Air Travel: Babies

SERIES: Traveling with your Sweet Pea(s)

Flying with Babies

Otter and I had the pleasure of attending a very special family occasion over Memorial Day Weekend. We had to fly, and the crying babies reminded me that we know a few travel tricks and tips in regards to traveling with small children. I felt funny going up to the parents to see if I could help, however, I resolved to share the things we have learned about traveling with Sweet Peas over here any of you that are going to be traveling with their littles this season, so that you can benefit from the little things we gathered along the way. I have also drawn from the brain trust of our SPB community to offer you the best of what we have collectively learned about traveling as parents. Thank you to our amazing group of students who have their own awesome tips to share!!

The first posts in this installment are going to deal with travel by air, broken down in three categories: babies, toddlers/preschoolers, and elementary age children. After we share about flying, we’ll talk about ways to have successful road trips with those same age groups. So here we go on our “Summer Travel Series”; let’s start by talking about flying with babies.

Babies (0-12 months) have very basic needs that have to be met: hunger, cleanliness, and comfort. They must be fed regularly to stave off hunger, changed from soiled nappies to clean ones, and they crave the attention and care of a loving adult. Add in,” attending to the discomforts of teething” when appropriate. We have found that by meeting those needs, we generally had happy babies that traveled surprisingly well.

There are a some planning items before your trip to make things smoother:

  • Plan to travel according to your child’s naptime or bedtime. We would schedule flights so that we would have a higher likelihood of sleeping children while we were in the air.
  • Remember to bring a birth certificate or vaccine record for your infant. Call your airline to find out if a copy or an original is required, and what kind of documentation they need to prove that you are traveling with your own child – usually until they are two years old. We have not had to provide authentication documents for our older children.
  • Figure out how you are going to move your baby and your gear. Most of our students feel that babywearing is easier than carting a stroller. There are others that take the stroller to cart all the stuff and wear the child. I suggest taking a couple of mall trips with what you plan to bring and see what works best.  Malls offer air conditioned walking space – see how it goes with what you think you are going to bring so you can best plan for your trip.  It may look funny, but at least you will be prepared!!


Now onto how we meet our baby’s needs when traveling by air on Travel Day.

Tip Number 1: Our first tip addresses the area of “comfort”. Find something  – anything – to help with the ear popping.
If you are changing altitude, your little one’s ears’ are going to pop. There really is no way around it that we know of. With that in mind, have a strategy for take off and landing. Is it breastfeeding a lap child? Is it offering a bottle of breastmilk if your child will be traveling in their car seat? Is it offering a pacifier or a teething toy? Or maybe they will suck on a blanket with tags on it, or the sucking pads on their car seat or a rolled up baby carrier? Maybe they like to suck on fingers…theirs or yours will do. Whatever the mode of delivery is, find something that makes them move air back in and through their throat to release the pressure that builds up in the ears during take-off and landing.

Read latest TSA info if you are bringing any liquids. You can check the link HERE.

Tip Number 2: if possible, purchase a ticket for your child so you can use their car seat on the plane.
We heard from several flight attendants that children who traveled in their car seats did better on planes. They attributed it to the fact that children relate the car seat to traveling and sitting still for extended periods of time. Whatever it is, it did seem to make for smoother rides in our case.

The car seat is required to be in the window seat so other passengers wouldn’t have to climb over it in an emergency. The other caveat with this is that if you have a car seat, your child is required to use it for take off and landing, which means breastfeeding is out as an option to help with ear popping. You will have to consider some of the other options listed above to help with that.

When we traveled with our children as infants in their car seats, we would offer them breastmilk in bottles during take off and landing, and then if they were awake, I would nurse them during the flight.

In researching this post, I found that Southwest Airlines still offers reduced fares for children under two to encourage parents to travel with car seats. Check with your carrier to see if they will do the same.

Tip Number 3: Take full advantage of family priority boarding/de-boarding.
Not all airlines offer this if they board by group number, however, it doesn’t hurt to ask the gate agent what their policy is. We have found this to be subjective – sometimes it depends on the person and the kind of day they are having. So just ask – the worse that will happen is that they will say no.

Tip Number 4: Sit near the front of the aircraft, and near a bathroom for changing access.
Being as close to the front as possible makes for a shorter walk with all the gear. Usually, there is a bathroom near the front so it’s a two-for-one win. We have also taken advantage of the long aisle between beverage service times to take a walk to the bathroom at the other end of the plane. It just depends on how much energy your child has at any given time.

Tip Number 5: Practice up on “distraction techniques” in case baby gets upset or wants entertainment.
Along with that, don’t stress it if something goes awry – whether your child is fussy or another passenger is being nasty – children seem to pick up on this and it doesn’t help the situation. Have fun! Make a joke out of it – humor is a choice, too!

Depending on the child’s age, distraction techniques may be silly faces, baby games (peek a boo, where’s the person/toy), songs, food, or toys. Keep any physical favorites at easy reach within the outside pockets of your diaper or travel bag.

We would also pack a couple of new toys that we thought might be interesting because they were different from anything they had, or maybe a variation on a toy we know they liked. I would gift-wrap them to add to the suspense. To this day, our older children look forward to travel day to see what kind of “gifts” they will get.

Tip Number 6: Put the baby in two sizes of diapers if using disposables.
The current size your child is wearing is the first line of defense, and one size bigger in case of leaks or blowouts.

Tip Number 7: Aside from packing a couple of extra outfits and blankets for your sweet pea, at least pack a clean shirt for each parent in your carry-ons.
Just in case your baby has a blow out or vomiting incident, you all get a clean shirt. There is nothing worse than smelling like the accident that happened at the beginning of the trip for the whole flight. We pack extra clothing in ziplock bags. This serves two purposes: one, it makes for more efficient packing. Roll up the clothes, squeeze it in the bag, squeeze out all the air, and now you have a compressed slick packet that easily slides into a full bag. Two, it makes a great container for the soiled clothing you are trading out for the the clean clothes. We packed all the extras in their own bag so that there would always be a 1-1 trade of clean for dirty items, be they baby clothes, blankets, or parent’s clothing.

Tip Number 8: Waterproof pads rock.
I would put one in the sweet pea’s car seat to protect against the blowouts, and also have an extra one handy to put in my lap if I was going to hold our sweet pea. You can never be too safe when it comes to guarding against spills of any kind. HERE is a link to some that we used – funny to see that they are still available although they are discontinued. (Not an affiliate link – click away!)

Tip Number 9: Be flexible.
As with so many things in life, taking a measure of grace to help you go with the flow is always helpful. My husband never understood why I packed for every “just in case” I could think of…my worse case scenario was getting stuck in an airport with no access to food or diapers. However, he humored me as I stuffed diapers and snacks into every empty space once our carry-ons were packed with essentials. We never got stuck in an airport without food or diapers. We did experience travel delays every once in a while, and those extras did come in handy, though never to the extreme I imagined.

Understand that just about everyone is freaking out when flights are changed and/or delayed. Be the cool family with happy kids by remaining calm. As mentioned above, our children pick up on our vibe – so keep it cool…you are prepared with food, diapers and distraction techniques – you’ve got this!!

Tip Number 10: Have fun!!
It never ceases to amaze me that tubes of chunky metal get off the ground and move us from one part of the world to another. If your child is awake, count how many seconds it takes for lift off. Look outside the window with them and notice the wings if you are over a wing, or the landscape, or the clouds. Even if your child isn’t verbal yet, if they are seeing they are processing. Start offering them words for all that they are experiencing. You never know – they may surprise you with their memories of early travel someday…they are definitely taking it all in.


How about you – what are your best travel tips for babies??