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Tips for Flying with a Baby

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Have a baby and want to travel? Fear no more! I’ve got all the tips you need to fly with your baby and make it as smooth as possible.

In case you are new around these parts, we’ve been traveling the world with our five kids for two years! We’ve flown dozens of times with kids of various ages.

When the time came for my first flight with my first baby, anxiety haunted me. How would I make it the 3 hours from Denver to Chicago with a baby?! Babies are so unpredictable. Absolutely I did not want to be that person with the crying baby.

We breezed through that first flight without any major hiccups, despite my tension. Since then, I’ve taken five different babies on flights around the world. You can too!

Before You Get On the Plane with a Baby

Calm Your Emotions

Be calm. This is my TOP tip and the most important. If you haven’t realized it yet, your baby is quite in tune with you and your emotions. Have you noticed how your baby fusses more when you are tired and stressed? It’s a bit cruel how it works that way, but it’s true.

For this entire flight, you will project calm. Nothing is going to ruffle you. Security may be nasty, the flight might be delayed, your neighbor on the plane might be grumpy, and your baby might cry. You are going to tell yourself right now that all of this is OK. In fact, you may just want to expect it.

Visualize yourself in that scenario and see how calm you will be. Your emotions are going to be the most important part of this journey today. If you are calm, no matter the other circumstances, your baby is going to take comfort in this and be calmer as well.

Plan Enough Time To Get There

Arrive early. I am late for everything. I struggle to not over-commit, in general, and our schedule gets the worst of my ambitions. We were late a few times to our initial flights with kids and I swore to quit that habit right away. You do NOT want to be late for your flight, ever, but especially with kids. It is so stressful!

We now plan to arrive at the airport 3-4 hours before our flights. Often we budget more time for an international flight. If we only have a few hours in a city before our flight, we don’t try to fit in any more sightseeing and we just head to the airport instead. Better to relax at the airport, trust me! Bring books, homework, work, whatever, and plan to do that instead while you wait for your flight.

Bring the Baby Gear for Your Flight

Bring that car seat out of the car. You DO want to bring the fancy car seat and stroller combo from your baby registry all the way to the plane. Whether you have a seat for your baby or not, which I’ll discuss in a moment, you want to bring that car seat with you to the plane.

You definitely want it on your trip to use in the rental car or extended family member’s car. Car seat rentals at the car rental place are not great. As your baby will be napping in their car seat, potentially, and spending some time in there as you travel, you want your own.

Check the car. Triple check you haven’t left the diaper bag, passports, or anything else essential in the car. Learn from my mistakes..

The kids piled into a wagon at the airport

Wear Baby To The Plane

Wear your baby into the airport. Hopefully, you are a baby-wearing fan. Wearing your baby is almost essential for happy travels, both at the airport and on your trip in general.

Wearing your baby means you don’t have to get them out of their car seat at security. It’s less fuss to get them into a baby carrier right out of the car. Also, in the USA, TSA will not (usually) make you take the baby out of the carrier on your body. They will wipe your hands, but you don’t have to be separated from baby, and baby is that much more happy, maybe even napping, before the flight.

Note: My favorite baby carriers for infants are this Ergo Carrier and the Baby K’Tan. My favorite for toddlers is the MiaMily Carrier.

Going Through Airport Security With A Baby

Dealing with security checks demands patience from everyone, but parents have extra challenges. Little ones bring extra gear and demand more attention through security.

With infants, your biggest challenge will be all your gear.

  • Carseats: Detach your car seat from your stroller, if needed, and place it face-down on the belt.
  • Collapse your stroller and get it on the belt, going in straight on into the machine
  • Put your diaper bag in a bin. Take out baby bottles, sippy cups, baby food packets, etc in a separate bin. This is in addition to the regular liquids and gels you might have (think diaper creme, lotion, and other baby liquids).
  • Liquids for baby and airport security:
  • You ARE allowed to bring extra liquids through for a baby. This can include breastmilk, frozen breastmilk (think a business trip away from baby and you pump while you are gone), water to mix with formula, formula, juice, cow’s milk, etc.
  • The amount of extra liquid is a bit flexible. US TSA rules say “a reasonable amount”. If you have an international flight with an overnight stay, this could be a few bottles worth. In my experience, TSA officers rarely question what you need to fly with a baby.
  • Your liquids will be x-rayed, but you can request to skip this if you’d like. They are also tested with a paper strip in my experience.
  • For more info on security with children, read up on Traveling with Children by TSA.

After Airport Security

Find a notice board and double-check your gate and flight info. Sometimes, in the process of boarding a plane, your gate might have changed. Even worse, your flight might be canceled! Best to find out now and not at the gate.

Hit the bathroom in the airport. Make sure that right before you board, your baby gets a fresh diaper. If it is a very long flight and you are worried, you can double-diaper! I haven’t done this myself, but it is an option.

Tips for flying with kids- Lucy outside of the airport restrooms

Once You Are Waiting At Your Gate with a Baby

Get baby some sleep. You might, mistakenly, think by keeping baby awake they will sleep better on the flight. Nope! Overtired kids sleep LESS than rested kids. Another inverse relationship in parenthood. Cortisol builds up in them and makes it harder and harder for them to sleep. If you’ve got the time, get baby to nap. I like walking around with the baby in the carrier, but you can also push them in the stroller, lay down with them on the floor, rock them in your arms, etc.

Get stroller and car seat tags at the gate. In order to leave your stroller and/or car seat at the end of the runway, right before the plane, you need a tag. It’s a big hassle and embarrassment when you go to board and don’t have it, so get it now. Ask the desk attendant in front of your gate.

Ask about family boarding. Every airline is a bit different about family boarding. While you are getting your stroller tags, ask about family boarding, and make sure you are in the right spot at the right time.

Boarding the Plane with a Baby

The big moment is here! Remember to BE CALM.

I like to make important items easily accessible. I put them on top of the diaper bag or carry them onto the plane. Getting to your seat, buckling, dealing with fellow passengers and a baby can get tricky.

Take the stroller to the gate. Roll it all the way down the runway to the plane itself and then fold it up. Leave it outside the door of the plane and it will be stowed underneath the plane. Usually, you will get it when you get off again, but some international flights send it with your other luggage to the baggage claim. If you aren’t using your car seat on the airplane, leave that now too.

Seats for a Baby on a Flight

Should your baby have a seat? You are always welcome to buy a ticketed seat for you rbaby, of course, but I never have. This is a bit of a personal preference. Some mamas want that extra safety of having their baby in a car seat (airline approved, BTW. You'll need to check out your car seat and if it meets regulations). With five kids, I can't stomach another ticket price and I prefer to hold a newborn or infant anyway.

Tip: You are always welcome to ask an airline gate agent if there are extra seats on the plane and if you can use one for your baby.  With domestic flights in the USA, it isn't unreasonable, as long as the flight isn't full, to get one.  With airlines like Southwest especially, you can easily score another seat.  For international flights, you would likely have to pay a bit extra.  In fact, most international flights require a ticket, at reduced pricing, for a baby.  You can even request a bassinet on the plane, which hooks onto the wall once you are in the air, and requires you to sit in certain seats.  The bassinet is something to request when booking tickets.
My littlest asleep in her car seat on the airplane

Tips For Having a Baby on the Plane

Settle in. Once you are on the plane, you’ll have to take baby out of the carrier. It is against FAA regulations to have your baby in a carrier for take-off and landing.

Get your diaper bag where you can reach it and take out the things you’ll need right away: bottle or nursing cover, pacifier, any travel accessories like your neck pillow, headphones, etc. Get comfy and be as relaxed as possible.

How and When to Feed a Baby on a Flight

While you can’t make a hungry baby wait, if you can gently push off a feeding until the plane is taking off, great! Little ears can hurt when the plane is taking off and landing. This is best solved by getting the jaw working through drinking. This is the second most important tip of your day!

If baby isn’t hungry during take-off and landing, have them comfort nurse or suck a pacifier, at least. If your infant eats snacks, feed them some during take off.

With my infants, I basically took out the boob before take-off and kept it out and ready the entire flight! I wore the nursing cover the entire time. I find a nursing baby to be very easy to travel on a plane with as I can comfort nurse them the entire trip. In fact, I enjoy flights more than road trips with infants! (Have you ever tried to nurse while a baby is in their car seat in the car?! I have! Talk about a challenge).

Medications and a Flying Baby

This mama’s opinion: medicate if necessary. Does your baby seems fussy? Could you baby have an ear infection? Are you just are worried about pain? Give your baby some infant Tylenol when you settle on the plane or just before you get on.

I promise this isn’t going to hurt your baby and may save you some headache on the plane. I had one pediatrician tell me to always give infant Tylenol before coming in for well-child shots. Think of this as the same kind of situation.

Your baby could have an ear infection and you have no idea! I’ve had that situation more times than I want to admit. Your baby could be in immense pain when the plane starts to take off, so if there is any doubt, just give them the age/weight dosage of infant pain relief.

Tip:  One of our boys was diagnosed with an ear infection the day before a flight. The pediatrician told me to use a nasal decongestant spray for my baby right when I got on the plane.  Clearing those nasal passages of snot will relieve pressure on their ears.
My kid looking out of the window on the airplane

Seatbelts While Holding Your Baby on the Plane

Buckle up, mama! In most cases, you will be snuggling your sweet baby in your arms for the flight. Baby doesn’t usually have a seat belt, but some airlines may pass out an infant seatbelt that hooks onto your seatbelt. Don’t be freaked and wear it for take-off and landing.

Dealing with Other People While Flying With a Baby

Once you are settled on the plane, take a minute to meet your neighbors. Clear the air right away and chitchat for a minute or two. Ask them about themselves and they will see you more as a person than an annoying baby mama.

Never be ashamed to be on a flight. You paid for a ticket, you deserve to travel and your baby will benefit from this travel with you. If baby starts to fuss your new friend might even offer to grab the dropped pacifier or give you a consoling look.

I’ve heard of bringing small gifts for the people sitting around you. Think of a cute gift/snack/candy to share with your immediate neighbors. You might even include a note with something like, “Baby Lily is taking her second flight today near you. She promises to do her very best, but sometimes babies are unpredictable! Thank you for your patience today!”

Tips for flying with kids- 2 of my kids on the airplane

What To Do When Your Baby Cries on the Plane

It’s going to happen eventually. Expect it. When it does, do your best to ignore everyone else and stay calm. Imagine yourself and your baby in the nursery room at home. Pretend no one else exists.

Remember, you have as much right to be there with your baby as anyone else on the plane. Calmly and slowly use your techniques to soothe your baby. Is he/she hungry? Overtired?

Try handing the baby to your partner, if you have one with you. This will give baby a change of scenery and let you chill for a second. Take turns if you can. If nothing works, just keep doing you and endure.

The baby asleep on the airplane while Chris holds her

What To Do With Baby During The Flight

Enjoy your flight as much as possible. Relax. Watch a movie. Soak up your napping baby.

Your next goal is to get your baby to sleep. A cranky, overtired baby is much more likely to cry through a flight. Use your tricks for your baby that get them to sleep. Nursing works like a charm for me!

If you need to change a diaper on the plane, you can truck it to the bathroom. However, I’ve changed many a diaper right on my lap. You’ll know if this is a good or bad idea for you.

Tips for flying with kids- The baby asleep on the airplane

When Your Flight Is Nearly Done

When it’s time to land, feed them again. You want to be feeding until wheels touch the ground, so time it as best as you can. Remember you can also feed them or use a pacifier.

If baby sleeps through landing, even better. You do not need to wake them to feed them instead.

Don’t rush off the plane. It’s ok to take your time and not pop right up. If your baby is sleeping, be the last ones off. Let all the anxious people off first.

You made it!! Congrats on successfully flying with a baby!

Our First International Flight with all 5 kids!

Now that you know how to get through your next flight with a baby, be sure to visit my Tips for Dealing with Jet Lag with Children.

Have older kids and a baby? I’ve got tips for Flying with Toddlers and Flying with Older Children.

At the end of the day, your flights are just the stepping stone to amazing memories together. Travel days fade in your memories, but this trip won’t. You won’t regret going, I promise!

Wishing you best in your flights,

Leslie

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