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Traveling with babies can be quite the undertaking. But flying with a baby? That’s an even bigger challenge. You have to deal with TSA rules and regulations, other passengers, flight delays and crowded airports. PLUS, you have to keep the baby happy! It can be a lot. These travel with baby tips are the ones we learned by flying with our babies. We’ll tell you when to buy a seat for the baby, how to change a diaper on a plane and what essential baby travel gear to bring along.
Flying with a Baby: Travel Tips for Your First (or 14th) Flight
I was lucky. My mom came along on my first flight with my one-month-old son. Since then, I’ve flown with three more babies, both alone and with reinforcements.
Traveling with infants and traveling with young children (especially when car seats are involved) can equal headaches for Traveling Moms. How will baby deal with pressure changes? Will fellow passengers make it better or worse?
These 15 tips for flying with a baby can make family travel easier.
Before Flying With Baby
1. Think long and hard about which flight you book.
While finances may steer you toward the cheapest flight, price is not the only thing to consider when flying with an infant. Consider flight duration, layovers and even which airline you choose. The flight that costs an extra $40 but is nonstop in the middle of the day will be worth every extra penny. That’s especially true these days when the friendly skies have been a bit grumpy; delays and cancellations happen frequently.
Be sure to also look at airline fees. Remember that when you travel with a baby, you’ll likely want to check luggage. So factor in luggage fees before you book.
Booking international travel? For international flights, some countries charge entry taxes on a baby that have to be paid ahead of time. Call your airline for details if you’re flying with an infant (and to book a bassinet for that looooong flight).
2. Consider your baby’s schedule and comfort.
If y’all stay close to home most of the time, consider taking a few long car rides ahead of your trip. A baby who is only accustomed to short periods of time in a car seat may not do so well strapped in on a long flight. ‘
A few nap times in the car seat during drives will do wonders for you baby’s comfort level on the plane.
Read More: 25 Tips to Make Traveling with Babies Easier
3. Practice babywearing.
Babywearing — carrying the baby in a sling or other carrier that straps on to the adult — allows you to go through TSA security checkpoints hands-free. To wear a baby through TSA, choose a buckle carrier (with no metal). During the flight, you can wear a baby (making it significantly easier to bring diaper changing gear to the lavatory) except during takeoff and landing, when you are required to hold the baby in your arms.
There are many different types of baby carriers. They range from ring slings to wraps to soft structured buckle carriers like Ergo, Tula, Baby Bjorn and Infantino. A stretchy carrier like a Boba will allow you to take the baby in and out freely without having to retie or refasten.
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If you have never tried babywearing before, head to a Babywearing International meeting near you to try different carrier styles so you can find the one that works best for you and for baby.
Read More: Complete packing list for traveling with a baby. What to bring and what to leave at home!
Car Seats on the Plane: How to Figure Out If Baby Needs a Seat
A lot of the questions about flying with a baby revolve around seating and car seats.
Let’s run through what you need to think about when planning airplane seating arrangements.
4. Lap child or separate seat?
Until the age of 2, young children can fly as a lap baby for free. While it’s always tempting to save that money, sometimes it isn’t in your best interest.
Factors to consider: How long is the flight? Will you be traveling with another adult who can hold the baby for part of the flight?
TravelingMom Tip: If you decide to bring baby as a lap child, get to the airport early. Many airlines will need to print out a lap child boarding pass that you cannot access by checking in on the website.
5. Flying with multiple babies or other kids?
If you are flying solo with twin babies or one baby and another child under age 2, you will need to buy a seat for at least one of the babies. That’s because airlines allow only one lap child per adult.
There’s a good reason for that: Airplane rows only have 1 additional oxygen mask. A plane configured with 3 seats per side will have 4 oxygen masks. Two adults flying with 2 lap children will NOT be allowed to sit in the same row. In the unlikely event of an emergency, there would be only 4 oxygen masks and the person in the third seat would not have a mask.
TravelingMom Tip: One other safety item to keep in mind is that you cannot sit in the exit row with an infant. Instead, book a bulkhead seat if you want the extra legroom.
6. Know where you can put a child safety seat.
If you’re bringing a car seat on board for your little one, it must be an FAA-approved car seat. These seats can only go in window seats (or the middle seat if no one is sitting in the window).
There are also some restrictions around locations near exits. Be sure to check with a flight attendant once you’re on board.
7. What car seats are OK for air travel?
It may seem logical to most of us to assume that a car seat that’s approved for car travel will work for air travel. However, that’s not always true. Here’s what airlines look for when you bring a car seat on board.
- Check the car seat tag for the following phrase: “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
- Keep in mind that if you have an infant car seat with a handle you need to be able to install it using the seatbelt. You cannot use a click-in base on a plane because the seats lack the LATCH system.
- For older children, booster seats are not allowed. Kids between 22-44 pounds can use a harness. It needs to have “FAA Approved in Accordance with 14 CFR 21.8(d), Approved for Aircraft Use Only” or “FAA Approved in Accordance with 14 CFR 21.305(d), Amd 21.50 6-9-1980, Approved for Aircraft Use Only” on it.
- Think about the car seat you want to bring onboard. That 40 pound seat may be great installed in your car but carrying it through TSA and down the aisle? You may be singing (or swearing) a different tune.
- One thing to keep in mind is that babies do not need to be rear-facing on planes. That requirement relates to cars and impact during accidents. Please be aware babies can forward face at any age on a plane. Flight attendants may ask you to turn a seat around if it doesn’t fit properly.
Which car seat should you choose?
The following section is sponsored by Evenflo.
With 4 kids and 13 years between them, it’s been easiest to find a brand that I trust. Evenflo has safety ratings that my paramedic husband has felt comfortable with at a price point that I love.
The innovation over the years has been remarkable. Seriously — check out Evenflo’s amazing Revolve360 seat for everyday use.
Personally, I keep a travel car seat on hand that we use for our second vehicle. I highly recommend the Evenflo Tribute convertible car seat ($79.99). You know how some affordable car seats feel a little cheap? Not this one. It’s super sturdy.
The company also sells a great car seat carry bag for lugging it through airports or gate checking.
For infant car seats, look into the Evenflo LiteMax 35 DLX. This car seat works with both a base and the European Belt Path system (installation without a base) making it perfect for travel. It weighs just over 1 lb without the base and rings in at $224.99. It also has a European style load leg, the only seat in this price range to include it. Learn more about how to install a car seat without a base in our full post.
What to Pack for Flying with Baby
7. Bring ID for baby.
You may not automatically think to bring paperwork for baby (especially for a domestic flight), but many airlines will want to see a birth certificate. A baby has to be at least 14 days old to fly on most airlines. They will not let you on the flight if you cannot prove the baby’s age.
Traveling out of the country? Baby will need a passport. If only one parent is traveling, it is always a good idea to carry a letter from the other parent consenting to the travel.
When we lived in Vermont, I used to go to Montreal frequently with my daughter. We used to take a photo on my phone of my husband holding her with a consent letter in his hand before each trip. I was only asked about it one time.
8. Strategize your packing when flying with an infant.
You’ll have the urge to pack everything conceivable when flying with a baby. While it is good to be prepared, the most important thing is accessibility. If you have to dig through 18 inches of densely packed baby gear on the plane while holding a crying baby, you might be cursing your preparedness.
Choose a carry-on bag with outside pockets so items you are most likely to need are easily accessible.
After four children, I’ve worked my way through a fair share of diaper bags, and I always come back to a backpack style. It leaves hands free for baby and can fit items for you as well. This super-chic cognac leather look one is perfect for travel and can be carried as a backpack, over the shoulder or even strapped onto a stroller easily.
TravelingMom Tip: Make sure your carry on diaper bag is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you rather than in the overhead bin so you can get to it easily.
9. Ziploc bags are lifesavers!
Seriously, this is a top traveling with baby tip. Messes happen! Ziploc bags are incredibly versatile and should be on all packing lists.
Pack a couple of big Ziploc bags (gallon size or so). Stick diapers and a few wipes inside one Ziploc for quick lavatory changes. Use another plastic bag for anything liquid/goopy that you’ll need to pull out at the security checkpoint.
More empty Ziplocs can be used to hold stinky diapers if a trash can isn’t immediately available.
10. Bring a change of clothes for baby. And for you.
As someone who wound up covered in puke from a sick 13-month-old, please remember to bring a change of clothes for you as well as the baby.
I hope you never find out how important this tip is. It’s still not funny years later. I walked off the flight with puke covered jeans wearing an Airtran shirt.
11. What can you bring for your baby through airport security?
Formula, pumped breast milk and baby food are all fair game, EVEN if they are over the 3.4-ounce limit. Just be sure to let the TSA agent know that you have baby items BEFORE putting them through the x-ray machine. The agents will hand inspect them. It’s a good idea to leave bottles and sippy cups easily accessible to speed up this process.
If you need water for the formula, you can bring it through security, even if it’s a full-size water bottle. I highly recommend bringing room temperature water. Once you get past security. the water in the drinking fountains and even water from the restaurants will be chilled. Most babies don’t like cold beverages.
Read up on these TSA flying with children rules ahead of time. Or print them out and bring them to the airport with you.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re traveling with baby, TSA will have you go through the metal detector. If you have a baby carrier with no metal (think Tula or LILLEbaby) wear your little one for this part. It will leave your hands free to gather up your luggage. They will probably swab your hands but it will be a quick process!
Airport Tips When Flying with a Baby
12. Allow extra time.
Factor a buffer into your normal airport routine, especially if it’s your first time traveling with baby. It’s basically like a more complicated version of “getting out the door.” Everything takes longer than you think.
There is a good chance you will need to check in at the ticket counter to get a lap child added to your ticket. Most airlines will also then check the birth certificate you brought to be sure the baby is not over the lap child age allowed. This can take time if there is a long line.
13. No reserved seat for baby? Check at the gate.
If you haven’t purchased a seat for your infant, stop by the gate once you’re through security. There may be an extra seat on the plane that you can use for the baby.
You can also find out what time preboarding or family boarding starts and get luggage tags for your stroller and car seat. When you fly with strollers and car seats that won’t be used on the plane, airlines will gate check them. This means you set them down at the end of the jet bridge and the airline will put the item back onto the jet bridge at the next airport. It will not go to baggage claim.
Always get the tag ahead of time from the gate agent so you don’t hold things up.
14. When is the best time to nurse or bottle feed baby?
Plan to nurse or bottle-feed your baby as the plane takes off and lands.
Changes in cabin pressure can cause ear pressure and slight pain. A pacifier can also work if your child will take one. The sucking motion for all of these things will help prevent ear pain (and a screaming baby).
Learn More: Breastfeeding Tips: A Complete Guide for Travel
15. Identify which restroom has a changing table once you are onboard.
Not all airplane bathrooms are created equal. Many times, only one of the lavatories has a changing table.
There are lots of schools of thought about changing diapers in the seats themselves. So grab a portable changing pad and read up on these tips for changing diapers on a plane. This works even for babies who wear cloth diapers.
Have you flown with a baby? What are your best tips for flying with baby?