I (well, Jackson and I) survived our first overseas flight by ourselves! Seven separate trips, to be exact (yikes!). I was extremely anxious about taking this trip without the help of a second parent, but it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. Except for the last flight, which I might never want to talk about again. I got a stomach bug mid-air, on a full flight. Yep, that happened. I seem to get stomach bugs at the wrong times! I’m glad it’s over.
Mike was going to be away for a few weeks in January/February, and I remembered last year feeling depressed and stuck inside being pregnant because of the weather. Hamburg was dark, wet and icy. I almost got myself stuck at one point because I was wobbly pregnant and so afraid to fall, and decided no more walks until there was less ice. During those few weeks (while driving) I saw several kids and adults fall of their bikes and knew the following winter I would want to escape the ice.
Why not visit both the in-laws and my own family? Not only did I want to visit family, but I also wanted to prove to myself that I could travel with Jackson on my own. I’ve now spent over three years living overseas with Mike, in a country where he speaks the language, but I don’t. I feel somewhat dependent on him, and I love him for it, but I hate not feeling independent. I thought it would be good to get out of my little “bubble” I’ve created in Hamburg, and travel with Jackson alone.
On this trip, Jackson was between 9-10 months old. He’s in the state where he is always moving, but not yet crawling. He’s flown several times before. Our last flight was at eight months, and he slept almost the whole way. Before that, we had mixed experiences with him, with some flights being more difficult than others. He’s always best when he’s sleeping if we can get him to sleep 🙂
Our first leg of the trip was the longest. We flew from Hamburg to Paris, Paris to Atlanta, and then from Atlanta to Dallas. I didn’t want two layovers, but I couldn’t avoid it. No flight on this part of the trip was full, so we always had an empty seat next to us. We weren’t always lucky on the other flights. Here is what I learned from the experience.
———- Before the Flight ———-
Book the flight at a time you will be most rested.
Nothing is worse when you’re tired and cranky, and your baby is tired and cranky. We had to wake before 3 AM before our first flight, and I only had two hours of sleep. Jackson didn’t sleep much on the 18 hour trip, and when he wasn’t sleeping, he was cranky. In my head, he was the hardest baby in the world, and all I wanted to do was sleep Yet people around me said he wasn’t that bad. I do think they were being nice…
Try to get a layover around 2 hours.
2 hours is perfect; it gives you enough time to not have to rush off the plane, to find a changing room and change your baby, grab something to eat, and get to the gate before boarding begins.
If it’s a long flight book an aisle seat. If it’s a shorter flight book a window seat (this is completely your preference, but what I found best).
An aisle seat will allow you to get up easier, to go the bathroom, change the baby, or help calm your baby if he’s fussy. A window seat will allow you to put a “plane bag” next to you, next to the window. I also sleep better when I can lean on something.
If available, book a bassinet seat.
There is such a thing! Some planes have space to put these small bassinets in front of select seats. You have to call ahead and book them (or get lucky like I did on the flight to Atlanta and they just gave me the proper seat). Each airline has different weight limits for them, and Jackson was almost too big. He also doesn’t lay down on his own in a new place without crying so we didn’t get much use out of it, but it was nice.
———- For the Flight ———-
Take advantage of pre-boarding.
That way you can get yourself situated before everyone else. You can make sure your carry-on bag goes above you, and take out what you need for the flight without having to rush and people push past you. Before kids, I would always pack a separate ‘plane bag’ for under my feet that had water, headphones, and reading material, and I would take it out before boarding. Now, I take it out after boarding.
Bring your carrier.
I’ve given this advice before, and I think it’s the most important thing to make sure you have before your flight. You can get away without one when traveling with your partner, but you can’t when it’s just you. You have to go the bathroom, and at least try to sleep sometime on your long flight. On the way to the USA, I checked my stroller and just had Jackson in the carrier. If your carrier doesn’t have any metal, you can walk straight through security with the baby in the carrier. If not, you have to take it off. On the way back to Europe I took the stroller through security and kept the carrier underneath the stroller. As soon as I got to the gate, I put the carrier on so that I could have the stroller ready to fold up. On the flight itself, for the longer legs, I took him out of the carrier at times so that he could move more and I could get a break from having him strapped to me.
If you have a long layover, take your travel stroller through security.
You’ll have to gate check it when you get to the plane, but you’ll get it back when you get off the flight. I had a four-hour layover in Amsterdam on the way back (and I was sick), and I was so happy to have it with me so I could relax a little bit more. It also made feeding him easier, and he didn’t get fussy wanting to eat my food (or just water) when I ate (Jackson did on one of the layovers, I had to throw out a yummy smoothie because he couldn’t handle not having any himself!)
Bring your car seat through security
I didn’t do this because my car seat is not FAA approved (none in Europe are) but, if you have one that is, it would be worth it to take it through security with the chance that you have an empty seat next to you. Each region and even airline has different rules for this, so you’ll have to do some research ahead of your flight.
Have a padded bag for your car seat (especially if you check it)
This won’t be useful if you use your car seat on the plane, but if not, it will be. You can either purchase one specifically built for that purpose, or use a bag you already have. It helps protect the seat from possible damage, and you can also throw in some other items. I put our winter gear on top of the car seat, which also gave it some extra padding.
Have a separate bag inside your carry-on for the plane.
Keep everything you want on the plane in it, such as baby food, toys, neck pillow, antibacterial wipes, reading material for when the baby is sleeping, water (having a bottle of water to drink is much easier than having an open cup on the tray with a baby). If the flight isn’t full, having this bag in the seat next to you is convenient. If you don’t have a seat next to you open, it’s nice if this bag has a long handle or something else long to hold. You can get it out from underneath the seat in front of you much easier without having to bend down with the baby in your lap and someone else next to you.
Toys. Bring some. Buy something new before the flight. If you have a string or something long to attach it to, do that.
Babies like new toys. They also throw them on the ground. Picking them on a plane is difficult. I used one of Mikes’s old pistol lanyards to tie the toys to me; a piece of cord would also work. Water bottles, napkins, and other items may also entertain your baby.
———- General Tips ———-
Be prepared for some hassle with check-in when you have your baby on your lap.
You are required to purchase an infant “ticket” (it’s a small fee) when flying overseas, even for a lap baby. Your baby will have his own ticket number, but you won’t be given this number in your confirmation. For some reason, when you fly partner airlines, the infant “ticket” info can be hidden. Every single leg of my overseas flights had problems with this. They eventually found it, but not before acting like I had to purchase the infant ticket that I already purchased. After I was back in Hamburg, I read that this is not an uncommon problem with American carriers. You might be able to ask for this number when you book the flight, and if not, ask for it when you check-in. If you have this problem with you first check in, have them give you the infant ticket number so you have it the rest of your trip.
Be prepared to be flexible where you change your baby.
There aren’t enough baby-changing bathrooms in airports. And people that aren’t handicapped or with a child seem to like to use them. I always had to wait to use one. I had to use the sink space in the regular bathroom in Atlanta, and it was fine. I don’t think babies care where they are changed, so we parents just have to learn to be flexible.
Relax. It won’t be that bad.
Even if it is, it’s only temporary. People are generally nice, and if they aren’t they usually just ignore you. And if you get sick on the flight like I did on the way back, every flight after will be easy by comparison.
A few additional notes I learned about flying with an infant in the USA vs Europe
- Babies are required to have their own boarding pass in Europe, but not in the USA.
- Most car seats in the USA are FAA approved and have a sticker stating so, but it’s much less transparent in Europe. You would have to contact your airline for their specific rules.
- Lap infants are required to wear their own seat-belt on flights within Europe, but not in the USA. Flights in Europe also give you the infant lifejacket to have with you.
Have you flown overseas as a solo parent with their baby? Do you have any additional tips?