Airplane Travel with Baby
Traveling with your baby on an airplane is like reaching the hardest level on an early parenthood video game. When its over you’re going to feel like you can do anything. I took over 30 flights with my baby in her first year of life, both international and domestic and most of them alone. In all honesty I didn’t get through the early ones without shedding some tears, but luckily I’ve learned a lot along the way from what I forgot or didn’t plan for and can now do it relatively easily and quickly. Below are my tips for air travel with baby so you’ll even be able to squeeze in a relaxing inflight wine to enjoy and celebrate your accomplishment if you care to.
Preparing for Your Trip
If you’re flying domestically within the United States any child under 2 years old can fly as a lap child therefore doesn’t need a seat. In other words, they can fly for free. The baby will need a boarding pass though – I’ll come back to this just below in the checking in section of the post. If you don’t mind spending the money on a seat for your baby then it will make your life easier for the flight, but I’ve never found it necessary. If you’re flying Internationally your baby can fly as a lap child under 2 years old as well but you will have to pay taxes and fees. This cost will vary depending on the country but you can expect it to be between $100.00 and $400.00 USD. If you fly Domestic you can easily add the lap child to the reservation at the check in kiosk as you pay no fees.
1. First step: Decide if you’re going to fly lap child or buy a ticket for your baby.
My tip: Save the money to spend on more activities in your vacation destination and go lap child.
If you choose to buy a ticket you’ll need an FAA approved Car Seat to install in the seat.
2. Second step: Preparing and Packing your Carry-On’s.
I’ve made a detailed traveling with a baby packing checklist here but I want to stress the importance of being prepared without overdoing it. Trying to coordinate security and boarding with too many things as well as being weighed down while trekking and schlepping through a large airport terminal will make you miserable. I perfected a list over time that I consider to be the right balance for me.
My top tips:
- Use a Travel System (Stroller and Car Seat). BabyJogger’s City Mini Travel System is the best because its lightweight as well as easy to fold and expand
- Both the Car Seat and Stroller can be checked at the gate and you can drop them off and pick them up as you board and deplane the aircraft.
- Wear your baby through security, boarding and deplaning. Bring an easy to use, sturdy, yet lightweight Baby Carrier. Tula Free to Grow is by far my favorite.
- Carry On #1 = Diaper Backpack
- Carry On #2 = Carry on Roller Bag for baby supplies and gear during the journey
- Carry On #3 = Dock-A-Tot in Travel Bag
- Carry On #4 = Carry on Roller Bag for your basic packing needs
- *If you’re traveling alone with your baby you’ll have a limit of 2 carry on’s. In this case I recommend checking a bag for your clothes, ditching the Dock-A-Tot and you’ll only be taking your Diaper Backpack and Carry on Roller bag for baby supplies and some spare clothes
3. Traveling Internationally? Your baby needs a passport.
The size of a passport photo is 2×2” and the dimensions you need to take into consideration for your baby’s passport photo is 1″ to 1 3/8″ from the chin to the top of the head. The photo should be a full front facing photo and you’ll need to take your baby’s photo on a white background.
My tip: Lay your baby down on a white sheet to take the photo.
4. Pick your seats in advance and make sure you have an aisle.
My tip: An aisle seat is an absolute must as you will need to get up for various reasons unless you get super lucky and your little one sleeps the entire way in the carrier.
5. Request a Bulkhead row in advance if traveling internationally. The downside of the bulkhead row is you have to stow all your carry-on’s in the overhead bins during take off and landing, but what you’ll get is a convenient place to put your baby in their Dock-A-Tot and put to sleep on the floor.
5. Separate your breastmilk or formula ahead of time and put in your carry on roller bag devoted to baby supplies. You’ll give it directly to the TSA agent.
My tip if Formula Feeding: Pack 4 Ready to Feed Pre Mixed Formulas in your Diaper Backpack but also bring a small Infant Formula Powder tin as a backup. If you don’t need it you’ll have it for your travel destination.
TSA should allow any liquids through security if its meant for baby food. I’ve even been able to take my bottles of water before. However there have been rare occassions they’ve confiscated my ready to feed liquid formula and that powder back up saved me.
If you’re not checking a bag in addition to the 4 carry on’s I noted above then simply go straight to the kiosk. You’ll need to enter your reservation confirmation code and go through the steps. One step will ask if you’re traveling with a child under 2 years old. Click yes and it’ll have you enter your babies information. This will then ensure a boarding pass for your baby is printed out along with yours. Your baby doesn’t need a photo ID traveling Domestically but does need a passport for International travel as I mentioned above.
1. If you didn’t get the Bulkhead row see the agent at the check-in counter and ask them if there are any rows left with a middle seat available so you and your partner can have the whole row and put your baby in the middle seat or use that seat to easily access your supplies in flight
2. After printing your boarding passes get your baby situated in your Baby Carrier so you’re fully ready in advance going through the security line
Going through Security
Going through airport security with your baby is the most challenging part of the process. So much so that I made a separate post to describe in detail how to best navigate this especially if you’re traveling alone with your baby.
Here are my top tips:
- With your baby already snug in your baby carrier you have two hands to get everything prepared on the belt. First thing is to detach your Car Seat from the Stroller and place directly on the security belt. Then you’re going to collapse your stroller and do that next. You want those two things to be the first to come out the other side.
- If you’re traveling with breastmilk or formula you need to give them directly to the TSA agent as they’ll take it to be scanned.
- When you retrieve your carry on’s, stroller and car seat from the other side unfold your stroller first, put the break on, then lock the car seat back in. Toss your Diaper Backpack into the car seat
- Now with one hand push your stroller, use your other hand to pull your roller bag, and your baby remains in the carrier. You can put your baby back in the car seat if you prefer once you have a chance to recomboluate yourself out of the security area.
The Boarding Process
First thing I like to do when getting into the terminal and gate area is find a big bottle of room temperature water. This bottle is what I’ll use to fill my baby bottles ahead of time before boarding the plane. This way I only have to manuever the scoop of the powder while inflight. If you have your pre-mix ready to feed formula you won’t have to do this step, but I would highly recommend preparing one bottle before you board and still buy that bottle of water. If you need to wash bottles while inflight on a long International flight you don’t want to use the lavaratory water. Yuck.
When you get to the gate go straight to the gate agent to ask for gate valet tags for your stroller. Ask for two gate valet tags if you are using the recommended travel system – one for the stroller and one for the car seat. Get these attached ahead of time so when you’re boarding and heading down the jet bridge you don’t have to fiddle with that among the sea of your fellow passengers.
My tips for getting ready to board:
- Do one last diaper change to start off clean and dry
- Put your baby into the baby carrier – wearing your baby during boarding is much easier
- Have a bottle prepared and in the side pocket of your diaper backpack for easy accessibility, or if breastfeeding be prepared to feed during take off. I like the Milk Snob duel breastfeeding and car seat cover and would have that at the top of your diaper backpack and ready to use if that’s your preference.
My tips for boarding
- If the airline you’re flying doesn’t allow pre-boarding for those traveling with small children, don’t worry .- just board last. You can avoid the feeling of pressure and feel like you can take your time when you don’t have a line of people waiting behind you. When you take your time it all goes much faster than if you try to be quick to not inconvenience others
- Head down to the end of the jetbridge pushing your stroller and car seat still attached as the travel system with your baby in the carrier and park the stroller. Detach the car seat and place to the side with the gate valet tag already attached
- With one hand lift up on the handle and collapse your stroller. (This is why I like the BabyJogger Citi Mini GT so much) and set next to the car seat also with its gate valet tag attached.
- Ideally you’re traveling with a partner who can lift your carry on roller bag into an overhead bin but if you’re alone you can do it while wearing baby – just be extra careful of their little head and feet.
- Set your diaper backpack onto the seat and pull out the following:
- Diaper wipes and stick in the seat back pocket in front of you
- 4 Diapers to tuck in the seat back pocket in front of you
- Dr. Brown’s pacifier and bottle wipes and stick in the seat back pocket
- The prepared bottle or your Milk Snob breastfeeding cover and put on your seat
- Put your Diaper Backpack underneath the seat in front of you
- Sit down with your baby still in the carrier
- You will likely be asked to unbuckle the carrier and hold your baby so make sure you fasten your seatbelt before you take baby out
- As the plane takes off prepare to start feeding baby – this will help keep their ears from popping and hurting and likely lull them to sleep with the combination of the motion and engine noises
If your baby is 6 months or younger they are likely to be asleep by the time you reach cruising altitude. If you’re still holding them try putting them in the Dock-A-Tot and get them in a swaddle. This way you can relax, have a wine or even a snooze yourself to you or on the floor (if you’re in a bulkhead row.)
My tips for feeding and sleeping:
- Feed your baby during takeoff and landing. This will help keep their ears from hurting during the cabin pressure changes
- If your baby isn’t hungry make sure they at least are sucking on a pacifier or chewing on a teething toy
- If your baby is under 6 months try to keep them in the carrier and feed them while inside. If they fall asleep inside the carrier your flight becomes a piece of cake. Especially if its a shorter domestic one.
My tips for everything else:
- If you need to change your baby’s diaper take two diapers with you and your diaper wipes. Leave the bag tucked underneath the seat in front of you.
- You’re taking two diapers in case there’s an accident with one of them.
- Unlatch the diaper changer over the toilet in the lavaratory and there will be plenty of room to do your thing.
- If your baby starts crying while inflight first you need to stay calm and relaxed. Babies cry. People will be fine and most people will smile empathetically at you. I’ve never had anyone say a negative comment in over 30 flights.
- Don’t be afraid of walking down the aisle with your baby.
- If your baby is around the 9 month – 12 month mark they will likely be anxious to crawl or try walking. My baby screamed every time we sat down on a flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis. I was by myself, and I got a good workout on that flight. We walked up and down the aisles several times an hour.
Deplaning and Arrival
Congratulations you’ve made it to your destination! Make sure before you start deplaning to get your baby back in the carrier. Its easier to collect all your things and pick up your car seat and stroller with both hands.
My tips for this final step:
- Don’t feel like you need to let others go ahead of you. Just go when you feel comfortable and take your time. Its not taking as long as you think to gather your things and they are fine waiting behind you
- When you get off the plane you need to wait to the side of the jetbridge next to the plane and the attendants will be unloading all of the gate valet items. They usually get the baby gear off first.
- If your stroller comes first grab it and unfold it right away. Put the lock on. Then when the carseat comes simply lock that in place onto the stroller. Throw your diaper backpack onto the carseat and head out into the terminal
- Once you’re out I’d put baby back into the carseat and the diaper back pack on my back.
- Toss your baby carrier into the storage basket underneath the stroller and you’re ready to go!
I hope the above has been a helpful overview of how to fly with a baby on an airplane. My goal is to give everyone who’s doing this the first time the confidence to meet their journey with excitement and not fear. If you need more information on any aspect of traveling on an airplane with your baby please check our other posts for more detail on what to pack and baby gear recommendations for air travel or simply ask a question in the comments below.