Travel is a pain, and is especially difficult when flying with an infant.
A baby in a plane costume is much easier to deal with than baby on an actual plane.
But somehow, I have made it through 12 flights with my little one (he’s currently 8 months, and flew for the first time at 2 months). I have learned how to stay organized while packing, get through security without a hitch, and survive the flight.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Special Airline Allowances for Baby
- Babies under age 2 fly free as “lap infants,” though you can buy a ticket for them and use a car seat
- Most airlines will let you check your car seat and stroller for free (at the gate, or at normal luggage check)
- You can take as much bottled breast milk/formula onboard with you as needed. This also goes for ice packs to keep milk cold
- You can take bottles prefilled with water onboard (they put mine in a machine to examine them, but did not test the water)
- You can take a bottle of water onboard
- Some airports have a “Family Lane” which lets you bypass the line…look for one
- Liquid prescription medicine can be taken onboard, regardless of oz.
- Changing tables are available in the tiny airplane’s restroom
Packing my Suitcase
I pack all of Carter’s clothes in gallon ziplock bags.
For long trips, they are divided into the following categories: onesies, shorts, jammies, and burp cloths. I pack two onesies for each day I will be away from home (so for 4 days, 8 onesies) because my little one spits up. A lot. I have one pair of jammies, shorts/pants, and one burp cloth per day we will be away. I pull them out of the baggies as I need them. Dirty clothes go into a Target bag in my suitcase.
For short trips, I pack in ziplocks labeled by day. I label the bags with each day of the week, and in each one I pack a complete outfit, a pair of PJs, and a burp cloth. I then have a baggie labeled “extras” and put all my extra onesies and a few burp cloths in it.
I have also disassembled his bassinet and packed it in my suitcase. It just barely fits. You could also collapse a pack-n-play and have it checked as luggage. This will be my future method.
If you have a car seat travel bag (can be purchased at Babies-R-Us or Amazon.com) take advantage and pack extra items in it rather than your suitcase if you are tight on space. Airports don’t really like it, but they can’t stop you. I pack my extra wipes, diapers, and blankets inside the car seat bag. These things fit where the baby would normally sit. If you don’t have a car seat bag, you are stuck packing the extras in your suitcase (I pack 8 diapers per day I will be away). The airline will provide you with a plastic bag for your car seat upon arrival, but you may need to ask for one.
Packing my Carry On/Diaper Bag
I have learned that when flying alone with a baby, the less you take, the better. I streamline and pack personal and baby items into a backpack. This gives me one carry on. I don’t even carry a purse – just a tiny clutch that holds important items. Trust me – if you are flying alone, it is worth it to live without your purse!
- Baby’s birth certificate or shot record (to document age)
- Diapers (enough for a full day, in case of delays)
- Changing pad
- Extra outfit for baby
- Extra shirt for me (no one wants to be covered in puke or poop if baby explodes)
- Toy/s for baby (1 or 2, or as needed for older babies)
- 2 burp cloths (I use my oldest and ugliest so that if they get lost, it isn’t a big deal)
- Pacifier on clip
- Pre-filled bottles and formula*
I place the diapers, wipes, changing pad, and extra outfit in a small bag that I can pull out of my backpack and take into the tiny airplane bathroom. When you are dealing with an explosive diaper and have poop on your hands, baby, and changing pad, you don’t want to also be dealing with a diaper bag. Take the necessities – there isn’t room for more. And should this happen to you (it happened to me!), those handy vomit bags in the seat back pocket make for a great “poopy clothes” receptacle!
*I place all pre-filled bottles in a gallon ziplock so that they are easy to pull out of my diaper bag. I have also taken pre-made formula on board (store bought liquid, not premixed). Both liquid formula and water were “examined”, but not opened for testing.
Getting Through Security
Using a Baby Carrier
I have gone through security with a stroller/car seat combo, and with only a baby carrier (see photo below).
My preferred method thus far is using a baby carrier (especially when flying alone). My infant is only about 20 pounds, and likes being in the Baby Bjorn. In one airport, I had to remove him from the baby carrier to get through security. Every other time I have flown, I’ve been able to leave him in.
A big advantage of wearing your baby through security is that you have both hands free to unpack and repack your carry on bag. Even with having only a few items to pull out, it is nearly impossible to repack things with only one hand. Another perk is that they don’t make you go through the “full body scanner” where they see the fat rolls, boobies, and booties that clothes are intended to hide. I’m not into the virtual strip search.
If you do have a moment where your baby needs a resting place (if you had to take him out of his carrier, or need to put him down for any other reason), I once read that you can put your baby in one of the plastic security tubs. It sounds kooky, but Carter once had to sit in one while I put my baby carrier back on. I didn’t have anyone to hold him, and it kept him from rolling off of a table.
Fun Fact: If your baby is wearing overalls, the metal clips may set off the metal detector. I had to strip the overalls off of him and send them through the x-ray scanner during our last flight. NOT ideal.
Using a Stroller
Using a baby carrier may not work for every baby. Heavy babies may cause a backache, and if you have more than one kiddo, a stroller may be your best bet.
The first time I took Carter on a plane (at 2 ½ months old), I had him in his car seat and the Snap-N-Go stroller that goes with it. I had to take him out of the car seat, collapse the stroller, and send it all through the x-ray scanner. This may not be required at every airport, but it was enough of a pain that I wont fly with a stroller again unless I have to, or until Carter can walk himself through security and stand and wait for me to reassemble things.
A stroller will most definitely save your back, and can be used to carry your belongings if your child insists on being held. I’m fairly sure that I will use a stroller once Carter can walk, or when we have a second child.
Should you take a car seat and/or stroller through security, you can check them for free at the gate. Our stroller did have some minor damage (a wheel was dislodged) after being gate checked, so we asked for a plastic car seat bag to put it in for our return trip.
Sometimes there will be someone from TSA who will help you…sometimes not. I have both received and been denied help from TSA. As they are unpredictable, I like to know that I can get through security alone.
Most airlines will allow you to pre-board if you are traveling with small children, or with an infant. This is hugely helpful if your baby has a meltdown immediately when you board and you have to not only calm him/her, but prep for the flight.
I also use this time to change Carter’s diaper (in the itty bitty airplane bathroom), or go to the bathroom on board if I had a very short layover and wasn’t able to go at the airport. If you are flying alone with small children or a baby, it is MUCH easier to go before take off than to wait until you are in the air. A flight attendant once held Carter so that I could use the restroom. Flight attendants are busy once the plane takes off, so I like to appeal for their help when there are still only a few passengers on board.
We pre-boarded, I went to the restroom, and still had time for a selfie! I flew solo with Carter for this trip. Notice that he is in a baby carrier–it really does make travel easier.
Take Off and Landing
If your baby is in a carrier, a flight attendant may or may not ask you to unstrap the baby for take off and landing. I have mixed ideas about what I think is safest for baby, but I just do whatever the flight attendant tells me to do.
To prepare for take off, I always have a bottle ready (nursing moms, be prepared to feed on board). By having your baby drink during ascent, it will help to clear his/her ears. If Carter is hungry when we board, I usually let him have half a bottle (or a snack now that he is older) and then give him a pacifier. This usually holds him over until take off. I let him have his bottle again when the captain asks the flight attendants to take their seats. Thus far, it has worked like a charm. We haven’t had any meltdowns caused by ear pain.
I follow the same method for when the plane is descending. When my ears start feeling pressure, I make sure that he is drinking. If your baby won’t eat when it’s offered, I have read that you can apply something sweet to your baby’s pacifier (like, fruit juice or sugar water) to get them salivating and sucking. I haven’t tried this, but it works under the same principle of swallowing to relieve ear pressure.
If your baby does cry due to ear pain, try to relax and wait it out. Their wailing actually helps to relieve the pressure in their ears. No one wants to be the person with a screaming baby, but their ears should find some relief. Just gently calm them, and offer them a bottle or breast.
Once you have safely landed, there is no rush to get off of the plane if you gate checked a car seat or stroller. It usually takes a few minutes for the items to be brought back up to the gate. You will either have to wait for your stroller in the jet way while people exit the aircraft, or you can just wait in your seat. By the time you get off the plane, your stroller will likely be waiting for you.
For entertainment on long flights, Carter currently needs little more than an attentive parent and a few toys. He likes small books, which give him something new to look at. And like any teething baby, he loves anything that he can put into his mouth. He also enjoys looking out the window. He may not know what he is seeing, but he likes anything that seems lit up.
If your baby begins fussing, do what you believe is best to settle them. If you need to stand up and sway them, just move into the isle (so long as the fasten seatbelt sign is not on). People would rather see you snuggle your baby than hear him/her scream. Sing, play, let them look around—do whatever works.
If you are flying alone and need help getting baggage while you hold your infant, you can ask a TSA agent or someone who looks friendly. I’ve done both. I also recommend spending the cash to rent a luggage cart if you are flying solo (it cost me $5 last time I flew). With a car seat, suitcase, diaper bag, AND infant, it is nearly impossible to manage it all yourself.
If you have a baby carrier, keep the little one strapped in and you will be able to manage a cart on your own. If you also have a stroller (and no baby carrier) you will need the help of someone to get you, baby, and belongings out of the airport. Ask the person coming to pick you up if they can come in and help carry things out, or ask someone around you for assistance.
Once you make it to your destination, sigh, smile, and celebrate the fact that you survived the trial of flying with an infant.