It is entirely possible to fly with your baby on an international journey without it being pure torture the entire way. You just need to be a little brave (unless your child has a bad bout of colic, then I personally might think twice!) and put your adult pants on. Our son Jasper just made his inaugural trip overseas to Costa Rica — jumpstarting a long life of travel. We were so stoked to receive his passport in the mail in anticipation of our family’s first international trip together (he’ll be rocking that chubby cheeked photo for a good five years).
Last time Jasper flew was in the womb on a roundtrip flight from the U.S. to South Sudan (unbeknownst to me until the way home). Morning sickness at 35,000 feet is awesome [nope], but that is a story for another day. This time around with him as a full human it was an incredibly long day (for reasons that I cannot blame on him), but overall a really encouraging experience given that it could have gone terribly array. However, there are some key lessons my husband and I learned along the way, some of them we had the foresight to cover and others, well, we didn’t and had to adjust accordingly.
1: Book that “Lap Ticket” ASAP: When flying internationally call immediately after you book your ticket to book your infant’s ticket.
Infants under 2 fly free domestically in the United States, Europe, and many other destinations when they are sitting in your lap. That perk becomes murky when flying international. Internationally you are responsible for paying for a portion of the lowest adult fare available (usually 10%) as well as all taxes. This can really add up, especially the tax portion (ever read the breakdown for all those “little” taxes on a flight try it for a way to get your blood flowing). And no, just because you are now paying something, doesn’t mean they get a seat. Ugh.
Regardless, infants are still little humans and according to the powers that be must have a ticket issued in their name. Sooo based on this fact you would think with the functionality of websites these days that you could check that “infant in lap” box when you book your ticket and it would easily prompt you through the process of getting your little one a ticket. Wrong! You can go ahead and check that box, but you will need to call in order to sort out the financial transaction.
Do yourself a favor and take care of this as soon as you book your ticket, especially if you scored a low fare. Otherwise, you will take a gamble that the fare will go up [or down if you are really lucky] or that class will get sold out and then you will pay 10% of another fare. Now don’t let the airlines get cute on you, make sure to confirm that the fare is the one calculated from your international point of departure (not original), especially if your original departure is an expensive airport. For example, we have an upcoming trip to Mexico, but we’re flying out of Asheville on the initial departure. I definitely wanted to make sure that they were only charging me to and from Atlanta airport to Cancun for the fare calculation because otherwise the price shot up another $500! Whether you are flying domestically or international, do not wait until you get to the airport to book your infant’s lap ticket or you are looking to prolong your check-in process!
*Also, depending on where you are going in the world…you may need a VISA! If you need a VISA, then there is a strong likelihood your child will also need one. If you don’t share the same nationality, make sure to check the rules specifically for your little one on the consulate’s website.
2. If you are a U.S. Citizen Get Global Entry, Oh and Get It for Your Baby Too: Traveling with your infant overseas more than once? Fill out the paperwork for Global Entry soon after they are born.
If you yourself don’t have Global Entry, it’s time to get on board. It makes a huge difference in my opinion. The bonus with getting Global Entry is that your chances of getting TSA pre-check for your departure from the U.S. go up significantly. This will save you a ton of time on the departure side with shorter security lines (if your airport has a designated TSA line) and less hassle during the security screening process (no I don’t want to give you my shoes and walk barefoot on these floors…). When arriving back from an international flight, it can make the difference between sauntering through immigration swiftly to get home faster/enjoy that airport lounge during your layover/actually make your connecting flight OR possibly standing among waves of people like cattle in a corral. When we flew back through Atlanta airport from our trip to Costa Rica, we would have never made it to our connection without Global Entry and TSA precheck. There were seas of people waiting when we arrived at immigration. Luckily the immigration officers made an exception and let Jasper through with me even though he doesn’t have Global Entry (yet!). But this was a huge gamble. Which is what leads me to discuss…
Now onto the next bit, yes you did read that right above: infants who cannot yet crawl/walk, speak, or fully process the world around them need to have their own separate Global Entry known traveller number. It doesn’t matter that his mother, who has gone through the entire process of being screened and approved, is literally carrying him and won’t let him out of her sight. Oh and not only do you need to file the necessary paperwork, your little one still needs to be “interviewed” by the Department of Homeland Security to make sure of…I just cannot say!?! The good news is he got his conditional approval after about a week and now I have scheduled the interview, so let’s hope he passes all their questions!
3. Skycap, Yes Please…
So even if you’re in the situation where both parents are traveling to help with baby, luggage plus baby balancing isn’t stress free. Being that in the U.S. luggage carts are not readily available (nor free) in the departure section of the airport, some airlines (depending on the airport) offer skycap. This can be a huge relief after you end up at the curb with your bags and baby gear (stroller/car seat). “Why yes kind sir, of course you may take ALL THE BAGS, check me in, hand me my boarding passes, all while allowing me to skip that massive line inside…” Cross your fingers that it’s available and use the skycap system before even stepping foot into the airport. Personally, I also see it as a welcome relief to the drama that inevitably appears from long lines at the check-in counter. For most airlines this is a free service and the couple of bucks you tip per bag is well worth the trade off. We were not so lucky on our first trip out of Greenville, our airline, United, didn’t offer skycap (but Delta did!) and it left us grappling and grumbling with multiple bags!
Same can be said for the tail end, depending on how many bags you have or if you are flying home alone, you may want to find a skycap at baggage claim to help bring your bags to your car while you juggle the baby. I flew back home from Costa Rica on my own with Jasper [husband went to visit family in NY] and it would have been impossible for me to juggle the baby, bags, and carseat without some assistance. Skycaps work for tips, so usually I try to give about a $5 tip per bag.
4. Stroller/Car Seat: Gate Check that s*%t!
If you are planning on bringing a stroller and/or car seat with you on your trip remember that proper baggage handling these days is a rarity. If you check these items with the rest of your checked baggage, the airline staff are probably thinking “may the odds forever be in your favor” as your stuff disappears from sight on the conveyor belt. You may be tempted to check these items since there is no charge. But rather than imagining the behind-the-scenes contests of chucking, scraping, and/or smashing your child’s stroller and safety device, most airlines allow you to bring everything to the gate and check it there. You may try to be persuaded to check these items when you arrive at the airport counter, in this case stand your ground! But as in any airline policy, I like to call the week before my flight so I have the official stance of the airline in case of any pushback at the airport [avoid unpleasant surprises].
We opted to buy bags for our jogging stroller and car seat, since they were a fair investment and wanted an extra layer of protection. Again this is your choice, but if you are flying international and plan to do so more than once bringing these items, I would recommend investing in bags. Piggy-backing on #5 below, you can roll that stroller right up to the gate and switch your little one into a baby carrier or wrap for the duration of the flight.
5. Babywear like a Rockstar — Moms or Dads!
We practice “attachment parenting” in our house and are big fans of babywearing. Full disclosure, I also like my personal space, so I don’t wear my son all the time or I might go mad. Pick your preference of baby carrier: ergo, moby or maya wraps, ring sling, tula, etc. The point is that you have your hands free once that stroller is gate checked. I’ve also found that when I wear my son, if he’s at all sleepy then wrapping him on my chest seals the deal. Sleeping baby = no fuss! It also gives me peace of mind when he’s strapped to my body during take-off and landing rather than sitting in my lap in my arms, so if there were any sudden bouts of turbulence then he’s secured.
Baby carriers are also very versatile for whatever adventure you are taking. They are great for walking, hiking, shopping, small spaces like crowded markets, etc. etc. wherever you can’t bring/maneuver that stroller!
6. Show Your Cute Baby to Airline Staff for Better Seats
My husband likes to sit in window seats and I personally prefer the aisle. This can end up leaving someone sitting between us on fuller flights. And no, we won’t switch to “sit next to each other,” we like our personal space when flying. Having already had to endure a transatlantic flight stuck in a middle seat — while pregnant — I will avoid it at all costs with my son now on the outside of my body! Enter cute baby…People love cute babies and many empathize with parents. So once they see said cute baby, they will do their darnedest to make you, even slightly, more comfortable. For example, on this last flight we ended up being upgraded to the higher tier of economy plus and they also reseated the person in the middle seat between us. If for some reason you end up with a stoic airline employee who detests cute babies (I mean who, I just can’t even fathom…), a polite request for bulkhead with the friendly reminder that many airlines prioritize this space for families and people with special needs may be a good alternative. Bassinets are also offered in bulkhead on some flights (we haven’t tried this yet, but need to soon), so if you request use of one of these you could a) more likely be seated in bulkhead and 2) get some hands-free time if/when your baby naps. Many of the airline-specific credit cards also allow for free same-day upgrades and then there is always that possibility if you hold some kind of frequent flyer status. Extra leg room goes a long way for your sanity! Also, showing that cute baby might score you some leeway on baggage fees (we’ve had a bag deemed “baby luggage” even though it was way over 20 lbs), don’t ask don’t get people!
7. Be ready with the Boob (or Bottle)
Be prepared for those uncomfortable moments for your babe during take-off and landing. I’m a huge proponent of breastfeeding for SO many reasons. One of which is “here is the boob distraction method.” 9/10 times when my kiddo is fussing it’s because he wants the boob. And 9/10 times when infants are screaming upon take-off and landing it is because that air pressure is throttling their little heads. Giving your baby the breast or bottle to suck during this time alleviates this pressure and “pops” their ears. Now since I on-demand breastfeed, I have to plead with the stars that the baby doesn’t get too hungry before either of these events in the plane and if he does then I give him a “snack” to hold him over until the main event. If you are more of a scheduler feeder, you may have it easier ensuring this timing. Do the best you can to anticipate actual take-off because many times there will be false starts and you don’t want to end up wasting that feed on taxiing.
I would also add to mentally prepare yourself to make any assortment of noises to keep your infant distracted and happy. Noises work waaaaay better than toys at this stage of life (and don’t take up any extra luggage space). The one exception in my book is “Sophie the Giraffe,” I’ll bring that thing anywhere (we lost it on the way back from Costa Rica and OH the horror!). And finally, don’t give a flying feck what other people may think about these actions, if you get any lip about the breastfeeding or the noises, promptly roll your eyes and zone them out. But usually you will find that nice people like to come to your assistance in calming the baby and will promptly join in to make clicking noises, peekaboos, and just general cooing to interact with that cute baby.
8. Get in that Lounge
Private lounges are a wonderful haven for the traveling parent. If you have an infant, there are oh so many perks to spending your layover inside one of these rather than in the midst of the airport chaos. Allow me to share a few:
- they have luggage rooms to leave stuff unattended without having TSA on your case
- family rooms for a private, quiet space for napping (hahahaha)
- you can pile all your stuff in one area and go to get some FREE food and drink without waiting in a line with your baby and stuff and juggling paying for your food
- cleaner bathrooms with cleaner spaces for changing your baby
- free wifi (nuff said)
- wall outlets for charging your electronics (let’s not underestimate the scarcity of these)
- you could bathe your baby in the shower if he or she vomits/poops to the point of needing intervention
- free booze (to take the edge off) and free coffee (to give you wings) to handle the rest of the journey
I used to travel a lot for my old job, so I had racked up miles and acquired preferred status with an airline. Having Star Alliance Gold status helped out immensely when I had oh 10 HOUR layovers on my long hauls. *Lucky* [insert sarcastic tone here] for me, due to a variety of factors in 2015 resulting in me not traveling much at all, I lost my status for this year. So if you don’t have status, you can alternatively get an airline-specific credit card that gives you access to lounges, buy membership for a specific airline lounge or group of lounges, or purchase single day entry to a lounge. The option that best fits you depends on how much you plan to travel. For example, a single day entry costs around $50, whereas a yearly membership can be around $500. So if you plan to fly more than 10 times, it may be worth your while to splurge for full membership. With the non-airline specific lounge memberships, you can have hybrid plans where you pay a certain yearly fee and less money per visit. Credit cards that allow for lounge membership as a perk usually run at least $400 in annual fees. There is lots of additional information out there to help you make a decision, but my main point remains the same, it is a great perk when traveling with an infant!
9. Overcompensate and Contingency Planning
Parenting is all about adapting in my opinion. For instance, I can’t even tell you how long it took me to write this article since whenever I was in the groove of it, he would be like HEY FEED ME NOW. Little stinker…
So just remember that things will likely take MUCH longer with a baby in tow. I was never ever an early arriver to the airport and now you better believe I’m there 2 hours in advance with this kiddo. That may eventually change, but I strongly urge you to build in “padding” and maybe play a little (not too much) of the “what if” scenario with your partner.
Enter stage left…Real Life Example: We flew to Costa Rica for this first trip with the baby, arriving mid-day (1pm-ish). We thought we had planned plenty of time to get from San Jose to the Caribbean coast (average 4 hour drive, we planned for 5-6). It ended up taking us 10 HOURS due to two major accidents on the mountain pass between San Jose and Limon. Through no fault of our own we ended up driving after dark on a two lane highway, which also turns out to be a huge trucking route. Now this was completely out of our control, a huge anomaly, but it happened. I encountered many moments of pure panic, DARK + NOT GOOD DRIVERS + SEMI-TRUCKS + 2 LANES + 7 MONTH OLD + HUNGER +++++++. So on the tail end you better believe we left a day early to go to San Jose and stay the night. Oh and yes, you better believe there was another accident that prolonged that trip back. Same day roadtrips (if more than 2 hours), they are now a big “no no” for us.
Overall just remember that whatever energy you put out is what your baby will soak up. So if you are a frenzied mess, you may find a screaming infant on your hands. Case in point, during those moments of sheer panic on the road my son would look at me and start hollering. Try instead to take a deep breath and blow a few raspberries on your little one’s tummy, because even when the best planning can be shot to hell, your baby’s laughter will make it all (well most of it) better!