Before we had a baby, we were naive to the ins and outs of flying with one. Many people told us flying with a baby would be too much of a hassle and not worth our effort. With the whispers of these naysayers in our ears and knowing all the extra things you need for traveling with a baby, we were worried we might not be able to successfully do it. We also were concerned we would be hit with very high fees to check baby items like car seats and strollers. However, after flying with our baby over 15 times, we have realized it really is possible to continue to fly with your little one by your side.
Flying looks quite a bit different than it previously did when it was just the two of us. However, we have been able to adapt and wouldn’t have it any other way now. For any new parents out there who are flying with their baby for the first time and needing some guidance, here are our tips for flying with your baby.
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Note: This post was written when our daughter was 5 months old and updated when she was 10 months old. You will likely find it most helpful if you are flying with a baby this age or younger. Also, every baby is different. Below is what has worked for us.
Extra Free Checked/Carry-On Items
Prior to having our daughter, we had no idea that you were allowed to bring extra items onto the plane with you and check extra items without an added fee when flying with a baby. This is a huge benefit when traveling with a baby as the number of things you need to fly increases, what feels like, 10-fold. Thankfully, you can bring your car seat, stroller and breast pump as extra items without extra fees.
Gate Check Car Seat and Stroller
Items you can gate check for free while flying with a baby include your car seat and stroller. We had no idea that you could do this prior to having a baby, and it really is a game changer.
How to Tag Gate Checked Baby Car Seat and Stroller
When gate checking these items, make sure you talk to the airline attendant at the desk for your flight to get the proper tags to gate check them. If you do not plan to use your car seat or stroller at all in the airport, you could alternatively check them prior to going through security for free as well. We don’t recommend this though as we really like having our stroller/car seat combo with us while in the airport. Therefore, we prefer to check them at the gate. We find it much easier to push our baby around in the stroller at the airport rather than to carry her or baby-wear.
We use this carseat/stroller combo travel system and love it. However, some people really like to baby-wear their baby in the airport. Try out both and see what you like better! If you are going to baby-wear, we recommend this Ergobaby carrier.
Note: Make sure to read each airlines policy regarding gate checking. As an example, American Airlines only allows a carseat OR a stroller to be gate checked. You can check both for free at the counter before security but only one at the gate. Every other airline we have flown has allowed us to gate check both.
Car Seat and Stroller Covers
We recommend using a bag to cover up your car seat and stroller to try to prevent damage and scuffs when you check them. There are more simple bags, like the ones we use, and more fancy bags that may have more padding. These are the basic stroller bag and car seat bag we use to gate check our items. We have had no issues with our car seat or stroller being damaged using these. If you are looking for something with more protection, go with a padded option like this durable travel stroller bag or this padded car seat bag. Another upside of using these more bulky bags, in addition to extras protection, is that you are able to put some other items in there, like diapers and wipes (allowing you to check a couple extra items for free).
If your Car Seat or Stroller are Damaged
Hopefully you never have to deal with this but if your car seat or stroller are damaged in transit, you should be able to get a refund from the airline for your car seat/stroller. If this does happen to you, make sure you speak with an airline representative before you leave the airport. From what we have heard from other travelers that have had damage to their car seat and stroller, it is much easier to get a claim started at the airport than over the phone.
Also, make sure you take pictures of the damage so that you can submit that with a claim. It is also helpful if you have the receipts from purchases of your stroller and car seat. If you have not already thrown those receipts away, keep them in a safe place at home. You do not need to bring them to the airport on the off chance your car seat or stroller gets damaged.
Parent tip: In our basement, we have an old shoebox where we keep receipts for all different baby items. We also have another shoebox where we keep all the manuals of different baby items. These take up very minimal space and are out of sight but have come in handy several times.
You are also allowed to bring your breast pump on in addition to any other carry-on you may be bringing. It is considered essential medical equipment and does not count towards your standard carry-on allowance. We always bring Natalie’s pump in a small backpack and slip a couple extra diapers in there too. In addition to the breast pump, you are allowed to bring a small bag for the baby. We just bring our diaper bag. We have never had any issues with anyone questioning the number of carry-ons we have with a baby.
Alternatively, we could check this breast pump easily for free prior to security. However, we’ve had luggage previously get lost and/or damaged and we do not feel comfortable doing this as a breast pump would not be an easy item to replace very quickly if it did get lost.
How to Get a Free Seat for Baby/Car Seat
Although we always plan to gate check our car seat and stroller, we sometimes do not actually have to check our car seat. When we check in for the flight, we always ask if there are any extra seats. If there are extra seats, then we will ask the attendant at the gate for our flight if we can bring our car seat onto the flight for free (essentially a free seat) rather than gate check it.
Out of all the flights we have been on with our baby, we have only had to gate check our car seat 2 times. Otherwise, there has always been an extra seat on the flight and we have been able to bring it on for free. That means 86% of the times we have flown we have gotten a free seat (for anyone who likes statistics).
Note, this is a gamble if you are going to get a free seat though. You will have no idea if the flight has extra seats on it or not until you are at the airport before the flight. If you are nervous about not having an extra seat and do not want to fly without your car seat or an extra seat for your baby, you should buy an extra seat for your baby to guarantee that you have this space. We have been lucky in that every time we have flown with her as a lap infant, we have been able to get an extra seat next to us for free.
Getting Baby to Nap/Sleep on the Plane
When our daughter was 3 months or less, we really had no issues getting her to sleep. If she was tired, she slept pretty much anywhere or anytime. However, as she has gotten older, she needs more of a dedicated space. We have found several products to be very helpful with creating this environment conducive to sleep for her on the airplane.
Carseat Canopy Cover
This carseat canopy has really allowed us to create a favorable environment for our baby to sleep. It creates a nice dark space for her to sleep. When we cover up the carseat with it, if she is tired, she is typically out within 2 minutes. It’s magic.
Noise Canceling Headphones
We have found these noise canceling headphones to be helpful when there is a lot of noise you cannot control on the plane (ex. other crying babies, a loud snoring stranger, a screaming toddler, etc.). These block out the noise and keep baby from being distracted (anyone else’s baby have FOMO?). Typically, our daughter does not need these unless there is a lot of distracting noise in the rows near us. She actually does quite well with the hum of the airplane as it seems to act as white noise for her. These headphones have also been very helpful at loud events in non-travel life. For the minimal cost and space they take up, they are worth having in your tool box.
Toys and Tummy Time
We recommend attaching toys with pacifier clips to your carseat and/or baby. This helps to prevent them from falling on the floor. Our daughter really loves this! We typically attach toys that can be easily wiped off too as they tend to touch something germy at some point throughout our travel days. Bring and keep some sanitizing wipes handy too!
Moreover, be sure to bring a blanket to use in the airport for some tummy time. Especially on long travel days and during layovers, we have found this to be very helpful to let her move around on the ground without her actually touching the germ ridden airport floor.
How to Navigate the Airport
Navigating through the airport with all of these items, in addition to your baby, can feel like somewhat of a circus. However, with the right system, it can be done seamlessly.
Utilize Stroller Basket
The key to our system of getting through the airport with all these things is our car seat/stroller combo. This is the carseat/stroller combo travel system we use and highly recommend it! Our stroller itself is actually not that big because our car seat just clicks right into it. It also comes with a bassinet that is really great to use early on with a baby at home. This bassinet attachment is pretty bulky though so we do not bring that with us while traveling.
In the stroller basket, we put Natalie’s pump bag underneath and then Natalie‘s breast-feeding pillow on top of that. Both of these items fit underneath the car seat part of the stroller quite well and are secured well there. Also, to make it easier to check our stroller at the gate, we always have our stroller bag out underneath the breast pump bag so it is ready for us to put our stroller in when we get to the gate.
Then, we put our diaper bag on the back of the stroller by hanging it over the push handle. Our stroller/carseat combo has a cupholder and a phone holder on the opposite side that makes it easy to secure our diaper bag backpack with the straps. This is the diaper bag we use and recommend with its comfortable backpack straps and all of its compartments.
Wear your Carry-Ons
Then, we have our own carry-ons worn on our backs. Natalie wears a fanny pack as well that she just keeps our tickets, our phones and hand sanitizer inside. Any other luggage, we roll through the airport. This situation is much easier done with two people, one takes the stroller and the other takes the bags that need to be checked. We would say if you are traveling solo, try to pack a lot more lightly. Ideally, just bring or check a backpack and no rolling luggage if traveling solo. It is going to be quite difficult to push a stroller and have other bags to roll around the airport if you are by yourself.
For tips on how to fit all your luggage in a carry-on, please see our blog post How to Fit all your Luggage in a Carry-On.
Bring a Breastfeeding Pillow on the Plane for Comfort
We recommend bringing a breast-feeding pillow on the flight, particularly if you are nursing, for your comfort. However, this also can be very helpful for a baby to nap on even if you are not nursing. This idea was the number one tip someone gave us before going on a flight with our baby. Initially, we were thinking the nursing pillow would be too bulky and we were not planning to bring it. However, right before our first flight, someone told us we really should bring it and we were so glad we listened. This pillow really has made our flights much more comfortable for Natalie and G.
Natalie uses the Boppy Breastfeeding Pillow and really likes it. Natalie also has a cover for the pillow that we use while in the airport. Planes are quite germy so it is nice to just be able to take this cover off when we arrive at our your destination and not worry about the pillow being dirty.
How to Carry Breastfeeding Pillow
Getting onto the plane with the breastfeeding pillow can be a bit of a tricky situation when you’re managing a baby, diaper bag, breast pump and your own carry-on. What we have found what works the best is to put the breast-feeding pillow around your waist (looks like a life raft) and shimmy down the aisle carrying the other items in hand and on your back. It might look a little bit funny but it works well when you do not have your hands free to carry it. If this sounds like too much hoopla to you, the flight attendants are often more than happy to help you carry some of your items onto the plane to your seat too.
How to Change a Diaper on the Plane
When the baby is little enough and you are traveling with a companion (and have your own row on the airplane), we recommend changing your baby’s diapers over your lap. Bathrooms on airplanes are already so small and changing a baby in there is even more cramped. To change our daughter’s diaper on our laps, we put our knees together to make as much surface area as we can and then one of us holds her on the changing pad and the other one changes her diaper. This really only works if you have two people.
This link takes you to the changing table we use, Skip Hop Portable Changing Pad, and recommend. It is very easy to wipe off, compact and has a zippered slot for a diaper/cream/wipes. We also carry it for everyday use.
Almost every airplane does have one bathroom with a changing table in it. To find out which one has the changing table, ask the flight attendant when you board. Be sure to bring antibacterial wipes to wipe off the changing table in the airplane bathroom before using it. Also, try to have everything out and ready before starting to change baby’s diaper as you will be a bit crunched for space. We have had better luck with doing standing diaper changes in airplane bathrooms since our daughter was about 7 months old. A good attitude and viewing events in a comical light goes a long way when it comes to changing a baby’s diaper onboard an airplane.
Tip: Try to change the baby’s diaper right before you get on the plane so you’re less likely to need to change it during the flight
How to Prevent Ear Pain when flying with a Baby
The best way to prevent ear pain is to have the baby suck while taking off and landing. Typically, you would try to feed the baby at these times. However, as all parents know, babies are on their own schedule. You cannot always plan out a feed exactly at that time. If you are breastfeeding, offer that. Or, if you are bottle feeding, offer that. If the baby won’t take those, try giving him/her a pacifier.
If your baby won’t do any of those things, you can give baby your pinky finger to suck on. We always use hand sanitizer on our pinky and then completely let it dry before inserting it into baby’s mouth and hitting the roof of the baby’s mouth. This stimulates the suck reflux and then the baby should suck. We have done this during every takeoff and landing (when G was not nursing). Knock on wood, we’ve never had any issues with ear pain. Granted, our daughter wouldn’t be able to tell us if she was having any ear pain but she has not been fussy during take off/landing on any of the flights we have taken.
What Airline to Fly
Fly Southwest Domestically
Previously, we would have told you to fly whichever airline has the least expensive route you are looking at flying. However, if it is not much more, we highly recommend booking Southwest Airlines. Southwest is so family friendly. Their open seating policy really benefits families. On Southwest, you are always allowed to board between the A and B group. This guarantees you can sit together with your family and will have that much needed overhead space.
When you do fly other Airlines
That being said, other airlines we have flown with when we have assigned seats we have not had any issues. We have been able to bring our car seat on these flights for free with assigned seats as well. When we ask if we can bring our car seat on at the counter, they tend to have to switch our assigned seats around. We then tend to end up in the last row of the plane, which is not always the most desirable. However, we will take it if it means we can all sit together and bring our carseat on board for free.
Tip: On Airlines where you do pick your seats beforehand, pick an isle and window seat where the middle seat is still open. This creates a higher probability the middle seat will remain open if the flight is not full.
Most airlines are going to be quite accommodating if they have an extra seat. Does any stranger really want to sit next to an unpredictable baby if they don’t have to?
We hope this guide helps you fly with your baby. Anything you’d add to our guide flying with a baby? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
For more tips on navigating adventuring with a baby, please see How to Hike with a Baby.
And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!
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