Transatlantic Air Travel with a Baby

So! Now that we’re back, I can describe with confidence what it was like to fly across the Atlantic with a nine-month-old baby. I do think this experience would have been very different with a three- or six-month-old, and will be different with a 14-month-old at Christmastime.

Here is a normal day for Littlest, to give some perspective: wake at 8, nap 10:30-12, lunch, nap 3-5, snack, bed at 7:30. (Ish, and also, there’s breastfeeding in there just sort of whenever.) His awake times are 2 1/2 hours in the morning and evening and three hours in the middle of the day. Obviously, this all had to go out the window when flying but he did actually keep his naps up pretty well.

We did this two ways: on the way to Boston, Littlest and I were accompanied by my parents. #WIN. Grandparents are the best. They are always happy to hold the baby and walk the baby and bounce the baby on their laps. On the way back, we had my mom with us for the first flight (Boston-Newark) and were alone for the long haul to Munich.

The short of it is that it was all really fine. But if I have any advice to give, it would be to spring for the direct flight and avoid connecting flights. My dad very generously got us these tickets on his frequent flyer miles, and there was no direct Boston-Paris flight on United. But though Littlest loved everything about the train to CDG; slept pretty well at the airport Sheraton; had a fine time in CDG being walked around; and adored watching Toy Story and “reading” Hemispheres magazine on the long haul on my parents’ laps, he had a meltdown when we got onto the second flight, from being overtired (he’d been awake at least 5 hours what with landing and customs) and overstimulated. I stuck him in his car seat, covered him and my head with the United blanket I had swiped on the long haul flight, and sang him John Prine until he fell asleep. The frustrating part was of course the endless announcements from the flight attendants and then the introduction from the captain that go on forever (I know that’s what endless means but it was INTERMINABLE). Littlest then slept through that 90-minute flight. After that, he was again fine for the taxi ride from Logan to our rental apartment.

As far as traveling with a baby alone, it was also fine, and he took a 1-hour nap and then later conked out for 3 hours on our long haul night flight back to Europe. The actual long haul flight part was pretty good, because he had enough time to look around and get tired and fall asleep and wake up on his own.

For the shorter flights, this was obviously more complicated, and going through security was a pain in the ass. They do let you take in baby food and often bottled water, but they scan everything inside and out while you’re standing there holding your baby, waiting for them to return your stroller so you can set him down and put your shoes and your belt back on. Thankfully I was always with at least one grandparent for this part so I could hand him off to collect my things.

So, things that helped us out:

  1. Grandparents
  2. A dark blanket to drape over the car seat (if you buy your baby a seated ticket which we did this time but won’t in December)
  3. Breastfeeding (no formula or bottles to pack, and immediate access on the plane)
  4. A couple good toys
  5. Toy Story on the individual movie players
  6. People finding him adorable

Things that were annoying:

  1. The really nice but really loud flight attendant on our Newark-Munich flight that just had to chat up another passenger really loud right while Littlest was switching through sleep cycles and thus woke him up. The most stressful part of flying with him was just that I couldn’t control what other people were doing in terms of noise around him, including intercom announcements on the flights.
  2. Going through security
  3. The lack of a microwave in the airport to warm up his baby food (on the flight this was fine since a flight attendant did it for us)
  4. Not being able to control when food was served on the flight in order to ensure I would be able to eat it—fortunately for Newark-Munich, Littlest was napping.

Otherwise, changing his diaper on the plane wasn’t ideal but it was fine, and his ears didn’t seem to hurt on take-off or landing.

I feel pretty confident about doing all this on a direct Air France Paris-Boston flight in December, and we won’t even have to spend a night in Paris beforehand. The unknown factor will of course be that we didn’t purchase a seat for Littlest, so will he be ready to nap on our laps? Fingers crossed he does, or that the gate agents get us an extra empty seat between us.

In fact, Littlest and I had some of my favorite moments just the two of us on that long haul flight back to Europe. The first was when I tried to get him to sleep for the first time by putting the airplane blanket over his car seat. He was still in a playful mood and I looked over from whatever I was doing to find a look of pure delight on his face as he hid and uncovered himself in fits of giggles that I quickly joined in on.

He woke up from that ensuing nap crying and as I settled him into my lap under the airplane blanket he was suddenly cuddlier than he ever is, leaning into me and relaxing in a way that he rarely does as I turned on Toy Story for us. I think we actually had the sweetest twenty minutes of our lives just cuddling and watching that movie.

Babies are full of surprises, I guess.


8 thoughts on “Transatlantic Air Travel with a Baby

  1. Thanks for writing this up! I hope you’ll do another post after your trip in December. Our baby will most likely be just over a year old when we travel to the US and will not have his own seat. Oh, how I wish direct flights existed to Cleveland! We’ll shoot to pass through Canada as lines are much much shorter. So you took your car seat with you? We weren’t planning on that as the norms aren’t the same. Though maybe it depends on the seat? We were thinking or renting (or even better, borrowing if we can).

    • Yeah, flights to my parents’ house will never be direct either. Maybe when he’s a little older that’ll be less of a problem.

      As for car seats you really just have to be able to buckle it into a car. I would like to not take it at Christmastime but I’m sure we’ll have to take a taxi from the airport to the Airbnb and I’m not sure how to get around that. For short distances you can apparently hold your baby but he’ll be a toddler then anyway and probably too wiggly for that. Also my sister-in-law brought up the problem of luggage handlers throwing car seats around like other luggage and that can apparently damage them.


      • Ugh that would make me too nervous. My mom gifted us with a fairly expensive Group 1/2/3 car seat (which I’m assuming he’ll be in by that point), so I’d hate to see it damaged. It is possible to rent car seats, and as it’ll be my mom picking us up, she could already have it. Though I’m hoping someone with young kids will have one they don’t use lying around that we can borrow. Also something for sleeping… Yes, I know more than a year off, but I can’t help but think of these things. Or what if we end up finding super awesome deals for like Spring (assuming he has all his paperwork) and go sooner?

  2. I don’t think it’s weird to be thinking about it already—it’s fun to plan stuff like this! Since we were primarily visiting my brother’s family, he bought us a used pack and play and a used high chair that will just be ours for all visits. I bet your mom can find something used in that time. We thought about renting this stuff but if you stay for any significant amount of time it becomes cheaper to buy.

    We could have my brother pick us up with his car seat installed—I hadn’t thought about that since we had too much luggage (and people) for his car this last time. Could be a good solution and then we could maybe just take the stroller which is less risky on the plane (and gate checking is super easy).

    • Hmm… maybe I’ll tell my mom to keep an eye out for garage sales and the like. Perhaps she can find some things? Though I’m not sure how often we’ll be going home (ideally, my mom will be willing to come here as well now) – it’s been a long time since I would go once a year – so buying things might not be worth it. I guess it depends on the price. My best friend has twins that’ll be about 3 years old when we visit. I’m hoping she’ll have some old things to borrow. That would be the easiest solution!

    • Thanks I found it! Does make traveling with children seem horrifying though. I have such good memories of flying with you when we were little (fruit roll-ups were involved).

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