We've traveled a lot with our baby Stella from the time she was 3 months old. Airplane travel with a baby can be tricky, messy, frustrating, but also so much fun. I've put together a short list of tips specifically for airplane travel with a baby, from infant to toddlerhood to help other moms (and dads!) live an adventurous life!!
This is my most important tip. The less you bring the easier your life will be, trust me. Start planning what you will pack for yourself and your baby (and whoever else you're packing for) a few days in advance. Plan what you need then pair it down if you can, especially for bags and items you will bring on the plane with you.
What's in my diaper bag when I travel
diapers - enough to spend the night or get delayed during a layover
diaper balm and rash cream - Grovia Magic Stick
1-3 changes of clothes for baby that have easy diaper access (I like zipper jammies for infants, and loose pants for toddlers)
food and snack for baby, dad, and mom
6. water bottle (I share with Stella and fill up at airport fountain)
7. cell phone - with audiobooks and kindle books uploaded (you can also usually watch in-flight movies from your phone now which is awesome if baby is napping)
cell phone charger
bluetooth headphones for myself
noise cancelling headphones for baby (if an infant) - Baby Banz
toys & books for baby (if mobile or toddler)
sometimes infant ibuprofen and thermometer
swaddle (for infant)
swaddle blanket or stuffed animal (for toddler)
extra small blanket for Stella to use for play on airport floor (while an infant)
change of undies and shirt for mom
jacket (works great for lumbar support for mom or "nest" for napping baby
hand sanitizing wipes
a book or journal for mom (if traveling with my husband, otherwise I read on my phone)
What I bring on the airplane
3. stroller (we use the BabyZen Yoyo)
4. infant car seat (gait checked this when Stella was an infant)
I always check a bag if I'm traveling alone with Stella. If my husband is with us, we often carry on (although lets be realistic, when we all share a suitcase it's bigger than carry on size and has to be checked with our car seat!)
Feeding your infant on the plane
Try to breast or bottle feed during take off and landing. Anything to get your baby to swallow and keep their ears pressurized. We found a pacifier works great as well if they are sleeping. I used a breastfeeding cover, baby blanket, or nothing while breastfeeding on the plane. I've never used the bathroom to feed, but you certainly could. Most airports have a pumping and nursing/feeding station or room for parents traveling with babies. I never noticed them until I had a baby, and they have been really convenient!
Bring your own water if you plan to mix formula (don't use airplane bathroom water for drinking).
If you are traveling alone with an infant, it's especially hard to get a meal in while on an airplane. If your infant is sleeping on you, it's hard to get to your bag underneath the seat in front to grab your food, and if you have a more mobile baby, you need both hands at ALL times! In a pinch I've eaten Stella's pouches, but mostly I try to pack a few small snacks that are not super crumbly or sticky. Same goes when bringing toddler snacks...you'll regret anything sticky!
(I like: apples, cheese, chocolate, bars, carrots, banana, etc). Most of our trips have included a layover, so that has generally been the easiest time to grab something to eat!
If you're traveling with your partner or someone who can hold your baby, it's easy! I was traveling alone with (a very fussy and awake) Stella once, and the flight attendant held Stella for ~20min on a long flight so I could eat a meal! So nice!!
I've never actually pumped on a plane. I know moms who have, and they usually do it in the bathroom or at their seat wearing a nursing cover. I'm not sure how you could pump if you were traveling with an infant by yourself...any mamas out there that have done this please share! I think you'd have to do it in the airport nursing station before or after your flight. The two best portable pumps I like are the Spectra 9Plus, and Medela Freestyle. Hand pumps work too in a pinch if you don't have a portable pump!
Most airplanes have changing tables. Some don't, and we've changed Stella on our seats and laps (like right before take-off if we know she'll probably fall asleep). It can be helpful to keep 1-2 diapers and wipes in a big ziplock so you can just grab them from your diaper bag when you need to change your baby and don't have to rummage through a packed bag in an airplane bathroom!
Tips with an infant:
~It is really daunting to to travel with your infant for the first time. But infants are the easiest to travel with and usually do awesome because they sleep most of the flight!
~Bring enough diapers and clothes for your baby in case you get stranded overnight somewhere. I also brought headphones to drown out airplane noise, and a swaddle or sleepsack when Stella was an infant.
~Bring a change of undies and a shirt for yourself (for spit up moments etc or if you get stranded overnight)
Tips going abroad
Buy diapers and food at your destination.
Check out my other post Everything you need to know about traveling with your baby!
Sleeping & Napping
I wouldn't worry too much about keeping your baby on a schedule while traveling. They will probably sleep at some point on the plane anyways! I tired baby is definitely less fun to travel with though. We found afternoon and evening flight to be the most challenging (the witching hour...), and morning or overnight flights to be the best. That being said, babies are adaptable and flexible.
In general you just have to get over them.
If you're traveling with an infant (especially before 3 months old) be careful letting people touch your baby. For some reason people don't ask, and often just reach out and touch babies on their hands and face without asking...
Mobile babies and toddlers touch everything or put it on their mouth. On the airplane I usually do a quick wipe down of the seat area and tray table with sanitizing wipes (love these). Otherwise I'm not that worried about it. In the airport, I brought a separate blanket for Stella to play on on the airport floor when she was an infant for before flight to get her energy out. As a toddler now I just make sure to wash her hands before she eats and before we leave the airport once our journey is done.
Your baby will cry on the plane. Sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. Stella cries the most during descent if she is congested and her ears hurt. She also gets fussy sometimes before take-off and landing when she is contained on our lap and can't be carried or walking in the aisle. I can guarantee your crying baby is louder to you than anyone else. Pretty much everyone uses headphones anyways, so background crying isn't really disruptive. Most people on the plane either have kids of their own and know what it's like and know what it's like to travel with a baby, or are really nice. There are some intolerant people who are rude about crying babies. Don't worry about them! If you are dealing with a really fussy baby on an airplane, know you are doing the best you can. Time will pass, the flight will eventually be over, and you and your baby will be fine. Use the flight as extra snuggle time, because it is so special and you won't be able to hold them forever!