Flying with a Baby? 22 Tips from Parents, Flight Attendants and Frequent Travelers
With international travel restrictions easing, people are returning to air travel in droves. However, for those flying with a baby, it may be their first time navigating airports and airplanes with their little one in tow. While it may seem daunting, with some pre-planning, smart packing, and the right mindset, flying with a baby can be a positive part of your adventure.
As there are no one-size fits all advice for every family or every baby, we gathered advice from 75 moms, dads, flight attendants, pilots, and frequent travelers. This ultimate list of 22 tips for flying with a baby summarizes their best advice.
1. Take a Morning Flight
Arriving late at your destination with a very tired and cranky baby isn’t the ideal way to start your vacation. Instead, getting settled in your hotel, rental, or family’s house close to their regular bedtime is ideal.
“Always take morning flights when you can. Not only are most babies generally less cranky in the morning, but your flight is also far less likely to be delayed,” said Julia Carter, Frequent Flier, Mom of Two, and Founder of Craft Travel Group.
“I was traveling alone with my daughters on a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Las Vegas scheduled to depart at 7 pm. However, the inbound flight was delayed, causing our flight to depart at 11 pm. Chasing two delirious kids around the gate for hours while simultaneously trying to keep an eye on our belongings was one of the most daunting experiences of my life,” she continued.
2. Pay More for a Direct Flight
This isn’t the time to save money. Instead, book a direct flight even if it costs a little extra money. When you’re flying with a baby, the last thing you want is to miss your connecting flight and be stuck somewhere without your luggage and all your baby’s things. But there are more pluses as well.
“I made the mistake of picking a cheaper flight with a connection. The connection disrupted my son’s nap, and the entire plane got to hear him scream until he passed out,” said Heath Hammett, CEO of VacationRenter.
3. Book a Baby Bassinet in Advance Where Offered
If you’re flying with a baby on a long international or domestic trip, look into reserving a baby bassinet. Airlines may require you to purchase specific seats, like the bulkhead, so it’s essential to pay attention to the details before you book your ticket, especially if they are non-refundable.
Having a cozy spot to put the baby secured on the wall in front of you will be well worth any extra time spent on the phone with a reservation agent.
Airlines with long-haul flights cater to families and even infants. For example, if you’re flying with a baby on award-winning Emirates Air to Dubai, Greece, Europe, or Africa, they provide much more than bassinets. They have baby food pouches, formula, bottles, and a bottle-warming service.
4. Buy Them Their Own Seat
If you’re on a domestic flight or one that doesn’t offer bassinets, buy a seat for your baby if you can afford it. You’ll be thrilled to have a snack or watch a show when they’re napping away in their own seat.
“It’s much safer and easier to keep your baby in their car seat than carrying them on your lap. If they are in their car seat, they touch fewer things on the plane, helping to keep them safe from germs, said Sarah McWilliams Guerra, former Delta flight attendant, mom of two, and the creator of Airplanemode.io.
5. Purchase Travel Insurance
Babies get sick all the time, and you never know when a stomach bug or ear infection will pop up. So even if you’ve never bought travel insurance before, if you’re flying with a baby, it’s a must to protect the money you’ve already spent on a trip.
6. Get Information Straight from The Source
After booking your flight, review the airlines’ policies on carry-on items, child’s seats, and accessories. Knowing their policies will prevent any last-minute surprises at check-in or the gate.
The first time I flew with my son, our stroller was too big to be gate checked, so I had to check it in with our luggage. That meant I had no stroller at the airport, which made things much harder with a 4-month-old.
“Parents can check strollers and seats for free. Children’s strollers and child safety seats are considered standard baggage. These items may be checked at the curbside, the ticket counter, or the gate for convenience,” said Christian Avaria, Delta Flight Attendant and parent.
Tips to Prepare for Flying
You’ve booked your flight and have months or weeks until the big day. Here are ways you can prepare to make flying with a baby easier on yourself.
7. Get TSA Pre-Check
While it’s another thing on your travel to-do list, you’ll be thankful you have it. Save the TSA Pre-check number in your airline account profile so that it will be on your boarding pass. It is required to receive the privileges and access you’ve paid for.
“Make sure you have TSA Precheck or Clear to avoid long lines at security. Most parents don’t know that your baby, whether they have a seat or is on your lap, will be granted the same privileges when traveling with you,” said Julia Carter.
“Keeping your shoes on your feet and toiletries and electronics in your bag saves time and energy when flying with a baby,” said Lisa Alemi, Mom of two toddlers and founder of MoveMamaMove.
8. Prepare for the Worst; Hope It Doesn’t Happen
Sometimes parenting can feel like things go wrong at the absolute worst time. Shave down the odds by preparing your carry-on bag with these expert tips.
“Always pack three extra sets of clothing for the baby and you. I had the unfortunate episode on an airplane of a leaky baby diaper and a barfing toddler during take-off,” said Tough Topics Author Kimberly King. “I had clothes for the baby and my toddler. But not me.”
“Have a baby first aid kit with a thermometer, fever reducer, and gas relief drops. There’s nothing worse than being at 30,000 feet with a sick baby and not having anything to help make them feel better,” said Candice Criscione, Founder of the Family Travel Blog, Mom In Italy.
“I would pack and prepare my diaper bag, thinking my flight would be canceled or delayed. Meaning that I pack double what I think I’m going to need. There is nothing worse than being in the airport and realizing that you are down to the last scoop of the special formula that your baby needs,” said Jess Darrington, Certified National Child Passenger Safety Technician.
“They can easily run through more diapers than you ever imagined and toss three or four pacifiers on the floor. So you can never have enough essentials when you’re traveling,” Guerra added.
9. Make an Easy-to-Grab Baby Changing Pack
Once you’re on board, your items could be spread out in bags at your feet and overhead compartments. When flying with a baby, make it easy on yourself by creating a grab-and-go pack for diaper changes.
“Having a small changing kit already prepared and easily accessible inside your purse or the diaper bag. In addition, a small pack of wipes, a diaper, as well as a changing pad that you can place over the top of the toilet in the bathroom if you must change the baby in there will help keep you and your baby sane,” said Tomika Anderson, Founder, Single Parents Who Travel.
10. Use The Convenience Items
When flying with a baby, make it as easy on yourself as possible, even if that means spending more on convenience items. For those on a tight budget, as your pediatrician what free samples they have at the office. Their smaller size makes them perfect for travel.
“Pack the pre-made formula bottles that come with a twist on nipple. They never spoil and can conveniently feed baby anytime without the messiness of mixing powder formula,” said Gennifer Rose. “They can be recycled after baby finishes the formula, so you don’t have to worry about washing out a bottle while traveling.”
11. Bring a Light Car Seat
While you might want to travel light when flying with a baby, you’ll be glad you have a car seat with you.
“One of the most difficult ages to travel with a baby is from 8 or 9 months until 18 months. They simply do not want to sit still, and the novelty of it all only amplifies the agitation. Being strapped into a car seat is familiar for them and provides an easier solution for napping,” said Julia Carter.
“However, bring the right car seat,” said Thomas Smith. “I once tried to carry my son’s 50-pound convertible car seat through the airport, and it was rough. Instead, get a light infant seat like the Keyfit 30 or, ideally, one which can click into your stroller for easy transport through the airport. Remember, if your car seat weighs so much that you can’t carry it one-handed, you’re doing it wrong.”
Additionally, you have to think about your post-airplane situation. “Sometimes rental cars run out of car seats to rent, even if you’ve reserved one,” said Alemi.
12. Use Destination Grocery Delivery to Pack Light
Despite all the advice to bring more than you need on the plane, don’t apply that same logic to your suitcases and checked luggage.
“It’s normal to want to bring anything you think you could need. However, that’s a recipe for feeling overwhelmed,” said Marquita Wright, World Traveler with Twins and Founder of MarquitasTravels.
No need to pack a week’s worth of diapers, wipes, and formula from home with all the grocery delivery options available. Before you leave for vacation, place an order to be delivered to your hotel or waiting for you at an Amazon Locker close to the airport or your accommodations.
Tips for Your Travel Day
The day you’re flying with a baby is here! You’ve done your best to set yourself up for success. Here’s some last-minute advice from frequent family travelers.
13. Do Your Best to Keep It Fun and Positive
Once you become a parent, you’re the leader. Apply that mentality to your travel day, too!
“It’s all about you. Your baby senses your emotions. If you go into the flight feeling anxious, your baby will feel that way too. If you can project a calm feeling, you will have a smoother experience,” said Michelle Schomp, Founder of Passport Explorers and a full-time traveling family.
“So have fun and let go of expectations. Too often, I see the whole family stressed if one thing doesn’t go the way they anticipated. Enjoy the journey of the travel day and not just the destination,” she continued.
“Feeling rushed and stressed will mean you’re more likely to forget important things, which will only add to your stress level. In addition, your infant will feel your stress and be more likely to be fussy if you’re also upset. So, keep everyone happy, especially yourself, by giving yourself extra time at the airport,” said Nick Valentino.
“The more relaxed my husband and I have become, the easier the kids have become and the more we can actually enjoy the remarkable experience of traveling with your little ones. We now actually love being in airports and planes with them and watching their excitement,” said Julia Carter.
14. Prepare Mentally To Keep It Light
When flying with a baby being mentally prepared minimizes the risk of becoming flustered or overwhelmed and casting a shadow over the travel day.
“Think through each step of the flying process. For example, how will you get all your belongings to the check-in counter? What can you do to ease the process of getting through security,” said Wright.
“As someone who suffers from anxiety, I have found being as organized as possible and rooting out anything about the trip or journey that I am anxious about means I can make the journey smooth for my baby and me,” said Bianca Malata, Founder, ItsallBee.
15. Bring The Baby Carrier, Don’t Pack It
A baby carrier is one of the secret weapons to flying with a baby. If you don’t currently use one, buy it in advance and practice at home for a couple of weeks to be a pro in time for your flight.
“The carrier is particularly handy when you’re going through security, and you need to place and pick up all of your items on the conveyor belt,” said Jacqueline Gilchrist, Founder of Mom Money Map and frequent solo Mom traveler. “It was also helpful when flying by myself and needed to use the bathroom on the flight and be hands-free while still holding onto the baby.”
“It is so helpful when you spend hours walking up and down the plane’s aisles! You may even be able to get baby to fall asleep while you’re walking, and if so, you can even sit down for a while,” said Criscione.
16. Introduce Brand New Toys
When asking experts for tips on flying with a baby, there were many suggestions for keeping them busy.
“We always bring new toys (or toys borrowed from other moms) on vacation because they hold interest longer. Offer toys one at a time and then put them away when finished,” said Brianna Leonhard, Founder of Third Row Adventures. “We recommend busy books with lots of tabs, flaps, and insert objects. Multi-function toys are also great for airplanes. Avoid toys that make a lot of noise to keep your seat neighbors happy,” she continued.
But if this is something you forget, no problem!
“You don’t need fancy toys to keep a baby entertained. Sometimes grabbing two empty cups at Starbucks before you board your flight provides the best entertainment,” said Schomp.
Remember, babies, explore new items by putting them in their mouths. So if the airline seatbelt grabs their attention, you know where it is most likely going. If you’re planning on wiping down everything in and around your seats, ensure the sanitizing product you use is safe for babies’ exposure.
17. Breakup The Boarding Process
While some people want to get on the plane as soon as possible, reconsider when you’re flying with a baby.
“If traveling with a partner or friend, you should board the plane separately. This will give the person who boards first the chance to stow the carry-ons and any bags you might have, while the other person can entertain the baby until everyone else is on board,” said Isobel Walster, a travel expert at Castles and Turrets.
“This will stop you from rushing and feeling pressured to get things done quickly when people are in a line behind you. Plus, if you board the plane first, you will have to wait half an hour in your seat, which doesn’t give you much chance to entertain your baby.”
18. Dress Baby in Layers
Even if it is summer out and you’re flying to a warm destination, it is important to dress your baby as if it is winter.
“Temperatures within the aircraft are set low. So it’s crucial for babies with sensitive skin and underdeveloped ability to self-regulate their temperature to have clothing such as gloves, socks, pajamas, double-layered tops, bonnets,” said Christine Kingsley, Registered Nurse. “This will allow you to quickly dress the child up or down depending on how his/her tiny body responds to its environment.”
19. Gate Check Your Stroller
“Use the stroller all the way to the plane. Before having my first, I had no idea you could literally walk your stroller right up to the plane doors, take your baby out, and hand your stroller off for luggage hold storage. Then, once you arrive at your destination, pick up your stroller at the same place,” said Taylor Beal, Founder of Traverse with Taylor.
20. It’s Ok To Ask for Help
You’re not on an island when traveling with a baby. Don’t try to be a superhero!
“Request help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask the flight attendants. They’re there to assist you and ensure everyone has a safe and comfortable journey,” said Oberon Copeland, Owner & CEO, VeryInformed.
“You’re not the first person to travel with a baby; you certainly won’t be the last! Remember, airline employees have seen it all before and are there to help if you have any issues. Flying with a baby in tow can be stressful, and you don’t need to make it any more difficult for yourself,” said Roger Broussard, Pilot and Founder of Pilot School Hero.
Tips for Flying With A Baby Over the Holidays
The period between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is the most popular time of year to fly. If you’re flying with a baby during this time, here’s some expert advice.
21. Go to The Airport Even Earlier
“When traveling with a baby, everything takes a bit longer than usual. You may have to pause for a diaper change, a feeding, fix the car seat carrier, or manually inspect the formula bottles at TSA. To avoid adding more stress to holiday travel, give yourself extra time to get to the airport, to get through TSA, and to board the plane,” said Guerra.
22. Fly on The Actual Holiday
“Holiday times are rough for travel, but actual holiday days are super chill and relaxed. You can enjoy the process more, and you’ll also have far fewer business travelers, who are the ones that tend to get most annoyed by screaming babies,” said Thomas Smith, CEO of Gado Images.
When flying with a baby during the holidays, you want to avoid the peak days. These include the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, December 23rd, and January 2nd.
“Consider traveling on the actual holiday when you will get better deals on flights, be able to book more convenient flight times, and the airports are less crowded. Also, since your baby is so young, they won’t know if you postpone your family celebration to a different day,” said Ruth Hutchins, Founder of Be Family Travel.
Flying With a Baby Gets Easier Over Time
While flying with a baby might seem daunting, arming yourself with these tips and advice will set you up for a successful travel day. You’ll feel more comfortable after your first flight, and you’ll be getting used to traveling together – a rewarding experience you’ll have together for decades to come.
“I believe in acclimating kids early to travel. It gives them a new viewpoint to see things outside their own world, and the more they do it, the easier it gets when they are older,” said Sarah Conroy, Timeshare Industry Executive at ARDA, Mom, and frequent traveler.
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