Having a baby may have deterred most people from travelling back in the day, but it doesn’t seem to stop Millennials. We see travel as one of the many unique opportunities that comes along with a paid parental leave and we’re not afraid to go for it.
When I was around four months pregnant, I booked flights for a six-week trip in France for the upcoming spring. Due in February, I figured travelling with my lil’ babe before she was crawling was ideal timing. After all, she’d basically be the equivalent of carrying around a sweet smiling nugget in a little front-facing travel pack wherever I went, right? At least these were my thoughts as a to-be parent looking forward to the enriching experience of motherhood. When the baby came, I realized how naive it was to think that travelling with a baby would be easy, and I seriously considered cancelling the trip.
Fortunately, the non-refundable tickets urged me onward, and at 6:30 AM on a Tuesday morning, I boarded the first of three flights alongside hubby, with baby-in-tow. I learned so much from that experience that when we returned, we felt like seasoned pros who knew how to handle any situation that our baby could think to throw our way. I’d like to share all of the tidbits that helped me through the flights, so that you too can enjoy travel with your little one. In this Survival Guide, I’ll go through the pros and cons of an on-flight bassinet, the extra items allowable on Air Canada flights, some techniques for calming a fussy baby, a few words on changing diapers and feeding your baby, the cost of flying with your baby, some carry-on recommendations, and a few other considerations.
On-Flight Bassinet (and Unforeseen Costs)
Air Canada offers mothers with babies under 25 pounds the use of a bassinet in flight. This bassinet hooks into the wall in front of the Preferred Seating area, meaning mom gets to sit in the upgraded seats with her (hopefully) sleeping baby free of charge; however, it’s not free for your spouse to sit there too. We paid to upgrade hubby’s seats because we didn’t know what to expect in terms of handling a baby on the plane, and we figured that having both of us there to deal with the unexpected was worth the cost.
Our experience with the in-flight bassinet was great, and quite different from our friend’s. Baby slept comfortably for the entire overnight flight from Montreal to Paris without making a peep. She also slept part of the way from Vancouver to Montreal. Our friend’s experience with the bassinet wasn’t great because his flight experienced a lot of turbulence. Whenever there’s turbulence, you must take your baby out of the bassinet; this disrupted his baby so frequently that he didn’t use it and advised us against it. That being said, even if you don’t use the bassinet, it’s still nice to get to stretch out in the Preferred Seating area free of charge.
If you want the bassinet, it’s best to reserve it as soon as you can (as soon as baby has a passport for international travel, or as soon as baby is born for domestic travel). There are only a handful of bassinets on certain flights, and they’re available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Extra Items You Can Bring for Baby (with Air Canada)
With Air Canada, you can bring a maximum of two of the following three items free of charge: stroller, play pen, car seat (or booster seat).
Stroller: Air Canada lets you bring one stroller per child free of charge, and it doesn’t count towards carry-on or luggage. If it’s a small collapsible stroller, you can gate-check or check it with your luggage. Large heavy strollers, however, must be checked with luggage. When we first showed up at the airport in Nanaimo, the woman at the counter offered to check our stroller for us, which we agreed to. This was a mistake because it meant that we didn’t have a travelling bed for our baby during our lengthy layover in Montreal. On our way back, we opted to just gate-check it, and it was way easier to tote baby around while she slept undisturbed in the airports.
Car Seat: We didn’t bring a car seat because North American car seats can’t be used in France, but if we were flying to the States, we likely would have.
Play Pen: Our baby was small enough to sleep soundly in her stroller bassinet, so we opted not to bring her Pack ‘n’ Play Travel Crib.
Diaper Bag: A baby’s diaper bag does not count as a carry-on item.
Formula: Baby formula doesn’t have the same restrictions of regular fluids. You can bring a “reasonable” amount along with you in the cabin, which is pretty much the amount needed to keep your baby fed during the trip.
Calming a Fussy Baby
Most babies get fussy when the plane ascends and descends because of pressure in their ears. This can be alleviated by feeding your baby during take-off; the motion of the jaw along with the sucking and swallowing helps release the building pressure. Basically, every take-off, I breastfed our daughter, and that calmed her down and removed the pressure in her ears.
All babies are different in terms of what calms them down when they’re getting worked up, so it’s important to get a good read on your baby pre-trip. We knew that our two-and-a-half-month-old could be calmed in three ways:
- Breastfeeding: I could always count on breastfeeding to relax my baby.
- Leg-Pumping: Laying her on her back while dad “pumped” each leg one at a time helped alleviate any gas.
- Pacifier. The pacifier was so effective that we reserved it for emergencies.
Between these three options, along with lots of playing and loving attention, we were able to keep our little one calm and happy while in transit.
All diaper changes need to happen in the on-flight bathroom (i.e. you can’t do it on the floor in front of your seat). Most planes equip their bathrooms with a little change table. At the start of the flight, attendants hand out bags to parents for poopie diapers, so they don’t stink up the bathroom. The change tables are small, but they do the job.
I had no trouble breastfeeding and bottle feeding my baby while on the flight. Air Canada supports breastfeeding on their flights, so I didn’t feel awkward.
If your baby is under two-years-old, you can opt to have him or her sit on your lap instead of purchasing a separate seat ticket. When flying domestically with Air Canada, there is no charge for this. But when travelling internationally, you’re charged 10% of your ticket price for your baby to sit on your lap.
Most parents know the standard items to pack, like diapers, wipes, and baby toys, so I won’t go over those. I will, however, mention the items that you may not think about, like an inflatable breastfeeding pillow. This made it easy to hold my sleeping baby when she was not in the bassinet. It’ll also be a life-saver if you don’t get the bassinet because your arms won’t go numb from holding your baby the entire flight.
As all of my previous flights have been over air conditioned, I prepared my little one’s on-plane outfits accordingly. However, our flight from Vancouver to Montreal was quite warm, making it hard for us to keep the baby cool in her fleece onesie that I had brought. On our way back, I made sure to pack a cool-weather sleeper and a warm-weather one, so we were prepared for any in-flight climate.
Most parents think about the multiple change of clothes needed for their baby on the plane, while forgetting that they too could use a change of clothes should your little one throw up on you. Sitting through a long haul flight with puke on your clothes is no fun for anyone.
Something to consider that can easily be forgotten when booking travel with babes is the baby’s vaccination schedule. Our little one had vaccinations at two-months and four-months, so we planned the trip in that window.
These are all of the tips that I can recall from my own trip, but if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them. Just leave them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to help you get on a plane with the confidence that you can survive air transit with the newest member of your family.