When my baby was six months old, I decided to take him via airplane to a wedding in Montreal. This four-day adventure would serve as preparation for a longer trip soon afterwards to Italy. I was dreading being that person on the flight with the screaming baby, so I asked around about how best to prepare for taking the baby to the skies. Almost everyone I spoke to said that first flight with baby was much easier than expected, and I now agree. Traveling with a baby can be an enjoyable bonding experience that adds to your favorite mommy moments... if you’re prepared.
Preparing for the flight:
The first thing my husband and I did in preparation for our Montreal vacation was get baby Jack a passport. We took his little passport photo at CVS -- it was so cute to see his little tiny baby face in the big passport photo square. If you're flying outside the country, a baby passport is a must; some airlines are strict about them.
Next, we made sure to call ahead so the airline knew we were traveling with a baby. I recommend confirming this in the airline's record. Request an email confirmation, and the name of the airline personnel you spoke to, to avoid any mishaps when you arrive at the airport. (This happened to us, and it took over an hour and a lot of arguing to add the baby back onto our ticket!)
We requested the bulkhead even though we were just traveling to Montreal. This is really important if you're on a long-haul flight, mostly for your own comfort and sanity, so you can put your little one to sleep safely and get some sleep yourself. Requesting a bassinet can help too.
Next we decided to take our car seat on the flight; we checked it in a drawstring laundry bag from the drugstore. It's definitely necessary to protect the car seat -- the laundry bag was filthy after the flight. Note that airlines don't count the carseats as checked baggage, so it flies for free, and you can still check another bag. We brought our baby carrier too, of course. Once inside the airport, and throughout our destination city of Montreal, it was useful for carrying Jack. We took sunrise walks through the city and were the first customers at the cutest old city coffee shop.
Finally, we had to decide how much to pack for a 6-month-old over four days. Turns out, it's a lot. Between clothing, feeding, bathing, and changing supplies, and lots of little toys to keep a baby entertained, Jack needed his own -- albeit small -- suitcase. I recommend bringing a lot of baby food, especially if your baby is particular. In Italy, the baby food was completely different, and Jack wouldn't eat it. For diapers though, just pack enough for your flight and transfer, then buy the rest at your destination, since diapers are bulky.
Boarding Day Concerns:
On the day of traveling, the most worrisome aspect was avoiding a crying fit mid-flight. As most moms know, this means keep the baby well fed! The TSA does allow bottles of formula or breastmilk to be brought onto the flight. If you're breastfeeding, it's still good to bring an extra bottle of pumped milk or formula just in case your baby is extra hungry during takeoff or landing. Many people told me that feeding baby during takeoff and landing not only helps with hunger, but [the sucking] also fends off earaches. I followed that advice, and it worked splendidly. Jack ate then slept during the flight, then ate again on the way down.
Next item on the agenda was getting the baby to sleep during the night in a new and unfamiliar location. We requested a crib in our hotel room and followed the same exact bedtime routine from home: bathtime, storytime, and sleep (in a very dark room). Remember to pack bathtime essentials including baby soap and a rubber ducky or your baby’s preferred bath toy. When Jack woke up earlier than usual in the morning, we brought him into our bed for his last few hours of sleep, which all of us loved. During the morning and afternoons, when we were getting ready to go out, we'd give him his little toys, rattles,and books on the floor or in his crib so he could play freely for a while. We always buy Jack one or two brand new toys for the flight so there’s an extra quality of novelty, and then buy a new toy at our destination so he has a special reminder of the vacation, and so do we.
Since we were in a beautiful city, we sought out city activities that Jack loves at home. We searched online for an indoor children's playspace in Vieux Montreal and found the wonderful Gym Petit Prince just a few blocks from our hotel. Jack crawled, explored, played with new toys, and had a magical afternoon. Another great Montreal memory was bringing him to a big park for a picnic. I recommend seeking out the children's play spaces and museums and child-friendly parks and playgrounds in your destination city to make your vacation is not only extra special for your baby, but also more fun and relaxing for you. Bon voyage!