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Holiday season is upon us which means many of you are traveling! Traveling can be super daunting wit a baby so I’ve started a list of the best tips for flying with a baby. I personally used these tips with Maya when she was 4 months and 9 months old with great results!
When Maya was 4 months old, we flew for a friend’s wedding. When we were getting off the plane, we heard the people behind us say “oh wow, we didn’t even know there was a baby!”. That might have boosted our egos just a little bit. But our second plane ride wasn’t quite as easy with a busy 9 month old. People definitely noticed there was a baby. BUT we still had people comment on how easy she was during the flight. Now that she is a toddler, we will really be putting these to the test next time around.
I would say most of these tips apply to babies under the age of one but really depends on your child’s personality. Once your baby starts to be more mobile and getting the independence of toddlerhood, there’s a bit more wrangling that you’ll need to do. SURPRISE, toddlers are more work! I’m sure you’re as shocked as I am.
Let’s dig in!
PREPARING FOR THE FLIGHT
For children under 2, you should be able to take baby for free if you use the “infant in lap” option. Most airlines don’t require that you pay for an extra seat for baby unless you’re wanting to use a car seat. I have personally not used a car seat while flying and my hubby and I took turns holding her both times that we flew with her. Once they turn 2, you have to buy them a seat regardless!
If you’re taking a very long flight, like an international flight, you might want to opt for an extra seat and car seat anyway so you can set baby down safely. You probably don’t want to have to hold baby for a 9 hour flight, just a thought.
When you buy your tickets, some airlines have the option for adding a lap infant or you can usually add on later. There might be restrictions on where you can sit though (no exit rows!) so definitely check the airlines information page.
In order to make sure that your baby is under 2, you usually have to bring your baby’s birth certificate to the ticketing counter before you go through security. So if you usually bypass the ticket counter and do everything from you phone like me, you will have to plan for this additional time when you fly with baby.
Even if you don’t use a car seat on the plane, you’re probably going to need a car seat once you get to your destination. Most car rental companies have rental car seats available. Personally, I’m very wary of this because you have no idea what the car seat has been through but it’s a pretty convenient option. Car seats are supposed to be replaced after even a minor incident and have expiration dates. You can’t guarantee the rental company is doing the right thing, maybe I’m just being paranoid. If you’re traveling to somewhere that you go frequently (like to visit family), you might want to consider just purchasing an extra seat to store there so you don’t have to worry about bringing one every time. You don’t have to get one that’s top of the line since it won’t get as much use.
If you do decide to bring your own, you’ll want to send it as checked luggage usually. To avoid your carseat getting dirty, you’ll want to get a bag to cover it. We bought this backpack style so Zach could easily carry it into the airport and it’s a bit padded. We didn’t realize how HUGE this bag was but it actually worked well because we could shove a bunch of other stuff in it along with our car seat. We fit our carseat, a duffel bag, 2 winter coats, and a few random other things.
If you’re traveling alone, not going to lie, carrying in your carseat will be a bit difficult to manage with all the other stuff you’ll have. But you might be able to get a cart to be able to get everything to the ticket counter.
You should also be able to take your car seat as a “carry-on” and take it with you to the gate. They’ll probably make you gate check it before you board the plain.
Gate checking these are usually free but you might want to check with your airline just in case. When they gate check it, you get it back as you getting off the plane so you won’t pick it up at Baggage Claim. If you’re connecting flights somewhere, you’ll have to carry it with you to the next plane so don’t forget it!
You probably want to get a cover/bag for it even if you choose this method. You can get one like we had or there’s these super simple ones like this from Amazon.
Alright, if you’re traveling with baby on your own, you’re really going to have to plan your luggage situation. If you can, try to check as much of your luggage just so you don’t have to deal with it while you’re carrying baby. I broke it down into my recommendations for how to manage it whether you’re flying solo or if you have someone with you.
- You – Use baby carrier for baby
- You – Diaper bag backpack – babies stuff (below), your phone charger, your 3 oz. liquid bag, and computer/tablet.
- You – Small carry-on roller bag, has to be light enough for you to lift while managing baby
- Check – car seat if you’re taking one
- Check – all other luggage
If you can get away with it, you should just skip the carry-on and check it. The $25ish will probably be worth it! If you’re checking any luggage, put all your liquids in there so you don’t have to worry about them at security, this applies for anytime you travel!
Traveling with a partner:
- You – Use baby carrier for baby or stroller
- You – Diaper bag backpack – babies stuff (below), your phone charger
- Partner – Backpack with personal items for you and partner, 3 oz liquids, computer/tablet
- Partner – Small carry-on roller bag
- Partner – carry car seat if you’re taking it through the airport (checking it is preferred)
- Check – all other luggage
If you’re traveling with a partner, it obviously takes a bit of the load off. I would still recommend checking luggage vs. taking another carry-on just to make it easier. If you can fit both you and partner’s stuff in one carry-on, then you’re golden!
WHAT YOU NEED FOR THE FLIGHT
When you’re traveling with baby, you’re going to be playing a very precarious game of being taking as little as possible while also making sure you have what you need. You’ll have your hands full with baby, so only take what you need. This is the only list of what you need for the actual flight. Obviously, you need to pack for your actual trip too.
I definitely need to take my own advice on this one. I’m an over packer, so this is super duper hard for me. Of course, what you need definitely depends on the length of your flight. If you have a very short flight, only take the basics. But if you have a long flight, you’ll probably need most of the things you use for baby on a regular basis.
Think about the time of day and how that will affect your baby. If you’re going to be flying during nap time, bring the things you need to get baby to sleep. If you’re traveling during feeding time, make sure you have everything you need for feeding! Your flight will probably overlap a few of these times so be prepared. The whole process can also throw off baby’s schedule too so keep that in mind too.
If your baby is exclusively breastfed, you might only need to bring a few extra nursing pads and a few burp cloths and a nursing cover if you use one (hint: use a baby blanket instead so you can save room).
These are my favorite nursing pads from Bamboobies and my all time favorite burp clothes from Burt’s Bees. These are the ONLY kind I’m going to buy when baby #2 comes around.
If you are an exclusive pumper or you use formula, you can take breastmilk/formula with you through security! Your bottles just have to get scanned (don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt it at all!). For formula, I highly recommend getting some of the premade bottles like these ones or using the premeasured packets. There’s some other great ways to measure out formula before hand, like this great option from Honest Co. Messing with a big tub of formula with a screaming baby crammed in a plane seat sounds like a recipe for disaster so I would avoid it if you can. Make sure you have clean water (you probably have to use bottled water) if you’re using powdered formula. Some airports have water bottle filling stations now too!
If baby is starting on solids, bring some easy snacks. I always keep a tube of puffs in the diaper bag so I definitely recommend these. You can even bring pureed baby foods as well (although TSA might need to check them). For on the go, I use the pouches rather than the tubs so you can skip the spoon.
Babies can eat the pureed food directly from the pouches at a pretty young age. It’s super similar to sucking from a bottle, so it’s really natural for them to learn this! When Maya was young, I usually kept at 2-3 pouches in the diaper bag at any time just in case so definitely bring a couple for the flight.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
I would keep most of the usual stash from your diaper bag. Just like with any random outing with baby, you will want most of these things with you just in case. Here’s my standard list of items that I keep in my diaper bag for the plan ride:
- Diapers (make sure you bring enough for the amount of time you’ll be traveling) bring a few extra in case a flight gets delayed
- Wipes (I would bring a fresh pack just to make sure you have enough)
- Diaper cream – you mighthave to put this in your 3oz. liquids bags but I never did and didn’t have any issues with keeping it in the diaper bag
- Extra set of clothes – for flying I prefer to use buttoned pajamas rather onesie and pants. It made diaper changes so much faster
- Burp Cloths – I would bring at least 2. The only ones I plan on using again are these ones from Burt’s Bees
- Blanket – I use these muslin ones that are perfect for swaddling, nursing or just cuddling
- Jacket/sweater – planes are usually pretty cold even in the summer. So I would bring a jacket because baby probably won’t want to be bundled in a blanket the entire time.
For diaper changes, I found the best way to keep things easy was to use a diaper changing clutch inside the diaper bag. I kept the diapers, wipes, diaper cream and a onesie in this Skip Hop one that I love love love. This was super easy to just pull out of the bag for a quick changing. If you are traveling alone, you obviously can’t just leave all your stuff while you’re in the airport but it still works well for on the plane so you don’t have to lug the whole diaper bag to the bathroom.
Don’t be a dick alert: Don’t be that person that changes your baby in your seat. Unless the plane is super empty, this is just rude. The other passengers didn’t sign up for smelling your baby’s dirty diaper. I get it, It’s not easy to change a baby in the bathroom on a plan., But it’s doable, I’ve done it. At the very least, ask a flight attendant if they have a more suitable location for you to change your baby.
Even if you aren’t nursing, it’s pretty nice to have a pillow for baby while you’re traveling. Even a small travel pillow would help. You’ll want to give your arms a rest for at least a little bit. Baby can be propped up on your lap for sleeping and bottle feeding! I thought my Boppy pillow was a big bulky for the last plane ride but some people swear by theirs. I actually had a super cheap generic nursing pillow that was much smaller that worked MUCH better.
I would suggest finding a way to strap your pillow to your diaper bag so you don’t have to carry it. Believe me, you won’t have a free hand. I use a backpack for a diaper bag and it’s got nice clip that works nicely, or you can just tuck the pillow behind your back and through the shoulder straps.
KEEP BABY OCCUPIED
Depending on baby’s age, you’ll probably want an assortment of things to keep baby occupied. If you have a couple hour flight, you don’t want to be bringing the whole toy box. I recommend bringing baby’s favorite toy, a couple cardboard books (you’ll want them to be durable), and at least one new toy.
Bringing a new toy can keep baby extra distracted as they test it out for the first time! Bringing toys that are different and unique from each other is a good idea so baby doesn’t get bored.
Remember to be considerate of other passengers and try not to bring toys that make a lot of noise or music. Listening to the ABC’s over and over again for a 5 hour flight is probably just as annoying as a crying baby.
Pacifiers and teethers are great too especially depending on baby’s developmental stage. Remember to use a pacifier clip (they’re great for teethers too). I guarantee you they will land on the gross floor if you don’t.
THROUGH THE AIRPORT
There’s always so much crap that you need to take with you when you fly so adding a small person to that list can be cumbersome. Regardless of what method you choose you need to plan for the following things.
1) You need to be able to safely transport baby 2) get through security 3) transport your stuff 4) keep at least one hand free for boarding passes, phone, wallet etc.
USING A BABY CARRIER
I personally recommend using a baby carrier. This was by far the easiest way for going through security and getting to the gate. Keep in mind, you do have to take baby out of the wrap/carrier during the flight for safety reasons. But you really can wait to do this until right before takeoff. We even went through security with Maya in the wrap! You just go through the regular metal detector instead the big scanner. Easy peasy.
I used this super cute Moby wrap and it was PERFECT. I used this allllllll the time when Maya was little because I loved the snuggles and it was so comfortable. For flying, she fit as snug as a bug right on front of me and I still kept my hands free to fumble with boarding passes and the diaper bag.
Pro tip: when using a wrap for flying, make sure you put the tie on the side of your hip rather than the back or the front, this will make it so you can sit comfortably without having to undo your wrap.
Using a fabric wrap vs. an infant carrier was definitely more comfortable because I didn’t even have to take it off during the flight. Now that Maya is a bit big to fit comfortably in the Moby, I have switched almost entirely to my Ergobaby Omni 360. It’s so versatile and works great for toddlers and heavier babies. It’s not quite as comfortable as the wraps but will still be the best way to carry baby hands-free!
A lot of parents recommend using a stroller. I personally think it’s a bit of a pain to have to add a stroller into the mix. But if you have more than one child or don’t want to carry the weight of baby the entire trip, it might be easier to use the stroller.
Going through security is slightly more work with a stroller because you have to take everything out so the stroller can get scanned. You’ll get to carry baby through the metal detector instead of the scanner then pick up your stuff on the other side.
Obviously, most airports do things slightly differently. So you might want to double check with your airport beforehand. You should be able to check on their website to see if they have more information or call them directly.
When you get to the gate, they will check your stroller for you (for free) before boarding. This means, right before you get on the plane, you take your stuff and baby out and it gets folded up and they take it to where the other luggage is stored. They will give it right back to you as you exit the plane so don’t worry, you don’t have to go to Baggage Claim to get it. You can do this with a car seat too usually like I mentioned above.
Once again, keep in mind you have to take everything out through security and for the actual plane ride, so you need to be able to carry baby and your stuff during those times.
DURING THE FLIGHT
If you’re breastfeeding, plan on doing a lot of nursing. It’s one of the best ways to distract baby (not to mention put baby to sleep). Wear the most easy access, nursing friendly shirt you have. You want to be able to whip out that boobie as fast as possible when baby gets fussy.
But Anna, what if I have my baby on a set nursing schedule?? Honestly, I wouldn’t get too worried about deviating for the trip. Believe me, getting baby back on a schedule in the comfort of your own home, seems much less stressful than trying to calm a screaming baby on an airplane. I advocate for nursing on demand when babies are younger anyway. I truly believe you can’t spoil a baby!
If you’re bottle feeding, the same thing applies! Making smaller, more frequent bottles is a great options for traveling. Just be careful not to overfeed baby since it can lead to more spit up. Getting spit up on by someone else’s baby is just as bad, if not worse, as a crying baby.
You might have a harder time getting baby to sleep. There’s a lot of new sounds and shapes and people so can you really blame ’em? Nursing to sleep on a trip is a totally acceptable way of managing baby right now. So don’t worry about keeping baby on a schedule. Take sleep while you can get it at this point!
You might need to pull out all the stops to get baby to sleep though because of the new environment. Trying shushing or bringing a small portable white noise machine if you think baby will need this. (Keep it quiet though to avoid disturbing the other passengers). Pacifiers, swaddling, you name it. This isn’t the time to try to wean baby off those things!
MIX IT UP
If baby is getting fussy, try to mix it up between toys, feeding, bouncing, books, etc. If it’s safe, you can ask the flight attendant if you can walk up and down the aisle so baby can get a look around. Always make sure you’re being safe though!
Babies love things that aren’t toys so letting them check out their surroundings can be very exciting. Let baby check out the magazines and pamphlets. Make sure you’re watching though so no paper cuts or paper eating happens! Empty water bottles are usually super fun! Hint: Letting baby kick other passengers seats, doesn’t count as a fun activity.
Play peekabo, patty cake, and just generally play with your baby! Don’t expect baby to just sit quietly and play with a toy. Talk, sing (quietly), tickle and cuddle! Your funny faces and funny voices are probably some of baby’s favorite things right now!
The trick is to try to avoid baby getting bored by switching from activity to activity BEFORE they start to cry. Once babies get bored, it’s harder to get them to engage in something else.
When in doubt, feed that baby!!!
With toddlers, you’ll probably just have to be much more engaged and they might not sleep! If you have a walker, you can ask the flight attendant if you can help your toddler walk up and down the aisles for a bit. If you’re toddler is anything like mine though, you’ll have a tough time trying to get them to sit back down after that, so beware.
Controversy alert: If you have a toddler consider downloading some educational toddler approved games on a phone or tablet. I know some mamas are super against screen time, and I get it. Personally, we also limit Maya’s screen time. But traveling is one of those exceptions where keeping my sanity out weighs the very small amount of time that she’s using it. My recommendation is to find a game or an episode of Sesame Street that you can pull out as a last resort. If you don’t need it, then great! But if you just need 5 minutes of quiet, then maybe it’s worth it, just this once. They aren’t going to get hooked on it if you use it sparingly, so you will be fine.
Hopefully these tips help you while you’re flying with baby! I know they helped me!
In the end, if baby just isn’t cooperating, that’s okay. Honestly, the important this that you try. Yes, some people will be annoyed about a crying baby. But babies cry, it’s just a fact of life. Most people will be fine as long as you’re doing your best to get baby to calm down. And if they aren’t, then that’s just too damn bad for them.