Airplane Travel with Baby

Posted by in No-Cry Parenting

Learn about airplane travel with baby

Even if you racked up your share of frequent flyer miles before your baby was born, forget what you know of travel so far. Flying with a little one is a whole different story.

My oldest child was just 14 days old when she took her first flight, and since then, I’ve taken many trips with my four children over the years. I know that you can travel with your little ones and enjoy the process. Forethought and preparation are the keys.

airplane travel with baby
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Planning the trip

The details of your trip often can mean the difference between success and disaster. Keep these ideas in mind as you plan for airplane travel with baby:

  • Examine all aspects of the journey when you book your flights. Aim for direct flights so that you can avoid changing planes. If you have to make a change, avoid short layovers that give you too little time to get from gate to gate, and conversely avoid long layovers that require lots of idle time in airports.
  • When you make your reservations, look up the airline’s rules about travel with children and their accessories, such as bottled breastmilk, car seats and strollers. Find out what special features your airline offers for families. Some companies offer children’s meals, bassinets, gate check for strollers, or early boarding privileges.
  • If your child falls asleep easily and stays asleep, try scheduling travel for during your child’s nap or sleep times. If you have a finicky sleeper, on the other hand, avoid traveling during usual sleep times, as your baby may just stay fussy and awake.
  • Reserve your seats in advance to be sure your entire party sits together.
    • If you have an infant, ask for the bulkhead (front row) and request a bassinet, if you think you might use one for baby’s snooze times.
    • I think it’s best to avoid the bulkhead with older babies and toddlers, because these seats offer neither under-seat space nor seat pockets, so you’ll have to store all your toys and supplies in the overhead compartment. Also, in the bulkhead, the food tray often pops up from the armrest, effectively trapping you in your seat when your table is laden with food or toys.
    • Don’t put your child in the aisle seat, as the food cart and passengers carrying luggage could injure your child.
  • If you can afford to do so, buy a seat for your child and bring along his carseat. Your baby is used to being buckled into his carseat, and the familiarity may make it easier for him to sit still and even sleep. It’s also a safe place during takeoff, landing and in-air turbulence. (Make sure your carseat bears a sticker that says it’s FAA approved for air travel.)
  • Visit your baby’s pediatrician a week or two before your trip to be sure your little one isn’t harboring an ear infection or other illness. Try to avoid exposing your child to other children the week before the flight so you can avoid those many kid-carried bugs.
  • If you will be visiting relatives at your destination, view photos and videos of them, or make a few video calls to “introduce” your baby to these new people prior to the actual meeting.
  • If your baby will be taking any medication on the day of the trip (such as a decongestant or pain reliever), be sure to test it out before the day of travel to gauge any side effects.
  • Decide if you’ll need a stroller at your destination. If you don’t think you’ll need a conventional one, at least consider bringing a lightweight portable type for use in airports; this will give you a free hand as you tend to luggage check-in and pickup, while keeping your child safe and close by. If you opt to take your regular stroller, you can usually check it at the gate or right at the door of the airplane.
  • A sling or soft-pack carrier can be very helpful if your child still likes to be carried and is light enough for you to carry this way for long walks through the airport.
  • Dress yourself and your child in comfortable layers of clothing. Airplanes can be either too warm or blasting air-conditioning that makes it too cold.
  • Use these checklists (and make lists of your own) to ensure that you don’t forget anything.
airplane travel with baby

Packing your carry-on for airplane travel with baby

The right carry-on bag can be a lifesaver. Make sure that your bag is easy to lift or roll, and that it falls within the airline’s size limitations for carry-ons. Pack an organized bag that carries:

  • Lots of diapers – more than you think you need. Plan for an unexpected mess, a layover or delay.
  • A baby blanket, which is good for multiple uses.
  • A diaper-changing pad in case you end up changing your baby on the floor in the airport or on a dirty changing table.
  • Plenty of snacks. Often the only snacks on airplanes are peanuts, which are a major choking hazard for babies. Also, snacks are a great distraction for a bored or antsy toddler. Even if you’ve ordered a child’s meal, it might show up when your child is asleep or isn’t hungry, or your child may not like the menu.
  • Drinks. Bring along favorites in a sippy cup, drink-box, or bottle. You may even want to pack these in a soft lunchbox cooler.
  • Infant pain reliever in case of ear pain or other discomfort. (But don’t try anything new; make sure it’s something your baby has tolerated well already.)
  • Lots of new toys, or old favorites that have been hidden for a few weeks. Avoid noisy toys that will annoy fellow passengers.
  • Bib, if baby is eating solid food.
  • Extra pacifiers, or your baby’s lovey, special blanket, or toy
  • A book, magazine, or activity for you, for when baby is sleeping or playing, should you be lucky enough for that to occur!
  • Wet wipes for diaper changes and cleaning baby’s hands and face
  • Empty plastic bags for soiled diapers
  • If your baby uses a bottle, bring several. It’s usually easier to take along premeasured powdered formula and small bottles of water for mixing.
  • A complete change of clothes for baby and an extra shirt for you (spitup and spills happen).
  • Consider packing toys in a small child’s backpack for any child old enough to carry one. They usually love that!
  • Test your bags in advance to be sure they’re not too heavy!
airplane travel with baby

The night before the trip

  • Have a healthy dinner and get a good night’s sleep so that you can be more relaxed during your trip.
  • Pack all your bags and put them in the car or near the front door so you’re not scrambling when it’s time to leave.
  • Review your checklists!

At the airport

  • Get to the airport early. Thing happen and give yourself some wiggle room.
  • Keep in mind that your child may have to be taken out of the stroller or backpack when you go through the metal detector.
  • When you check in, tell the desk attendant that you are traveling with a baby. Let her know if you have a stroller or carseat with you.
  • Avoid breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby just before boarding as they may fall asleep and wake up crying as you struggle to carry them and your belongings to the gate. Use distraction and wait until you are seated and unloaded, then feed your baby.
  • Avoid feeding your little one any snacks just prior to boarding. Save food and drink for when you’re on the airplane, as these carry great entertainment value.
  • If traveling with two adults and multiple children, ask at the desk if one adult can do the early-boarding and set up your carry-on bags and carseat(s). Usually the pre-boarding time is brief, and you’ll have to rush to get the carseat secured and carry-on items organized before all the other passengers begin to board. The second adult can use the extra time to allow your little ones some last-minute exercise before boarding into an already prepared area.
  • If you have a connecting flight, go straight to the gate upon landing. Sometimes it takes longer to get gate-to-gate than you expect. Any waiting time is best done closer to your next gate.
airplane travel with baby

On the airplane

  • To help your baby’s ears adjust to changes in cabin pressure, encourage swallowing during takeoff and landing. You can do this by breastfeeding or offering a bottle or pacifier. Toddlers can take a drink, or nibble on snacks. Use the feeling in your own ears to determine when to give your baby something to swallow; or feed your baby when you see the flight attendants buckled for takeoff or landing. If your baby is sleeping soundly, don’t feel you need to awaken them; they’ll be fine.
  • Flying in an airplane can cause dehydration, which occurs much more quickly in a child than with an adult. Keep your baby well hydrated with water, juice, or milk.
  • Changing diapers can be a real challenge. Some airplanes have changing tables, but these are typically very small, and while great for infants it can be a tricky challenge for bigger babies. You can ask the flight attendant for the best place for changing. A small baby can be changed on your lap or on the seat next to you. Some airlines will allow you to use the flight attendant’s jump-seat; some will let you change your baby on the floor in the bulkhead area. If you have an older baby, consider using pull-up disposable diapers on the flight, as these can be pulled up with your little one standing. Use a plastic bag from home or the airsickness bag for disposal in the bathroom trash. Remember that, since flight attendants handle food, they can’t handle dirty diapers. (And they probably don’t want to, either.)
  • The flight attendant will usually heat a bottle for you. Be sure that you shake it well and test it thoroughly, as the galley system often makes things very hot. Or use powdered formula and ask for hot water and mix it yourself at your seat.
  • If your baby is unhappy and begins to cry, take a deep breath and focus your attention on your baby. Fellow passengers who are unhappy about the disruption may forget that you have as much right to be on the airplane as they do. They also may not know, or may forget, how difficult it is for a baby or young child to be patient during a long flight. Your best defense against an unpleasant stranger is to say with a smile, “I’m doing the best I can.” And then tend to your baby.
  • Consider letting your child play until most of the passengers have disembarked. This will prevent you from standing in the slow-moving line in the aisle while carrying an armload of luggage and trying to keep your baby happy.

International airplane travel with baby

  • If only one parent is traveling, make sure you bring a letter of permission from the other parent. This should be signed and assert that the parent gives permission for the child to leave the country. You may not need this, but it’s an easy document to bring along just in case.
  • Get passports for all travelers. It’s easy to obtain a passport for a baby. Passport application forms and instructions are available at your local post office. Plan ahead though, as this can take weeks to obtain the passport after making application.
  • Take advantage of the room available in a larger airplane by taking your baby for walks when it’s safe to move about the cabin.
  • Remember to keep your carry-on bag organized, including snacks, for your return flight home.

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