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.
So there ya go – a few of the tips I have learned from flying. I”m sure I’ve forgotten to address some topics, but this is a long ass post, so I’ll call it good for you. 🙂
Great post Josey! I agree with so many things, especially finding a car seat to borrow! I made the mistake of hauling our Britax through 2 airports and OMG, it was a freaking nightmare. Aiden and I struggled through and I will NEVER do that again. Lesson learned. 🙂
Great post! I’ve traveled a ton with Jett too and while I kind of hate each and every trip I’m also really glad that we’ve both got the experience. These are some great tips!
One tip I have for those that may have to check baggage. If your airport is one that Southwest Airlines flies to, consider flying with them. Often times their ticket prices are $50-75 higher per roundtrip than other airlines, but you can check 2 bags free per person, so given what other airlines charge for checked bags, you often save money with them. And they also let people with small children board first and since there is no assigned seating you can pick where you sit on the plane. The closest big airport to me is Boise, so its all smaller planes that fly in/out there and from what I’ve noticed in flying lately is that with small planes they also tend to have the biggest seats, compared to Skywest, Alaska, and Delta. But I second having long layovers, even when I fly alone I try to get layovers of at least 1 1/2 hours, just because so many of the huge airports are such a mess to try to maneuver, especially when flying big airlines that like to keep changing where your departure gate it. I swear San Francisco is the worst for that.
Just came over to check on you and say hi and saw the plug for my little ebook. Thank you so much! Hope everything is going as well as it can. Thinking of you.
Great post! If all goes well, I expect to be taking an 11-hour flight + 2.5-hour flight to visit family in Europe with a little one in tow, and these are great ideas.
My friend Evelyn (aka Momsicle) also did a travel with young kids series a couple of years ago. She and her mama friends have some great ideas, check ’em out:
Oooh – I follow Evelyn now, but must not have back then. Thanks for the link!
Long flights are definitely different than puddle jumpers, but I’m sure challenging and easier in entirely different ways. Honestly, I think too many ppl are needlessly afraid to travel with kids so they don’t do it. I think if you go into it prepared AND relaxed, knowing that you’ll have to just go with the flow, it can be fun and rewarding and full of fun memories.
I think people are afraid to fly because there are so many cranky people out there who think young children ought to be banned from travelling by plane… Mind you, my litmus test for knowing when I wanted to start TTC was thinking about flying with a baby or, worse, a squirmy toddler, instead of plugging myself into my iPod and passing out as best I can, haha. Hey! It was a good gauge!
Totally a great gauge. I’ve mourned the days of nonchalantly drinking beers at layovers, traveling with a carryon, and sleeping during the flight without a care. 🙂
The only thing in here I can’t 100% agree on is the discreetly nursing. My bodacious tatas don’t really allow for that even with the matching bra, tank and t-shirt. I haven’t flown while nursing yet, and it doesn’t seem that I’ll get the chance, but I have zero modesty so I’ll whip the girls out when necessary if my baby boy needs to eat LOL. This is a great post and my limited flying experience with Raegan has gone smoothly because of your previous posts and a great deal of research! Thanks for sharing and I’ll be referencing this to friends who have questions about flying with little one(s). You’ll definitely have to update this after your first couple of flights with Stella and Harvey!
OH ya – I’m not worried about being discreet. I mean, I am discreet when possible, but you’re right, if baby needs to eat, baby needs to eat. I just found that the black tank top + black t-shirt trick is one that most ppl don’t realize before having kids, and it works really well!
Great post! Wish I had read it before we traveled for the first time with Nathan last October 🙂 But thankfully I had good friends who gave many of the same suggestions/ideas that you have shared here. We’ve only flown once with him so far, but I have flown twice by myself while still nursing/pumping. I wrote a post on that a while back because I realized that most posts out there are for traveling WITH the baby while nursing. It’s definitely different traveling with just your pump and cooler, but it’s so not a big deal either. Battery-operated power adapters are a great accessory in case you can’t find an accessible outlet, and most hotels either have rooms with mini-fridges (if you are staying in a hotel, which I did) or they will let you store your supply in the hotel’s kitchen fridge/freezer. Thanks for sharing!
Love! What a great post! We have traveled, flown, a lot too! Not as much as you though!
One thing we did was find out if there was an extra seat or two on the plane and if there was (even just 1) we would go to the very back (since I always fly southwest) and sit back there with Avery in the extra seat. The flight attendants can’t remember if we bought her a seat or not, so we just faked it. I think we had this situation on 3 or 4 flights and we always got the extra seat! Between the baby and the back and assuming we bought the seat no one ever said a thing to us!
Good post. I flew with Gracie at 4 months, 15 months, and then 24 months and Lyla was 4 months for that one. The flight back with Gracie at 4 months, I was alone. We haven’t flown with all 3 of them yet (Poppy’s only 2 months now), and we don’t plan to for a very long time. The only thing I can add to your post is that a “no screen time” activity that Gracie loved at 2 was a Sesame Street book of “reusable” stickers. I didn’t even know they existed before that, but they basically just come off with no effort whatsoever. So we let her sticker our entire seating area and ourselves! She had the time of her life with those little things, and we still had some left over for her to go crazy at restaurants on the trip.
These are all 100% accurate! We flew with Matthew at 8 weeks and that was so much easier than now! He still is a great traveler, but it was so much easier when the boob was all we needed. 😉
Have fun traveling with two and car seats. Man alive, that shit was hard last December.
Wow that was a very comprehensive post! I will definitely remember your tips. We don’t fly often but probably will at the end of the year. I did a very long car journey once which sucked!
Ooh, also, this will me the most obvious tip ever, but make sure whatever you promise screen-time-wise is (or will eventually be) shareable if you have more than one kid. Or bring many screens 🙂 having a taking turns fight on an airplane sounds like hell to me!
We have only flown 1x (this past November) with our kids & that’s because we were too scared. It actually went much better than we thought it would. For us, we HAD to buy my son a seat. He was a few months shy of 2 when we flew but OMG is he active. He has never been a lap child so a seat was a must. He strapped him in his carseat and he flew like a champ!
Such great tips!! So helpful! We love travelling with Lids and have been so lucky to have really smooth flights everytime. Hmm, I had honestly never even thought of the idea of buying Lids her own seat under age 2 since we are so pumped it is free until that age 😉 All of our flights have been pretty long, anywhere from 4 to 8 hours, but still no problems. Plus the cost of an extra seat would have been so much since they are always international flights. Not looking forward to paying for that extra seat everytime now that she is two! Eek! Oh and we love our umbrella stroller for travel. SO handy!!
Thanks for sharing 🙂
For international flights, you can often get a bassinet, which functions similarly as a separate space. I joked with my sister that we need to take an international flight now simply because we Leila would actually simple in the bassinet (unlike Mira), but that’d be an expensive nap. 🙂 Mira had her own seat for the first time on our flight out here, and it was light years better. I don’t love paying for it, but since we now have to anyway, it’s just so much easier for her to have her own seat!
These are great tips! I have a strong preference for the Ergo as opposed to other carriers for longer trips because it’s easy to keep it fastened around my waist and just pull it up over the baby when asleep so then I can sleep too. Maybe your sling will function similarly.
We just did our first flight with two, and it wasn’t too bad. We checked one car seat and gate checked the other (nonstop flight). Mira is old enough and strong enough to walk through the airport (yay, NYC walking!), so we never fly with a stroller, though I don’t think it’d be too much extra work. I prefer to fly with no car seats at all, especially because we could buy $50-100 new convertible car seats (which all meet the U.S.’s stringent safety requirements) for grandmas’ houses, but we have trouble getting to and from the airport in New York in taxis without bringing the car seats with us.
Ya, we wouldn’t bother with a stroller for Stella if we didn’t have a layover (and maybe won’t anyway this next time? I’m not sure!). Agreed about just buying seats on the other end for the grandparents to have!
Almost every time you post a picture of your dad I have to look twice. He and my FIL could be twins! Same hair cut, same bibs, same types of shirts under. I have to know–does your dad do the bibs with no shirt at all in the summer like my FIL?
Hahaha, no, he does not do the shirtless thing, tho he often walks around in boxers as swim trunks. He’s a goofy guy. 🙂
I have just found your blog post searching about flying with kids. Great post,thanks 🙂 I immensely enjoyed flying with my kids and would like to travel a lot more while I am still at home with them.
My only worry is radiation on flights. How silly is that?! I know that in theory for normal travellers the risks are statisctically insignificant however it does / can have an effect on air-crew. So how much is too much? Do you have any information about it? I don’t want to over-worry things (my baby sits on my lap – somehow I don’t find that bit scary) but I also don’t want to cause them problems for later life. (I don’t want them to have cancer because of selfishly flying too much). I just wish someone would tell me if I fly this much (e.g. 15 flights per year) that is still ok.
I had honestly never worried about radiation or researched it. A quick google search brought up this though: http://www.arpansa.gov.au/radiationprotection/factsheets/is_cosmic.cfm
Honestly, it’s not even on my list of worries in life!
That’s a great article, thanks with numbers and some sources. I would have still liked those “large studies” referenced, but it is a lot better than what I have found.
Sorry, hope I didn’t put it on your list of worries I suppose we all have our own list which might be weird for others.
This comment is very late to the post, but I just finished my first flights with Caleb and wore him in a wrap. I’ve never had to take Simon off to go through security (in Ergo) and they didn’t bat an eye about Caleb in the wrap. They just test your hands.
The other thing with both of these is that if they make you follow the (what I think is stupid) rule that the baby can’t be in a carrier for take-off and landing both the Ergo and the Wrap can be lowered off and on without moving the baby. (The wrap has to be tied without a third pass in a Front Cross Carry). Since I have a good sleeper this time, keeping him asleep was my big concern.
In three weeks I fly alone with both – debating a stroller for the first time in more than a year…
I think it depends on the airport how strict they are about taking the carrier off at security. I’ve been asked to remove mine probably 2/3 of the time. Super annoying and difficult to juggle everything if you’re alone with the baby!
I think I’m going to try my LilleBaby carrier in August when I fly with the kids. Let me know how flying alone with both goes! I think I’ll do a stroller just to have a place to stow diaper bag, drinks, etc. during layovers…