Tips and Tricks for Air Travel with Infants

Tips and Tricks for Air Travel with Infants

My husband and I travel a lot with our kids, one of which is pretty tiny. Apparently we don’t seem too beat up by it, because people keep asking us for advice on traveling with infants. Here’s what I’ve got:

Check Bags Like it’s Going out of Style

Most airlines allow strollers and carseats to fly free. We always check these at the ticket counter (although you can often check strollers at the gate too) and carry Baby the rest of the way. Call your airline to confirm policies on checked and over-sized items.

When flying with the kids, we like to pack everything we need and not worry about checked baggage fees (shout-out to Southwest Airlines, which allows us to not worry about them anyway).

I recommend you embrace the checking of whatever amount of luggage makes traveling with your kids easier. Your days of spending a month in Europe with one carry-on suitcase and a messenger bag are over, and that’s okay.

Me and two guys at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland.
That time I did a full month in Europe with only a carry-on: 6 years pre-kids at the Cliffs of Moher.

Get a Backpack Diaper Bag

Just do it.

And in addition to all the usual diaper bag stuffings, make sure to carry sturdy, sealable plastic bags (like the freezer gallon Zip-Locs) in the backpack at all times for soiled clothes and gross diapers.

Carry on a Change of Clothes for Yourself

You will get puked on at some point on a plane, by one or all of your children. So even though you will check the majority of your clothing, you still need to carry on the essentials for one full wardrobe change.

Make sure you have that change of clothes, and make sure all the clothes your bring are easy-to-wipe fabric in some sort of pattern that doesn’t show spills.

Bring One-Handed Entertainment for Yourself

Get your mind out of the gutter.

What I’m talking about is things like small ipods or your phone pre-loaded with videos, plus earbuds (all of which should be in protective cases, because they will get gummed by your baby or dropped in your drink or both). Bring a book with a page clip so it’s easy to hold with one hand. You do not need to be fumbling with a giant DVD player or tablet and expensive earmuff headphones while also trying to hold a baby.

Me and my husband with baby sleeping on me by plane window.
Note the vomit-resistant patterned polyester dress and the tiny earbuds (connected to a Shuffle).

Expect a Delay at Security

You are allowed to fly with the estimated amount of milk/formula you need for the estimated duration of the trip. No one really knows what this amount is, so just take a wild guess. But security does have to double-check and/or test all liquids and usually any formula powder as well. They’ll probably swab your hands and may ask your older kids questions.

Just plan on it, and don’t let it rile you.

Get Ahead of the Ear Pressure/Gassiness Problem

Feed your baby on take-off and landing. Ear pressure problem solved.

If you are concerned about a possible ear infection as your trip is approaching, make sure to see your doctor before you travel and let them know you will be flying. They may choose to be more proactive about treatment.

For tummy gas (which can also be very uncomfortable during flights) we’ve used Mylicon.

Teach Your Baby to be Flexible With Feeding

This might shock and appall some people, but we never worried about the temperature of Baby J’s formula or the type of bottle available. He got his formula at whatever temperature we could get water, and in whatever bottle was available and clean. Yes, from Day 1. His first flight was at 4 weeks old.

If you are exclusively breastfeeding, you won’t have to deal with some of our bottle-and-formula-related travel annoyances. But you might consider introducing bottles early, so that you have more flexibility on travel days with when and how you do feedings.

Baby eating bottle in airport watching traveler check arrivals board
Make meal time happen when and how you need it to happen.

Teach Your Baby to Sleep on Planes

I’m a big believer in sleep training. Honestly, if your baby is still controlling their own sleep schedule (and yours) at home, you might not be able to affect their sleep on planes.

We get Baby up early for flights (so he’ll fall back asleep as soon as he’s on the plane) or we try to schedule flights near nap-time or bedtime. Babies love the white noise and vibration of an airplane, so this works 95% of the time.

Baby swaddled with one leg out
Swaddling fail. Sleeping success!

Remember That You Can Change a Diaper Anywhere

I’m not suggesting that you change your baby in the middle of a security line or on a restaurant table. But you can change a baby in an airplane bathroom without a changing table, and on the floor of a coffee shop bathroom, and on the front seat of a rental car (I speak from experience here).

Don’t hesitate to take your spouse or another adult into an airplane lavatory to help with changing a baby. No one will care, as long as you aren’t congregating in the forward cabin like total flying newbies.

I do recommend asking the flight attendants which lavatory has the changing table as soon as you board, just so you know where it is. But don’t be that person that freaks out if you don’t have an official changing table available.

Ask for What You Need

Call ahead and make sure you are aware of the airline’s policies on “lap babies”, including ages allowed without a doctor’s note and what counts as proof of age (I’ve been told it’s usually a birth certificate, passport, or original immunization records). My understanding is that most airlines allow all newborns after 2 weeks of age, but apparently some require a doctor’s note before 7 weeks.

Ask for what you need at the airport and on the plane. Most flight attendants and airline employees are happy to help families traveling with tiny kids, and kids are naturally a great icebreaker. Don’t be shy.

Know That it’s Not Always About You

Did someone look at you weird while you were schlepping your stroller and three kids down the jetway? Was someone glaring while you were breastfeeding on the flight?

Guess what? It’s probably not about you. All of us in the travel world are often distracted, tired, and busy. Heaven only knows what sort of looks I’ve given people, squinting through my jet lag after 12+ hours on a plane while trying to remember if I had my laptop with me on this trip or not. Don’t take it personally.

In fact, when traveling with tiny kids, don’t take anything personally. Lean into the chaos, and enjoy it.

You’ll be buying another full-price ticket before you know it.

Me with baby in carrier and a tail of a 747-8 Boeing
Baby J enjoying the Boeing factory; his 4-week old self is in that baby carrier I’m wearing.

Related Links

On taking toddlers to Europe.

Common objections to traveling with kids.

The most dangerous thing about our family’s adventures.

Click here for a list of all the Doctor in Denim travel posts!

Got Other Tips and Tricks for Traveling with Littles?

By all means, leave them in comments!

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