I Flew a Million Miles (Mostly) Alone, Then Added a Newborn — Here’s What I Learned

Jun 19, 2019

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Last year, I reached a major milestone: a million miles flown with a single airline. In my case, with Delta Air Lines. While my wife joined me for around 300,000 of those — with parents, friends and colleagues tagging along for a few as well — the bulk of that flying was done solo. Me, myself and I.

I’d become quite adept at the rhythms of business travel, knowing many of Delta’s hub airports like the back of my hand. I know which Sky Clubs are open when, what gates they are near, which to avoid during certain hours and exactly how long it takes me to hustle from one end of Detroit Metro Airport to the other. I had commercial air travel all figured out.

Then came Baby Murph. My wife and I recently adopted a newborn, and with a mind to have him fall into our steady travel schedule as opposed to slowing down, we booked a flight two time zones away for the three of us. He was just 5 weeks of age. For someone who has flown enough to see just about everything, I found myself surprised by some elements of infant travel and not at all shocked by others. Below, I’ll share my key take-aways for road warriors who are planning to keep the flights coming while adding a newborn.

In This Post

Double All of Your Time Estimates

family travel babysitter grandpa in flight
Flying a babysitter (or grandparent) in makes infant travel a lot easier.

Frequent business travelers have a knack for cutting things close while keeping their cool. They know they’ll save time by not checking a bag. They know that CLEAR will have them from curb to gate in a matter of minutes. They know they can skip lunch en route, instead popping into an airline lounge for a quick bite. When you only have one person to consider, predictability isn’t all that hard to come by.

Even as a Diamond Medallion with Global Entry (and, in turn, TSA Precheck), I discovered that I needed roughly twice the amount of time for everything in order for my travel experience to be just as smooth as solo travel. My wife and I recently flew with our newborn to Montana, and were joined by my parents as well. That’s five total people and six checked bags. Two of those were dedicated to ski gear, one to newborn paraphernalia and three to … honestly, I have no idea. My fellow parents will understand.

Things like impromptu feedings, unexpected wardrobe changes and checking more bags than usual takes time. Our trip was smooth, uneventful and entirely enjoyable in both directions because I did the math in advance and doubled all of my time estimates. We didn’t always need that much padding, but it was appreciated nonetheless.

You’re Probably Packing Too Much

There's no kitchen sink in there, but everything else is covered
There’s no kitchen sink in there, but everything else is covered.

We erred on the side of not forgetting anything, which meant that we essentially packed everything given to us at our baby shower. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know, and we definitely didn’t want to end up in snowy Montana without that one very important thing. The upside of this was total peace of mind. We had everything our newborn had needed to thrive at home, so we’d be set for a week at a new destination.

The downside was the mental load of trying to remember where a certain thing was. We checked some items, we carried some items on and we definitely lost track of what was where. We had everything, yes, but we played “search that bag” pretty often. I’m actually glad we overpacked for the first trip, because now I know what’s essential and what’s not for the second trip. Rather than stressing about only taking what you need, I’d encourage you to overpack on your first trip and take notes for how to slim down on successive trips.

You’ll Do Less, and That’s OK

sunset montana sky glacier national park winter snow
With an infant, we slowed down to simply soak in a sunset at Glacier National Park.

Last year, my wife and I visited the exact same resort (Meadow Lake) and ski mountain (Whitefish) in Montana with two of our friends. We know the town and the mountain well, and are extremely efficient at planning action-packed days that maximize our vacation time. It was nothing for us to rise, cook a full breakfast, ski for six hours, phone in a meal for pickup on the way back to our resort, kick back for an hour in the hot tub, get a solid half-hour of stretching in and watch a movie before bed. If we really wanted to, we could cut skiing short and shove a sunset viewing in Glacier National Park in there.

That’s probably a bit too ambitious with a newborn — even if you bring babysitters as we did. I went into this trip with different expectations. If we could ski for a few hours, that was a successful day. If we could see sunset in one of our favorite parks, that too was a success. The slower pace allowed us to soak in more, which I found to be a welcome change.

Layovers and Connections

Thank heavens for Delta Sky Club access
Thank heavens (and the Platinum Card® from American Express) for Delta Sky Club access.

When I travel for business, I’ll occasionally select an itinerary with a tight connection. After all, I’ll probably make it, and if I don’t I’ll be fine waiting for the next flight. I now see layovers and connections in an entirely new light. I booked this trip with a connection in both directions. I made sure the layovers were at least 120 minutes, too. I wanted the opportunity to feed and change our newborn during the layover if needed, and with additional time for us adults to eat as well.

It turned out to be prudent. About 15 minutes after our first flight landed, our newborn let us know he was hungry. Very hungry. He then proceeded to put a bit of his lunch back on mom’s shirt. Thankfully, our long layover meant that we didn’t have to stress it, and having a layover at all meant that we were able to deal with this on Earth rather than in the sky. We took it all in stride, got some funny photos out of it and made our connection with time to spare. Plus, changing and eating proved far easier in a Delta Sky Club than it would have out in the general terminal.

Connections not only provide a breather, but epic views if transiting through Salt Lake City
Connections not only provide a breather, but epic views if transiting through Salt Lake City.

Speaking of connections: consider them for long flights. We broke a 2,000 mile trip up into two 1,000 mile hops, and I found that to be ideal. Not only was it pretty easy to spend two or so hours on a plane with a newborn (as opposed to 4+), but we were able to find regional jets with a preferred 2-2 seating configuration. Not having to pester anyone to get up and down during the flight was a godsend.

Having the Right Credit Card Is Vital

diamond medallion sky club baby car seat doona lga
The Doona Infant Car Seat looks right at home at LaGuardia’s Sky Club.

I’ve known that airline lounge access is a luxury, and it makes working from the road far more feasible. With a newborn, lounge access is all the more important. There’s no comparison when it comes to cleanliness of family restrooms in the general terminal and in a lounge. Lounges provide private nooks where you can throw your bags down, focus on your newborn and breathe. Being able to grab a coffee, then grab another one because your first one got cold due to your newborn pulling your attention away, is awesome.

We made sure our infant was well fed and content before entering the lounge as to respect the businesslike atmosphere, and I now understand why savvy travelers would bring their little ones into such a place. Be sure to check out our guide to the best credit cards offering free Priority Pass membership, as well as guides for those who frequently fly American Airlines, Delta and United and wish to gain access to their respective lounge networks.

Traveling With a Newborn Is Incredible

Delta hands out wings and aircraft keepsakes for first-time flyers.

All that I’ve learned from flying a million miles still applies when a newborn is in tow. If you’re already a savvy traveler, you’re way ahead of the game. You can trust your instincts when it comes to itinerary planning, and the calm that comes from knowing the territory is passed along to your infant. It’s also incredibly inspirational. I lost count of how many flight attendants and fellow passengers stopped to inquire about our newborn’s age and where we were headed. There’s no gift quite like the gift of travel, and while you could argue that the adults are the ones benefitting the most from traveling with a newborn, something tells me it’s shaping them as well.

I also appreciated how my infant made previously upsetting situations seem pretty mild. We woke up on our last full day in Montana to dangerous wind chills at the summit of Whitefish Mountain, which forced all lifts to close. I can imagine the old me being pretty upset about that. Instead, I glanced over at my wife and newborn and realized the lift closure just meant more time to snuggle up by the fire and enjoy one another — a rare treat that should be savored.

Bottom Line

The Doona 2-in-1 car seat and stroller made travel with an infant much easier
The Doona 2-in-1 car seat and stroller made travel with an infant much easier.

There’s no question that traveling with a newborn is entirely different from crisscrossing the world at a breakneck pace with just yourself, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that much of what I’ve learned in accruing those miles translates to traveling as a dad. Being mindful about what aircraft I book, what kind of layovers I build in and what cards grant me access to which lounges is foundational for having a great trip. With our newborn’s first big flight behind us, we’re eager for the next one.

If you’re on the fence about traveling with your infant, and you’ve got experience as a solo traveler, you’re more equipped than you think. Get out there and make memories. After all, airlines will only let your little one aboard for free for 24 spectacularly short months.

For more tips on newborn travel, take a look at our guides below.

All images by the author.

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