Flying with a baby and without your partner (and his or her two extra hands) makes travel more challenging, yes, but still totally doable! Parker and I have now flown four flights by ourselves, so I thought I would share what's worked for us.
First, having someone (in our case Max) drive you to the airport, park and help you inside is a must. You'll have your suitcase and diaper bag, car seat that you'll need on the other end, and possibly a stroller. Add all this to the baby you'll obviously be carrying, and a second person to handle luggage and gear will be a life saver. If you are renting a car on the other end, I've read that you can also rent car seats, however when Parker and I flew by ourselves we always had family pick us up on the other side so we needed to travel with his car seat. We used this gate check bagto cover the car seat and offer protection before checking it. We put in on after parking in the parking lot since it also provides a handle to make it a little easier to hold (it's still quite awkward to carry).
We learned the hard way to not check our fancy, expensive stroller. Our stroller damage (again from checking it on a family flight) was fixable, however we realized we shouldn't roll the dice again. Instead, I ordered a stroller similar to this onefor $19.99 and had it shipped directly to our family in California so it would be waiting for us there. It was pretty tiny, but worked for what we needed as we weren't doing a ton of walking around. It was inexpensive enough that I didn't mind buying it and leaving it with them, and I'd definitely buy-and-ship again for another destination as it eliminated the need to travel with the stroller.
After husby helped us check-in, he would sweetly walk us to security. Since the cheap-o stroller was already waiting for us at our destination, I was able to go through security each time without it. Sure, I could have taken a stroller through security (and some people might like to have it with them and just gate-check it before stepping on the plane), but for me it was worth not having something extra to look after (and something to have to fold and place on the x-ray belt while also holding my infant). Here's what I looked like before heading through security:
To me, this was perfect! I was comfy and hands-free. I recently switched diaper bags to this back-pack version from Vera Bradley (though mine was on clearance!) and I wore Parker in the Baby Bjornso I was able to move very easily. You might notice that Parker was very comfy as well, as he was still in his jams! Both of our Phoenix flights were early AM ones, so I woke Parker up early, changed and nursed him, and headed right to the airport (I changed him to real clothes once we arrived in California).
I am enrolled in the Global Entry program which gives me TSA pre-check, allowing me to keep my shoes on (very helpful when wearing a baby) and usually gives me a very short line. I would recommend it to anyone wanting a break at security! Since I wear Parker in the carrier, they do need to perform a hand-swipe on my palms after I walk through the metal detector, but it only takes an extra maybe 10-15 seconds.
As for what I put in the diaper bag, here are my must-haves (aside from diapers and wipes of course):
1. I am in love with these yogurt packs. Parker will no longer eat the pureed packs of baby food (such a big boy now!) however little man loves his yogurt and will happily slurp these babies. I freeze one or two of them and then put them in my quart-size zip lock (since they fall under liquid restrictions). They thaw pretty quickly - they are usually perfect by the time we are in the air.
2. Parker actually finds about a million things to be fascinated with on a flight... the pull down tray on the seat in front of us, the buttons on the seat dividers, just looking out the window (we choose a window seat whenever we can)...
However, I do like to pack a couple items to entertain him. I love soft booksfor this purpose since they are extremely lightweight (perfect for flying) and usually offer some sort of interactive feature. Little man loves, loves, loves books, and I used to pack board books until I realized I was lugging around lots of extra weight - so now we do these, and pack a few board books in the checked suitcase.
3. Snacks will also keep Parker entertained, so I make sure to pack lots of crackers, puffs and yogurt drops into one of these snack cups. I love that they are virtually spill-proof, and also have a lid. I pack extra snacks in the checked suitcase so I can refill the cup for the flight home.
I actually pack it empty so I can breeze through security, and then I purchase a water bottle near the gate to fill it (I realize that there are exceptions for baby items when going through security, but this involves TSA bringing you over to the side, calling in additional help, and testing your baby products. For me, it's worth it to have to buy the water if it means I can go through security easily).
5. Finally, I feel like I am constantly wiping Parker down with these baby face wipes. I professed my love for them here, but really any sort of wipe will do as long as it's a moist one.
In addition, Parker loves to eat banana so I usually toss one of those in as well. I also always have some empty ziplock baggies stashed in the diaper bag - they take up almost zero room and they are great for storing messy trash (like those face wipes and banana peels) until the flight attendants can collect. Trust me, you'll want them.
After eating and entertaining, Parker has given me a nap of some sort on almost all the flights...
Once we land, family has met us every single time at baggage claim. Again, if flying alone, this is crucial to have extra hands to carry things! They help carry the suitcase or car seat or little man out to the parking lot, where we install the car seat and then we are ready to go!
I won't lie, I look around at the other travelers when we are waiting to board, and I am jealous of their coffees and their magazines (especially if they are leisurely sipping on a coffee while reading a magazine!). There is nothing leisurely or relaxing about flying solo with a baby, and you will probably be exhausted on the other end, but it can totally be done! Good luck and happy flying!