Traveling With My Newborn: What It Was Like On My First Flight With a Baby

"I was always the person who dreaded seeing children get on a flight."

Baby on Airplane

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We’re dedicating our March features to family travel. Read on for insightful guides to the best road trips for different ages, the best hotels with amenities for children, and the changing face of family trip planning, as well as inspiring stories of traveling with a newborn, family travel post-divorce, the lowdown on family campground culture, and more.

Giving birth abroad and traveling around the world with my child at such an early stage in his life was never in my five year plan. But, as life would have it, my newborn son was destined to become a frequent flyer. From his first plane ride from Germany at just six weeks old, he had covered four continents and a multitude of countries and states before he could even walk. 

I gave birth in Szczecin, Poland, just two hours outside of Berlin, where my husband had been coaching a professional football team. Shortly after, his contract was cut short, and we suddenly found ourselves packing up all of our things quicker than expected. The thought of flying with my newborn for multiple hours had me on pins and needles; I was always the person who dreaded seeing children get on a flight. As we prepared for our flight home, I thought of all the ways I could possibly keep my son subdued throughout the experience. My panic was sending me into a tailspin before we even boarded the plane.

Things didn't begin smoothly. The first rookie mistake I would make was not practicing separating the European-style pram we had been gifted from our Polish friends. It was a bit fancy—not one of those one-click type of strollers. As we checked in, my husband huddled with an airline employee trying to figure out how to separate the thing so we could get on the plane. Talk about stress through the roof! Thankfully, after a few trial and error clicks and hits, we were able to get the top and bottom separated and check it onto the flight. 

My panic was sending me into a tailspin before we even boarded the plane.

But that wasn't all. I would soon find that I would be making my next rookie mistake, which was checking our stroller at the check-in counter versus at the gate. As a new parent, it didn’t cross my mind that we could take the stroller through security and directly up to the gate where the airline would tag the stroller and check it for us. This left my husband and I having to trudge through Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport with a bulky carseat, a baby bag, two carry-ons, and a personal item. We had inconvenienced ourselves twice before even having the opportunity for people to snare at us for having a screaming baby on the flight. 

Once we finally boarded the flight, we hustled straight to the back. I always booked our seats in the very front or very back of the aircraft to be closer to bathrooms and to either get off quickly or be able to take my time when needed. On this flight, we shared a row with a woman who gleefully looked at us and let us know that if there were any empty seats, she would happily move to give us more room for my son. She wasn't at all disappointed that she had been placed next to a family with a newborn; it immediately eased all of the tension I had in my body. In my years traveling with my son, I will never forget the passengers who have openly given me grace—those who would show empathy by offering me an entire row or giving my son little gifts, toys, or candy to help lessen the stress.

Thankfully, the flight wasn’t full, which gave us an additional seat in our row. I had read somewhere that it’s good to feed your child during takeoff and landing to alleviate any air pressure they might feel, which often causes babies to cry. If they fall asleep, the advice had said, it was best to let them rest. Because my son had been awake and I breastfed, I allowed him to nestle during takeoff which put him to sleep. Once we were stable in the air, I laid him in the middle seat for the rest of the flight. Prayerfully, he did not cry—he slept for hours.

Throughout the flight, I focused on my son's food and snacks, entertainment, and clothing. Having food and snacks that I knew he liked was vital for the flight. For longer flying times, I learned, airplane food may not settle well, or your child may just may flat out refuse to eat it, which will stress them out. As my son grew older, I learned to bring along a tablet with pre-downloaded episodes of shows he would enjoy. When he was a newborn it was never needed, but once he reached the one-to-two year mark, having his own headphones with pre-downloaded shows kept him subdued. Just as adults want to be comfortable on flights, so do children.

She wasn't at all disappointed that she had been placed next to a family with a newborn; it immediately eased all of the tension I had in my body.

When my son was a baby, we always boarded a flight with a fresh diaper and I always had extras in my carry-on to keep him clean and comfortable. I’d take off his shoes, have a blanket in case the flight was cold, and have alternative outfits like a hoodie, pants, and socks, or tank top and shorts depending on whether he needed to be warmer or cooler. Those few moments of getting settled and making sure I had everything ready for him were essential; it's why airline policies that allow people traveling with children to board first are so appreciated.

My son is now five years old and travels like a complete pro. It takes a village to raise a child, and my first experiences traveling with a newborn certainly felt scary. But the years I spent traveling with my son as a baby taught me lessons about both parenting and traveling that have been endlessly valuable.