What are the best tips for traveling with a baby on a plane?
Taking your baby on an airplane can be stressful and unnerving for even the most frequent travelers. You just don’t know how your baby will react 40,000 feet up in the air.
You want to be prepared and make your experience comfortable, but you don’t want to buy and bring every baby flying aid available.
When my baby was 3.5 months old, I took her on a 5.5 hour plane ride ALONE.
I had a tough enough time preparing her diaper bag and stroller for doctor’s appointments – let alone flying across the country.
I did a lot of research. Now that I’ve taken her on a few flights, I know proper planning goes a long way to helping you manage.
Here are a few tips when preparing for your baby’s first flight.
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What do you need to travel with a baby on a plane?
Here’s my traveling with baby checklist.
There are 3 sections to this checklist:
- Large baby travel gear to check-in at the counter or gate (e.g. stroller)
- Medium baby travel gear to carry on the flight (e.g. baby carrier)
- Small items to include in your diaper bag for the flight (e.g. diapers)
1. Large Baby Travel Gear to Check-In at the Counter or Gate
You might have a couple of hours and a lot of walking to do in the airport before your flight takes off.
Using an umbrella stroller that’s lightweight, foldable with one hand and not too bulky allows you to more easily manage.
This Nano Mountain Buggy Stroller is designed for frequent travel. It’s light and can be folded down to be placed in most overhead luggage compartments.
This is useful if you have tight layover times and you’re worried about missing your next flight. This stroller includes a shoulder strap and travel bag for carrying and storing.
I like how it reclines almost completely flat and the canopy is large. It also includes a universal car seat adapter so that it can be used for babies as young as 1 month old with a car seat.
My brother has this stroller and loves it for plane trips. He also puts it in his car for use when they’re on the go.
The stroller is expensive, which is the reason I’ve been humming and hawing about it. I might buy it in the near future when trunk space becomes an issue.
When I traveled, I used the Universal Snap and Go stroller. I gate-checked it.
It’s significantly cheaper and lighter than my regular go-to stroller so I didn’t mind if it got a bit banged up (It didn’t in the stroller protector bag.).
I could put my car seat on it, which was useful as I was traveling by myself and could only carry so many items.
Having this car seat/stroller travel system allowed me to more easily manouevre from the car to the check-in desk when I first arrived at the airport. I could push the stroller/car seat while pulling my luggage.
I used this stroller a lot in the first few months of baby’s life. I like how it fits most car seats and is cheaper than having to purchase the one brand and adaptor that fits your car seat.
Stroller protector bag
If you can’t put your stroller in the overhead compartment, I highly recommend getting a stroller protector bag.
Strollers are expensive. Airline staff are not always careful with how they manage luggage – even fragile items like a stroller or car seat.
Some strollers have their own protector bags designed for traveling.
I used this Stroller Travel Bag. It’s a universal stroller protector bag. I’ve used it on multiple flights and it hasn’t ripped and kept my stroller protected and clean.
If you’re bringing a car seat – whether you’re using it on the plane (more on that below) or snapping it into your stroller – you might want to consider NOT bringing the base.
The base is bulky. When using it in the car or plane, you can just use the seat belt option on your car seat, which is much easier than having to lug the base around with you.
Car seat protector bag
Just like the stroller, airline staff might not always be careful with your car seat.
I highly recommend getting a padded car seat protector bag. Once your car seat is in an accident, it’s not usable.
I got the J.L. Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag and it’s still in good condition after multiple trips.
One tip – if you’re checking in your car seat at the check-in desk, you can put extra diapers, wipes, toys etc. in it if you’re close to the weight limit on your regular luggage. The weight limit on your car seat bag is usually the same weight limit as your luggage.
2. Medium Baby Travel Gear to Carry on the Flight
This is an essential at the airport and on the plane, especially if you’re traveling by yourself with the baby.
There will be numerous occasions when you’ll need or want to be hands-free. I’ve noted them below in the last section.
It’s an Ergo so it has the supported seated position to combat hip dysplasia (I’m not a doctor so you should do your own research on this and decide on a carrier that works best for you.), but it’s cheaper than the 360 Ergo.
I have the Mybrestfriend, which I used for every feeding in the first few months.
I didn’t bring it with me on the plane because I was traveling by myself and thought adding a breastfeeding pillow might be difficult to manage because it’s bulky.
I’ve heard some moms bring the pillow on the plane and say it made their experience so much more comfortable.
In addition to helping with breastfeeding, it also operates as both a pillow for you and the baby. Your baby can sleep on the pillow and you don’t have to hold them the entire flight (of course, you do have to put your arm on them so they don’t roll off).
If you’re interested in bringing the pillow, I’ve heard the mybrestfriend has a travel inflatable version which easily fits in your bag, but it’s prone to leaks after a while. \
If you have the original, you could also just clip the pillow on your stroller so you don’t have to hold it when you’re at the airport.
Travel diaper bag
If you have a large diaper backpack, I recommend testing it to see if it can hold all of the items you need for the flight.
Mine unfortunately couldn’t. I wish I would have thought about this scenario before I purchased my first diaper bag.
When planning for my flight, I came across the Ferlin travel diaper bag. The Ferlin bag is great because it has more compartments and functionality. The backpack configuration allowed me to be more comfortably hands-free. I now use this as my everyday diaper bag.
3. Carry-On Diaper Bag Items
- Diapers, wipes, travel size diaper cream, hand sanitizer – Pack for the time duration between leaving the house and arriving at the hotel or place you’re staying at your destination. Account for potential delays.
- Food and snacks – e.g. formula and bottles if you bottle-feed. Prepare for quantities that account for the duration of when you’ll need it including delays. Be prepared for delays in the security line as agents might test the formula. Check your airport’s policy on how to transport formula (e.g. whether you can bring unsealed bottles on the plane) and snacks if your baby is eating solids etc.
- Nursing supplies – e.g. pads, cream if you need them
- Toys – e.g. favorite toys, books. I found it’s easier to bring toys like these Lamaze toys that can be clipped onto something so they don’t fall on the ground. Also, bring toys that don’t make a lot of noise as a courtesy to your neighbors.
- Utensils and bib – If your baby is eating solids, I’ve found the silicone bibs are great because they can be easily wiped down. I like Kushies bibs with sleeves because they’re light and have sleeves!
- Pacifiers, teethers – If you use pacifiers or teethers with your child, you should bring multiple and have a clip-on so they don’t fall on the ground.
- Change of clothes for baby – in case your baby has a diaper explosion or vomits etc.
- Change of clothes for parents – in case your baby’s waste lands on you
- Nursing cover/receiving blanket – that you can use as both a cover and burping cloth. I love these Aden and Anais muslin blankets as they are super versatile and can be used as a swaddle, burping cloth, a nursing cover, a tummy time mat, a changing pad cover, a car seat/stroller cover, general blanket etc.
- Wash cloth – If your baby is eating solids, this is useful to wipe your baby’s face, bib and utensils after feeding
- Ziploc bags – for storing snacks
- Plastic bags – for dirty diapers
- Larger bags – for soiled clothes and cloth items. I previously used plastic bags for this purpose, but I’ve since bought this Skip Hop Grab and Go Wet/Dry Bag. It’s got 2 pouches – one for wet/dirty clothes and another for new/replacement clothes. It’s worked well. I’ve heard it doesn’t hold dirty diapers well so I wouldn’t use it for this purpose.
- Changing pad – for if you need to place your baby on the washroom changing table. This is probably already included in your diaper bag. If you don’t have one, I love this Kushies Baby Deluxe Change pad. It’s better than the one that came with my diaper bag and most changing pads because it’s much larger. It’s also soft and easily washable.
What should you consider before you book your flight?
When is it safe to travel with an infant on a flight?
Here are some of the factors to consider when planning the ideal time to travel with your baby:
- It’s FREE for babies under age 2 to fly.
- Travel when you’re on maternity leave (if you’re lucky to qualify for maternity leave) so you don’t use your vacation days.
- It’s better to wait to fly until after your baby’s first round of vaccination shots, which is usually around 2-3 months. Newborns have weak immune systems. Before booking your flight, it’s always best to consult your doctor about your baby’s unique situation.
- As the baby will likely not have its own seat and will be traveling on your lap, younger babies are easier to handle as they’re light and mostly feed and sleep.
- Also, older babies might have more of a routine, which makes it difficult to interrupt for flights.
Where is your baby going to sit on a plane?
Your baby can either:
- sit on your lap (under age 2) for free.
- sit in a separate seat (with a car seat), but you will have to pay for this, although some airlines offer discounts for these circumstances
- stay in a bassinet if you’re traveling on a long-distance, international flight that you’ll have to reserve
Check with your airline to confirm your options.
The Federal Aviation Administration mentions that the safest place for your baby is in a car seat.
Many car seats are approved for use on airplanes. Check your manual to confirm! Similar to a car, the seat will have to be rear-facing if the baby is below a certain weight and height.
I’ve only traveled with my baby on my lap. When I needed the break and to be hands-free, I used the baby carrier. It was convenient and comfortable for both of us.
This is a decision that you as a parent will know best how to proceed with.
What can you check in and what can you carry on the plane?
Every airline has their own policy on what you can
- check in at the counter vs.
- check in at the gate vs.
- carry onto the plane
They’ll also have a specific type and number of items that are FREE to check-in.
For example, the flight I went on had 2 free items for check-in. This could be a stroller, car seat, or playpen.
- a stroller
- a car seat
I didn’t bring a playpen as we didn’t need one.
I’ve heard from other moms who haven’t brought a playpen on their vacation how in hindsight, they should have.
Their babies were used to sleeping in a certain playpen and it was difficult to manage nap and sleep time because their baby couldn’t adjust to the new sleep area. It ended up messing with their baby’s routine and even when they returned from their vacation, they struggled with putting their baby back on a regular schedule.
I’ve also heard that the playpen comes in handy when you need a safe place to put down their baby who is already crawling or walking.
What time should you book your flight with your baby?
It’s not always possible to do this. If you can, book your flight time when your baby:
- is less fussy
- usually has naps
My baby is the type to grow fussier as the day goes on so I booked a morning flight.
What identification will you need for your baby?
If you’re traveling domestically, it’s always good to bring the baby’s birth certificate. If you’re traveling internationally, you will need a passport for the baby.
If you’re going by yourself, you also might need a lettter of permission signed by the other parent.
Each airline has its own identification policy for babies. Check with the airline to confirm.
How can you make your experience traveling with a baby more comfortable?
Use a stroller and gate check it.
When you initially arrive at the check-in desk, ask to gate check your stroller. They’ll give you a gate-check tag for it.
This allows you to use your stroller all the way to the boarding gate. When you arrive at the gate, airline attendants will then place your stroller in the cargo area. When you arrive at your destination, your stroller will be placed right outside of the gate. You can use your stroller from the gate to the baggage pick-up area.
Having this gear to use all the way to the gate allows you to be more comfortable and move quickly through the airport because
- you don’t have to hold your baby
- all of your carry-on items (e.g. purse, carry-on bag, baby carrier and stroller/car seat protector bag(s)) can be placed in the stroller compartment
Gate checking also minimizes the amount of damage that can be done to your items in transit.
Use the baby carrier.
The baby carrier comes in handy many times throughout your airport and plane experience.
Here are a few examples of when you can use it because you need the extra hands while still carrying your baby.
- you’re going through security and you need to place and then pick up all of your items on the conveyor belt for scanning
- you drop off your stroller at the gate and need to place things in the overhead compartment or under your seat when you get onto the plane
- you need to use the bathroom on the flight and be hands-free
The baby carrier also comes in handy when:
- your baby is sitting on your lap on the plane and you just need a break from holding him/her
- your baby gets fussy – whether you’re waiting at the gate or in the plane – and you want to comfortably rock him/her back and forth
Use the bathroom at the gate.
Using the bathroom on the flight can be difficult to manage with a baby – especially if you’re traveling by yourself. Use the family bathrooms at the gates before and after the flight.
Board the plane early
When you get to the gate, they have a pre-boarding call for families which allows you to board the plane earlier than other passengers.
Boarding the plane early is advantageous because:
- you get first access to the overhead storage compartment
- you can comfortably take your stroller all the way to the gate, put your stroller in your stroller bag if applicable, and get seated
If you don’t anticipate needing to place items in the overhead bin, there are also good reasons to wait until all of the passengers have boarded the plane before boarding.
The approximately 30 minutes that it takes for everyone to board the plane is time you could be spending outside of the plane as opposed to confined in a cramped seat with a fussy baby.
Babies get bored quickly so spending less time overall on the plane will make things easier for you.
If you’re lucky enough to travel with someone and have a lot of carry-on items, that person can board the plane first and then you can bring the baby on board the plane at the end.
If you’re traveling alone with a baby, do what you think is best.
Another factor to consider is if you’re the type of person that doesn’t mind placing the diaper bag underneath the seat in front of you.
If you don’t mind placing all of your carry-on items underneath the seat in front of you (perhaps you even prefer to have them there for easy access), it doesn’t matter if you board the plane at the beginning or at the end.
If you prefer to keep the area underneath the seat in front of you clear (place the diaper bag in the overhead bin), board the plane early. To make it easier for yourself, I highly recommend taking the toys and snacks out of the diaper bag and place them in the elasticized area where the plane emergency card is stored. That way you’ll have access to it if your baby gets fussy.
Sit in an aisle seat.
Between diaper changes and fussiness, you might have to get out of your seat often. It’s helpful to sit in an aisle seat so you don’t have to crawl over other people every time you need to walk up and down the aisle.
If your baby is a mover and you worry about arms and leggings getting hit by passengers or carts zooming by or you don’t feel comfortable nursing in the aisle, then you might want to consider the window seat.
If it’s not a full flight, you could also ask the check-in agent or flight attendant if there’s an extra row or seat available.
Sit towards the back of the plane.
You’re closer to the washroom if you need to make frequent diaper changes.
There’s also more white noise towards the back of the plane to help your baby sleep better.
Feed the baby during takeoff and landing.
This is the BEST tip I was given before I went on my first flight with the baby.
If you’ve ever been on a flight, you’ve probably noticed babies screaming during take-off and landing. This is because babies don’t know how to relieve the pressure build-up in their ears.
If you give them breast milk, the bottle or a pacifier during these times, the swallowing motion will help your baby’s ears to pop and clear.
Limit the items you bring to the bathroom on the plane.
If you have to change your baby’s diaper on the plane, just bring the new diaper and wipes as the bathroom space on the plane is tight.
Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Whether it’s for getting your luggage down from the overhead compartment or putting your stroller in a protector bag, people are happy to lend a hand.
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