Flying with a baby on Porter Airlines

6 September 2011 | 13 Comments

This past Saturday, we flew on Porter Airlines from Toronto to Newark, in order to get to the apartment we rented in Brooklyn.  We could have flown another airline that would take us to JFK or LaGuardia airports, which are much closer to Brooklyn… but we chose Porter specifically because we’ve had great experiences with them in the past, and we trust their high level of customer service.

I was very apprehensive about flying with baby Clara, who is just over 5 months old.  Before our trip, I googled air travel tips, trying to find as much info as I could in advance.  I even called the airline’s customer service line and asked all kinds of specific questions (exactly how much baby formula can you take with you?  can we bring our own bottled water for mixing the formula?  can we gate check the stroller AND the car seat? etc etc).

In the end, the flight went swimmingly.  Turns out I had nothing to worry about.  Both Porter and Clara were amazing.

Now that we’ve done it, I’d like to share some tips with you, if you’re interested.  (click on those three little dots below to continue reading)

Porter has a new rule – one checked bag per customer (and that doesn’t include the baby).  They used to take 2 bags per person, but now they’ve tightened up their rules.  And, your bags can’t weigh more than 50 pounds, ALL COMBINED.  We knew we’d have more than 2 bags in total – we are going to be away for 3 weeks, and Clara needs a LOT of stuff.  Here’s what we had with us:

– 2 medium size suitcases to hold all our clothes and small things (I tried to pack one giant suitcase, but in the end, figured two medium size ones were more manageable)
– Clara’s Baby Bjorn travel crib, which has its own suitcase-style carrying case
– Clara’s Bugaboo Frog stroller, which comes apart into 2 pieces – the stroller chassis, and the seat (we’re doing lots of walking in NYC, so we wanted the actual Bugaboo seat, not just her car seat)
– Clara’s Graco SnugRide car seat (for taxi rides)
– Diaper bag full of diapers, formula, outfits, and toys for the flight
– small carry-on bag to hold our cameras, laptop, etc – all the stuff we didn’t want to put in our checked luggage

I figured we could pay $20 extra to check the travel crib, but when we got to the check-in counter, we were told that our 2 suitcases came close to 50 pounds combined, so the travel crib would cost $20 plus $5 per kilo of weight.  Ouch.  We were told to bring it with us, and gate check it.  We were confused – isn’t there a limit on what you can gate check?

Here’s the tip: Porter seems to let you gate check almost anything you’d like (at no additional cost).  The Porter check-in lady honestly suggested that we only check the two suitcases, and we bring everything else with us to the gate.  Then we would gate check the stroller (both parts), the travel crib, and the car seat.  That’s a lot!

In the end, we convinced them to let us check the car seat for free (they put it in a plastic bag for us), with the 2 suitcases.  We took the travel crib and the stroller right up to the gate, where we gate checked them.  Then we took the diaper bag, the carry-on bag, and the baby (of course) onto the plane with us.

The “Porter experience”, including flying out of Toronto Island Airport, is one of the main reasons why we decided to fly on Porter Airlines instead of anyone else to New York.  We did NOT want to go through the rigarmorale of flying out of Pearson airport, with the insane security.  The security at the Toronto Island Airport is a breeze by comparison – no lines, no hassle, etc.

After we checked the suitcases and the car seat (as detailed above), we put Clara in her Bugaboo Frog stroller, and wheeled her over to security.  We had to take her out of the stroller, so I could carry her through the security screener.  We folded down the Bugaboo, and put it on the conveyer belt screener (it fit, even with the wheels on).  No problems at all – downright easy.

Clara is a formula-fed baby.  Normally we feed her President’s Choice powder formula (we mix it with water that we’ve boiled, and then cooled, at home).  We knew we were going to New York for 3 weeks, so we would have to switch her formula, because you can’t get President’s Choice in the States.  About a week before our trip, we switched her to Similac, because you can buy Similac in the States (even though American and Canadian ingredients are slightly different, they’re basically the same, or as close as you can get).

Once she was “switched” to Similac, and we were sure she liked it and there were no problems, we had to figure out how to bring enough formula for the flight. The TSA says you can basically bring as much baby food as you want on a flight – you’re not limited to their usual 3-1-1 rule. But, here’s the rub.  If you mix formula from powder, you have to refrigerate it, and once it’s heated, you only have an hour to feed it to the baby before you have to pitch it.

We thought about making a bunch of bottles and putting them into an insulated lunch bag to keep them cool.  But then, how to get the bottle warm (or at least up to room temperature)?

Or, we could bring the formula in powdered form, and mix up a bottle when we needed one, but where would the water come from?  You have to use water that has been boiled and then cooled, or you can use bottled water.  BUT, you can’t bring water through security.  So that option doesn’t work.

This was really stressing me out – how were we going to have enough food on hand for Clara, without it going off?

Here’s the tip: In the end, we went with the Similac “ready made” bottles for the flight.  You just pack them in your bag, open them when you’re ready, put a nipple and nipple ring on the bottle, and there you go.  We don’t heat up Clara’s formula – she’s used to getting it at room temperature.  So we didn’t worry about warming it.

Again, the “Porter experience” makes pre-flight a delight.  We got to the airport nice and early, so we had an hour to kill in the Porter lounge.  Ian and I took turns wheeling Clara around in her stroller until she fell asleep.  Whoever wasn’t pushing the baby got to enjoy the free refreshments, WiFi, and newspapers.  Clara had a nice nap, then a bottle, and I changed her diaper in the restroom before getting on the plane (so I wouldn’t have to change her on the flight – it’s only 1.5 hours).

Clara was happy and comfortable by the time we got on the plane.  We had fed her a bottle, changed her diaper, and done pre-boarding so we weren’t rushed into our seats.  We settled in, and she played with her toys and smiled at the people walking by.

I read a lot about how taking off and landing can be the most difficult part of a flight for a baby, since that’s when the air pressure changes, and they don’t know how to “pop” their ears.  Most people suggest feeding the baby at these times, since the sucking makes them clear their ears.

No dice.  It’s some regulation that you must hold your baby in the “burping position” (over your shoulder) during take off and landing.  So if your baby is up by your ear, how are you going to feed her?

Here’s the tip: We didn’t even try to feed Clara during take off and landing.  We took the advice of trying to get her to suck (to pop her ears) but we didn’t do it by feeding.  I held Clara upright, and since she’s 5 months old and obsessed with putting anything in her mouth, Ian put a soother and various toys in her mouth to get her to suck.  She didn’t really take the soother, so in the end, he stuck his finger in her mouth, and she chomped away on that.  Worked like a charm – no screaming or fussing.

Once the “fasten seatbelt” sign was turned off, I stood up in the aisle and rocked Clara in my arms.  Maybe it was all the excitement, or maybe it was the white noise on the plane, but she fell fast asleep.  I sat back down, passed her to Ian, and she slept in his arms for the rest of the flight.  Amazing!

So that’s it – overall, a great experience.  My final thoughts are: prepare as much as you can, call the airline to get info, make a “game plan”, and then be patient and flexible.  Just like everything with babies, even the best laid plans can go out the window.  Stay cool, and have fun.  Traveling is an adventure – if it was all predictable and boring, we’d never leave home in the first place!

13 Responses on “Flying with a baby on Porter Airlines”

  1. Kate says:

    I just stumbled across your post while searching for advice on flying Porter with a baby. I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to figure out what to do with our 15-week old son’s formula needs (like you, we combine powder with pre-sterilized water but that’s not going to work in this case) when we fly to DC this week. Your ready-feed idea is brilliant. Thanks so much for sharing.

    The advice on checking items at the gate is also so helpful. We had expected to check the stroller base with our luggage and then lug him around the airport in his car seat but this will work out much better.

    Seriously, much appreciated, and I hope you all had a good trip!

  2. avery says:

    I’m so glad this was helpful for you Kate! Our daughter just turned 2 last month, and we’ve flown with her a few times since. The first time really was the hardest, because it was all so unknown. Parenting is such a confidence game!

    Best of luck with your trip. I’m sure you’ll be brilliant.


  3. Elisha says:

    I am so happy to find this info about your flight with a 5 month old… I am going through the exact same situation as you and now I have nothing really to worry about! Thanks for your story…

    Happy Traveling,


  4. avery says:

    That’s wonderful Elisha- I’m so happy this helped! Best of luck… You’ll be brilliant.

  5. marisa says:

    Can you tell me if there was any damage to your carseat or stroller during the gate check experience.? Iam wary of checking our expensive car seat and stroller.

  6. avery says:

    Hey Marisa,

    There were no problems (that I remember – it was a couple of years ago) with gate-checking the equipment. If you’re concerned, you can get a travel bag for your car seat and/or stroller. Or, you can go to Canadian Tire and buy clear plastic garbage bags, and wrap your equipment in that. It won’t look nice, but it will help protect your stuff!


  7. marisa says:

    Thanks Avery. We are looking forward to our trip!

  8. viz says:

    We are flying on Porter with 8 mo old baby. This blog was really helpful. Thankyou so much

  9. avery says:

    I’m so glad this was helpful for you Viz. Enjoy your travels!

  10. Farrah says:

    Thanks for this! Flying with my 4 month old on this exact route tomorrow and you had some great tips!!!!!

  11. avery says:

    Yay! I’m so glad this was helpful. Safe travels!

  12. Joyce says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your experience. Quick question… Where did you buy the nipple and rings for the ready made simalac formula?

  13. avery says:

    Hey Joyce! It’s hard to remember since this was 3 years ago, but I’m pretty sure we would just take the rubber nipple and ring from one of our regular glass bottles, and put that on the similac formula bottle. They make them so they’re the same (standard) size.

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