How to Survive Flying With a Baby
Prep • by Rita Tarnate • Nov 9, 2020 • 6 min read
Baby’s first flight is a major milestone, and you want it to be memorable in the best way. But let’s face it. Traveling with a baby sounds scary. How do you make it through an entire flight without unleashing the Kraken and reducing both you and your baby to tears?
While we can’t guarantee the worst won’t happen, flying with an infant is a lot easier than you think. Follow these tips, and don’t worry – it’ll be over before you know it!
#1: Know your baby
If you only read one of our tips, let it be this one. Babies can fly as early as 2 days old on some airlines. Unless it’s essential, hold off on flying until you’ve settled into a routine and your baby’s schedule is more predictable.
On a plane, even five minutes of wailing can feel like a lifetime. Understanding your baby’s cues and knowing what they mean will help you predict their needs. You’ll be able to calmly troubleshoot when your baby cries (it’s bound to happen).
Babies can change dramatically from month to month, but you’ll also get better at reading them. Stay tuned in to their personalities, needs, and cues and always talk to them about new things.
#2: Keep it short and sweet
Maybe your baby’s not great with new environments, or the thought of your first flight together gives you a panic attack. Start with flights that are 2 hours or less and work your way up from there. When you start to travel farther, book the shortest route possible.
When traveling abroad or to smaller cities, layovers may be unavoidable. Plan ahead and give yourself a comfortable cushion between flights.
#3: Time your flights wisely
The beauty of flying with babies is that you can travel during off-peak times since school schedules aren’t a factor yet. Just keep the weather at your destination in mind and try to avoid traveling during the cold and flu season.
One schedule you will want to consider is your baby’s. Are they more on time than a Swiss clock or can’t sleep unless they’re in their bed? Try to book flights around the times your baby is at their happiest, keeping feedings and naps in mind. You don’t want to be at security during a feeding, dealing with a hangry baby, or having to transfer a sleeping baby out of their carrier.
#4: Choose optimal seating
There are pros and cons to every seat on a plane. The choice boils down to your budget, personal preference, and what’s easiest for you and your baby.
The window may be best for extra privacy when nursing and keeps a squirmy baby out of the beverage cart’s line of fire. If your baby needs frequent diaper changes, book aisle seats across from each other. You’ll have quick access to the bathroom, and your baby gets a change of scenery when you pass them to mom or dad.
Some people swear that sitting by the plane’s engines soothes babies. But if you like to de-plane as soon as the hatch opens, or you don’t want to risk getting whiffs from the lavatory, opt for seats towards the front of the plane.
Can’t decide on the lap or a seat for your baby? One barometer you can use is flight duration. Save money with a lap infant on shorter flights, especially if your baby likes to be held or nurses often. But spare your arms and your freedom on longer flights (over 4 hours) by booking them a seat. You can also check with your airline and reserve a bassinet ahead of time.
Tiny Traveler Tip
Book a lap infant and bring your car seat to the gate. Before boarding, ask the agent if the flight is full. If there are any seats available, you may score a free one for your lap infant. Otherwise, just gate check your car seat.
#5: Iron out the kinks
There are a few things you can do to prepare your baby for that first flight. You’ll want them to be comfortable sleeping in places and positions other than their crib. Go on longer car rides to get them accustomed to being in their car seat, and let them fall asleep in your arms every now and then. If you haven’t already, practice nursing in public.
#6: Pack appropriately
Forget the visions of parents laden with bags, like an episode of Hoarders. While it’s possible to travel light with a baby, it’s more important to pack smart. Make a carry-on list of absolute essentials and do your best to stick to that. Everything else can be checked in, shipped, rented, or purchased upon arrival.
Have 2 to 3 extra feedings worth of breast milk or formula, and an extra change of clothes for both you and baby (hello, blowouts!). You’ll want a diaper bag stocked with enough supplies to cover the worst-case scenario (think: delays or cancellations).
Strollers and car seats can be checked in for free, but we recommend gate-checking to minimize their chances of getting lost. You can get lightweight, travel-friendly gear or leave the stroller at home if you don’t need it where you’re going. Baby-wearing is convenient, especially when navigating the airport.
#7: Dress appropriately
Comfortable layers are a smart choice for the whole family. You’ll breeze through security, and it’ll help with temperature regulation. Remember, cute isn’t always convenient. Make sure your baby’s outfit has snaps or zippers for quick and easy diaper changes.
#8: Board separately
Airlines allow families with young children to board early but consider boarding separately. Early boarding means 30 to 45 minutes of sitting on the plane, waiting for everyone else to get settled. Have one parent pre-board with your items while the other parent boards last with the baby.
If you’re baby-wearing, remember to remove your baby from the carrier. Babies must be held (not worn) or in their seat during take-off and landing.
#9: Keep your baby comfortable
Nothing beats the decades-old advice of giving your baby a bottle, breast, or pacifier during take-off and landing to help with ear popping. Little ears are also sensitive to loud noises like the plane’s engine so consider bringing infant headphones. If you reserved a baby bassinet, you may want to bring your own sheet so your baby has something familiar.
Sleeping aids, like Benadryl, are generally not recommended. Consult your doctor if you’re thinking about giving your baby a sleeping aid so they can give you the proper dosage. For some babies, Benadryl has the opposite effect of drowsiness, so do a trial run at home.
#10: Plan entertainment by the minute
If you’re lucky, your baby will sleep for the duration of your flight. But be ready with age-appropriate activities that pack easily, and please, leave the toys with loud sounds and flashing lights at home (your seat neighbors will thank you).
Your baby’s attention span is still developing, but they’re easily entertained (the safety card is fascinating to a baby). In addition to your baby’s favorite lovies, it’s a good idea to bring one activity for every 30 minutes of travel. Having a new toy on hand can be a powerful distraction when the going gets tough. For extra entertainment, wrap the new toy.
Food is another source of entertainment for older infants. Cheerios, puffs, or teething crackers can provide 20 to 30 minutes of fun. As a last resort, do a quick walk through the aisles for a change of scenery.
#11: Ask for help
Raising a child takes a village, and flying is no different. Can’t reach the overhead bin? Maybe you need more napkins, or a pacifier fell and rolled to another row. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. For the most part, people are sympathetic to tiny travelers and their parents.
#12: Stay calm
Say it with us. Ommm. Nine times out of ten, things go smoothly, but babies will be babies, and there are times when yours will cry. Babies feed off our energy, so do your best to stay calm, remember their cues, and troubleshoot. Take comfort in knowing there’s an end in sight. Your baby will stop crying, you’ll eventually be off the plane, and you’ll never see these people again.
#13: Don't hand out goodie bags
Unless you’re the Clooney family, your time and resources are best spent understanding what makes your baby comfortable. Treats won’t help your baby or alter someone’s perception of tiny travelers. Babies cry, but frequent fliers will tell you how rare it is to experience a long-lasting, in-flight tantrum (even if 10 minutes feels like an hour to you). We repeat – you will never see these people again.
Have you flown with your baby and have a go-to tip you’d like to share? Help another parent and drop a note in the comments!