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 many times, we have realized it really is possible to continue to travel and 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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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/check extra items without an extra fee when flying with a baby, as either a lap infant or with their own seat. This is huge 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 the baby around in the stroller at the airport rather than to carry her or baby wear.
We use this car seat/stroller combo and love it. However, some people really like to babywear their baby in the airport. Try out both and see what you like better! If you are going to baby wear, we recommend the Ergobaby Omni 360 Cool Mesh Baby Carrier.
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 gate check them. There are more simple bags, like the ones we use, and more fancy bags. 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.
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. 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. 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 rather than gate check it. Out of all the flights we’ve been on, we have only had to gate check our car seat once. Otherwise, there has always been an extra seat on the flight (and even the time we did gate check the carseat we still had a row to ourselves because someone did not show up for the flight). Honestly, our baby prefers to be held and does not sit in her car seat much but it is nice to guarantee that you have an extra seat next to you and if traveling with a companion, a row to yourself.
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.
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 car seat/stroller combo 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. This bassinet attachment is pretty bulky though so we do not bring that with us 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 and 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 then 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 highly recommend with its backpack straps and all of its compartments.
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 because it is going to be quite difficult to push a stroller and have other bags to roll around the airport.
What to Bring on Plane for Comfort
Breastfeeding PillowBring a breast-feeding pillow on the flight, particularly if you are nursing. 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 to carry around so we were not planning to bring it but then someone told us at the last minute we should. We were so glad we listened. This pillow really has made our flights much more comfortable for Natalie and G since then.
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 and it is nice to just be able to take this cover off when you arrive at your destination and not worry about the pillow being dirty.
Getting onto the plane with this 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 that 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. The flight attendants are often more than happy to help you carry some of your items onto the plane and bring them to your seat.
How to Change a Diaper on the Plane
When the baby is little enough and you are traveling with a companion, we recommend changing your baby’s diapers over your lap. Bathrooms on airplanes are already so small and changing a baby in there is a bit 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 if you want to use it or are traveling solo. To find out which one has the changing table, ask the flight attendant when you board. Another thing to keep in mind–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
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 but as we all know, babies are on their own schedule. You cannot always plan out a feed exactly at that time. If you are breastfeeding, offer that. If you are bottle feeding, offer that. If the baby won’t take those, try giving them a pacifier.
If the baby won’t do any of those things, you can give the baby your pinky finger. We always use hand sanitizer on our pinky and then completely let it dry before inserting it into the 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 and 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 at all during or immediately after flights.
What Airline to Fly
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. You are always allowed to board between the A and B group, guaranteeing you will be together with your family, more likely to get a desirable seat and have that much needed overhead space.
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 with assigned seats. When we ask if we can bring our car seat on at the counter, they tend to have to switch our assigned seats around, but we have been able to do this to get a row to ourselves. Most airlines are going to be quite accommodating if they have an extra seat. In these situations, we tend to end up in the last row of the plane which is not always the most desirable, but it is better to be in our own row.
We hope this guide helps you fly with your baby. Anything you’d add to our guide? 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!