After over 50 flights with a baby in tow (between our 2 children), we’ve learned quite a bit about flying with a baby. Prior to having our first baby, many people told us flying with a baby would be too much of a hassle and that our travels were over. 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 they might be right. Although flying looks quite a bit different than pre-kids, we wouldn’t have it any other way now. For any new parents flying with their baby and needing some direction, below is our guide for flying with a baby. It covers everything from changing diapers on a plane to navigating the airport with your baby/baby gear to how to get a free seat for your baby and everything in between. Read on!
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Note: Every baby is different. Below is what has worked for us (between our two VERY different babies). For more baby travel tips, please see our Top 10 Baby Travel Tips, 5 Top Baby & Toddler Flying Tips and our How to Hike with a Baby posts.
Flying with a Baby: Extra Free Checked/Carry-On Items
When flying with your baby, you are allowed to bring extra items onto the plane and check some extra baby items without an added fee. This is a huge benefit when traveling with a baby as the number of things you need to travel increases, what feels like, 10-fold. Thankfully, you can bring your car seat, stroller and breast pump as extra items without extra fees. We detail the specifics on each of these below.
Extra Free Checked/Carry-On Items: Car Seat and Stroller
You can gate check (or regular check) your car seat and stroller for free while flying with a baby (and if traveling with numerous babies, one/baby). We highly recommend you gate check your stroller and/or carseat as this allows you to use your stroller to navigate the airports.
How to Tag Gate Checked Baby Car Seat and Stroller
When gate checking your car seat and/or stroller, talk to an airline attendant at the desk (after security) for your flight to get the proper tags to gate check them. You’ll then drop your stroller and/or carseat off on the jet bridge just prior to boarding the plane and get them back after you land from the same spot (except if flying internationally, see further on in the article for more information). 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 having a stroller makes navigating the airport easier. However, if we are traveling without a stroller, we almost always check our carseats prior to security as we find them difficult to carry around in the airport without a stroller.
We used this carseat/stroller combo travel system with one baby and loved it. This is the double stroller we now use with two littles. If we do not travel with a stroller (will not on mainly hiking trips where we will not use the stroller at the destination), then we baby wear using this Ergobaby carrier (and a structured backpack carrier with our toddler).
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 (in this case we just check one at least prior to security). Every other airline we have flown has allowed us to gate check both.
Important International Travel Note on Gate Checking
Unlike with domestic travel, you do not get your stroller back at the gate after international travel. Instead, you get your stroller back after you go through customs, usually at the same spot where you get any checked luggage. This is important to note because without your stroller, it can be more difficult to get through the airport while carrying baby, especially if you were prepared to have your stroller to help you manage your luggage and/or carry your carseat. In these situations, bring something to baby wear. Or, if you want to use a stroller in the airport before going through customs, use a compact stroller in the airport, rather than a travel system, that you can bring onto the airplane and fit in the overhead compartment. If you choose the latter option, check your stroller from a travel system with any other checked luggage (still for free) rather than at the gate.
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/recommend, 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). With most car seat and stroller bags, you also can wear them as a backpack.
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. 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 so you can take pictures of them if needed for a claim.
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.
Extra Free Checked/Carry-On Items: Breast Pump
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 (padding around bottles and pump). In addition to the breast pump, you are allowed to bring a small bag for the baby. We bring our No Reception Club 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.
Flying with a Baby: 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.
Anecdotal Luck with a Free Seat for Baby
Out of all the flights we have been on with our babies, we have only had to gate check our car seat 6 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 more than 85% of the times we have flown with a baby we have gotten a free seat (for anyone who likes statistics).
No Guarantees on a Free Seat for Baby
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 almost every time we have flown with our babies as lap infants, we have been able to get an extra seat next to us for free.
Flying with a Baby: Getting Baby to Nap/Sleep on the Plane
When our babies were 3 months or less, we really had no issues getting them to sleep on the plane. If he/she was tired, he/she slept pretty much anywhere or anytime. However, as our babies have gotten older, they need a more dedicated space for sleep. We have found several products to be very helpful with creating this environment conducive to sleep for them on the airplane.
Carseat Canopy Cover
This carseat canopy really allowed us to create a favorable dark environment for our daughter to sleep. When we covered up her infant carseat with it, if our daughter was tired, typically she was out within 5 minutes. It was magic. Our son this did not work on though. However, this is an inexpensive and simple product to try out on your baby to help with sleep on the airplane/traveling.
Use the CoziGo, a portable pop-up blackout cover, for convertible carseat and/or stroller
Once we switched to the convertible carseat, we needed a different solution to getting baby to sleep in her carseat on the plane and in her stroller in the airport as the carseat canopy was no longer an option without the handle of the infant carseat. We found the CoziGo, a compact collapsable blackout cover that allows baby to sleep in the carseat or stroller on-the-go, and love it. We wish we would have found it sooner and it has been a game-changer for getting our daughter to sleep in her convertible carseat on the plane and in the stroller at the airport.
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?) while trying to fall asleep. Typically, our babies do not need these unless there is a lot of distracting noise in the rows near us. Both our babies have actually done quite well with the hum of the airplane as it seems to act as white noise for them. 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.
Flying with a Baby: 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. Both our babies really loved 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 baby move around on the ground without baby actually touching the germ ridden airport floor.
Flying with a Baby: 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 (similar with our double stroller). 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 No Reception Club Diaper Bag we use and recommend with its comfortable backpack straps and all of its organizational compartments.
Wear your Carry-Ons when Flying with a Baby
Then, we have our own carry-ons worn on our backs. Natalie wears a fanny pack as well that she only 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. Further, utilize luggage carts as needed, especially with multiple littles. If traveling solo with baby, ideally just bring a carry-on. 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.
Flying with a Baby: Bring a Breastfeeding Pillow 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 again 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 baby.
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. As we all know, 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 (or other passengers) are often more than happy to help you carry some of your items to your seat too.
Flying with a Baby: 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 baby’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 baby on the changing pad and the other one changes baby’s 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 (if a short flight)
Flying with a Baby: 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. 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. This trick worked with both our babies until about 5 months.
Flying with a Baby: What Airline to Fly
Fly Southwest Domestically with your Baby
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 and their open seating policy really benefits families. On Southwest, you are always allowed to board between the A and B group, guaranteeing 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 flying with a baby. 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 often end up in the last row of the plane, which is not always the most desirable, but we will take it if it means we can all sit together and bring our carseat on board for free. 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?
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.
After over 50 flights with a baby in tow, we hope this guide of what we have learned helps make flying with your baby easier. Anything you’d add to our guide? We’d love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment!
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