There are certain anxieties that center around flying with babies and little ones. One of the most challenging is this: How in the world do you change a diaper on a plane? Fear not! It can be done. Just follow these tips and tricks — and learn about the one thing you should never, ever do.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and buy, TravelingMom will receive a small commission at not additional charge to you.
14 Tips for Changing Diapers on a Plane
As a frequent business traveler and mother of four, all who flew before they were 3 months old, I can tell you this: Flying with babies requires some planning. We’ve got 14 tips for flying with a baby but the topic of changing diapers on planes deserves its own discussion.
Changing diapers on a plane is often a necessity. But where? The two options are:
- In the lavatory of the plane
- At your seat
Please, if at all possible, head to the bathroom to perform the diaper change. This way, you can work in privacy, and your fellow passengers aren’t inconvenienced.
These are my best tips for changing a diaper while on a plane:
1. Invest in a travel changing pad.
We have a travel changing pads that folds up into a little kit. It holds wipes, a few diapers, a change of clothes and some plastic bags. This “small profile” changing kit is much easier to carry down a narrow aisle to the airplane bathroom than a full diaper bag.
2. Perform a pre-boarding diaper change.
Change baby as close to boarding time as possible. This might buy you more time change-free on the airplane. Or your baby might take it as a personal challenge and go during the boarding process.
3. Identify the location of the changing table.
Unfortunately, not every plane will have a changing table on board. Those that do often only have one in a lavatory (not necessarily all of the lavs). The flight attendant will be able to tell you if the plane has a changing table and, if so, where it is located. Most planes used for cross-country flights will have some type of changing table.
4. No changing table? Ask for advice.
Many small regional jets have no changing table. In these situations, ask the flight attendant for the best spot for a diaper change. Some will offer a sheet to cover the jump seat or even have you do it in a back aisleway. A popular recommendation is to change baby on a closed toilet seat. (See #9 for more on that.)
5. Plastic bags are for winners.
Show your love for fellow passengers by bagging poopy diapers in their own plastic disposal bag or Ziploc to contain the smell. Airplane lavatories are small and easily overwhelmed by smells. If it’s a particularly offensive diaper, ask the flight attendant if you can put it in the plane’s rear trash receptacles.
6. Repeat after me: Never on the tray table.
Please don’t even look at the seatback tray table as an option. First, they aren’t that sturdy. Second, they aren’t that clean. Third, it is the epitome of rude. (I’d say it’s one of the rudest air travel faux pas you can perform, but I’ve heard rumors about toenail clipping on planes.)
7. Wear baby in a carrier if possible.
Airplane bathrooms are small. The changing tables? Sometimes they fold out kind of like origami. I travel with a baby carrier and have found that using it to keep the baby close to my body makes it easier for me to use both hands to get the changing table down. It’s better than juggling changing supplies while holding an infant and trying to unfold a drop-down table for the first time.
Don’t have a carrier? Ask nicely and a flight attendant may hold your kiddo for a minute or put the table down for you.
8. Keep it sanitary.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really need my baby to touch something, jam his hand in his mouth, and end up with a disease named after him. Bring a travel pack of Clorox-style disinfectant wipes or individual Purell wipes to wipe down the changing table, toilet seat, seat area, etc. They’re also good for cleaning up any accidents.
9. How do I change a baby on a closed toilet seat?
When a plane doesn’t have a changing table, it will often be suggested that you change baby’s diaper on a closed toilet seat. This isn’t really that conducive to diaper changing, of course. The angle is tricky and you either need to work your calf muscles with a hardcore squat or kneel on the lavatory floor. If you’re a larger body size, consider not closing the bathroom door to make maneuvering easier.
A lot of folks suggest disposable changing pads. These can definitely work, but I find them to be a bit slippery at times. My secret weapon? Disposable sticky placemats like they have at Chick-Fil-A. These mats have 2-4 pieces of adhesive around the edges. You can stick them to the surface of the closed toilet seat and then discard them after. Total germ barrier. Kneeling? Put one on the floor to kneel on. Isn’t family travel fun?
When changing a dirty diaper on the closed toilet seat, be sure to keep one hand on the infant at all times. These lids usually have a slight curve to them and you want to make sure baby doesn’t roll off. I’ll again recommend a baby carrier of some type. Once the change is complete, strap baby back in while you gather your supplies and clean up.
10. Perfect the standing diaper change.
Obviously this isn’t going to work for a 2-month-old, but for small children who are still in diapers (and may be too tall for the airplane changing table), a standing change is an option for wet diapers. It also comes in super handy for side-of-the-road diaper changes during road trips. Have your kiddos stand on the closed toilet seat lid. Pull down their pants, undo the diaper and let it drop into your hand (check for poop first). Roll it up, bag it up, and secure a fresh diaper on your child.
If you put on the diaper while the child is standing, be sure to inspect the edges and make sure you haven’t given them a diaper wedgie that will result in a mess later. For best results, don’t try this for the first time on the airplane! Practice a few standing diaper changes at home pre-trip.
11. In-lap diaper changes: What you need to know!
So all else has failed. The seat belt sign is on, there’s no changing table, the seats next to you are taken and your kiddo has a wet diaper. It’s time to perform a feat that any traveling parent dreads: the in-lap diaper change. Basically, you are going to use your lap as a changing table. It’s not ideal and done improperly, it can end in mess and disaster. If there’s an option to change baby in the aisle quickly, you may want to go for it.
This is another one to practice at home. Rope your seat neighbor into holding supplies. Trust me, that person wants it over with as fast as possible, too. Take a receiving blanket or disposable changing pad and put it over your lap. Lay baby on her back, butt end towards you. Try to distract her with a toy near her head if possible.
Spread out the new diaper and put it under her butt. Once that’s in place, peel off the old diaper. Slide it out and fasten the new one.
Pooptastrophe? It gets more complicated. Have your travel partner or seat neighbor hand you wipes. Have a plastic bag open and ready to put dirties into. Again, lap changes are a last resort and should only be attempted if absolutely necessary. This is one of the main reasons I recommend people pack a change of clothes for themselves AND baby.
12. What diaper supplies should I pack for a flight?
Look at the length of your flight and think about your child’s patterns. Most kiddos require a diaper change every 2-3 hours; even more frequently for breast-fed babies. If it’s a one hour flight, you may not even have to change a diaper. For a two- to three-hour flight, a folding changing pad carrier with five diapers jammed in should be adequate. A cross-country flight? You should pack a diaper bag that contains the easy-to-grab changing kit as one of your carry-on items. Be sure to include disposable changing pads or a receiving blanket for covering changing surfaces (like your lap). Many airlines will not count a diaper bag against you as a carry on; check your carrier’s policy.
13. Add extra protection.
Obviously you want that plane diaper to contain everything. No leaks, pooptastrophes or escaped pee! I recommend nighttime diapers. They’re made to contain extra fluids and if baby sleeps for a long time on the plane, you won’t be worried. Another trick we’ve used? Cloth diaper covers. Believe it or not we actually brought two of ours cross country on flights while cloth diapering. We stopped that for our fourth, but I still use the waterproof cover over a disposable diaper as an extra “uh-oh” layer.
14. Attitude is everything.
Above all else going into the flight with the right attitude can make or break the trip. Flying with a baby can be tough. It can induce anxiety. You WILL get through it. We promise.