When Sloane was just 4 weeks old, my husband, Brandon, left for an 8 month deployment. We were able to visit him one last time before he left the states when she was 7 weeks old. The kicker was that I had to fly by myself from California to Virginia with a tiny little human.
I was so nervous and rushed around the airport not knowing what would make my life easier at the time. Fast forward to now, Sloane is 11 months and has been on over 30 flights and I feel like a pro. I want to share some tips that may help you travel solo with an infant.
When booking our flights, I try to get bulkhead seating. If none is available, I will usually book seats in the extra leg room space. If you choose to have a lap child, you will need to call some airlines to add them. If the child has their own seat, they must be seated at the window when using a car seat.
1. Car seat (infant bucket seat for the tiny ones and when ready, a convertible). Sloane hated her infant bucket seat and I only used it for flying for two trips. I bought a Costco Scenera Nextfor her travel seat. It is cheap, lightweight and passes the same safety tests as every other seat on the market. I used a Graco E2F a few trips and it is bulky, too heavy and hard to install with the airplane safety belt.
2. Car seat travel cart– this has been a life saver since switching to a convertible seat. I use the Britax Travel Cart.
3. Baby carrier- this will come down to personal preference and depend on babies size. I used a wrap until Sloane was about 4 months and then I switched to a soft structured carrier.
4. Backpack style diaper bag- I have two bags that I like to use. If I am going somewhere that we will be going out to nice places, I bring my Lily-Jade. If we are going on an active trip, I just use an Osprey backpack.
5. Stroller- I used this with the infant bucket seat but stopped when we switched seats. For trips when I need a stroller at my destination, I gate check my stroller or check it at the counter. You can do either of these for free.
What to pack:
Diaper bag- Diapers, wipes, changing pad, extra outfit, extra shirt for you, 2 burp cloths, blanket, favorite toy, snacks for you, snacks for baby and water bottle. Don’t pack a lot of toys, they find entertainment in items already around them. Infant Motrin or Tylenol if under 6 months, infant Benadryl. I also liked to bring a receiving blanket when she was tiny, this way I could lay on her on the floor to stretch at the gate.
Arrival and travel at airport
1. Parking- The easiest for me is to park in a lot that has a shuttle. The only downside of having to park yourself, is car seat safety from the lot to the actual ticket counters. I have done it where I keep her on me in a carrier, in a car seat and I’ve even called Uber. It will depend on your airport.
2. Logistics of moving all that gear by yourself- I attach the car seat to the travel cart, put my backpack into the car seat, put Sloane on me in a carrier and pull/push our suitcase.
3. Car seat options- Ideally a kid should have their own seat on the airplane; it’s safer and far more comfortable. However, tickets are expensive and sometimes they are in your lap the entire trip anyways. I have done both and prefer her to have a seat. If you choose not purchase baby a ticket, you will need to decide what you are going to do with the car seat. Airlines will check your car seat/stroller for free. You can check it at the counter or at the gate. In my experience, they tend to treat it more carefully at the gate. There are car seat bags on the market to help protect a little bit.
4. Security- I have Global Entry, which means I am TSA pre-check. If you don’t already have pre-check, I recommend applying. You can keep baby in your carrier, put backpack onto security belt and have them hand check the stroller. I breastfeed so I don’t have to worry about bottles and such. You can bring bottles, formula and breast milk through security.
5. Gate- Once I get to the gate, I check to make sure we are seated together. If we aren’t already in the extra space seating, I ask if any is available. If you are gate checking your stroller and/or car seat, you must get a gate check tag from the gate agent.
6. Before boarding- Right before it is time to board, I go use the restroom. I also make sure to change Sloane’s diaper and fill my water bottle. I put my backpack on and get my tickets out and in hand.
7. Boarding- With little kids, you are allowed to preboard, do this. If you are gate checking any items, bring them down to the end of the jet bridge. Once at the plane, I pick the car seat up in front of me. Once at my seat, I take seat off of cart, and put the cart under the seat in front of Sloane. When she was small I would just lay her on my seat while installed her car seat. I would also have people offer to hold her but germs! Once her seat is installed I let her play until it is time to push back.
8. In flight- On good days she will sleep most of the flight. She likes to be held, eat, play with plastic cups and chat with strangers.