Two weeks ago we took our 10-month-old son on his first flight to visit his grandmother in Rochester, New York. Even though the airtime was only an hour and our total trip was only three days, we still hauled what felt like a week's worth of gear through the airport—the concept of "traveling light" simply doesn't exist when you're flying with a baby. Plus, you’re likely bursting with several burning questions. What’s the best way to fly with a baby? What should you bring when flying with an infant? Here, some top tips for flying with a baby to make your ride a little less bumpy.
When Can You Fly With a Baby?
There aren’t any official recommendations for how old an infant should be to board their first flight. But when flying with a newborn, keep in mind that baby’s immune system isn’t as strong as an adult’s. Most planes use recirculated air, which means that germs, viruses and bacteria are more prevalent, and babies are more likely to catch something. Certain airlines, like United Airlines, require babies to be at least 7 weeks old to fly, while others, like Delta and American Airlines, will let newborns younger than 7 weeks fly as long as you have a doctor’s note. And some airlines have no minimum age requirement at all. It’s best to check with your pediatrician and airline before booking baby’s flight.
Tips for Flying With a Baby
Flying with an infant isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but with a little planning it doesn’t have to be a total headache. Check out these tips for flying with a baby to make your trip a lot less turbulent:
• Figure out where baby’s going to sit. You don’t need to buy a ticket for babies under 2 years old—they’re allowed to sit in your lap. But both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) say the safest place for baby is in a child restraint system. Many infant car seats are approved for use on airplanes, but not all are, so check your car seat manual. Children weighing less than 20 pounds should be in a rear-facing child restraint. Note, though, that to use a child restraint, you’ll need to buy baby a seat ticket. Check to see if your airline offers any discounts for traveling children.
• Find out what you can check vs carry on. Contact your airline ahead of time to ask about their policies for checking strollers and car seats, how much extra baby-related baggage you're allowed and what you’ll be able to take with you on the plane (as in, will that bulging diaper bag count as a carry on?). Knowing the rules makes figuring out what to bring when flying with a baby all the easier.
• Go for convenient travel gear. An easy way to make life simpler when flying with a baby? Bring gear that cuts down on hassle, whether it’s a dual-purpose item that saves space or a handy gadget that makes your more mobile. I saw a few people using the Go-Go Kidz Travelmate, which is essentially a set of wheels that attaches to your car seat and converts it into a stroller, so you don’t have to break your back lugging the car seat all over the airport. Brilliant!
• Wear baby when going through security. Since we had to put our stroller on the x-ray conveyor belt, I wore my son Cooper in my beloved Ergo Baby Carrier through the security area. Having two hands free made things much easier, especially when collecting our belongings after passing through the checkpoint.
• Reconsider boarding early. As a courtesy, airlines allow you to board the plane early if you're traveling with small children. But you may not want to take them up on it. Remember, it takes 30+ minutes for everyone else to board, and all of that is just additional time your child will be spending in a cramped seat getting antsy.
• Sit in the window seat. I'm normally an aisle person, but since I was flying with a baby on my lap, we wound up trading seats with the kind woman sitting next to us. Being in the window seat prevented his squirmy arms and legs from stretching out into the aisles where flight attendants and other passengers are constantly walking back and forth. (Yes, it's a harder seat to get out of, but we figured that was a worthwhile trade-off.)
• Feed baby during take-off and landing. The changes in cabin pressure can bother those little ears, so it's a good idea to nurse or bottle-feed your baby during the ascent and descent. This forces them to swallow and helps keep the ears open—worked like a charm for us! Keep in mind, you’ll want to offer baby a breast or bottle before the final descent. Pressure change is most noticeable once the plane begins its initial descent, as much as half an hour or more before landing (and the higher up you are, the earlier in the fligher descent usually starts.)
• Bring entertainment. To keep baby from trying to climb up the seat in front of you (as Cooper attempted several times), bring tons of books and toys to keep his attention. Remember to leave home anything that squeaks loudly or makes noises—the passengers sans-baby will thank you.
• Plan ahead and relax. Remembering what to bring when flying with a baby can be stressful. Make packing lists for yourself and tape them on the back of the front door so you won't forget anything on your way out. If you’re visiting family, contact them ahead of time and ask them to pick up things like diapers and wipes, so you don’t have to pack such bulky items in your luggage.
Updated October 2017