Flying can be stressful enough as it is, but flying with a baby can be intimidating before you’ve experienced it yourself a few times. We have quite a few flights under our belts with Cora, so I put together a list of tips for traveling with a baby.
We took Cora on her first flight at 3 months to visit her grandparents in Florida. I was nervous but as I have discovered since then, newborns are super easy on planes. Since then we have taken her on countless flights across the country and, most recently, flights to Italy and back. It gets slightly more difficult as the baby gets older, can walk and wants to move around and sleeps less, etc.
So, here are my tips for each step of the process. These are based on our experiences with Cora and different airlines/airports, obviously every baby will react differently to being on a plane but these have helped us survive our plane rides. And my most important tip is at the very end.
Before you even plan a trip…
Get TSA Precheck. Do it. Trust me. Your Precheck status will allow you to bring a child under your number, so you don’t have to worry about getting a separate Precheck number for your baby. Typically the TSA Precheck line for security is shorter, but more importantly, you won’t have to take off your shoes or your jacket or take your laptop out of the bag. It was fast process to get them and we received our numbers in about 3 weeks.
Most airlines will let you carry a baby 14 days old and older up to a 2-year-old on your lap without having to pay an extra fee. Be sure to clarify when you book the tickets that you will have a lap child. Until our flight to Italy, we always just had Cora sit on our laps, rather than buying her an extra ticket.
The second option is to book a bulkhead seat and request a bassinet. This is tricky however because while you can book bulkhead seats ahead of time, your plane may have limited bassinets…or potentially none at all. And, depending on the plane, your bassinet may have a tv screen just above it, which could be distracting for your baby. We have never used this option with Cora, although I have friends who swear by them, especially for long or overnight flights where you don’t want to buy an extra ticket for the baby.
The third option is to buy a ticket for the baby and bring a car seat on the plane. At first this might sound crazy…why buy a very expensive plane ticket when you don’t have to? I get it, and under most circumstances, I would not do this either. But we bought Cora her own seat for our flight to and from Italy and we are SO happy we did. The flight to Rome was overnight, over her normal bedtime. We got on the plane, carseat and Cora sitting between my husband and I, stuck a bottle in her mouth and she was asleep before we had reached our cruising altitude. She slept the entire plane ride. Plus, with her in-between us, Nick and I had a little more elbow, head, whatever space to stretch out. If your usual car seat is quite heavy or takes up a lot of room, it is probably not ideal for this. However, you could look into child car seat rental to see if there is one more suitable available to rent. It is definitely worth it if it makes your life easier.
- As a best practice, check the site of whatever airline you are flying before you book to tickets to read through their rules on traveling with a baby. It might help you make a decision.
Best Way to Carry Baby at Airport
You are going to want to be hands-free at the airport. Even if you pack light, you still have luggage and bags and need to hand things to the agents and go through security and carry your necessary cup of coffee while you head to your gate. You will either want to bring a stroller or wear the baby. If you feel as though you may need a brand new stroller for the adventure, then you could have a look at some travel system prams that you can easily take around the airport. We have done both with Cora and they both work well. Chances are that you might have to buy some new kit to make your life a bit easier when you start flying with your baby, but it’s well worth it for the comfort and convenience factors, not to mention keeping those stress levels to a minimum. This is probably an unexpected expense for most mothers, but you can always look on sites like Shoppok for second hand versions of things. Ignore the stigma around this because you’ll benefit so much from the saving and no one will know anyway!
Wear the baby – this is my preference for getting through the airports and for traveling with Cora in general. A wrap or sling is easy to pack and is comfortable to wear on the plane. I keep it on even if Cora is not in it on the plane because it is convenient to wrap her up in there quickly, if I need to. I like using my WildBird sling because it doesn’t take up a lot of room and is very comfy. Plus Cora loves it and it helps keep her calm during all the hustle at the airport.
Bring a stroller – typically for trips longer than a weekend we bring a stroller and then check it at the desk with our checked bags. We also check Cora’s car seat here as well if she is sitting on our laps for the plane ride. This is very easy because both strollers and car seats can be checked either at the desk or the gate for free. I like checking them at the desk because I prefer not to have so much “stuff” to deal with in the airport and on the plane.
If you want to use your stroller in the airport or want to bring a caddy for your car seat that you’re bringing on the plane, I recommend getting one of those gate check bags. We bought this one and loved it. It is big enough for any stroller and has backpack straps to make it easier on you and the baggage handlers (aka they are more likely to be gentle with your stroller).
Going Through Security/Customs
See my first tip about TSA Precheck.
Give yourself some cushion time. If you typically got to the airport an hour ahead pre-baby, give yourself an extra 15 or 20 minutes with the baby. It will help you stay calm to know you don’t have to rush. I have found that the TSA agents are pretty helpful when you have a baby, so smile at them, say hello and ask how they are doing. I promise it helps and they will help you fold up your stroller or whatever you need.
TSA rules about liquids for babies are a little different than they are for adults. You can bring on whatever size bottles with liquid that you need for your trip and they don’t have to fit in a quart-size ziplock bag. We were recommended by a friend of ours to look into getting something like sous vide vacuum pouches, as this would be more efficient for our trip. Plus, it would be easier for me to store the baby food. We also had one full bottle of milk and a full bottle of water, and packed all of this into the large ziplock bag. To this, I also include a smaller, rolled-up ziplock bag of formula powder, not that it needs to go through security separately, but I like to keep all of her food and milk in one bag. As we go through security, I take this bag out of the diaper bag and send it through the belt separately. Most US airports will then scan the liquids separately in a X-ray machine, this takes slightly longer, so you may have to wait a few more minutes.
Check this page on the TSA site about traveling with children for full details: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/special-procedures/traveling-children
What to Check versus Gate Check
I referenced this in the previous section, but it is worth mentioning separately. On most major airlines, a car seat AND a stroller can be checked for free. But check the site of the airline you are flying ahead of time…some of the smaller airlines only allow one free.
We typically check both the stroller and the car seat at the desk when we check our other luggage. I dislike hauling everything through the airport. Ideally, I wear Cora and carry a diaper bag that doubles as my purse and that’s it. We have travel bags for both our stroller and our car seat. We use this bag for our Bugaboo Bee stroller, and this bag for our Chicco Key Fit Carseat. Both of these bags have held up very well through numerous flights.
You can also check a stroller at the gate if you’d like to use the stroller in the airport. Note, if you use an umbrella stroller that is small and folds up tightly, you may be able to stow this in the overhead compartment. Check with the gate attendants before you board and they will let you know for sure.
You are able to board the plane early when you have a baby with you, so you have extra time to put your stroller in the bag and then get situated on the plane. This is the bag we use for our stroller when we check it at the gate. We got the XL size before it is easier to put the stroller in when you have a little room. We LOVE this bag.
I really recommend checking as much as possible. Having less to deal with makes the entire experience much less stressful.
What to Bring on the Plane
Having said I recommend checking as much as possible, there are obviously things you need to bring on the plane with you. Here is what I typically try to bring to keep both Cora and myself occupied and sane(ish).
For Cora: 1 bottle with milk, 1 empty bottle, 1-2 food pouches (light color food…don’t get the purple ones in case of a spill), 1 bottle children’s Motrin and syringe (just in case), a few lightweight books and toys, puffs and goldfish, a lightweight gauze blanket, a pack of wipes and usually 6-8 diapers, my cell phone (she likes to watch the same episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse).
For Mama: cell phone, charger cord (most planes now have USB outlets or full fledged electrical outlets at the seats), iPad mini for reading books I downloaded ahead of time. Typically Cora does not sleep on flights, so most of my time is dedicated to keeping her occupied anyways.
Baby on a Plane
Here is my number one tip: Don’t worry about your baby crying on the plane. Your baby is going to cry at some point. It’s going to happen. And it might be a little cry or it might be an all out crying-like-she’s being-pinched cry. And this might make you crazy nervous. “What will people think?” “Will they be mad at us?” “Will the flight attendants be annoyed?” Yeah, some people might be annoyed…but who cares? Most of the people on your flight will be parents…and everyone else was a baby themselves…they get it. My advice: be nice. Smile at people. Say hello and thank you. If you are nice they will be nice back. They may help you distract your crying baby. Or they might help you stow your bags. I had a couple sitting behind us entertain Cora through the seats for a 4 hour plane ride….the entire time. If you go into the flight knowing that the baby will cry at some point…you won’t stress out so much when it happens.
If you have other questions, comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
XOXO – Em