Flying solo with a baby or young child presents its own set of logistical considerations. For example, how do you get your carry-on bags, stroller, and possibly a car seat—oh, and your shoes, and your coat—onto the X-ray scanner while you juggle your child (and now they ask to see your boarding pass and photo ID for a second time)? How do you fold your stroller at the gate with your child in your arms? What do you do with your baby while you use the lavatory? And how do you install the car seat while wrestling your toddler and situating your carry-on bags? And if you’re flying with a lap child, how will you eat your dinner when there may not even be room for the tray and your child in your lap?
Anything else to consider? How about negotiating baggage claim in an army of strangers slinging their heavy suitcases off the track? Traveling alone with a small child requires the swift dexterity of an octopus. Here are a few tips and strategies that may help:
1. If you haven’t already purchased your tickets, it may be well worth comparing your airline options using the Airlines Table (beginning pg. 244) to see if any offer family-friendly perks that could make all the difference for you.
2. Take a “test drive” around your home (or around your block!) with whatever suitcase(s), stroller, backpack, baby sling, or other gear you plan to transport through the airport on your own. Don’t wait until you get there to discover your plan needs a little fine-tuning…
3. Ask your airline if you’ll have the option of curb-checking your baggage on arrival at either of your airports. This may help you avoid the hairpin turns and longer wait of the line inside the airport. An extra fee may apply (around $2 per item usually), but it could be well worth it.
4. If you want to wear your baby or toddler through the airport to keep your hands free for other things, keep it simple. Use a simple cross-body sling that will slip off and back on easily with one hand in case you are asked to remove it and put it through the X-ray (you’ll also be less likely to get asked to remove a simple fabric sling).
5. Keep toddlers and older children buckled into their travel strollers until you have finished loading all other items onto the X-ray belt first. On the other side, collect your stroller first and strap in your child before collecting your other gear. It may take a few moments longer initially for your stroller to catch up to your other gear, but your child will be safer and you’ll be much faster at getting the rest of it together when you have two free hands.
6. Consider using the FlyeBaby air travel “hammock” when flying solo with an infant on your lap, to help free up your hands (and ease your back) at least during some parts of your flight (more about the FlyeBaby on pg. 69 and full review at TravelswithBaby.com).
7. Instead of lugging along a car seat in addition to your child, you may prefer to use the CARES child aviation restraint (first read pros and cons, pg. 303) during your flight.
8. If traveling with your child’s car seat, be sure to read the Seven Easy Ways to Get Your Car Seat to the Gate, pg. 276. Depending on your travel plans and needs, you may prefer to roll your child through the airport strapped into his car seat, and either check your stroller or leave it at home.
9. As you approach security, tell the first guard you see, “I’m going to need some assistance please,” and expect it (and ask the second guard you see, too, if you must). A security guard should help you get your items into the X-ray, and one will hopefully help you collect them again on the other side.
10. Keep your travel documents and those of your child, boarding passes, and your cash and credit cards in a necklace-style travel wallet. They will be easy to locate and access each time they are needed en route (even while you have a child in your arms), and will slip under your sweater or shirt when not needed for far greater security and convenience than carrying a purse or placing them in a carry-on.
11. When using airport restrooms, use the handicapped stall where there is plenty of room for your child to sit in his stroller and for you to park any extra gear. Many airports now have family restrooms, and some others offer baby care/nursery rooms for travelers with babies—visit your airport’s website in advance to check for these and their locations.
12. When using aircraft lavatories, you can slip your baby into your over-the-shoulder sling (but remember flight crews in the U.S. will not allow you to hold the child in the sling during takeoff or landing).
13. Throughout your flight, don’t hesitate to ask a flight attendant if you need help with anything, from assistance in installing your child’s CRS to getting your bag into the overhead bin. Your seat should come equipped with a flight attendant call button—don’t be afraid to use it.
14. At baggage claim, always keep a baby or toddler secured in his stroller or car seat, and aim for a less popular portion of the claim conveyor belt where the “suitcase sling zone” is not so frantic or crowded and other passengers will likely be more aware of your child.
15. Rather than wait in potentially long lines for taxis after your flight, check the rates for private car service at your destination. It may not cost much more to have a driver ready and waiting for you on arrival, and in some cases, they may also provide car seats or safety boosters for your child (see recommendations for private car hire services with car seats for New York City and Paris at TravelswithBaby.com).
Don’t forget: Any time you will be crossing international borders with your child and without her other parent, even traveling from the U.S. into Canada, you will need a notarized letter of consent from the absent parent, or evidence that you are the child’s sole legal guardian (see more on this topic and a sample letter of consent on pg. 133).
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