My baby’s first flight was a 10-hour flight to Israel from New York. The two of us flew alone.
As you probably surmised from reading this, we survived. But, like, barely. That’s really how I felt, as I plopped down in my parents’ car when they picked us up from the airport, my baby wailing in the back seat: We survived this in the most primal, basic way. I didn’t feel triumphant at all. It was all so incredibly hard, and I was just with one kid. How do people do it with multiples?
Before my flight, I got a lot of truly amazing advice from Kveller’s moms Facebook group, and I watched a bunch of YouTube videos about flying with babies. And yet, despite all my prep work, I felt completely overwhelmed and underprepared.
Maybe there’s no way to stop that. In a lot of ways, I’m realizing that that is parenting, in nutshell: feeling like you constantly just DON’T have your shit together. But from one frazzled mom to another, this list of tips may help make your next flight — whether you’re going to Israel, or wherever your travels take you — a little bit less like a hot mess.
Have all the right documents in advance — You will need your passport, valid for at least 6 months after the departure date, and notarized travel consent documents if you’re traveling without the baby’s other parent (I also brought a birth certificate, since the baby and I have different last names). Oh and don’t forget to get your little one some travel health insurance, if needed!
Make a list, check it twice, and pack a day or two in advance — You, like me, may not be the most organized person in the world. That is why you should have two lists, one for checked luggage and one for carry-ons. Here’s a good one. Also, be sure to pack early, so you can get much-needed relaxation before the flight.
Have a bunch of spares in your carry-on — Take a ton of extra diapers, changes of clothes (at least 3-4 for baby and 2 for you), wipes, cloth diapers, snacks for you (and baby), food for baby, pacifiers, and toys. There’s a bunch of carry-on items that were life-savers for me, below.
BRING. SNACKS. FOR. YOURSELF — I wrote this above, but I am emphasizing it. You do NOT want to be hangry on a long flight with your baby. Bonus points if your snacks can be eaten with one hand.
Don’t forget medicine and hand sanitizer — Get some Advil/Tylenol for yourself, and some for baby (find out what is the right medicine and dose for pain by calling your doctor). I also found gas medicine really helpful, though mostly after we landed. Oh, and planes and airports are gross. Keep those germs away from you and your baby.
Your baby is your #1 fashion accessory — If you can wear your baby, wear them! My baby is pretty big, but I wore him all through the airport and through a lot of the flights, and it was just so helpful. But also SO HARD. I have never worn my baby for so long. Try to get practice wearing your baby for long durations, and make sure your carrier is comfortable and right for you.
Know that there could be extra security for you — If you’re gate-checking your stroller, the stroller itself will need to be checked. If you’re bringing any liquids like milk, water for formula, or baby food, which are all permitted to bring onboard, they will need to be screened. So it’s best to get in a bit earlier, if possible.
Gate-check your stroller if you can, but know that picking it up may be hard — I believe most airlines that fly to Israel allow you to gate-check your stroller (call in advance to ask). It’s really helpful because it usually means you can walk all the way to the airplane with the stroller. However, you might need to schlep a bit sans stroller at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport to get your stroller, because it usually is not brought to you to the door of the plane, but a little bit further away, by an elevator, which means there’s usually no one to assist you with opening it. (I had a very nice couple help me get my stroller out of the bag and unfolded).
If your baby is small enough, get a bassinet — Airplane bassinets usually go up to 9 months, but my 5-month-old was already really spilling out of it (he is pretty big). As most moms would tell you, your baby will probably not end up sleeping most of the flight, but even if they don’t, the bassinet is a good place to put them down and to change a non-poopy diaper, if needed. You can call your airline ahead of time to reserve a bassinet, though not all airlines will let you book ahead of time.
Nurse or give a bottle during landing and takeoff — Swallowing helps relieve that painful change in air pressure.
Be in survivor mode — Is anyone irritated that you brought a baby into their space? Well, that’s their problem. Your priorities right now are two: you and the baby. Those little chocolate gift bags for passengers? Forget about them. They have all either been babies or have/will have babies. And babies cry, and fuss. They need to deal.
Don’t expect to watch any movies, but if you can, do — That sweet half hour of a Glenn Close movie I got to watch on my 10-hour flight was so SO needed and way more than what I expected. Even if you, like me, hate your baby looking at a screen, I think you can make an exception for the sake of your sanity.
Have everyone help you — Good news, my friend! Israelis LOVE babies. Sure, not all of them, but many of them take this whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing to the next level. Many will ask you if you need help. If they seem healthy and sane, LET THEM HELP YOU! Or ask that flight attendant to watch your little one while you get a few minutes of reprieve.
Get ready for jet lag — For you, and for baby! You can help your baby by slowly adjusting their bedtime by half-hour increments so that it’s closer to Israel time. Do take a day or two to adjust, if you can. My first few days in Israel were a pretty sleepless affair.
Enjoy your baby — I know, this seems like me bringing you some kind of hippy-dippy, Goop-y advice, but if you can, do take a moment to appreciate being with your baby, up in the air, away from work and cell reception. Look into their cute baby eyes (the ones that are refusing to go to SLEEP), and remember that you love them and that this is your life now, and that’s it’s hard AF, but also kind of wonderful.
A practical shopping list:
1) Pacifier clips: These are great for pacifiers, of course, but they’re also great for teethers and other small toys. Because you don’t want to retrieve anything that rolls all the way to the other end of the airplane.
2) Sippy cup/bottle straps: I was exclusively nursing when I flew, but I hear these are the bottle equivalent of pacifier clips.
3) Gripe water and other gas medicine — For some reason, my baby got super gassy after we landed for a few nights. I don’t know why. But this was a good thing to have with me.
4) Pacifier and toy wipes — Because, despite my best efforts, my baby still managed to drops stuff on the ground. I used these A LOT.
5) Teething necklace — My baby was not teething, but I used the necklace during takeoff and landing as a distraction, and I even clipped a toy or two to it! It was a hit!
6) Weird toy with a baby face — My baby loves this weird toy. It has all the things, a plush part, a rattle, a little teether, a mirror, beads, a weird (but cute) black and white baby face. What else do you need?!
7) Linkables — If you need a more robust toy inventory, just use these links. Just clip a bunch of toys to them to keep your toys from getting lost, forever.
8) This stroller gate-check bag — I put so much stuff in this bag with my stroller, most importantly coats and jackets that I didn’t need on the plane. I was so glad to be unencumbered by it during my flight.