It is 11pm and we are standing at baggage claim in Shannon Airport in Ireland. I’m holding my son who is barely two months old and am being told that, though the rest of our bags made it on the plane, our stroller and car seat are still in New Jersey. It felt like I had just gotten hit by a truck, but I learned my first major lesson on checking luggage when traveling with an infant.
My son is not quite a year old, and he has flown on nine different flights and crossed two oceans. By the end of this year, he will have thirteen flights under his belt. Though there have been some snags along the way, I have figured out how to make travel with an infant as seamless as possible:
Book Bulkhead Seats
Between the amount of stuff you will have with you and all the times that you will be getting up and down, having the extra room at your feet is key. It’s also nice to not have to worry about your baby pulling the hair or shaking the seat of the person in front of you. Most airlines don’t make you buy a seat for a child under two (though you still need to have an infant ticket for them) so it may be worth an up-charge for these seats.
Pro-tip: If there are three seats in a row, book A & C so that you have better odds of getting the whole row for the price of two tickets. If you can afford it and your baby is sitting up on their own, having the third seat may be worth the price.
The Glorious World of Gate Checking
Cumbersome items like car seats and strollers are prime items for gate checking. This process is not only gentler on items than checking them at the front counter/curbside, it is more convenient and, most importantly, these items always make it to your destination. I never rely on rental car seats, so if you need a car seat at your destination, do not let that car seat out of your sight until you are down the jetway.
Pro-tip: If you have a connecting flight, don’t forget to pick up your gate check items at the end of each flight (even if the airline offers to check them all the way through).
Bring Critical Items on Board
Murphy’s law dictates that your most important checked bag will not make it on your plane. That means that anything that you absolutely need for the first 24-48 hours at your destination better be on board with you. When my son’s bag arrived in Phoenix 14 hours after we did, I spent hours shopping for replacement items and diapers.
Pro-Tip: Most airlines let you bring an extra diaper bag on for your lap infant for no charge, but I have found that this limit is loosely enforced. If you end up with one too many bags on board, they will generally gate check the extra bag for no charge.
Give Yourself Enough (But Not Too Much) Time at the Airport
I have read so many articles that told me to give myself tons of time when traveling. But being stuck at an airport longer than you need to be with an infant can be taxing, so my husband and I got better at timing things more efficiently. We now book our tickets so that we head into nap time shortly after take off, use TSA Pre-check to skip the long lines at security, and take advantage of pre-boarding.
Pro-Tip: Airlines with open seating can be tricky, so it’s important to pre-board as early as possible.
If you love to travel, having a baby does not mean that you have to give it up. Admittedly, I do miss the days when I could stroll on board with my small roller bag and a hot latte in hand. But getting to experience new places through my son’s eyes makes it all worth it.