This post was supposed to go up 6 weeks ago, but then life happened, Jaime died, and it got lost in my drafts folder. I hope it’s useful to some of you out there reading, and I plan to do a new edition of it in a year or so when I have a few trips flying with TWO littles under my belt!
Lately I’ve had a lot of friends email me for tips on flying with their little ones, and though I’m by no means an expert and have yet to tackle flying with TWO little ones, I’ve definitely flown more than most people have attempted with a baby/toddler, because to me, Traveling = Happiness. If I miss anything below, feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer what I can!
As reference, the tips below have to do with my experiences traveling on shorter flights (<3 hours) with lots of layovers. I live in the middle of nowhere, so we end up with a connection/layover on almost any trip we take. The 1st leg is usually a 45 min – 2 hr puddle jumper flight & the 2nd flight is usually 2-3 hours long. I took 7 trips (that’s 28 flights!) with Stella between the ages of 3 months & 22 months, and I flew alone with her for two of those trips. I fully intend to get both kids their passports ASAP so we can travel abroad with them as well!
Without further ado, here are a few of my thoughts and tips about flying with a little one:
- Don’t be afraid of flying with a young baby. Stella’s first flight was at 3 months old, and it was by far the easiest trip I took with her. For some reason I cannot find most of my pictures from that trip (which really bums me out!), but she was a rockstar! Babies are immobile & sleep a ton at that age, though I definitely recommend flying as early in the day as possible since many babies are fussier in the evening. Once they start walking, traveling gets exponentially more…interesting. 🙂
- Timing of Flights/Layovers: I always try to schedule flights during nap times, but that’s because our trips are always about 12 hrs long from door-to-door and avoiding nap time is impossible. This might be dependent upon the kid if you just have 1 direct flight that can be scheduled during a normal awake time. For us, Stella was still on a 2 nap/day schedule for a lot of our flights, so I’d try to time things to have both flights be during nap times (with the layover during lunch) or to have the 1st flight be super early morning (happy time), 2nd flight during morning nap, and then we’d plan on grabbing lunch immediately after reaching our destination airport and hoping she’d nap on the car ride to our final destination. Obviously, what works for one kid won’t necessarily work for another, but Stella was pretty great at sleeping on planes, especially because I usually nursed her on take off.
- Give yourself plenty of time during layovers. Missing your connection is NOT fun when traveling with a toddler – it’s much better to give yourself plenty of time to (a) make the connection, and (b) feed the kid & let him/her run around and burn off some energy.
- Don’t be afraid of nursing in public. I know this is something that not everyone is comfortable with, but it will make your life so much easier if you can do it. Nurse with a cover. Nurse without a cover. Do what feels best to you. If you bottle feed, have bottles ready to go. During take off & landing the air pressure changes can cause inner ear pain in babies because they don’t know how to swallow on command to help equalize the pressure. For my daughter, nursing was also a sleep cue, so if I could nurse her upon take off, it often meant we’d at least get a short nap out of the deal as well. Quiet nursing/napping baby on an airplane = happy mommy & fellow flyers.
- Tip – wear a nursing cami + t-shirt of the same color (I always did black) while flying. It makes it super easy to discreetly nurse in the airport and on the plane because you can pull the shirt up and unclip the nursing cami from the top to pull it down. With the child latched there is almost no skin exposed when you do it that way. I highly doubt most ppl even knew I was nursing Stella while we were traveling, including the people I had to sit next to! I never had one complaint in the 20 flights I nursed her on.
- If the baby is no longer nursing / bottle feeding, try a DumDum sucker. Stella loves them, and it got her to suck & swallow during take off and landing without getting too huge of a sugar rush.
- Buy an extra seat if you want, but it’s not a necessity if you can’t afford it. Online I’ve seen people freak out on other parents for being too “cheap” to buy extra seats for their kids, but for us, it wasn’t a priority (though if we were going on a 4+ hr flight I might feel differently about that!). Statistically, my kids are in more danger at the local park than they are on a plane in my lap, and to me, being able to take the kids with for free before the age of 2 was a huge benefit to flying when they’re young. My child seeing her grandparents beats not going on a trip because we couldn’t afford the extra seat. A blog friend of mine (SIF) who actually does buy an extra seat for her child just wrote an article about flying with babies, and here is some information she found during her research for the article.
7 million lap infants fly on American carriers every year. In the last 20 years, there have been 4 fatalities and only a handful of injuries as a result a child not being restrained in a car seat. I can’t look at those numbers and say that they are statistically significant enough to justify shaming parents. I just can’t. Yes, it is safer, but… at those rates, “safer” really becomes quite relative.
So before you (or anyone you know) pulls out the mommy judgment card on this particular issue, please take a deep breath (and count to 4, as Daniel Tiger would say).
- Buy a window seat with a baby, an aisle seat with a toddler
- We are almost always on planes that are only 2 seats wide on each side of the aisle, and even if I’m traveling alone, I tend to reserve the window seat. It allows for more discretion with nursing, gives you the window as a distraction for the kid, and lets you lean against the wall and armrest when your baby hopefully falls asleep in your lap.
- If your kid is older and potty training / the flight is longer and leg stretching will be necessary, I see how some people would go with the aisle seat.
- When you get to your gate before boarding, it’s worth a shot to ask if the flight has empty seats. If they do, the sweet gate agents will often open up the seat next to you so that you have extra space for your kiddo & all of the paraphernalia you now have to travel with. Sometimes they can’t/won’t do that, but I’ve also had MANY people offer to move (for altruistic reasons or not) once we’re on the plane in order to open up the seat next to me. Smile, say thank you, and be grateful that people want to help out!
- Checking car seats if your kiddo is flying as a lap child – do it if you need to, but try to borrow one on the other end from a friend/family member if possible. The reason for this is 2-fold.
- 1) It’s one less (heavy! bulky!) item to drag through the airport.
- 2) There is less chance of damage to the seat by the airline.
With that being said, here is the statement recently issued by the Manufacturers Alliance for Child Passenger Safety for CPS Technicians/Instructors on the subject:
Car Seats Gate-Checked or Checked as Luggage
Car seats are designed to withstand most motor vehicle crash forces. In general, the MACPS does not consider a gate-checked car seat or a car seat that is checked as luggage to be one that has experienced forces equivalent to a motor vehicle crash. Once the destination is reached, it is recommended to inspect the car seat to make sure no visual damage has occurred and all aspects of the car seat function properly.
- If you do need to travel with your child’s car seat & are going to check it, we found it to be a very easy process. Some people gate check to avoid it getting lost & to reduce how much it’s thrown around, but if you always have layovers (like us), that’s not very practical because then you need to lug it all around your layover airport as well. Because of this, we always checked the car seat immediately upon check-in and picked it up at baggage claim at our destination. We almost always fly United, and they had large (thick) clear plastic bags at the check-in desk that are specifically for car seats that help keep them clean and dry during transport. You can also provide your own bag (like this or this) if you prefer.
- If you bought an extra seat for your child, make sure your car seat is FAA approved (and has the sticker on it!), that you know how to install it with the lap belt instead of anchors, and that it will fit in the airline seat. We fly on a lot of little puddle jumper planes because of where we live, and there is NO WAY a lot of the current wide car seat styles would fit in those tiny commuter jet / turboprop plane seats. We bought a Diono RadianRXT convertible carseat for Stella, and I LOVE IT. One of the features that sold me on it (besides its incredible safety ratings) was that it folds flat for travel so you can more easily carry it on your back through the airport, and it’s narrow enough to fit in airplane seats. We will be bringing this with us next time we fly since Stella is over 2 now.
- OVERpack the diaper bag.
- Clothes/diapers: Make sure you pack at least a couple of extra outfits for the baby/toddler in the diaper bag, MANY EXTRA diapers in case of delays and/or misconnections, and 1 extra outfit for you in the carry on (think blowout poopy diaper on your lap on the plane – gotta be prepared!).
- Milk/formula/solid food: Breast fed mommas have it easy for this part! If your child is formula fed, bring plenty of extra formula. If you kiddo is eating solids, bring plenty of extra snacks. Hungry baby = cranky baby, and that’s not good. You never know when a delay or missed connection will happen – you DO NOT want to be scrambling to find suitable food for your baby/toddler.
- Easy snack ideas: food should keep well at room temp, not be very messy, and take awhile for the child to eat! We tend to pack things like cheerios, cutie oranges, granola bars, pretzels, string cheese, popcorn, etc. Avoid bringing allergenic foods (like nuts) for your co-travelers’ sakes. Don’t forget to wipe down the tray table in front of your airline seat before putting the kiddo’s food on it!
- If you have a layover, find a coffee shop – they always have whole milk, and most places will refill your toddler’s sippy cup free of charge.
- Note: the 3 oz liquid restriction does NOT apply to milk/formula for your child or to water for your child.
- The TSA has to be able to test it if it’s not frozen breastmilk (they wave a little strip over the top of the open bottle/cup), but you can bring on all the milk/water you need to make bottles / to drink. Bonus – I always bring a water bottle for myself and say it’s for Stella and they don’t question it. 🙂 Better than paying triple for it once you get through security!
- Use a hands free sling or wrap for carrying your infant. I have a moby wrap, Baby Bjorn, lille baby, and a SBP ring sling – any of them would work great. I’m most excited to try out my ring sling with Harvey next time we fly (I didn’t have it with Stella) because of how easy it is to put on / remove. Most airports will require you to take them off while you go through check-in security (PITA) and during take-off and landing on the plane, but it’s awesome to have them worn on you while you’re walking around the airport and/or during the flight – especially if you have a layover. It keeps your hands free for your carryon / diaper bag / eating / etc., and it helps to keep strangers hands away from the child / minimize exposure to germy surfaces.
- This is also highly helpful when you need to go to the bathroom! I tried to always keep Stella away from the grimy bathroom surfaces whenever possible, and that was hard when she was in the crawling/newly toddling stage. When I had a sling I could keep her strapped to me (or strapped into the umbrella stroller) to keep her away from the floor.
- Bring a stroller for larger toddlers who aren’t ready for lots of walking & long days. We’ve never brought our big jogging stroller yet (a BOB), but we have used an umbrella stroller for Stella. One note – if you’re on the tall side (I’m 5’8″ and my husband is 6’3″), invest in a longer-handled umbrella stroller! We bought the First Years Ignite stroller for about $60 on Amazon, and it was worth every penny because we travel so often. The first time we used a stroller we just brought a cheap $10 one that I had actually scored for $5 at the local thrift store and it was horrible! We were constantly kicking the bar on the back because they’re not made for people with longer strides, and there was no basket underneath to hold the diaper bag, favorite blankie, etc. The First Years Ignite stroller has handles that are 6″ longer, it handles really well, it has a basket that’s large enough to be useful and a parent console for your phone, ticket, water bottler, etc. I highly recommend it!
- Note: these gate be gate checked free of charge!
- Games/Entertainment: If you are a “no screen time” parent – throw your rules out the window while you’re flying. This is when you bend the rules. We bring a couple of books, but books are heavy, books take up a lot of room, and books get boring. If you have an iPad/tablet – BRING IT. Keep in mind that you (most likely) won’t have wi-fi on the plane so games/etc need to be accessible without an internet connection. Stella was 8 months old when she really started to have the attention span to “color” on the iPad or take pictures. We have spent a LOT of time taking selfies with the stretch app and using the coloring book apps (MUCH easier than bringing paper and real crayons that will continuously roll onto the floor and far away from you – take it from me). I have friends who have downloaded entire shows/movies to their iPad and brought headphones for their older toddlers to zone out on during the flight as well. We will probably try that with our next trip!
- Accept Help From Strangers! You see that nice man offering to carry your bag? That sweet lady offering to hold your baby? LET THEM DO IT! It’s the one time you really don’t need to worry about someone running off with your child, and you NEED the extra hands if you’re traveling alone!
- Abandon hope of traveling without checked bags: As a fairly frequent flyer pre-kids, I prided myself on flying without a checked bag, both for cost & convenience factors. With a kid – it’s not possible. Seriously. Part of that is because babies & toddlers come with a lot of stuff, part of that is because you COULD do a carry on for it all, but YOU DON’T WANT TO. It’s better to pay the money to check a bag and have less stuff to carry through the airport while you try to wrangle your child.
- When Charlie or Jaime would travel with me and Stella, we would check one bag (and pack non-essential clothing/etc in it), have one carry-on bag (with both of our essentials), and have one diaper bag/back pack (which counts as the other allowed free carry-on).
- This book was written by a blog friend of mine – The Cape Doesn’t Work; How to Fly With Your Baby, Supermom. I found it focused more on flying while dealing with pumping & bottle feeding instead of directly breastfeeding, so maybe it will have some tips you need that I didn’t include here. It is a quick, funny read with some good tips for sure.
- This is just a fun blog post by “Abundant Life Children” – 4 Reasons Why I LOVE Traveling With Children (And 2 Reasons I Don’t)
A few of the trips I took my breast pump with as well – I’ll address traveling with a breast pump and frozen breast milk in a separate post sometime. Just FYI, it was no big deal to travel with a pump – and quite handy to have when I was going to be gone for a long time and wanted some freedom to drink and hang out with friends & family while on vacation.