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Whether you’re a new mom or a seasoned one air travel with small children can be tricky! Take some deep breaths and read our travel tips. You’ll learn why sometimes you have to buy a seat for your baby, how to change a diaper on a plane and what essential items and travel gear you should be bringing.
Flying with a Baby
Traveling with infants and traveling with kids young enough to be in car seats 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 towards the cheapest flight, that is not the only thing to consider. 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. Airlines can also make a difference here. Many TravelingMom writers LOVE to fly Southwest Airlines because of their family-friendly attitude. Also remember that when you travel with a baby, you’ll likely want to check luggage. So factor in luggage fees before you book.
One more fee to consider if you’re taking an international flight: Some countries charge entry taxes on a baby that have to be ahead of time. Call your airline for details.
2. Consider your baby’s schedule.
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 for a several-hour flight. A few nap times in the car seat during drives will do wonders for kiddos’ comfort level once they are on the plane.
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 while having your 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.
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 Moby or Boba will allow you to take the baby in and out freely without having to retie or refasten.
If you have never tried babywearing before, head to a Babywearing International meeting near you to try different carrier styles to find the one that works best for you and for baby.
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 be sure to 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 their 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 adults are limited to one lap child.
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.
What to Pack for Flying with Baby
6. 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 consent 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 hand before each trip. I was only asked about it one time.
7. Strategize your packing.
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. Plan to put the bag under the seat in front of you rather than in the overhead bin so that you can get to it more easily.
Choose a carry-on bag with outside pockets so items that are most likely to be needed 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.
8. Ziploc bags are lifesavers!
Pack a couple of big Ziploc bags (gallon size or so). Ziploc bags are incredibly versatile and should be on all packing lists. Stick diapers and a few wipes in one for quick lavatory changes. Use another Ziploc 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.
9. 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.
10. 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 most water will be chilled and most babies don’t like cold beverages.
Read up on these TSA Flying with Baby 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 you 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
11. Allow extra time.
Add time to your normal airport routine. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
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.
Have you flown with a baby? What are your best tips for flying with baby?