As my son continues to grow and we continue to travel, it’s amazing to look back on how much has changed. From that first experience flying with a baby and all the unknowns. To having over 20 flights under our belt with a now 2 year old. Our son’s first flight was at 7 weeks old and we barely knew a thing about parenting much less traveling with a little one.
Fortunately, we’ve learned a few things and can actually say that we enjoy the process of traveling with a baby, now toddler. (Most of the time at least- it certainly has its moments!!) I’d like to think that our son feels the same way, as you can see just from the change in his pre-flight pictures from the first several flights alone!
Keep reading for our our tips leading up to and during the entire flight experience with a baby.
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Guide to Flying with a Baby
Pre-Flight Considerations for Booking a Flight with a Baby
Even before you book your flight with a baby, there are a number of things to think about. Below are a few considerations when flying with a baby. Keep in mind as well that policies and procedures vary by airline. For that reason, I’d recommend consulting the airline directly to confirm the items listed below. You can do that by either searching their policies online for flying with children or calling the airline directly.
- Baby’s Age: Some airlines will allow babies to fly at 2 days old, while others require them to be 2 weeks old. That said, most doctor’s recommend that babies are at least 6 weeks old and have necessary vaccinations to fly. Aways consult your pediatrician first, particularly if it’s flu season!
- Ticket Purchase: Some airlines require you to call customer service to either add your baby as a lap infant or book a seat for any traveler under 2. (Our favorite US airline, Southwest Air, is one that requires a phone call to book a flight for a baby.) In my experience, adding an infant has usually been a quick and painless process.
- Lap Infants: Children under 2 are typically allowed to be brought on as a lap infant. This is either at no charge or a significantly reduced rate. (The latter is often the case with long-haul/ international flights.) Even if you’re flying with your baby as a lap infant, you still need to have them added to your reservation with a confirmed ticket. (See below for additional considerations regarding a lap infant vs seat purchase.)
- Age Verification: Documentation varies by airline. Many airlines request to see a copy of the birth certificate for children under 2 for domestic US flights. Some don’t require anything. I always travel with a copy of our son’s birth certificate just in case. A passport is always required for international flights with children of any age.
- Baggage Allowance: Many airlines allow you to check a carseat and stroller at no extra cost, even if you’re taking your baby on as a lap infant. This tends to vary for discounted and international airlines, however. Some will have weight requirements or only allow 1 baby item to be checked with out a fee. Be sure to familiarize yourselves with your airline’s policy on checking baby items prior to arriving at the airport.
- Pre-boarding Policy: In my experience, all US airlines include family boarding as part of their pre-boarding. Check in advance, especially if you’re one of those people who gets to the gate just before boarding. It makes the boarding process a lot less stressful, particularly if you’re flying an airline that doesn’t have pre-selected seats.
- Best Seat Selection with a Baby: We typically choose the back of the plane in hopes that it’s not as full. It also offers easy access to both the bathrooms and flight attendants. When my son was a newborn and I was nursing, I liked the window seat for privacy. When he was an older baby and would get restless, however, I liked the aisle seat to be able to easily get up and down. Tip: If you’re on a longer flight, ask the airline whether or a bassinet is available. Make sure you purchase a seat that allows for one to be used if you want opt for one.
- Flight Time: Take into consideration your baby’s sleep schedule and try to work around that as much as possible. The last thing you want to be doing is going through security during their nap or bedtime.
- Frequent Flyer Number: If you decide to purchase a ticket for your baby, be sure to create a frequent flyer number for your baby from the very beginning. It’s never too earlier to start earning points for those flights! Many airlines also have family sharing programs. That means parents can transfer points to themselves or their kids.
Deciding Between Lap Infant & Seat Purchase When Flying with a Child Under 2
So, you’ve decided to fly with a baby but you’re not sure if you should purchase a seat or have them as a lap infant? This is a tricky one since it’s purely a matter of personal decision and level of comfort. There’s certainly research out there indicating that it’s safer to have your baby in a carseat when flying.
That said, it’s perfectly OK to hold the baby on your lap during a flight and we’ve done it numerous times with our son. Given how safe flying typically is relative to driving, I’ve personally have never felt unsafe having him on my lap. (We’ve also been fortunate in that our flights with him have been relatively smooth to date.)
If you’re on the fence about flying with a baby on your lap or not, below are a few other factors to consider in addition to safety:
- Time of the flight: For flights during nap time or bed time, we started purchasing a seat as our son surpassed the infant stages. (Since napping on Mom or Dad was much less likely to happen.)
- Cost of the flight: I’m more likely to purchase a seat if it’s a cheap flight “just in case.”
- Age, size and mobility of your baby: It’s a lot tougher to hold older, heavier and more mobile babies on your lap. (But still totally doable.)
- Whether or not you’re traveling with reinforcements: It’s no surprise that flying with a lap infant is much easier if you have help. I’m more inclined to purchase a seat for my baby and have him contained when I’m flying solo.
Additional Tips for Flying with a Lap Infant
- For safety reasons, airlines won’t let you have two lap infants in the same row. You may be reshuffled if your seats are booked that way in error.
- If you choose to hold your baby on your lap, don’t attempt to buckle them in the seat with you whatever you do! I will spare you the gruesome details on what can happen.
- Always be sure to ask if there are open seats if you did not purchase a seat for your baby. Airlines typically give priority to lap infants to allow you to bring the carseat on with you.
Additional Tips if you Purchased a Seat for Your Baby Under 2
- You’re required to have a carseat if you purchase a seat for a baby or toddler under 2.
- Make sure you have a car seat that’s FAA compliant. (It’s typically clearly visible on the carseat labels.)
- Non car seat Child Restraint Systems (CRSs) like the CARES Travel Harness are typically not suitable for babies under 1. Be sure to check the minimum age and weight requirements.
- Car seats are typically required to be at a window for safety reasons. This allows you and other passengers to easily exit in case of emergency.
Getting through security and the rest of the airport can feel like a daunting task for baby’s first flight. Keep reading for our tips as it relates to navigating the airport with all the stuff that comes along with traveling with a baby.
What to Do with Strollers and Carseats
To date, we’ve always traveled with both a stroller and car seat when flying to our destination. With all the change you’re exposing a baby to with travel, there’s something comforting to me about having them in the carseat they’re used to. (And it’s much easier than renting or buying something at your destination.)
When flying with a carseat and/or stroller, the primary options typically are to:
- Check either your carseat and/or stroller at the gate
- Check your carseat and/or stroller at baggage check when you enter the airport. (Baby wearing is recommended for infants if you take this approach.)
- Bring both/either onboard with you. (That is, if you have a stroller like the GB Pockit+ or BabyZen YoYo+ that can fold small enough to go into an overhead bin.)
- Rent or purchase a carseat and/or stroller at your destination*
Anytime you’re checking a carseat or stroller for a flight, you should be aware that there’s a possibility it could get damaged. I always recommend using these heavy duty carseat and stroller bags. We’ve used ours 20+ times to date with no issues, while I’ve heard that cheaper options can easily rip after a couple flights.
*I don’t recommend relying on a carseat through the rental car company after seeing many reviews of carseats either being expired or not available upon arrival. There are services available in most cities that allow you to rent strollers, carseats and other baby gear when traveling.
Bringing the Carseat and Stroller Through the Airport
Taking both the car seat and stroller is easier when you’re flying with a baby that’s still in an infant car seat that connects to a stroller. For that reason, it was always our preferred option when our son was a baby.
At the gate, you can either a.) check your stroller and carseat at the gate prior to boarding or b.) bring the carseat on with you if you purchased a seat in advance or if the plane has empty seats. Here are a few tips for bringing your stroller and carseat through the airport:
- Most airlines will let you bring your carseat on board if there are open seats. You can ask about this at baggage check or at the gate.
- Don’t forget carseat and stroller bags. Not a necessity but they will help prevent them from getting dirty and/or damaged.
- You will need tags for your carseat and/or stroller if you’re checking them at the gate. You can get them at the gate desk. Be sure to obtain them in advance so you’re not scrambling when you board.
- Consider traveling without your infant carseat base to lighten your load. If you read the manufacturers information, carseat bases are only for convenience and don’t make it any more safe. We use the seatbelt method to secure our carseat when traveling. (Of course, I was super nervous the first time and held onto the carseat. But I did a lot of research beforehand!)
- This universal infant car seat carrier is our favorite stroller/ carseat frame for all things baby travel. It works with any infant car seat, it’s easy to use, folds flat and is inexpensive. So I was never that worried about it getting damaged from our travels.
- You can always bring your every day travel system/ stroller with you when flying. Keep in mind many of them are on the heavier side, however. For us, with all the other stuff that comes along with traveling with a baby, lighter has always been better.
- Check with the airline on baggage policies for an infant. Some discount airlines will only let you gate check a stroller OR carseat and not both.
Prefer baby wearing?
If you’re flying with a lap infant and don’t want to drag the stroller or the carseat through the airport, this is the way to go. I know many people who do this so they’re completely hands free with the baby and only have to worry about carrying a diaper bag. Even though I will use my Ergobaby 360 through the airport at times, I still like to have a carseat with me just in case a seat becomes available. If you choose to baby wear versus bringing everything with you, you can check your carseat and stroller at the the check-in counter.
Note: Since my son has gotten older/ bigger, we no longer use the infant carseat everywhere we go. We purchased the Cosco Scenera Next carseat with along with the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate to easily pull it through the airport with our son in it. Now that he’s a toddler, we’ve used it 15+ times and love it! Read our tips for flying with a toddler for more info.
Going Through Security
Getting through security with a baby for the first few times can feel a little like you’ve just completed a crazy, complicated obstacle course of sorts. It definitely gets easier with practice! Below are a few tips for navigating airport security with a baby.
- If you’re bringing food or bottles with you for the baby, let the TSA agent know when you’re going through security.
- Anything over 3.4 oz will likely be tested for chemicals. If you want to avoid this, an option is to keep all bottles under 3.4 oz. You can also opt for a full pat down in lieu of having your milk tested.
- Separate any food (including milk or formula) from your other stuff to make it easier for TSA Agents to check.
- Ask the TSA Agent to change their gloves BEFORE they start testing your items. All of them have been happy to do this in the 30+ times I flew with breastmilk with or without my baby.
- If you have an ice pack, make sure it’s completely frozen or it could be taken from you. We love this freezable lunch bag. It’s a cooler and freezer pack all in one. I’ve also taken it through security many times with no issues.
- Everything including a stroller or carseat needs to go on the belt and through the scanner
- Hold the baby when you’re walking through security as any strollers or baby carriers will need to be checked. Moms with babies can typically bypass the scanner.
- Consider checking your luggage so you have less stuff to carry through security and the airport
- Be sure to read the TSA Procedures on Traveling with Children for more information.
Related Post: Traveling Without Your Baby While Breastfeeding
Passing Time at the Airport with a Baby
Newborns and infants make things pretty easy at the airport since they have no choice but to go wherever you go. It’s when your baby starts crawling and becoming more mobile that things get a little more interesting. When our son started sitting up on his own, we would put a light blanket or monkey mat on the floor. It gives the perfect clean space for babies to play at the airport with their toys. (Just be sure to put it in your “dirty” pile after to avoid wrapping the baby up in those airport germs!)
Many airports also have play areas with things to do for both babies and toddlers. Our local Pittsburgh International Airport has a kid’s area in Concourse C. It’s been a lifesaver during flight delays. And we even go to the airport early sometimes just for our son to play and get all that energy out before a flight.
Check for new Mother’s Rooms or nursing areas as well. These are usually clean and quiet spots that give you a break from the chaos of the airport. They typically have changing tables as well. (There’s a mother’s room at Pittsburgh airport too. Kudos to them for always thinking of families!)
Inflight Tips for Flying with a Baby
Congrats! You’ve navigated security and made it through the airport. Now it’s onto the flight itself. Babies can be unpredictable as you know, but don’t stress! Flying at the infant stages is super easy for most since they tend to sleep the whole time. And even if you don’t get that lucky, below are a few tips to make the flight a little easier for both you and your baby.
Takeoff and Landing During a Flight with a Baby
The main concern when flying with a baby is usually their ears. Since babies don’t know yet how to relieve the pressure in their ears themselves, they need a little help doing it. Here are a few tips to relieve pressure in your baby’s ears during a flight:
- Use a bottle or have them nurse during takeoff and/or landing.
- Give the baby a pacifier to relieve ear pressure during the flight.
If your baby is taking a bottle or nursing during takeoff, wait until the plan is actually on the runway (or the pilot announces the descent.) Our son once drank his entire bottle before the plane even took off. Fortunately he seemed fine, but it made me a nervous momma!
Inflight Products & Tips We Swear By When Flying with a Baby
- Use hand sanitizing wipes to clean the entire space so you don’t have to worry about the baby touching everything the whole time.
- Bring small toys that don’t make noise. We usually put them in a small reusable bag that zippers in a diaper bag or carry-on so we can easily access the toys or point them away as needed. Our favorite in-flight toys for a baby are:
- The First Years Stack Up Cups. They’re compact and come with a link to hold them together when you’re on-the-go. (My son is currently almost 2.5 and still likes playing with these!)
- Infantino Stick & Spin High Chair toy. They suction to the tray to entertain your baby during a flight without worrying about them throwing it.
- Little Squirts Bath Toys (sans bath.) They’re small and easy for baby to hold or chew. Plus they’re easy to clean off and come in a large pack to give you a few backups.
- If your baby started solids, don’t forget to pack snacks and meals. Feeding something small like Cheerios or Puffs one by one will go a long way in terms of killing time. We like this lunchbox with a built-in cooler to use when traveling.
- Take into consideration bottle feeding times. Always bring extra milk and/or formula (if you’re not nursing) in case of delayed flights.
- Bring something comforting like a lovey/ stuffed animal if your baby will be napping. Just be sure to wash everything after your trip!
- Aiden + Anis Muslin Swaddle Blankets are my favorite for all types of travel since they’re lightweight and easy to pack several.
- Ask the flight attendants to bring your drink with a straw and lid. It will save you and that little babe from any major spillage.
- Put your baby in overnight diapers. Diaper changes on a plane are a mild form of torture given the size of the bathrooms. We try to only change the baby if blowouts occur.
- Bring Ziplock bags just in case. Whether it’s separating dirty toys, dirty clothes, or dirty diapers, I always keep the on hand regardless of the method of travel.
Finally… Take a Deep Breath and Remember
- Its OK if your baby cries or fusses. They’re human, and they need to get to their destination just like anyone else! It’s only temporary; try to just take a deep breath and stay calm enough to soothe that baby.
- Don’t be afraid to accept help. Flight attendants (and other passengers) are typically more than happy to cuddle that sweet baby or help you with your bags if you need it.
- Try to prepare as much as you can. Make sure your diaper bag is ready and fully stocked with the items you need to access during the flight. That includes extra snacks in the case of delays and a change of outfits for both of you- just in case!
- But accept that you can’t control or anticipate every situation. That diaper blowout our son had on the descent into Phoenix? Totally didn’t plan for that mess to happen. But babies are unpredictable and we all survived.
- Have fun! Tell the flight attendants and your nearby passengers that it’s your baby’s first flight and take lots of pictures : )
If you’ve graduated to traveling with a toddler, be sure to read Flying with a Toddler: Tips, Tricks and Products to Help You Navigate.
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