What Every Parent Should Know About Flying with a Baby

Leave the plane with your baby as happy as when you boarded.

Flying with a baby doesn't have to be stressful. | MightyMoms.club

It’s one thing to take your baby on a long car ride, it’s a completely new nightmare to enclose your infant in 2×2 space and tell him he can’t move for several hours while sitting in a capsule thousands of feet into the air with hundreds of complete strangers .

Strangers who all seem poised to mark up some “Parent Evaluation Form” the flight attendants must pass out when you land.

It’s nerve-racking.

Today we’re going to go over the 10 “rules” for flying with a baby that will boost your confidence.  (Imagine that!  Flying with a baby AND feeling confident in your parenting… Who knew?)

Flying With a Baby Rule #1:
Choose Your Containment Method

You’re going to be easily distracted in the airport:  checking luggage, finding gates, going through security, avoiding bulldozer-businessmen…

So take my advice:  Contain that child.

Holding hands with your toddler is fun for the park.  It’s an Amber Alert nightmare at the airport.  Scary.

Remove that worry by choosing your containment method ahead of time.

Contain the Cuteness in a Car Seat

If you decide to bring a long a car seat to contain that sweet jumble of cuteness, purchase an airport travelmate or travel straps to magically transform the car seat into a stroller-like device.

You will have three options to store your baby’s car seat during the flight:

  • Use it on the flight in an empty seat.  Ask the flight attendant before boarding if you could move next to an empty seat and use it there.
  • Purchase an extra seat next to yours.  There’s no guarantee there will be an empty seat you can use.  Purchasing another ticket removes the gamble.  (Btw, the FAA requires all children over 2 to have their own seat.)
  • Check the car seat for free as baggage. (Learn how here.)  This, of course, means you’re going to hold your baby through the entire flight.  I highly recommend getting an infant flight vest.  It secures your baby to your lap so you don’t accidentally drop her during turbulence.

Contain the Cuteness in a Stroller

Usually you can use the stroller right up until boarding, wheel it down the jetway and then leave it before boarding.  The flight attendants will stow it away and then set it out there again when you leave.

Still, here are some things to remember:

  • Don’t be in love with your stroller.  Not every flight attendant will be as careful with it as you are.
  • Bring a bungee cord from home to tightly wrap it up and secure it together.  This prevents accidental opens that can cause damage during flight.
  • Take everything out of the stroller baskets!

Contain the Cuteness in a Baby Carrier

The final “containment” option is to carry your baby in a comfortable (and non-back-aching) baby carrier.  (This article can help you find the right one.)

It will free up your hands for necessary airport tasks and will keep your infant close to you during the flight, when unexpected turbulence can cause nasty boo boos.

Contain the Cuteness with a Safety Harness

For toddlers, the car seat/carrier/stroller option may not work.  In this case you’re left with holding a slippery little hand or using a safety harness.

I call a spade a spade…so let me just say that these do in fact put your toddling baby on a leash.  (We’ve all seen them, you know what I’m talking about.)

Some people have strong reactions about the “toddler leash”, but really I think you should use whatever you think would help you keep your child close to you in a busy area.  And sometimes that means a cute little monkey backpack with a line attached.

Judgers gonna judge. 

Let them feel self-righteous, and then move on knowing that your #1 job is not to make them approve of your mothering, but to make sure that little Houdini stays safe by your side during the entire trip.

Flying With a Baby Rule #2:
Pack Yesterday & Get There Early

I realize this is rather a yawner of a tip.

Still, I have to mention it because you’re freaking tired and you’ll forget.  (We’ve all been there.)

Pack up ev-er-eee-thing the day before, so that all your fuzzy-brain has to remember is to GRAB THE BABY.

Then plan on arriving several hours in advance.  Not only will it take longer than you expect to get all your gear where it needs to go, you will probably be subject to more security checks.   Here’s more TSA help straight from the horse’s mouth.

Sometimes, if you ask nicely, the TSA will let you cut to the front of the security line.  If your TSA agent isn’t taking the hint, try batting some Kardashian-like false eyelashes or, in an emergency, weeping and wiping snot on their sleeve.  This will move you ahead faster than you can say “postpartum hormones.”

If you’re going to bring any liquids onto the plane (formula, breastmilk, water, juice, medicine, etc.) let the TSA agent know right away.  They will need to triple check your bank balances, look into your great-grandfather’s 2nd cousin once-removed’s criminal records, and get a hair sample off your pet (to test for nuclear residue) before you can board.

As for your stylish appearance…wear shoes you can easily slip off and skip the jewelry – you may have to take it all off and put it all back on – which is a pain in the tushie, especially when you’re corralling kids.

Flying With a Baby Rule #3:
When In Doubt, Stuff with Food

Few things will quietly comfort your baby during a flight like nursing, suckling a bottle, or snacking on a few Cheerios.

When it comes to flying with a baby, all feeding schedules should get tossed out the air shaft without a parachute.  

Feed. Whenever.

So make sure you’ve packed a Snack Attack Sack.  (Try saying that 3 times fast…)

Flying with Baby Rule #4:
Prepare for Ear Popp-age

As the plane lands and takes off, the air-pressure in the cabin is going to change drastically.

As adults, we can yawn and chew gum to pop our ears.  Babies can’t.  They need our help.  Give him a pacifier during the take-off/landing portion of the flight.  Don’t feed your baby so well before the flight takes off that he doesn’t want to suck during takeoff!

If he’s not a binky-fan, let him drink a bottle or sippy cup.  The sucking movement of moving the lower jaw down, will stretch the ear canal and help the ears pop.

Flying with Baby Rule #5:
Prepare for Diaper Poop-age

In the last few minutes before boarding, change your baby into…

  • An overnight diaper that’s more absorbent
  • A diaper that’s one size LARGER than what he usually wears (again, more absorbent)
  • TWO diapers, with the first diaper slightly cut so it can drain into the 2nd diaper

Any of these options should help him last a little longer than usual (hopefully until you land!) without having to do a diaper change.

That said, there’s always the ornery child who seems to wait until you’re 30,000 feet in the air to  drop a diaper bomb that reminds everyone in the cabin you’re traveling with a baby.

Considering that the airplane bathroom only gives you 4 cubic feet of movement, I recommend having a mini-diaper changing kit prepped and ready to grab-and-go.  Inside it, you should have…

  1. Changing pad to try to create a surface somewhere.
  2. Diaper (preferably a super-absorbent one mentioned above)
  3. Wipes (5-10)
  4. Hand sanitizer
  5. An excellent diaper rash cream in a snack-sized Ziploc. (My favorite is Bottom Balm)
  6. A bag to take the stink-bomb with you – Arm and Hammer to the rescue!

The mini-kit is an absolute lifesaver, because it prevents having to take the entire diaper bag into the plane bathroom closet.

Flying with Baby Rule #6:
Heaven is a Well-Stocked Toy Bag

Since you can’t let your baby toddle up and down the aisle (yes, please don’t), it’s vital that you have a plethora (nod to The 3 Amigos) of toys and activities to keep him busy.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Wonderous Quiet Book

The Quiet Book is any book that has activities already built into the book that baby can fiddle around with. The idea is, since they are so intrigued by the zips, buttons, shapes, and flaps in the book, they end up being…brace yourself…quiet.

Here’s a few I found across the web:

For those readers who are whizzes with a needle and thread (I envy you.  Really.), check out the Quiet Book Blog to download a free template of Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head and make your own!

Mom’s Magic Bag of Distractions

Here are a few other things you may want to stash in your “magic bag of distractions”.

  • Scotch Tape ~ Make a loop with the sticky side out.  Trust me.  He’ll be fascinated, trying to take it off.  (Make sure he doesn’t eat it!)
  • Teething toys ~ Tired of Sophie the Giraffe? Try these innovative new teether favorites.
  • Fun baby apps for your phone or tablet ~ This is a great sanity-saving baby app list by Gizmodo.
  • Post-It Notes ~ Again, the pull-off-and-stick adventure is addicting.
  • Egg Crayons ~ They don’t need to be sharpened, fit perfectly in baby’s palm, and are the perfect distraction for a long flight.
  • A calculator ~ Buttons she can actually push!

Round & Round & Round It Goes

This is a simple hide & seek game you can play with a palm-sized ball, crayon rock, or rattle.

Round and round and round it goes…
Where Mommy/Daddy/Baby hides it…
(slip inside sleeve, or under baby’s pant leg, etc.)
…nobody knows!
(baby pulls out item, plane rejoices…repeat until bored)

This is a great skill for babies who are beginning to learn something called “object permanence” – that something still exists, even when they can’t see it.  They can lift up the blanket and it’s still there!

Additional Sit-Still Developmental Toys

For more don’t-move baby toys that can boost those brainwaves mid-flight, check out my “Best Baby Toys” post.  Nothing distracts a baby more than a brand new toy!

Flying with Baby Rule #7:
Bring Bribe Bags

Your baby isn’t going to be perfect.

She’s a baby.  

Which means, despite your snacks, cuddles, toys, and smiles, it’s very possible she will give the middle finger to everyone on the plane and cry the whole way anyway.

Such is life.

This is why it’s so important to dabble in a little plane politics.  *hehehe*

What is the first thing people think when they see a young child on an airplane?

That’s right: “Uh oh.”

My husband has a favorite saying:  “Whoever gets to it first, wins.”  In other words, whoever can acknowledge the problem first, has the opportunity to change how people think about that problem.

So, address the “elephant in the room plane” head-on.  Give the people sitting around you Bribe Goodie Bags filled with candy, earplugs, and a cute little apology note from your baby.  (Like this one at Team Eddy or this one at How Does She.)

This will immediately lay their fears to rest by letting them know that you are aware they’re on the plane too.

It gives them confidence that you have a plan to help your baby, and even if he starts to cry, you’re doing your very best.  Most people will reward your thoughtfulness with extra votes of grace.

Flying with Baby Rule #8:
Divide & Conquer When Possible

If you’ve only got one child, split up the duties between parents.  Have one parent handle the logistics and guide the path through the airport, and the other be on “kid duty”.  If you’re traveling with several small children by yourself, see if a grandparent or friend could come along with you.

Flying with Baby Rule #9:
Listen to Other “Been-There,
Survived-That” Moms

We asked experienced mom-flyers to share their favorite tips.  Here’s what they suggested:

I have flown with both my babies multiple times now. I never really had too much trouble. I would say try to have someone going with you. I’ve done it both ways but, having someone to help is greatly appreciated. Specially since you have to hold them. ~ Robyn Lennie

If its an airline that doesn’t do assigned seats like Southwest ask if the flight is full.  If it’s not you can bring the car seat on board with you.  I was able to stick the seat next to me and stored items in it so that it was easier to grab like the paci, toys and a blanket.  This way I didn’t have to reach down by the feet for them. ~ Courtney Reilly

I’ve tried: Fly at nap time and nurse/feed while you’re waiting to take off if it’s a baby. Nurse or paci or bottle/sippee cup on descent (ear pressure tricks). Pretoddlers/toddlers – we read a book about traveling on a plane, watched Bubble Guppies “Gup, Gup & Away” that teaches all about planes & flying, and had a travel kit of new toys (a magnets set, travel color wonder kit, and kindle fire w/earphones).  ~ Megan Kaiser Mueller

I flew when he was 2 months, and I purposely picked a flight time that was after his lunch and during his prime nap time.  ~ Amanda Ashour

Flying with Baby Rule #10:
Know Your Mom Value

Here’s the last thing I want to leave you with today.

Your value as a mother isn’t decided by strangers on an airplane flight.

Following these unwritten rules are more for your confidence and your sense of peace during traveling, than for anyone else.

Before you walk through the gate and the “fun” begins, remind yourself that you’re a good mother.

What happens at 30,000 feet, stays at 30,000 feet.

If your baby goes bezerk and people are annoyed, oh well.  You’ve done your best, you’re holding, rocking, singing, shushing, doing all your baby needs from you.  You’re being a good parent.

Life is full of uncomfortable moments.  In the span of eternity, your little “disaster flight” is a teeny-tiny blip on the timeline.

Good or bad, determine to not feel ashamed or guilty, but to do your best and then learn whatever you can from the experience.  Even if that’s “no flying until they’re 20.”   😉

Share what you’ve learned below so other flight-fearful parents can benefit from your experience!

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