Tips for Flying with a Baby

We’ve flown twice with Amalia now, and while I’m certainly no expert I’ve learned a few things already and had to share the love because until you’ve flown with a baby, you have no idea how intense it can be. I mean I always kinda felt bad for parents with babies on airplanes but now I feel their pain on a whole new level.

When I flew to LA alone in December and we were delayed for three hours on the tarmac, I literally almost cried for the mom alone with her five month old boy who was hours past his bedtime and couldn’t fall asleep because of all the announcements. I was this close to offering to help her but didn’t want to seem like a total creep.

Luckily Anel has been with me for both flights, and we only have one kid so it hasn’t been too torturous except for the epic stomach bug Amalia (and Anel) contracted from one of them.

Our first flight to Bermuda was short and sweet but last week’s trip to LA required a lot more planning on our part because of the flight length and jump in time zones.

Read on to find out what worked for us and why!

Booking Your Flight

– Be smart about where you sit. Everyone told us to book a seat at the back of the plane and on the way back there was a full row for us in the back so we snagged it. Oh what a mistake that was! Every baby on the entire airplane was within 2 rows of us… Six babies total. It was pure mayhem. If one fell asleep, another would cry and wake him up. Amalia had the hardest time sleeping because of all the crying babies, even though she was so sick. On the way out, we sat closer to the front of the plane and it was a lot quieter.

– Get an extra seat. If possible, book an extra seat for your baby. We were able to finagle it this time around, but it can be pricey so I know that’s not always possible. For the times when it is, book it and plan to bring your baby’s carseat on board. That way when she’s sleeping you don’t have to hold her and your arms can get a break. On a five or six hour flight, that can make a world of difference. For shorter flights, I wouldn’t bother with the extra seat.

If your flight isn’t full, ask the gate agent if she can move you to a space with an empty seat next to it for the baby. It never hurts to ask!

Either way, make sure that you have at least one seat on the aisle so you can get up as much as you need to without annoying your seat mates.

– Time it right. When we booked our Bermuda flight we timed it based on her eating and nap schedule. Flying to California was a little harder because the take off time made sense but when we landed it was not great because it was her bedtime at home and we still had an hour drive upon arrival. Next time, I’ll focus more on the time of landing rather than the time of take off.

Checking In/Boarding

– Get to the airport early. And by that I mean like two hours early. Before I had a kid that would have been my worst nightmare. I like to check in, grab a water and magazine and hop right on the plane. Now? Forget it! Everything takes longer than you think it will. I didn’t believe that when we flew to Bermuda so we cut it too close and rushing was tough.

– Think ahead for bottles. On our first flight Amalia was still breastfeeding so we didn’t have to prepare anything but now that she eats formula, we made sure to get a cup of hot water from Starbucks to mix with cooler water to make her bottle once on board. Usually flight attendants won’t give you hot water (unless you’re in first class) until after you’ve taken off and my baby only likes warm milk of course!

– Gate check your stroller. First of all, don’t bring your fancy stroller on the plane. We stick our uppababy Mesa carseat on a cheap Snap ‘n Go stroller for travel. They aren’t delicate with the strollers under the plane and this way we don’t have to worry about our more expensive Vista getting ruined.

On top of that, buy bags to protect both your stroller and car seat. We have one for the stroller and one for the carseat. Pre-label them with your name and information at home so you don’t have to deal with it when you get there.

– Pre-board. As soon as you get to the gate, ask the agent for two gate check tags: One for the stroller and one for the car seat if you’re not bringing it on board. You’ll put the tags on the travel bags that you place the stroller in as you’re boarding  but it’s good to have them ready to go. On our way to Bermuda we didn’t know to do this and were scrambling last minute with people waiting behind us to board. It was a hot mess.

Once they call for pre boarding of families, jump on that and get on the plane. If you’re traveling with your partner, have one person hold the baby in a carrier and as many carry on bags as possible and let the other person deal with the gate checks. If you’re alone, make sure to use the carrier so you have two free hands to do it all alone.

On the Flight

– Pack lots of toys. Amalia gets bored with one toy after about 20 minutes so we figured we needed enough to last the whole flight plus extras just in case. We literally brought a whole carry on of things for her including the toys, clothes, snacks, etc.

– Bring snacks and extra milk. Prepare for delays with extra food. If you’re breastfeeding you’re golden but if you have pumped milk or formula, bring more than you think you need just in case. If you’re baby is old enough to eat solids, pack plenty of snacks too. It’s a good way to keep them occupied for a while.

– Disinfect your seats. I bring these organic antibacterial wipes and wipe down the seats, the arm rests, the trays, remotes, and the screens. I never thought I’d be that mom, but after Amalia got so sick from the plane (we assume), I think it’s worth it. I also put DoTerra OnGuard oil on her feet at every diaper change for extra protection. On top of that, Anel and I spray organic hand sanitizer on our hands after using the bathroom every time (in addition to washing them obviously).

– Be prepared for poop explosions. The pressure of the flight does something to babies’ little tummies and makes them poop everywhere. Bring two extra changes of clothing for your baby (yes two) and one for yourself (pants and a top, trust me). Have two zip lock bags on hand to store dirty clothes too.

– Diaper changing 101. It’s not easy to change a diaper in an airplane bathroom but they almost all have changing tables which helps. Don’t change their diaper in your seat. It’s gross for everyone else, unsanitary, and sucks for the flight attendants. Go to the bathroom with only your baby and a Skiphop Pronto changing pad that should be pre-filled with wipes, diapers, ziplock bags, and an extra outfit tucked into the pockets.

There won’t be room for your whole diaper bag and it just makes everything quick and easy.

– Have a plan for take off and touch down. The pressure of take off and touch down makes your ears pop and does the same for babies. The difference is they don’t know how to unpop them so it can feel really uncomfortable. If possible, time their feed so that they are either drinking a bottle or from your breast at that time. If not, give them a pacifier or something to suck on to help. Don’t give it to them until you’re actually about to take off, otherwise they’ll get sick of it before they even need it.

– Try to relax! Traveling with a baby is stressful, it’s hard, and it’s exhausting. Try to relax and just give into it because you will make it to the other end and while they probably won’t sleep on schedule and they’ll probably cry once or twice, it will all be ok.

What are your tips for flying with an infant? You guys had such great trips about traveling across time zones!

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  1. Melissa said:

    These are such great tips, my kids are grown but I really enjoyed reading this post.

    2.15.18 · Reply
  2. Katie said:

    My little guy has flown 19 flights (he’s a 1.5 yr old) and it’s definitely not easy! You have a lot of good tips here. I’m surprised the flight attendants wouldn’t give you hot water if you weren’t in first class. We’ve never had an issue with that (maybe it depends on the airline??), but good to keep that in mind in case that happens for some people. We would always bring a yeti and have them fill it half way with hot water and then drop a bottle of expressed milk in/formula later (my son would only drink the liquid formula).

    Other tips I have:
    1. Pack any pre-made bottles to be only 3oz in your cooler so TSA doesn’t need to test them.
    2. If breastfeeding, freeze breastmilk and pack in cooler so then it doesn’t count as a liquid and they don’t need to test/tamper with it
    3. Double diaper your baby so it’s easier to change them on the plane and helps with blowouts (due to air pressure, they are more likely to have a blowout)
    4. Even if breastfeeding, for long flights bring a bottle/bottles because both you and baby will be more dehydrated and they’ll be thirstier/you won’t make as much milk
    5. When they are around a year – bring a magnadoodle! They sell mini ones on amazon and it occupies them for a long time with no mess.

    2.15.18 · Reply
    • I know I was surprised too! She said that the water wasn’t on yet or something but I didn’t really believe it TBH. Smart to fill the Yeti ahead of time. We do that with S’well bottles on road trips. The double diaper tip is pure genius, I’ll definitely use that next time!

      2.15.18 · Reply
    • Adare Kiely said:

      These are such good tips! And we live for our magna doodle!

      2.16.18 · Reply
  3. Molly said:

    I don’t know how great this will work with an infant, but another mother passed this on to my mom when I was little. Little dixie cups over the ears right at take off and landing will prevent ears from popping. It helps adjust the pressure more gradually and I can say from personal experience totally works. It also cuts down on the pain of your ears popping.

    2.15.18 · Reply
    • Oh that is amazing! We’ll try it on our next flight thank you 🙂

      2.15.18 · Reply
  4. Kelly said:

    I don’t have a baby, but have been flying hundreds of thousands of miles for work over the past seven years and the biggest tip I can give in regards to timing the feeding of your baby with takeoff is this: the captain ALWAYS announces right before the plane is going to take off.
    He/she will typically say something like: “Flight attendants prepare for take off” or something very similar to alert the crew. If you are waiting to feed your baby for takeoff and are nervous about running out of food because of delays on the tarmac… this is your sign to start!
    Now, the Captain usually does this at the VERY last minute as a notification to flight attendants to take their seat, so you’d have to have your bottle/breast at the ready, BUT it will mitigate the fact that sometimes you are stuck in traffic on the tarmac (particularly in bad weather or around the holidays) with no notification as to when you’re taking off.
    Hope this helps!

    2.15.18 · Reply
  5. Lauren B. said:

    One of the best tips I read before having our baby was to buy Planet Wise Wet Diaper Bags available on Amazon. I purchased one for our diaper bag (size medium) and a larger one that I keep in our son’s daycare tote. It’s a reusable zippered bag for soiled clothes that can be thrown in the laundry as needed. Lifesaver. It’s so helpful to be able to toss burp clothes, dirty clothes, etc. in one these bags rather than using ziploc bags all the time.

    2.15.18 · Reply
  6. These are great tips! We have flown with our 2 daughters a ton domestically and internationally since they were each 3 months old, and I agree wholeheartedly with your recommendations. One thing that I would add – if you check your car seat (plane-side or with your luggage), make sure you do a quick check of it when you arrive at your destination including removing the cover! TWICE the styrofoam on our Nuna Pipa was broken during the trip which obviously compromises the safety of the car seat. Fortunately, Nordstrom was awesome about exchanging the carseat for a new one. I would hate for someone to not know that their carseat wasn’t as safe as they thought! Amalia is a cutiepie! xxAnnie

    2.15.18 · Reply
  7. Elizabeth said:

    Good tips, Julia! I’ll add one more based on my experiences (a short flight with a 3 month old and a cross-country flight when she was 7 months): CHECK BAGS! Before baby I was always the person who carried on everything, but when you’re trying to deal with gate-checking the stroller/carseat and have a (inevitably) cranky baby as you’re boarding, the less other luggage you have, the better. It’s worth the cost, no question. Also, you will have to fold up the stroller, take the baby out of the carseat – the whole nine yards – while going through security. It’s a giant pain and the less stuff you have to worry about, the better. We each had one bag (purse for me, briefcase for him) and the diaper bag, plus stroller and carseat. And that seemed like a lot!

    2.15.18 · Reply
  8. However a plus for sitting near the back is if your kid throws up and you have easier bathroom access. Spoken from experience, as we were in the last row and had a disaster on our hands with our 2 year old. Turns out being in the last row was the best position ever!

    We are venturing into the world of traveling with a 2 and a 4 year old in a few weeks, which will be the first time my son (the 2 year old) has flown. So that should be an experience!

    2.15.18 · Reply
  9. Meredith said:

    I had to change my son in an airplane bathroom once, and he kicked his pants into the toilet, so definitely make sure that is shut. I might have said a 4 letter word, so of course there was an orthodox priest waiting outside to use the bathroom next.
    And as a mom who always travels alone with her toddler, I will always accept help. Sometimes you just need to shake your arms out!

    2.15.18 · Reply
    • I read your comment out loud to Anel last night and we were both laughing hysterically. I’m sure in the moment it wasn’t funny at all but now it is!

      2.16.18 · Reply
  10. Amy said:

    I wholeheartedly agree with bringing a car seat when possible. We have done a lot of traveling with our three kids and between the ages of one and three, it’s the only way to keep them in their seats. I highly recommend a travel cart. It works as a stroller through the airport (you don’t have to remove the car seat from the cart through security) and it folds flat and stores in the overhead bin.

    Also, does anyone have an issue commenting? Every single time I have ever tried to post a comment here I can’t log into Disqus so I usually just give up. I’m sure you use this platform for a reason, but I have heard it’s not the most user friendly, so maybe I’m not alone on this?

    2.15.18 · Reply
  11. Allie said:

    The Starbucks water is a good call. I just read an article about how airplane drinking water isn’t the cleanest…let’s say the plane’s bottled water is the way to go. xAllie

    2.15.18 · Reply
  12. I’m pregnant with my first and am soaking up any and all tips for traveling with babies, so thank you for these!

    I’ve actually been using the same wipes to disinfect around my seat for years after reading an article about the germs that lurk on plane surfaces (punchline: SO gross). On a flight last week the person in the seat next to me actually asked to use on the wipes too. I’m glad that it’s catching on, especially during cold and flu season!

    xx Jean

    2.15.18 · Reply
    • Ahh congrats Jean! This flu season is nuts so I’m glad people are using them too.

      2.16.18 · Reply
  13. Katharine Brown said:

    Now that my daughter is a little bit older (and totally mobile and super busy!) I check everything I can and make sure my carry on will fit under the seat. I wait until the boarding doors are about to close to get on the plane to maximize running around time and minimize sitting still time. We have a couple of toys/books that we reserve exclusively for flights (an epic Elmo lift-the-flap has entertained her on our past few flights) and we always stop once we’re in the terminal and she chooses one special snack for the plane.

    2.15.18 · Reply
    • So smart. Once Amalia is mobile, I’m going to use your tricks!

      2.16.18 · Reply
  14. Jessica DeMunda said:

    This is amazing!! Bookmarking for our first (short thank goodness) flight in May.

    2.16.18 · Reply