the airport 10 times (with you! LOL), etc. Don't worry if your child is bothering anyone at this point- well I mean as long as they aren't harassing someone obviously then you should probably step in. Don't worry about the dirty floor if you have a crawler the chances are high that your child will get sick from the air in the plane anyway and this is there last chance to really move around for at least an hour or two, so let them do it. Of course if there is a Children's area that is even better, but not all airports have that. Try to do a diaper change a few minutes before boarding so that you ideally don't have to do one on the plane or at least not for a few hours.
Now sometimes families with children under two will be allowed to board first, I prefer to board last. Boarding first just means more time trying to keep baby from moving around or disturbing anyone in a small space. Boarding last means no long line and that the flight will start soon.
If you have a small baby younger then about 6 months you might be offered a seat with a bassinet. The ones I flew on had a safety net which would be pulled over the top. Teddy thought this was awful and immediately started screaming and kicking to try to get out so for us it was a real bust, but I know babies who have slept wonderfully in them. It doesn't hurt to try one out once and see what your child thinks. However if you don't use a bassinet you don't want to go in one of these rows as you will not be able to put your diaper bag behind the seat in front of you since there is a wall.
Speaking of seating I prefer to sit as far back as possible and there are a few reasons for this.
1) Chances are highest of getting an empty seat next to me, which makes things a whole lot easier.
2) The plane is louder near the back which means baby makes less noise in comparison.
3) People care less that baby is crying. The closer you sit to business and first the more likely you are to be sitting near someone who hates children. This is my completely unscientific opinion based on my personal observations. Take it with a grain of salt. However I do know that I was most stressed when we were sitting one row behind business and the closed curtain, while we listened to the clang clang of real silverware. Sitting next to the bathrooms and listening to the flight attendants gossip? Not stressful at all.
4) Sitting near the back you are close to at least 2 bathrooms and hopefully a small space where baby can crawl or toddle a bit.
If you are flying alone I like to introduce myself to the person sitting next to me and mention that my child is X months old and we are hoping this will be a great flight. I do this so that there is a bit of a connection between us and hopefully a bit of understanding in case the flight doesn't always go smoothly. If you are with a partner then you don't have to do anything because you have a buffer zone between your child and any stranger. Personally I like to sit at the window with baby because then they are less likely to touch any people walking down the aisle or try to pull something off the carts.
You should have a bottle ready or be ready to nurse during take-off. Wait to do this until the safety presentation is finished as otherwise baby might be done before you are even in the air.
Depending on the length of your flight after you have dealt with take-off you will want to do one of two things. Try to get baby to eat, or try to get baby to sleep. I normally now ring the bell to ask for warm water for one of my bottles at this time. If you have food which needs to be heated up for baby (I wouldn't recommend it if you can avoid it) then you can also ask for that to be heated at this time. Try to do this right away after you are in the air since they haven't yet started passing out food so they will be able to do it quickly for you.
If your flight is short 2 1/2 hours or less,
and your baby normally wouldn't take a nap during this time then just give them the first of many snacks, open up a book or take out one of the magazines for them to look at and get ready to do that whole parenting thing to the max for the next 2 1/2 hours. They will probably be coming with drinks soon and that will be a good distraction. Plus if baby is old enough to make choices you can let them make the big decision of water or milk or apple juice or whatever choices would be acceptable.
If your baby normally would take a nap during this time then try to get them to fall asleep while you are giving them the bottle or nursing during takeoff. I hold Teddy in my arms with my elbow resting on an armrest when he sleeps. The position is comfortable enough that I can also sleep or read a book.
If your flight is longer then a meal option will probably be offered or at the very least drinks at the beginning of the flight. Don't try to put your baby to sleep before this unless they are absolutely exhausted as the passing out of food and drinks will be relatively loud and probably wake baby back up.
Try to keep baby distracted with toys and snacks until the meal clean up has happened. Now the plane will start to quiet down. About an hour will have passed by this point and your baby will probably have been awake since setting out to the airport so this is a great time to try to get that first nap. I offer more milk and put baby into a sleep-sack and sort of rock him close to my chest. He is normally pretty tired by this point so I just do the things which sometimes help to get him to sleep. When he was younger I often got up and walked with him a little bit in the back of the plane rocking him and shushing until he fell asleep. Now I normally just look at a book with him, hold him in a curled up position, sing twinkle twinkle, and sort of rock him in the seat until he falls asleep. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
-Dealing with sleep-
This will probably be one of the most frustrating parts of the plane ride. I don't know why but Theodor is very good at fighting sleep on planes. He can be completely exhausted, closing his eyes, his breathing slows, and then bam bam he is shaking his head and talking trying to keep himself awake. Basically this is the point where if it is a short flight I decide to skip it and just try to keep him entertained and awake, and if it is a long flight I settle in for the long haul and precede to try to help him fall asleep over and over again until it takes. Sometimes this goes great and on other flights it has taken over 3 hours but that is when the mantra of "This is just X amount of hours of my life, we will get through this." comes into play.
-The Entertainment Systems-
If you are on a longer flight the chances are good that the seat has an entertainment system. We don't let Teddy watch TV at home but on the plane all rules are out. He is welcome to watch anything on the entertainment system or play with the remote (watch out that they don't hit the flight attendant call button), so far he still hasn't been interested but as he gets older I am hoping he will be able to spend some time on flights watching a movie or show. Although once he is really at a point where he finds that stuff interesting we will probably bring a portable DVD player or have videos on the laptop which are baby/toddler/kid friendly. Anything which helps pass the time on the flight without disturbing other passengers and while even allowing me to get a few bites of food in, or perhaps relax a bit is a plus for me.
Diaper changes happen just like at home, the space is cramped but I have never flown in a plane that didn't have a changing table. If the flight is long I normally do one before or after the first nap (depending on the timing). If the flight is short I normally don't do one.
-OH NO Baby is cranky!-
First off try to stay calm, you getting stressed will only make the situation worse. Second, if possible get up and go towards the back of the plane. If baby is crawling let him crawl a bit, or sit him down if baby is sitting. If baby is doing none of those things just walk around talking to baby, singing, doing whatever you can think of to distract and calm baby down.Maybe a diaper change (even if clean) if baby is still at an age which diaper changes are something positive. Do this for longer then you think is necessary at least 10-15 minutes and then go back to your seat and take out a new toy or snack. Hopefully things will have calmed down and you will have at least 30 minutes of calm now. If you nurse this is a great time to try nursing baby. Teddy never wanted to nurse on the plane but hopefully you will all be luckier then I in that respect.
If standing up isn't possible then try to take out a toy that is normally a good distraction. Jingling keys, favorite book, etc. If your partner is there make sure they get in the act- start a game of peek-a-boo, sing a fun song together, etc. Try to offer a snack, bottle or nurse as well. Anything to help baby calm down. Letting baby pull the window shade down and up a few times can also work as a good distraction.
Please don't let baby kick the chair in front of them or bang on the tray table in their frustration. There are other ways to keep baby distracted which don't so directly disturb the people sitting with you on the plane.
Repeat the mantra "There are only X more hours/minutes, we will get through this. Everything will be fine."
Eventually you will arrive. No matter how bad the flight goes eventually you will get to your destination and it will have been worth it! You will be seeing friends or family, going on a holiday, or doing something else which is enjoyable or pleasent. Chances are very high that baby will have a blast and that you will forgot this flight within a few hours. Allow yourself a moment to bask in the fact that you just flew succesfully with a baby. Yay! Now allow all the other passengers to get off the plane first. They will be stressed and hectic while you will be basking in the pleasure of what is waiting for you. No reason to join the fray. Slowly gather all your bags making sure nothing has dropped under the seat and walk to the exit making sure to thank the flight attendants who were hopefully friendly and a help to you on the flight. Grab your stroller and/or car-seat which are waiting for you as you exit the aircraft. Get ready to enjoy yourself and head to whoeever is waiting for you at the baggage area.
Oh wait one thing, did you just deal with a time change? Of more then an hour? Well I didn't want to tell you this but time changes are actually the worst part of flying. Sorry.Get ready for a terrible night, how terrible will depend on how many hours time difference. 5+ time difference= probably waking up every hour, newborn style.
-How to deal with Jet-Lag and/or a Time Change-
When you get to your destination try to jump into that time immediately. If it is 1pm and baby normally takes a nap at 1 then let them take a nap. If it is 4 and baby is normally awake, then try to keep them awake. Try to do something outside to make this easier. Spend as much time in the sun as possible as that helps baby's natural clock adjust. If baby sleeps a bit longer then normal during a nap that is fine but try to keep it to no longer then an additional hour to help the night sleep.
Put baby down for the night at the normal bedtime- adjusted to the new time zone if you are in one. If baby wakes in the night, which baby probably will, deal with the nightwaking exactly as you would at home. If that means nursing and bringing baby in to your bed with you then do that, if that means letting baby fuss a bit then do that- although I highly suggest checking on baby to reassure them that you are there and that everything is fine. It can be very discombobulating for adults to deal with jet-lag and new places, obviously for a baby who doesn't really even understand what is going in this can be even worse.
Don't worry if you have a terrible night. The days will probably go smoothly as there will be so much action happening. It has always only taken 1-3 nights for Teddy to adjust and start sleeping through when we have been dealing with a 7 hour time change. It has taken less time when the time change has been an hour or less. Just try to stick to your normal routine. If naps in a bed aren't possible at least try for naps in a stroller. This isn't the time to allow your child to become over-tired.
Then get ready to do the whole travel thing all over again in a few days or weeks!