For some new parents, the thought of flying with a baby is downright terrifying, and some might even be put off entirely.
Well traveled parents know that with some clever planning, thoughtful packing, and a few strategies to survive the flight, flying with your baby is nothing to be afraid of.
Check out the following info that will help you organize for the next flight you take with you baby.
Gaining the confidence and setting you mind at ease, you’ll be so glad you gave it a go!
1. Planning and Booking Flights
While most people spend their time stressing about the actual flight, how you plan and book your flight is actually the most important thing to get right when flying with a baby.
The best time to fly with a baby
If you only need to fly for a few hours or less the time of day isn’t as important. From personal experience I would suggest early in the morning when your baby is probably in a better mood.
For longer flights your two best options are:
1. Morning flight
You have probably noticed that as the day wears on, bub gets tired and a little cranky. This is precisely the situation you are probably worried about facing on a plane. If you take a morning fight your trip could be over before this happens.
Advantages of a morning flight include:
- Taking a morning flight ensures the most stressful parts of the process (like take-off) are all done while you and bub are fresh and well rested.
- Depending on the length of the flight, flying in the morning also means you are likely to arrive at your destination in time to get baby to bed close to their normal bedtime.
- Other passengers are awake and less likely to be disturbed by a crying baby. (if you’re worried about offending that is)
The first time we flew for over 10 hours with Teddy, our plane took off about 8:00AM which gave us the full day in the air with him before we got to our hotel just in time for his bed time.
The hardest part of the day flight was keeping him entertained. and happy for 10 hours in such a confined space.
On the plus side the flight went super quick for us trying to entertain him. I think I watched about 52 minutes of a movie across the whole flight.
2. Evening flight
The main advantage of an evening flight is that with a bit of luck your baby can sleep through a large majority of the flight.
- If you booked the bulkhead seats then you might even get to enjoy a movie and get some sleep.
- The downside is that if baby doesn’t feel like sleeping or decides to have a tantrum at 2AM you’re going to feel a lot more self-conscious.
And if you don’t have the bulkhead seats or your baby refuses to sleep in them, you might be faced with a sleepless night cradling baby on you. (which happened to us on flight home from Tokyo)
The best seats to book
It’s worth pre-selecting your seats, even if this comes at an extra cost.
Most flights offer a bassinet if you select seats in the ‘bulk head’. You should definitely try and book bulkhead seats. As well as the bassinet, you also get more leg room which is essential for all the extra bags, toys and gear you need on hand. We highly recommend doing this even if you don’t plan on making use of the bassinet.
You are probably aware kids under the age of two can fly for nothing, as they can sit on your lap.
Saving the price of a ticket is nice. But if your trip budget can accommodate the cost it could be worth booking an extra seat just to have the extra space.
You’ll have more room to spread out, and be 100% sure that you do not end up with a somewhat grumpy stranger sitting next to you.
It is also a good idea to pick a window seat, as if you need to feed or comfort bub, the window provides you some extra privacy.
Flying with a Car Seat
We just mentioned that bub flies for free provided they camp on your lap.
But there is a compelling reason as to why you might want take along a flight approved car seat for your baby.
In a word, safety.
If the fight encounters unexpected turbulence, the safest place for your child is in a flight approved safety seat.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly urges you to secure your child in a CRS or device for the duration of your flight. It’s the smart and right thing to do so that everyone in your family arrives safely at your destination. The FAA is giving you the information you need to make informed decisions about your family’s travel plans.
In fact, children sitting on the laps of their parents are the most likely to experience injury or death if there is an emergency on the plane.
If you are heading on an international flight and want to use a flight approved car seat, you will need to check whether this is possible with your particular carrier.
Later in this article we will discuss the laws that apply to using car seats on flights in the US, but international carriers may differ.
If you are travelling overseas and want to be sure you can seat your baby in a car seat, then you will need to fly with an US carrier.
2. Packing for a Stress Free Flight
You would be surprised about the number of items that can come in handy while traveling with kids.
Your destination and length of stay will determine what you will need to include in your luggage.
It can be tempting to go overboard here. Especially if you are traveling for a week or more.
This video is a good guide on what to pack in your carry on when traveling with a baby or toddler.
Some of the best tips include:
- Keep a hand sanitizer somewhere that’s easily accessible since planes and airports can be pretty nasty for germs
- Depending on how old your child is, pack some small snacks / bribes like M&Ms that you can easily reach. Bring more snacks than you think you’ll need
- Nappy changing gear in an easy to grab pocket
- Bring a new book and toy
- Something warm as temperature on flights can fluctuate crazily
Remember that disposable items such as wipes and diapers can be bought in most places. So as long as you have enough for the flight and your first night, you are all set. Just pop down to the nearest store and restock.
You may have a collection of gadgets that make life easier at home, but when you have a limited baggage allowance you will have to ask yourself if they are absolutely necessary, and if they will really make your life easier considering you will have to carry them through one (or more) airports.
If you take too much luggage, you’ll find yourself spending all your time trying to keep track of where you left everything. So keeping your packing on point is a win win.
Some cities also have rental outlets such as Baby’s Away that allow you to rent certain larger items, such as cribs and play mats, which saves you having to lug larger items through the airport.
Just in case there are delays at the airport, it is wise to bring extra clothes and diapers in your carry on luggage. In fact, a spare change of clothes for yourself is also a great idea.
Another must have is zip-lock bags. Pack smaller items such as wipes in these bags and pop them in an easy to access part of your carry on luggage. Zip lock bags are great in that you can see exactly what is inside without having to pull everything out of your bags.
Wipes and diapers are an example of items where “more is more”. While you can always purchase more after landing, always overcompensate for the amount of these items you will need while in transit.
The same goes for bottles and formula if you use them. It’s possible your plane could be delayed for hour so pack for the worst case scenario.
Take Advantage of Travel Size
You may have determined that some items are on your must have list, but they are going to take up precious space in your luggage. Check to see if there are travel size versions of these products available.
For instance, you can get your hands on a travel breast pump, which could be a lifesaver if it means you can keep your feeding schedule uninterrupted. Similarly, diaper cream or ointment is a must have, but you can usually get this in travel size.
Similarly, a collapsible stroller is a worthy investment. Not only for storage at home, but if you ask nicely, you might just be able to fold it up and store it in the cabin, which will make the trip through the airport a whole lot easier.
Keep in mind that the cabin temperature on some fights can defy logic. Dressing bub in layers, or bringing a light blanket or two is essential just in case you end up on a flight that is a little uncomfortable temperature wise.
Similarly, a few toys to keep your baby entertained are worth the small amount of space they will occupy in your bag.
2. Getting Through the Airport and Boarding
All of your fears surrounding flying with your baby might be centered on the flight itself. But traversing the airport and actually boarding the plane is an often overlooked challenge. With some planning and a few tricks up your sleeve however, it can be done.
When you have a baby in tow, airlines will usually allow you a couple of extra checked items.
- A collapsible stroller/pram
- Car seat
Ask your airline what exactly you can check and what you can bring in the cabin before you get to the airport.
Even if your airline doesn’t allow you to bring your collapsible stroller into the cabin, you can always check it at the gate rather than with your bags. Alternatively some airports will also offer you a loan stroller once you check in.
We prefer using a front pack or wrap over using the stroller. More about this in a moment.
When it comes to using car seats on a flight, some airlines are easier to deal with than others. If you know you can use it on the flight, it is likely worth the inconvenience of carrying it with you through the airport, especially if you can plonk it in your stroller.
If you aren’t sure if the airline will let you use it or not, there are pros and cons to weigh up when deciding whether to check it in.
If you are mainly bringing along the car seat for use at your final destination, checking in your car seat means you have less to lug around the airport.
On the other hand, if you keep your car seat on you, and the airline allows you to take it on board you can use it during the flight!
Getting Through Security
Free up your hands:
Getting through security usually involves pulling stuff out of bags, removing belts and possibly shoes, and working out what you are actually meant to put in those plastic trays.
This is impossible if you are holding a baby.
But you can regain the use of your hands if you use a a baby carrier such as the Boba wrap or our personal favorite the ErgoBaby 360. Having your hands free will not only be a lifesaver through security but for all activities within the airport.
Be Security Ready:
Keep things that need to be put through the security scanner handy. We try and keep all our electronics in one bag so we can easily unpack and then repack without searching through multiple bags.
If you will be taking your stroller, put it to good use and sit your laptop or tablet in the basket so it is easy to reach.
If you will also be taking a car seat, don’t bury it under too much stuff as you will have to pass it through the scanner too.
Don’t Move Your Baby Until the Last Minute:
A plus of having your baby in a wrap is that you will can walk through the scanner together with bub.
If baby has fallen asleep in the stroller or car seat, you will have to get them up to pass
through security. If this is the case, wait until you have put everything you can through before you wake your baby up.
Don’t Let Yourself be Rushed:
This is easier said than done if you can feel the impatient gaze of someone in the line behind you, but remember that *most* people are understanding, or have been in this situation themselves at some point in their life!
The Final Hurdle – Getting to Your Seat.
As you sit in the boarding lounge, no doubt relieved that the security check is successfully behind you, resist the urge to jump at the first call to board, as some carriers will call parents with small children to board first, but there is a strong case for waiting.
If you are travelling with a partner, definitely send them in to battle ahead of you with the bulk of your carry on luggage.
But wait till the very last to board with your baby, and whatever type of carrier you have them in.
You will likely be on that plane for a few hours, so baby is less likely to get bored the less time you are in the plane seat.
Also, boarding at the same time as everyone else inevitably descends into chaos. So heading on in once everyone else is seated and out of the aisles will afford you some space to manoeuvre.
Do a final change just before boarding:
Change ’em before you board: If that diaper is starting to get wet and heavy, change it just before boarding. Not only will you avoid one in-flight diaper change, but you might just avert the dreaded in-flight blowout
Another great tip for getting to your seat—If you have anything with wheels (carrier, stroller etc) use it. Pile all you can, including baby (safely) on, and carefully push it onto the plane. Wheeling multiple things at the one time has never made anyone’s life easier.
3. Surviving the Flight
Now that the plane has taken off you can sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. Maybe even watch a movie…
Just kidding. You’ll find yourself dreaming about the flights you took without a baby and wonder why you ever complained about lack of leg room or not being able to find a good movie to watch.
There’s no doubt flying with a baby is more work, but with the right tactics it doesn’t have to be an ordeal.
Feeding and Protecting your Babies Ears
Flying can do funny things to our ears, and it can be even worse for your baby.
Particularly during take off and landing.
If you can have your baby feeding or sucking on a pacifier, their ears will be protected.
Throughout the flight, try and feed your baby regularly, even if it messes up their feeding schedule a little. This will not only help keep them quiet, it will also help their ears adjust to the changes in pressure.
Aside from keeping bubs ears safe, regular feeding will keep baby hydrated on the flight. Flying is renowned for leaving us dehydrated, so make sure you keep up your fluids too!
All larger planes have a fold down change table in the bathroom. Bear in mind that it will be quite cramped in there, particularly on older planes. So take a quick mental note of what you really need, and take only necessary items with you.
If you are flying with your partner get one of you to hold the baby while the other does some reconnaissance to work out where everything is.
Some smaller planes may not have a fold down change table. In this instance, you will have to change on your lap. As a courtesy, warn your neighbor. Most people will not have a problem with this at all.
If you are traveling with a US carrier FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approved car seats must be installed in forward facing plane seats. However, contrary to common belief, the car seat itself can be installed forward facing or rear facing as long as the child is within the height and weight requirements for each position.
Here is the rule regarding the installation of car seats, straight from the FAA:
“A CRS must be installed in a forward-facing aircraft seat, in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. This includes placing the CRS in the appropriate forward or aft-facing direction as indicated on the label for the size of the child.”
Unfortunately, this rule is often misunderstood and misapplied. “Alt-facing” means backwards, and you are allowed to install the seat this way if it your child is still the right size.
Don’t be shocked, however, if some flight attendants dictate that your seat must be installed in the forward facing position.
While it is worth knowing the rules as far as car seats go, it is up to you how far you are prepared to argue the point.
In some instances it may be worth speaking up, in other cases for the sake of peace, it might be best left alone. You could always bring the matter to the attention of the airline in the form of a complaint after the flight.
Aside from packing a few toys that will not take up too much space in your luggage, take full advantage of your phone while on the plane.
Download some of your bubs favorite videos or games, which could potentially provide hours of entertainment.
Some airlines do have dedicated kids channels, but having a fall back plan is never a bad idea, especially if your baby decides the shows on offer don’t take their fancy.
We have a full guide to entertaining your baby or toddler on a plane here.
Arriving at your destination
Let’s be honest, filling out the arrivals card is not usually something you feel like doing at the end of a long flight.
But when you consider that you have a table, free hands and no bags and strollers to keep an eye on while you sit on the plane, this is actually the perfect time to fill out the slip.
And if you forgot a pen, just ask a flight attendant for one.
Don’t forget to declare your baby food on arrival. Generally, the less you have, the less trouble you will have at customs. Aim to bring enough for the flight itself and a little extra for stopovers and after you have landed.
While powdered foods are usually OK, pureed foods might attract some extra attention.
As a rule, keeping purees and items that will need to be checked by customs officers in clear containers that are easy to access will ensure less issues.
Because customs officers can throw anything out that they are suspicious about, you are better off buying more baby food after you have cleared customs than risking losing a whole bunch when going through the checkpoint.
Keep these tips in mind
Hopefully you’re now feeling a little bit better about flying with your baby. If you’ve got any doubt keep these tips in mind:
1. Use a Baby Carrier to Make Getting Through the Airport Easy
A baby carrier is one item that should really be classified as a ‘must have’ while travelling.
Having both hands free is a lifesaver as you juggle your luggage and generally navigate your way through the airport.
A stroller is an option, but your hands will not be free, and if your baby is on you, you can use your stroller to carry your things.
2. Travel as Light as Possible (While Still Being Prepared)
Take a moment to decide what items are absolutely necessary to bring, such as diapers, food (formula or milk) wipes, toys, change of clothes, and bottles.
Once the necessary items are covered, take stock of how much space you have left and decide what other items are worth including, those that will make life a little easier.
Bear in mind that more is less when flying. Often the convenience some items offer is outweighed if you end up with an overstuffed bag that takes you an age to pack and unpack to find anything.
3. Plan Ahead and Make Checklists
You are more likely to forget things if you try and do everything at the last minute.
Have a list in a visible part of the house and note things down as you think of them.
Go over your list when you have a clear head and make sure all the items on the list are worthy of being there and will actually make your trip easier.
If you are planning to visit family or friends, enlist their help by asking if they could have some supplies ready at the other end so you don’t need to rush to the shops straight away.
4. Families with Babies can Usually Board First (But Spending an Extra 30 mins on the Plane Might Not be Worth it)
Some airlines will make a call for parents with small children to board first. It is up to you to decide if this provision will make your life easier or not.
While you will get to your seat first, not long after you have found your seat, the rest of the passengers will start streaming in hot on your heels. You may not have had much time to organize all your things by this stage anyway.
It will also mean you an bub will be spending an extra 30 mins on the plane, which might well bore your baby to tears (literally).
5. Make the Most of the Cabin Crew (Ask Them for Help With Warming Bottles or Food)
Cabin crew are there to help, so don’t be shy, take advantage of their assistance.
If you need bottes or food warmed, ask them to help you out. Enlisting a little help from the staff
will make your flight a lot easier.
6. If Your Baby Starts Having a Tantrum
Worst case scenario, your baby throws a full blown tantrum mid flight.
Bear in mind that during take off and landing, the change in cabin pressure could be causing them some discomfort, so encouraging them to suck on a bottle or pacifier might relieve this.
If you are weaning your baby off pacifiers, it might be worth waiting till after the flight to do this, as having something to suck on the flight might just be a lifesaver!
Otherwise, take baby for a walk up and down the aisle to distract them a little.
You may also want to bring along some medication such a paracetamol or ibuprofen (in the correct dosage for baby) in case bub is teething, and a thermometer to check if a temperature is the cause of their angst.
You are now ready to survive your first flight with a baby
If you manage to get your baby to sleep on the plane, you definitely deserve a treat. The good news is, you have some choices—and uninterrupted nap, a cheesy rom com, or a glass of wine.
Don’t let your additional family member curb your enjoyment of travel or visiting friends and family because of the “what if’s” that come to mind when travelling with a baby is mentioned.
There are tips and tricks that can make flying with a baby a smooth, if not enjoyable, experience.
Do you have any travel hacks you would like to share? Make sure you mention them in the comments section below. And if you found this article helpful, be sure to share!