Flying with baby for the first time can be very stressful. We scoured the internet for answers to our most pressing questions, but nothing replaces actually doing it yourself and seeing how it works for you, your child, and whatever TSA agent you may end up with. My baby flirted so hard with one TSA agent that she wanted to come with us, so we were all good on that front.
In the time leading up to our flight, I was less concerned about what would happen once we were on the plane. My questions and worries all revolved around logistics at the airport and getting through security. I worried about the car seat, I worried about all of our stuff, and I worried about how much time everything would take. I made sure we had plenty of time on the way to the airport each way. The real test of our preparation would come once we arrived at the airport.
How do you get to the airport with all that stuff without your car?
All of the stuff. This was my biggest worry. How do you take a car seat with you in a taxi? We have a car seat that can be fastened in with a seat belt, but is that going to be enough? Once we get there, how do we get to the rental car place with two suitcases each, a diaper bag, two backpacks, and a car seat and stroller, plus bags for said car seat and stroller and a baby carrier? Yes, we were amateur packers. I probably could have packed lighter, but we were also going to be gone for a long time with questionable access to a washing machine, and we also needed fancy clothes and shoes for a wedding.
Turns out that the biggest issue we had was getting all of the stuff into the rental car once we got the keys (I probably should have opted for a larger vehicle). We were lucky though that the rental car place was in the airport in Santa Barbara, so we did not have to cross that bridge until we went to return the rental car in Los Angeles. When we were unpacking the car, the rental car agents were nice enough to get carts for us, and the shuttle driver helped us with all of our bags at LAX. Curbside check-in was our savior once we arrived at the airport, and fastening the car seat into a taxi was no big thing. Lots of stress for nothing.
What do you do with the car seat and stroller at the airport?
This was my second biggest worry for a number of reasons. Do you check the car seat and risk its destruction in the cargo hold (they do check them for free)? Do you gate check it with a lesser chance of this but still the same risk of having damage that essentially totals it such that it is no longer safe? Do you try to see if they have any spare seats on your flight and take it on board? How do you get it through security anyway? Do you bring the car seat base?
We did end up gate checking the car seat and stroller combo (for free, of course) and checking the car seat base in one of our other bags. We were renting a car and going to be doing a lot of driving, so we wanted to have a safer setup by bringing the base. We bought two bags to put the car seat and the stroller in at the gate to keep them from getting dirty in the cargo hold, which hopefully would also help keep them from damage. I carried the baby onto the plane in a baby carrier, and being able to pre-board is amazing and necessary. We had an hour connection in Denver and had no problem getting the car seat and stroller back from gate check in time to make our next flight (another worry of mine).
How do you get the stroller and car seat through security?
I’ve traveled a lot by myself, and I pride myself on getting through security quickly and not holding anyone up. This is a whole different ballgame, and I had to throw my concerns about what others thought of how long it took us out the window. It was going to take us as long as it takes, period. One of the most time-consuming parts of this ordeal was figuring out whether the stroller and car seat would fit through the scanner. You first have to give it your best try, and if they do not fit, then TSA will search it another way. In both cases, they fit, but just barely, so thankfully, we didn’t end up having an even longer trip through security. Luckily, my job was to hold the baby through security, so I did not personally have to deal with wedging the car seat and stroller through the machine.
How do you get all of your baby essentials through security?
I thought that I had this part on lock. I had plastic ziplock bags for all of the small liquid items. I had the formula removed to be checked by an agent. The baby was all fed, and I was planning on buying bottled water on the other side of security, so I had no other liquids. I thought I was super prepared.
Nope. I didn’t know about one thing: the wipes. I got pulled aside and searched because I did not realize that the wipes look like a big block of liquid sitting in your bag. I was supposed to take them out with the formula, and I completely overlooked how to deal with the wipes when I was doing my research. Didn’t even think about it. Ugh. Having bags searched at their separate station while trying to keep an eye on all of the other stuff we had plus the baby really sucked, so I wish I would have known to avoid those few minutes of chaos. Live and learn.
I seriously feel for moms who are also dealing with breastmilk and breast pumps. I honestly had no desire to fly until that was no longer a concern. Mad props to those moms who do.
We learned a lot from our first experience flying with a baby that will be incredibly useful for planning any subsequent trips. With questions about logistics out of the way, we will be able to focus on how to keep a very mobile infant or toddler occupied on our next adventure because he and his entertainment will be much less negligible in the equation than they were this time around.