Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Survive Flying with a Baby

El Chalten, Argentina –3 hour bus ride à El Calafate, Argentina.
3 hours in the airport.
El Calafate, Argentina – 3 hour plane ride à Buenos Aires, Argentina
2.5 hours in the airport.
Buenos Aires, Argentina – 10.5 hour plane ride à Houston, TX.
80 minutes to get through customs, recheck luggage and make flight.
Houston, TX – 2.5 hour plane ride à Denver, CO.
Collect luggage.
Denver, CO – 1.5 hour drive à HOME!!

This was my itinerary home from Patagonia this past spring.  It’s a long itinerary to do in a push no matter who you are.  Then add in a 10 month old baby.  For two and a half months I was haunted by this itinerary.  My heart raced a little every time it came to mind because I was doing it solo.  Just Fitz and me.  As the date neared I thought I was crazy.  Not only was I flying home with a child on the move, I had to somehow manage 2 duffle bags, a diaper bag, a backpack with my camera in it, a baby hiking back pack and of course, Fitz!  While we were down in Argentina I even sat in a small, poorly ventilated phone booth for hours trying to get my ticket changed to just wait and fly back with Tommy (because we were having such a good time, and because of my fear of this itinerary).  Alas, it was going to be a CRAZY expensive change fee so I just had to suck it up.

All of the cargo I had to get home rolling solo.  
February 11th came and the good weather window for Tommy, Alex and the rest of the climbers hungrily waiting in El Chalten moved in.  I hugged Alex and told him to keep Tommy and himself alive, and gave Tommy a teary hug and kiss telling him to be safe and to send something rad.  They got in the taxi and were off.  Now I had to finish the last minute packing and getting Fitz breakfast before the Las Lengas shuttle service showed up.  The Fitz Roy massif looked covered in ice and especially majestic as we got our last glimpses from town.  It was going to be a gorgeous day.

Fitz quickly fell asleep in the Ergo carrier as the van made its way towards El Calafate.  We arrived at the airport and checked in with time to kill.  Fitz was a master-crawler at this point and so we cozied ourselves into an open end of the airport and I cut him loose for a few hours.  We survived the plane ride to Buenos Aires with no nap and a borrowed book from the little boy across the aisle.  Arriving in BA I had to collect our luggage and wheel it to the next terminal over and re-check it.  The woman at the check in counter had pity on me and allowed me to check the baby backpack for free so I only had to lug myself, Fitz on the front carrier, back pack on back and diaper bag over my shoulder through the rest of the airport.  I felt like a pack mule.  We grabbed some dinner and now it was Fitz’s time to burn more energy before our long leg.  I set him loose again.  In no time at all the tops of his feet were black from the dirty floors.  The smile on his face, bigger than ever.  The other people at our gate, happily entertained.  It really is a cool thing how many smiles Fitz has brought to people around the world. 
Fitz in Buenos Aires before the long leg of our flight!

We loaded the plane and scored big with an empty seat next to us, and the gift of a very friendly gentleman next to that.  Fitz fell asleep as we took off and of course filled his pants with a stinky poo, too.  Awesome, I thought, really hoping that it wouldn’t squeeze it’s way out of the diaper and on to me.  Once we reached altitude I busted it back to the bathroom and did a quick diaper change and got Fitz to fall back asleep (it was his bedtime, so it wasn’t too difficult).  The man in our aisle grabbed things for me occasionally and watched Fitz for a second as I laid him in the seat next to me and snuck back to the bathroom.  It’s always surprising how helpful people are most of the time….especially South Americans a lot of Europeans. 

The plane landed in Houston with Fitz having slept most of the flight and I got a handful of fitful hours of sleep.  It was on now.  Operation:  get through customs and make our connection in 80 minutes!!  I strapped Fitz to me and we eventually made it to our gate as they were mostly done boarding.  It was a full plane with what seemed like half the space.  Cramming into my seat the friendly woman next to me offered to hold Fitz while I got settled in.  Another little gift.  I was starting to get pretty tired now, but knew we were close to the finish line.  In Denver Tommy’s parents were waiting for us.  Our bags all showed up and we were in the car making our way up the canyon home!  Fitz wasn’t the happiest to be in his car seat, but he managed and I survived falling in and out of sleep the whole way.  We stepped in the front door and I breathed a sigh of relief.  We survived our journey. As minor as my accomplishment was of flying successfully home with Fitz it was still an accomplishment that was empowering.  Now I felt like I could do anything. 

Days later I would get a phone call from our friend Kelly that tragedy had struck in the mountains and claimed Chad Kellogg, but not to worry about the guys.  They were spotted and doing well.  In a couple days I would get the much anticipated phone call from Tommy telling me they climbed the first free ascent of the Fitz Roy massif traverse and were calling it The FitzTraverse, with our little Fitz in mind.    

My tips for flying with a baby
Disclaimer:  This is what works for Fitz and I, and what I’ve figured out from my own experience.  Take what you will and good luck flying!! 

Some of Fitz’s flights so far:  Minnesota, Portland, Tennessee, Argentina, Florida, Switzerland, Prague, Greece, Sicily, California.

So much luggage.  Alpine climbing and babies require a lot of gear.
First and foremost, stay calm and make it fun!!  One thing I’ve noticed of seasoned travelers is that they can go roll with the punches and I think this is especially important when you’ve got a little one in tow.  Often times your child’s mood is affected by yours so keep things light.

Booking Flights: 
  • Consider travel time.  If there are overnight options for international flights, go for it!  Fitz has always slept well through the night.  
  • Consider layover times.  We have experienced the cutting it close/super short layover and the way too long layover.  What part of the trip will you be in?  Long layover before your last flight, not the best…so close yet sooo far away.  Short layover when customs is a part of the equation can make things more stressful…what if you have a blowout to clean up, or your kid puked on you and you need to change clothes? 
  • Check to see if your airline has bassinets for babies on international flight.  If so, call right after your reservation is confirmed and reserve it (it’s free!).  Even if you don’t use the bassinet you are seated in bulkhead so you have a little extra leg room/room for baby to move around.  You can’t store your diaper bag under your seat typically, so we just get everything out we might need and it’s never been much of a hassle, and we have always enjoyed the extra room.  The bassinets have been a good thing a few times, and a couple times we have had really strict flight attendants threaten to make us take Fitz out when the seat belt sign is on.  One of the bassinets was a glorified box that sat on the floor, so we actually just picked up the box and set it on our laps for a few minutes, and other times we’ve just held the sleeping baby.
  • People ask about aisle vs window seat.  Early on an aisle seat was nice to get up and walk around with Fitz to let the movement soothe him.  When he got a little older the window was nice because you get a slight bit more room next to you, and Fitz would stand up against the window and look out and bang on it, etc.  On our flight home from Europe a week after Fitz had just learned to walk, we opted for aisle so he could get out and walk down the aisle easily.  Lately we’ve gone with the window and it’s been nice to have the “look out the window” option.
  • We’ve only flown with Fitz as a lap child so far.  Some airlines have the option to include your lap child online, and others (Southwest for sure) requires that you call after your reservation is made to add on the lap child.  Make sure you look this up and get your baby on your reservation!

Fitz snoozing in the bassinet on our way to Switzerland.

Prepping for the flight:
  • Start packing early.  It’s amazing how many things you need to think of sometimes.  And when you’ve got a million other things to do all the time, it’s nice to start packing a little early (at least mentally thinking about what you need). 
  • When packing I put some of each traveler’s stuff in each bag so if one bag gets lost or doesn’t show up every one has at least something to survive off of.  Especially a few diapers in each bag, too, because you don’t always know the availability of diapers at your destination.
  • If baby is formula fed or eating solids think about how much food you need to bring to get you through flight and then a bit extra in case you can’t get to the store right away or your flight itinerary has some hiccups and is longer than planned.  In Argentina we brought with a bunch of food pouches because of the convenience for hikes/hanging out at the crag/boulders, and to make sure I had enough for our flights home as well. 
  • Diapers are the same way.  Make sure you have some extras packed for the trip there because who wants to run out of diapers!!  Usually you can get diapers at your destination, but if you aren’t sure pack enough along.
  • IMPORTANT:  Practice your luggage systems.  If you are traveling with your partner and you have 2 duffels each, a car seat, a stroller, carry on bags, diaper bags, blah blah blah, make sure you can maneuver it all with a baby.  When we arrived in El Chalten we had to walk a handful of blocks to get to the house we were staying at.  That would have been impossible if we hadn’t worked out our systems beforehand of how we were going to clip everything together etc.  And if you are traveling solo with a kid this is really important!  People are usually pretty helpful, but it’s not always a guarantee.  We use a roller duffel and strap a duffel on top with the use of trusty carabiners.  Then throw whatever else on top of that if need-be.   
  • Make sure your kid is well rested and fed before the flight.  If for whatever reason he/she ends up not napping on the plane it won’t be as big of a deal, but no body likes a hangry baby!
Walking from the bus stop to Centro Alpino.  Check out Tommy's luggage smooth.  Alex, on the other hand, needs a little help.  :)
Carry on:
  • Have your diaper bag organized and know where everything is.  I usually set this under the seat in front of me so there’s easy access to its contents.  If you’re in the bulkhead pull out the things you think you’ll for sure need.
  • I like to pack a change of clothes for Fitz, some toys, and food each in a little separate small bag (meant for dirty cloth diapers, but you could use whatever) to help keep things organized.  Then diapers, wipes, changing pad and/or burp cloth, etc can be loose in diaper bag without being an overwhelming mess to pull out.  I have my liquids in a Ziploc bag for security requirements already so that’s in it’s own bag.
  • Packing snacks like little puffs/finger stuff that takes the kid time to eat also works as a great distraction!
  • Extras:  I like to make sure I have some infant Tylenol or Ibuprofen just in case, and I usually pack some hand sanitizer spray or wipes.  We are all about building up the immune system and not having everything clean, but especially during sick season I will sometimes wipe the seatback, arm rests, etc. down just to avoid our trip getting ruined with a sickness!  Also, I once ran into a woman waiting in the bathroom covered in her kid's puke and one time Fitz pooped on Tommy.  No one wants to be that woman or Tommy in that situation.  I always pack an extra shirt for Tommy and I and a sometimes pair of leggings.

Cutest traveler.
Day of:
  • Get to the airport early.  When we flew to Argentina we arrived unusually early, but it was a good thing because it took forever to check in because of issues with proof that we paid for Fitz’s ticket (lap babies on international flights typically cost 10% of fare, but they get a free bag, so at least there’s that!), and getting all of our luggage checked, and then I had to get patted down in a private room, and suddenly every one was boarding the flight!  You never know when you’re going to have to stop and feed suddenly or there’s a big blow out or something inevitably happens.
  •  If you have time before boarding find an open space and let your kids burn off some energy!
  • Make sure you’ve eaten enough/have enough snacks.  I always got pretty hungry while I was breastfeeding and I tend to be more susceptible to motion sickness when I don’t have food in my stomach.
  • Stay calm and try to enjoy the whole process.  We have seen so many stressed out parents and I feel like it really affects your kids and your whole experience.  Take a breath!

More roaming around for Fitz while Tommy and Alex scheme up big plans on our way down to Patagonia.

On the plane:
  • Some people rush to get on the plane and just sit there.  That’s extra time your little one has to just sit there.  If you don’t have an assigned seat, I think it’s a good thing to get a good spot, whatever your preference.  When you already have your assigned seat and not much to put in overhead storage, I say don’t rush.  Maximize kid-stretching out/burning off energy before the flight.
  • Once on the plane get diaper bag set and ready.  Pull out anything to stick in the seat back pocket (nursing cover, favorite toy, water/bottle, etc).
  • Fitz likes exploring what’s in the seat pocket.  If you’re forever grossed out by those magazines put them on the floor or your neighbors seat pocket if they don’t mind and put some of your stuff in the seat pocket for you kid to check out. 
  • Fitz also loves to stand on my lap and look back at all the faces behind us.  Typically he finds someone who is willing to play peek-a-boo and make faces with.
  • For take off and landing early on I would always nurse Fitz unless he was asleep already.  Then I just let him be, but was ready to put him to the boob if he woke up uncomfortable.  Around a year he seemed to deal with the pressure fine.  I would have snacks and his water cup ready. 
  • Walk around with the little one in the front carrier to help soothe them or if they’re walking let them walk in the aisle if need be.  When Fitz started to walk we usually kept this as a last resort or towards the end of the flight because he’s more resistant to sitting down afterwards.
  •  We have iphone/ipad apps, but typically try to use them as a last resort.  A lot of flights we have gotten by without them, but when we’re tired, they’re amazing to have.  Any little bit of rest is better than none!
  • On the flights we have been on there has been a fold down changing table above the toilet.  Usually there’s a little sign on the bathroom door that has it.  It’s a tight squeeze in there so bring your wipes, a diaper and whatever else you need instead of the whole diaper bag if you can.

Fitz on the move while we waiting for our flight in El Calafate.
Baby Gear:
  • Car seat:  When we need to travel with a car seat we have always checked it through.  Fitz has always been a lap child so we’ve never counted on having an empty seat, and we don’t mind holding him.  It’s also nice to have one less thing to deal with through security and lugging around before your flight.  We haven’t had an issue with it getting really dirty or damaged.  When we flew into Switzerland our car seat didn’t make it and the airline had one we used until ours showed up.  Fitz is small and we can still push it with him in the infant car seat.  I’m not sure what we’ll do when we have to travel with our bigger car seat.  Any ideas??
  • Stroller:  Whenever we bring a stroller we like to gate check it.  If your kid isn’t being pushed in it you can throw your carry-on in it.  I think it’s nice sometimes to have a little extra carrying capacity and not be weighted down.
  • Baby backpack:  Typically when we’ve traveled with the baby backpack we have gate checked it because it was a crucial item to our travels.  I think it’s less likely an airline would have a loaner hiking backpack.  Whether we check it through or gate-check it we utilize the storage capacity and it’s like getting a little extra free space. 
  • Soft Baby Carrier:  We always have a front carrier no matter what.  Fitz usually stays pretty chill in it, it’s good for wearing them to fall asleep early on, you can walk through security wearing them, 2 hands free, you can go to the bathroom without taking the kiddo off, stuffs in a bag pretty easily and it’s quite comfortable for both baby and parent!  We have an Ergo and a Boba that we received as gifts.  I like the Ergo a little better because of the zipper pocket, but Tommy likes the Boba.

Our bassinet flying to Argentina...more like a glorified box, but it worked!

Overall Traveling:
  • Start ‘em young.  I don’t know if it’s Fitz’s personality or if it’s just part of the norm, but I think getting kids used to flying on airplanes is a good thing.  Fitz seems like he gets in his groove and he just kind of knows the drill by now.  It’s no big deal.  We (knock on wood) haven’t had any major freak-outs though I'm sure they will come.
  • Don’t avoid flying because it seems overwhelming.  Typically we’ve been surprised.  I think kids are intuitive and they know when it’s go time.  Airports are fun because there are a lot of people to look at, changing scenery, etc.  You will survive it.  And even if it’s rough it’s usually better than staying at home!! 
  • If you do have that screaming baby on the plane people will get over it.  I have heard of other people bringing ear plugs to pass out to their neighbors if this is the case. 
  • Again, stay calm and make it fun! 
  • Take lots of pictures!

Ask away if you have any questions and let me know if you have any other suggestions as we will continue to fly with Fitz and are always up for advice! 

Our systems keep evolving!
Happy Travels!


  1. Excellent blog. Even though I'm a 'veteran' w/kids doing long windshield-time, this will be useful in the future, as our latest addition will be showing himself between mid-November & December. There will likely be flights in Isaacs' future, maybe not quite the endurance-fests y'all have experienced.. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks! All the best with the new addition!!

  2. Love this! I did that same itinerary home from El Chalten by myself and thought it was hell. I've always wondered how you did it with a baby. I'm taking my first flight with my 6 mo old this weekend (to Colorado!) and really appreciated your advice. Thanks for sharing!
    (I think you might remember me, I used to live in EP and we share a lot of the same friends. I love your photos of Fitz on facebook.)

    1. I definitely remember you, Mary! And I've seen pics of your adorable little one on FB, too. The best hair!! :) Good luck on your flight to CO! Maybe we'll bump into you, Spruce and the little lady some time.

  3. It was so good meeting you, Fitz and Tommy at Summer's party the other day, Becca. Fitz is adorable beyond words! The excellence of this blog is exactly what I was trying to compliment you on that day. Your informative and entertaining writing style makes people want to keep reading. I mean, hey, I don't even travel with small children, and I still wanted to keep reading this one!!! Keep the blogs coming as you travel through your life's adventures. I'll look forward to reading them!!

  4. Such great advice. So many things I either didn't know, or never thought of. thanks for sharing!

  5. (Attempted to publish a message just a few seconds ago but I'm not seeing it. So, if there are multiple messages on here from me asking the same question(s), I apologize.)

    But...Thank You. I love this blog; it's extremely helpful. Quick question: I'll be traveling w/ my 5 month old daughter to El Chalten in just a few days, staying for a month. I'm curious what, if any, they have there in regards to diapers? Disposable or cloth. Any ideas?

    Thanks again; this is an amazing blog!


    1. Thanks Lexi! I hope this isn't too late! Awesome you guys will be down in Chalten! How long for? We're headed down in February. If you're still there maybe we'll bump into you at La Senyera or Verdelimon. :) So...I did notice diapers down there last year. I didn't look too closely at the selection and if there were many because I was only down for 2 weeks and so I just brought diapers from home unsure of what the supply would be. Will you be traveling through El Calafate? If you're concerned about Chalten, Calafate should definitely have them. I'm not sure about cloth...we're on the disposable program since we are on the road so much. Safe travels with the wee one!!

  6. Staying chill and rolling with everything is 100% our travel with kids mantra too!
    We have a big car seat for both our kiddos (I've moved into traveling with 2 now. 😬) and found a great car seat bag that has wheels and you can check. I think it was from Amazon. Super helpful b/c you can hook it to the rest of your luggage and it rolls along like a little train!
    Loved your blog and all the great pictures. Cheers to your next travel adventure!!

  7. Great suggestions! Do you have destination or itinerary advice for Argentina in August with a 10 month old?

    -thanks in advance

  8. Wow! Fitz is looking so cute in these photos. One should have extreme guts to accomplish such things with carrying a baby. We often get afraid of taking our small babies out while in a long journey to avoid any complications. But this is something you have done fabulous! Really fabulous! However, babies also should learn the traveling things. Well, we have to remain more careful while taking babies out. You should first back their basic necessities such as diapers, foods, milks and some playing toys in case he gets bored during the journey.
    Baby Flying

  9. I am definitely enjoying your website. You definitely have some great insight and great stories. Baby Back Pack

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  11. Such great advice. So many things I either didn't know, or never thought of. thanks for sharing!

  12. Hi,

    I use a Graco's Aire3 Click Connect Stroller. I use this because of it's Easy Fold, Comfortable Ride, Extra Coverage, and Strolling Security.

    BTW, thanks for your article. This is really great.


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  17. Thanks for sharing your experience! I also usually bring a pair of pants and a shirt for each of my kids and an extra t-shirt for me: just in case of spills or other accidents. A pair of extra socks for kids are a good idea too: if they wear nothing but socks in the airplane bathroom, they might need a change.