How to Fly with a Baby So Everyone On-Board Has a Good Time (Yes, Really!)Published on 08/29/2022 · 9 min readTraveling by plane with a little one is a daunting task for any parent! Baby and Toddler Expert Meghan Bush gives some tips to make the process go much smoother!
Photo by Steven Thompson
You planned the trip, you booked your flight, and now it’s almost time to head to the airport. Except…panic starts creeping in as the departure date approaches. You wonder if you are prepared at all for this impending trip.
When my son was eight months old, my husband and I took him on his first airplane adventure to visit family in Florida. We were so nervous as jumping on a flight as a couple could be fun, spontaneous, and relatively stress-free, but how exactly would a baby factor into the journey? What will we need to do differently?
What do we need to pack? How do we protect his ears? How do we entertain him during the flight? Can we bring his formula and if so, how much?
We wanted to make sure he was happy, we were as happy as we could be, and that everyone else on board didn’t roll their eyes as soon as they saw us with a literal “baby on board.” Unfortunately not all those things came true (well except for the glaring eye rolls; those were definitely there).
As first-time travelers with a baby in tow, we made a few mistakes that we learned from, and for our next trip to Disneyland, we felt like experts. So here are my tried and true best tips and tricks on how to achieve the smoothest time onboard for everyone.
Do Your Homework
The idea of flying with a baby or toddler can feel overwhelming and downright impossible. But like anything else, researching beforehand and correctly prepping will calm your nerves and lead to a successful flight. Depending on the flexibility you may have for travel (vacation vs. required event; flying alone vs. flying with others) there are a few things to take into account before you purchase your flight.
1. Will your baby sit in their own seat or will they be sitting on your lap during the duration of the flight?
Babies under the age of two do not require their own ticket or their own airplane seat, but you need to ultimately decide how your baby (and you!) will be most comfortable. Pros for holding your baby are obviously saving money on the price of baby’s ticket and being able to hold and soothe baby throughout the entire flight. Cons would be, well, that you have to hold your baby throughout the entire flight as well as any reservations you may feel about not having them in a seatbelt or any other child-restraint system.
Although not required by the FAA, if you do decide to book your baby their own seat (and for toddlers over the age of two), it is highly suggested that you bring a car seat or child safety seat to use on your flight. Depending on the airline and where you are sitting (first Class vs. coach), check with each individual airline to make sure the dimensions of the car seat are compatible with the seat. Besides the pro of increased safety for baby during the flight, having the car seat after landing will save you the hassle of renting one in a rental car or taxi from the airport to your destination.
2. When is the ideal time to fly with my baby?
If at all possible, it is best to book your flight very early in the morning, during your baby’s typical nap time, or late in the evening. Booking a flight during these times simply increases the chance that your baby will sleep for either part of or for the entirety of your flight. Traveling from coast to coast or internationally? Check out if a red-eye flight makes sense in your travel plans.
3. What documents will my baby need to fly?
Most domestic flights require either the child’s original birth certificate or passport as verification for proof of age. For international flights, your baby, regardless of age, will need a valid passport which can take six to eight weeks to process, so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time. To be 100% sure what documents you will need, be sure to check the requirements for each individual airline.
4. Which airline should I book with?
Although all airlines will be able to accommodate your baby or toddler, some parents like to consider who is ranked the most child friendly. JetBlue has continually ranked the best overall airline for families, simply for having the most legroom in coach which makes a big difference if you’re flying with a lap infant. Southwest boasts that families with children under six receive priority boarding, whereas Delta offers jarred baby food (fruit, veggies, and dessert) if booked prior to departure. If these perks appeal to you, make sure you look at each airline’s website to see what they offer.
5. What seat(s) should I select?
Gone are the days of longingly looking out the window for those scenic views! For the number of times you may be walking back and forth to the lavatories to use the changing table, an aisle seat is the way to go.
For those brave enough to travel with more than one infant, you will need to book an additional seat as each adult is only allowed to have one lap infant. The other will require a separate seat or, if traveling with a partner, will most likely have to sit with them in another row
Also, important to note, that according to Transportation.gov, “FAA regulations prohibit children under 15 and passengers caring for small children from sitting in exit row seats.”
What to Pack for the Flight
Separate from what you will pack in your luggage (that you won’t see until baggage claim), you will need a fully stocked diaper bag or carry-on bag, easily organized and accessible, to have with you onboard. It will have all the tools you will need to keep your little one fed, hydrated, clean, entertained, distracted, and beyond!
This perfectly packed all-star bag will need…
- Baby Carrier: a soft-bodied baby carrier (meaning no metal rings or buckles) that you are familiar with and are comfortable wearing. This is my number one traveling with baby must-have for both navigating the airport and while on the flight. My personal favorites include Tula, Ergobaby, and Baby Björn.
- Sanitizer: hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to wipe down trays and any surfaces that you and baby may touch.
- Bottles: bottles with the formula, breast milk, water, or juice that your baby will consume throughout the duration of the flight. It is important to note that according to the TSA, “breast milk, formula, and juice are exempt from the 3-1-1 liquids rule, and quantities greater than 3.4 ounces are allowed in carry-on baggage.”
- Food: baby food and snacks, especially nonperishable items like fruit pouches, puffs, teething crackers, and yogurt melts.
- Pacifier: Pacifiers and teething toys are ideal for take-off and landing to help babies with any ear pain they may experience.
- Toys: toys, toys, and more toys! A favorite stuffy or lovey will bring comfort to your baby during this new experience. I’ve also found Water Wow reusable books, sensory kits, busy boards, and quiet books keep babies entertained for long periods of time. Take these out one at a time to keep baby engaged but not overstimulated.
- Smart Device: device pre-loaded with most-loved shows (with headphones) will make baby look and feel like a world traveler! Some of our favorites are The Wiggles, Songs for Littles, Hey Bear, and Bluey.
- Diaper Kit: Diapers and wipes are needed, for well, the obvious. Expert advice is to always pack more than you think you’ll need. You don’t want to be stranded with not enough!
- Clothes: change of outfit for baby (and you) may not be as obvious, but hey, accidents happen all the time and they will definitely happen 36,000 feet in the air in a confined space. Plastic bags or wet bags are also great to have for dirty clothes.
Getting Your Family to the Gate
As a general rule, arrive two hours before your flight for domestic departures and three hours prior to traveling internationally. When traveling with babies—and all the things you packed for them—you can always arrive a little earlier than suggested to make sure things go smoothly.
Right after check-in is my favorite time—saying see you later to our big luggage, stroller, car seat, travel crib, etc. Once those are dropped off, it is time to get you and baby through security.
The easiest way to maneuver through the airport, including going through the metal detector or x-ray machine, is to wear your baby. Your baby carrier will keep your little one safe and snug as well as leave you hands-free to do other things. As mentioned above, make sure the carrier does not have any metal details, including buckles and snaps, or you will have to remove it (and baby) while going through security.
Another option is to put baby in a carry-on-sized travel stroller to wheel around through security, get coffee, look in the shops, and arriving at your gate. You are then able to gate-check the stroller to be picked up right outside the airplane door as soon as you land.
Tips and Tricks for the Flight
Time to break out that perfectly packed diaper bag!
During takeoff and landing, baby’s ears can hurt due to a change in cabin pressure. Give your little one a bottle or a pacifier at this time as the sucking action will help relieve any ear pain.
The hope is that right after the calming bottle or pacifier, your baby will nap (now wouldn’t it be great if they slept through the entire flight!?) Otherwise, it’s time for your bags of tricks.
Switch out the toys as often as needed to keep your little one engaged. When all else fails, a little screen time on your loaded Kindle, iPad, or other device should keep them happy (especially if it’s a tried and true favorite).
Strap the baby back in the baby carrier and walk up and down the aisles. This will give both you and baby a change of scenery and the ability to stretch your legs
Don’t forget that the flight attendant and cabin crew are there to help! Ask them for bottles of water, blankets, and even an adult beverage for yourself. Some airlines even give out pins or certificates to commemorate baby’s first flight or a special occasion, so make sure you ask!
Lastly, ignore any glares if anyone dares to give you any. You and your baby are entitled to be onboard even if baby doesn’t “behave” the entire time. Don’t forget that babies are, well, babies and will act accordingly even with the best planning.
Now, go ahead and enjoy that well-deserved vacation! If you have any questions about travel products or other baby items to make your life easier, reach out to a Baby & Toddler Expert here on Curated, and we would be happy to help you find the right choices for your family.